A few days ago, Hogs Haven published a poll that asked readers to predict the outcome of the Week 1 season opener against the Jacksonville Jaguars at FedEx Field.
The results are in.
An impressive 71% of Commanders fans who responded to the survey predicted a win, with an almost even split between those who expect a margin of victory of a touchdown or more and those who expect a closer game.
Only 28% of respondents expect the Jags to win the game, and only 10% of total respondents think the Jags will win by a TD or more.
The most dysfunctional season in Jacksonville Jaguars franchise history is in the past. The Urban Meyer head-coaching experiment failed in 2021, but quarterback Trevor Lawrence now has a coaching staff led by Doug Pederson to help him reach the next level. The ‘bad’ news for Jaguars fans is that first-year head coaches typically don’t have great success in the win-column since they are typically taking over a bad team and trying to implement both scheme and culture changes. Pederson is an experienced coach, but he will be in the same difficult position that most new coaches find themselves in. With just four wins in the past two seasons, Pederson says it’s not going to be an overnight fix to turn around the Jaguars, but they expect to be more competitive.
The Jags do not have a bad roster, however, so it’s a good-news-bad-news sort of proposition for Washington to face them in the opening game. The bad news is that the Jags will be fully healthy and fired up; the good news is that they will still be in the ‘adjustment’ period to a new coaching staff (for the second time in as many years).
This HAS to be a “W”, right?
This is a locked-and-loaded sure-fire must-must-win season opener if there ever was one. How do you follow the rest of this critical crucial Year-3 of the rebuild project season if you don’t beat the Jaguars in Game 1?
If this is not a win, then I may be done the rest of the season - seriously.
For the Jaguars to become a threat in the AFC South, they will need more than just better and more consistent play at quarterback. Free-agent acquisition Christian Kirk has to be a dependable big-play threat as the team’s No.1 wide receiver. Running back Travis Etienne Jr. must be as good as advertised despite missing last season with a Lisfranc injury. Starting left tackle Cam Robinson got the three-year extension he desired; now, he has to be the anchor of the offensive line.
The Jaguars made improving their defense a priority, primarily through the draft with the selection of No. 1 overall pick Travon Walker and linebacker Devin Lloyd. They need veteran edge rusher Josh Allen to return to his 2019 level — double-digit sacks and a Pro Bowl appearance. The secondary, led by cornerback Shaquill Griffin, must do a better job forcing turnovers.
Why does this have to be a win?
Carson Wentz’ last game? A humiliating loss to this same Jags team that bumped them out of the playoff hunt and sealed Wentz’ fate.
RR is 5-6 in season openers, and only has 3 winning seasons in 11 years.
Year 2 of the first can’t-miss QB prospect since Andrew Luck, now featuring a real NFL head coach, who knows Washington well and has a Super Bowl championship to his name.
This feels like the perfect trap for a team that maybe thinks its better than it is. I’m sure the Jags are thankful they open against Washington.
The Jaguars invested heavily in free agency to put more veteran talent around Lawrence, who finished last season with 12 touchdown passes and an NFL-leading 17 interceptions. Having Doug Pederson — a former NFL quarterback — as his head coach should be hugely beneficial for Lawrence. I doubt we’ll see the same sort of performance from him in 2022 as we did in his rookie season.
The Jaguars are counting on Kirk to be their featured No. 1 receiver, though he never was the first option of Arizona’s offense during his four seasons with the franchise. The Jaguars moved on from DJ Chark, who signed with the Detroit Lions, but they added receiver Zay Jones and tight end Evan Engram in free agency to help bring more explosiveness to an offense that ranked last in scoring (14.9). All in all, it doesn’t seem like the scariest group of receivers in the NFL, and Engram has never really had a breakout game against Washington.
Engram presents a question mark for Jags coaches: Can he stay healthy and develop into a receiving threat on the outside like he was supposed to with the Giants? When he coached the Eagles, Pederson liked to call plays from the heavy 12 personnel set that featured two tight ends on the field. It’s likely that tight ends Dan Arnold and Engram will be paired together.
The Jags hope their offensive line can avoid a repeat of last season, when Lawrence got sacked 32 times. They signed starting left tackle Robinson to a three-year extension, and Jacksonville and the Commanders basically ‘swapped’ guards, with Brandon Scherff going to the Jaguars and Andrew Norwell coming to Washington. Scherff’s biggest issue was his propensity to miss games due to injury, but he should be at his peak for the opener in the stadium where he has played for his entire NFL career to date.
Commanders offensive additions
Washington’s offense looks to be much improved, with expected solid offensive line play under coach John Matsko, an upgrade at quarterback with Carson Wentz, an improved receiving corps with rookie Jahan Dotson and Curtis Samuel’s anticipated return to health, and a deep TE group.
First of four major revenge games for Wentz in ‘22. He’ll take on the coach who benched him for one-read-then-tuck-and-run
RBQB Hurts in Philly. You think Wentz gives up this chance to beat Doug Pederson? His offensive skill players will help him secure this win.
Three other revenge games are of course Philly week 3, @ the Colts and Philly again.
You forget the bigger revenge angle. Losing to JAX last year in the final game of the season cost his team the playoffs, lost him his job, and led to endless nasty comments from the Colts’ owner. Beating Pederson would be icing on the cake to that.
With running back James Robinson of the Jags recovering from a torn Achilles, offensive coordinator Press Taylor will be counting on Etienne, the 25th overall pick in the 2021 draft, to become the matchup nightmare that the Jags expected him to be. Etienne missed last season with a Lisfranc injury to his left foot, but he participated in the team’s offseason program after declaring he was around 85 to 90 percent healthy.
Of course, Washington will be without it’s own Robinson at running back, with Brian Robinson having been placed on the NFI list after being shot twice in an attempted carjacking earlier this week. The Commanders will be well-represented at running back by the three-man committee of Antonio Gibson, JD McKissic and Jonathan Williams.
After posting only 32 sacks last season, the Jaguars prioritized defense this offseason. Five of their seven draft selections were defensive players, including No. 1 overall pick Walker. They also drafted potential starting linebackers Lloyd and Chad Muma in the first and third rounds, respectively. The Jaguars plan to operate from multiple sets and packages in which both Lloyd and Muma can be best utilized with linebacker Foye Oluokun, who signed in free agency after leading the NFL in tackles last season (192) with the Atlanta Falcons.
In some ways, this game is a first look at two contrasting approaches to 2022 free agency and draft. Both the Jags and WC had LB needs heading into it (arguably us more since they had Josh Allen). WC ignored it entirely whereas the Jags signed Foye Oluokun and drafted not just Travon Walker but Devin Lloyd and Chad Muma to join Allen.
Commanders fans will be crossing their fingers and praying for the defense. After a 2021 season in which the Washington defense was among the worst in the league, Ron Rivera and Jack Del Rio decided to largely stand pat on the players they had. If anything, they stepped back a bit with the loss of DT Tim Settle and the releases of Matt Ioannidis and Landon Collins. Add the fact that 3rd year DE Chase Young is on the PUP list, and it feels as if the Commanders defense could be a little underpowered after having made limited additions through the draft — DT Phidarian Mathis and DBs Percy Butler and Christian Holmes — and no truly significant moves in free agency at the starter positions.
The Jaguars should be better at stopping the run; they upgraded their defensive front seven with the additions of Walker and Lloyd, and Foley Fatukasi, signed in free agency after playing his first four seasons with the New York Jets.
The Jags gave up the 5th most points in the league. Their total yards were better for one reason: they couldn’t stop the run (one of the worst there), so opposing offenses control the game on the ground but don’t gain as many yards as if they are throwing.
The Jaguars have more talent than they did a year ago, especially defensively. Still, this is a franchise with just four wins in the past two seasons. The Jaguars appear to be in much better shape with Doug Pederson than they were under Meyer, who had no previous NFL head-coaching experience. As Pederson says, it’s not going to be an overnight fix.
Before anyone gets too breathless about the Jags, look at their defense:
Three DL I’ve never heard of. Two of four LBs playing in their first NFL game: good luck there. Three of four DBs are new, and the only one you’ve heard of is Griffin. Pete Carroll (once a S) loves him some DBs, and he let the guy go, so what does that tell you?
There is not a standout player anywhere on D. If the rookie LBs have good years, they may be better by the end of the year. But right now? The have big trouble at all 3 levels of defense. I’m expecting 24 points from Washington if the offense has a bad day.
That’s a funny argument considering the Jags defense gave up less yards per game last year than Washington’s (and more points) all while having an atrocious offense that held the second worst time of possession (Washington 13th best TOP).
It’s almost like playing as a unit is better than just having a bunch of big names.
The Jags replaced 8 of 11 starters on D. Count ‘em, and tell me again that they had a good D last year. Then tell me how many of the current 11 starters you know. There isn’t one above-average veteran on that D. This is not a scary defense. It may get better as the rookie LBs gain experience.
A lot of this is good news for Commanders fans, who, going into Year 3 of the Ron Rivera era (the RivEra?) are still waiting for the kind of dominant regular season and playoff success that has eluded the franchise for the entirety of the 21st century to date.
If the majority of fans in this poll who expect a convincing win over the visiting Jaguars are right, then the team will get off to a good start in its attempt to return to respectability. Let’s hope that’s the result, because a loss in Week 1 at home against the Jaguars would trigger a week of teeth gnashing and rending of clothes among the Washington faithful, and could signal a long, ugly season to follow.
- Best WR group since 2015
- Best QB since 2017
- Strong OL/DL
- Strong starting CBs (no depth at all)
- Best Safety group since 2007
Carson Wentz is 4-2 as a starter in Week 1. He’s thrown 12 TDs to 4 INTs in his six season openers. He shows up ready to play.