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Previewing the Commanders vs Jaguars; Carson Wentz vs Doug Pederson, slow starts, and issues on defense

What to watch in Sunday’s season opener

Washington Commanders and Kansas City Chiefs Photo by John McDonnell/The Washington Post via Getty Images

It has been another long offseason, and wait between seasons, but we have finally made it to Week 1 of the 2022-23 NFL season. The Washington Commanders will be debuting at home on Sunday, and face the Jacksonville Jaguars. This will be the team’s 3rd name in 4 years, and the franchise is hoping fans will embrace the latest rebrand.

Sunday’s game against the Jaguars has a lot of storylines going for it, which the NFL loves and which gives writers something to focus on leading up to the game. Check out today’s odds courtesy of our friends at DraftKings Sportsbook, and here are a few things to pay attention to as both teams look to improve on years of consecutive losing seasons.

Carson Wentz faces his former Head Coach Doug Pederson

Washington made it very clear after last season ended that while they appreciated the effort backup Taylor Heinicke gave them, they needed to improve the quarterback position and they were looking at every option. After failing to land Russell Wilson via trade, the team moved on to Carson Wentz, trading two Day 2 draft picks over the next two years, and also taking on his full contract, which pays him over $28 million this year.

Wentz has been with three teams over the last three years, and he has had negative press following him since his days in Philly. Colts owner Jim Irsay seems to hate Wentz, and has campaigned all offseason to put all of the blame for Indianapolis’s late-season collapse on their former signal caller.

Wentz’s time in Philly also ended with leaked reports about him, clouding his time there. There were rumors about conflicts with the coaching staff, and with Doug Pederson in particular.

During an interview with 97.5 the Fanatic on Friday, Schefter said that Wentz and Pederson went at least eight weeks without talking to each other during the regular season.

“There are a lot of things that went wrong,” Schefter said when asked about the drama in Philadelphia. “We have the team drafting Jalen Hurts. We have Carson feeling jilted by that. We have the team trying to reassure him. We have Carson not getting past that. We have Carson struggling. We have Carson and Doug not talking for weeks on end during the season where the head coach and quarterback are not talking for eight, nine, 10 weeks.”

Wentz has been a professional when talking about Pederson this week leading up to his reunion with his former head coach:

“He meant a lot, meant a lot with the kind of whirlwind that year was — learning I was the starter eight days before the season, all those things,” Wentz said in his Wednesday press conference. “I thought he was a great coach, great guy, fun to be around. Meant a lot over the years. Went through a lot of good and some of the bad, obviously, altogether. But he means a lot to me.”

Rivera’s slow starts

Ron Rivera is known for his teams starting games and seasons slowly. His first season in Washington in 2020 saw the team go 2-5 before heading into the Week 8 bye. Last year they went 2-6 heading into the Week 9 bye. Washington has a bye in Week 14 this year, and hopefully the team has more than two wins by then.

Rivera was asked about his team’s slow starts on Wednesday:

“Well, I think missed opportunities more so than anything else. And hopefully we don’t miss these opportunities. Hopefully you go out and play to our abilities, play the way we’re capable of. But remember, it’s never about how you start. It’s gonna be about how you finish, where you end up. And that’s what our goal is, to end up in the right place.”

Rivera talked about the anxiety he deals with heading into a new season.

“Kind of interesting because yeah, I think in all honesty, other than the pandemic year, this year going into it, this got the most questions, because we didn’t have all of our offensive alignment up, ready to go. We didn’t get to see all of our tight ends. We don’t have all of our backs up this week. I mean, so I’m anxious to see what we’re gonna look like. I’m anxious to see what that combination is gonna be. It’s the same thing on defense. Going to miss a couple parts, but I’m anxious to see what we are, who we are, where we are. I mean, I really am. I think it’s exciting. You get that pit in your stomach already where you wanna throw up. It’s that anxiety, that anxiousness and it’s crazy because that’s something we can’t control. And that’s why, for me personally, I try not to get into it where we start thinking about what’s going to come on Sunday. I always kind of refer to what Andy [Reid] used to say is don’t play the game now, play the game on Sunday. So just trying to make sure we’re focusing on what we’re doing right now. And that’s the preparation to preparation, to preparation.”

Washington opens the season facing two teams (Jaguars/Lions) who combined for 6 wins last season. Then it’s back-to-back division games against the Eagles and Cowboys. Anything less than two wins coming out of that stretch puts them in another early hole that they don’t want to find themselves in again.

The Jaguars have been a bad team for years, but have been stacking high draft picks and have their QB (Trevor Lawrence), young RBs (James Robinson, Travis Etienne), and they started this year’s WR craze by signing Christian Kirk. But they’re not a complete team, and are on the road with a new head coach and a whole new system. This is a game the Commanders can’t start slow in, and one that they need to win if they hope to be taken seriously this year.

Can Washington finally fix its communication/discipline issues on defense?

If you've followed this team for the last few years, you know the coaches love to talk about communication in the secondary, and discipline issues for the pass rushers and the defense as a whole. Those problems don’t look like they’ve been solved, and Washington only made one coaching change this year, firing DL coach Sam Mills during training camp. Defensive Coordinator Jack Del Rio is here for his 3rd season, and this feels like a make or break year for him, especially if his defense underperforms like it did last year.

The majority of defensive starters from last year will be on the field vs the Jaguars, with a few like Chase Young and Kam Curl out while dealing with injuries. Landon Collins is gone from the secondary, but the rest of the gang that had communication issues early in the season remains. Kendall Fuller is a leader there, but will have his hands full if things breakdown like they did last season.