Washington under Ron Rivera has been known to get off to slow starts in games, and the same issue continued as they faced off against the Lions in Week 2. This year many expected different from the offense due to their explosive nature with their weapons. Their receiver trio of Terry McLaurin, Curtis Samuel, and Jahan Dotson can threaten defenses on all three levels. Antonio Gibson and J.D. McKissic are former receivers who can prove dangerous weapons in the passing game. In addition, between Logan Thomas, Cole Turner, and now Armani Rogers, Washington's tight ends create a size advantage in the downfield passing game.
All that is true, and the offense sometimes showed how explosive they could be. So how did Washington find themselves losing by 20-plus points before halftime came?
Washington's run game was problematic, and that impacted how they would be able to sustain drives. However, several instances indicated that OC Scott Turner allowed the Lions' defense to dictate the first half. Alternatively, there were also some instances when the Lions' pressure negated big play opportunities for the Commanders. A combination of issues resulted in a first-half shutout for the Lions. Here's what the tape showed and how Turner adjusted in the second half to some of the same pressure looks from the Lions.
As expected, disguised pressure look from Det on Washington's 1st 3rd down. Good play call from Turner, creating space for Samuel to win under the single high. Det has DE jam Terry if he crosses (he does), takes him out of the play. Crowds middle. Aidan gets 1st sack. pic.twitter.com/z2egLqMuBA— Jamual (@LetMualTellit) September 19, 2022
1st play of the 2nd drive, Det sent 7 at Washington. Carson had an opportunity to Samuel w/FS out of position, but protection doesn't hold up. Aidain blows Bates up, Anzalone drives AG into QB, & Norwell was late on stunt pickup. Intentional Grounding by way of Det pressure. pic.twitter.com/t0Nw0lxY0z— Jamual (@LetMualTellit) September 19, 2022
Jahan wins on the safety call (top of the screen). Dbl comebacks on the outside, and Wentz is looking Dotson's way. Sack & safety.— Jamual (@LetMualTellit) September 19, 2022
Like how Dotson closed the cushion + gained depth in his route, leaving him w/enough space on the sideline when Wentz releases. 3yds of separation. pic.twitter.com/SDdjTDXBkX
Terry had a 75-yd tuddy on Aidan's 2nd sack, & Wentz saw it the entire way. I think Curtis & Terry's release confused the FS & he bit on CS, leaving Terry with a step or two on Okudah. The sack is unfortunate. Leno played spin well, Cosmi washed AH. Wentz takes a misstep. pic.twitter.com/yYFFmcfUxZ— Jamual (@LetMualTellit) September 19, 2022
On this third down call, Washington faces a Cover 0 blitz, and Detroit sends too many men for Washington to block. In turn, because Washington had no hot read for Wentz from the tight ends or receivers on this long-developing play, Wentz was forced to throw the ball away.
There are some downfield opportunities that Washington had, right? However, the pressure disrupted the way Scott Turner and company could attack the Lions' secondary. Washington's first-half adjustment was to make Wentz get the ball out of his hands. So, even when Wentz could have let a play develop longer than he did, which would have led to big plays for Washington, Wentz had to get rid of the football.
Washington provided good pass protection here, and Carson Wentz quickly got the ball out of his hands to Antonio Gibson to allow him to make a play. However, the pass protection created a pocket for Wentz to step up and find Jahan Dotson downfield. The Lions were in a cover 2, allowing Washington to attack the middle of the field, and Scott Turner dialed up a good play to score as the Lions' safety on the boundary followed Logan Thomas as he broke out. Because Wentz was feeling pressure from the Lions all game to this point, when he saw Sam Cosmi slightly give up some ground from a bull rush, Wentz dumped it off, and a byproduct of Detroit's pressure erased a shot opportunity.
So what changed in the second half for Washington? What got better?
Turner's approach against the blitz became much more aggressive, and Turner was able to counter what was a good advantage that Detroit had. The Lions never stopped sending disguised man pressures or cover zero blitzes, but Washington forced their defenders to cover every eligible receiver man-to-man. Turner used his running backs and tight ends in the passing game from empty sets.
Additionally, Scott Turner utilized Terry McLaurin and Jahan Dotson on the short-level areas of the field, forcing the Lions defenders to stick with them, and Detroit struggled to defend them. On the first Twitter clip above, Turner isolated McLaurin on the boundary with the Lions' corner Jeff Okudah by motioning Curtis Samuel away from that side. McLaurin won and gained 18 yards on third down. On the second twitter clip, Washington again came out in an empty set, forcing Detroit to account for every eligible receiver for Washington. Gibson became the hot route as Washington again faced a cover 0 blitz. Lastly, on the Curtis Samuel touchdown, a similar adjustment. This was Curtis Samuel's second snap out of the backfield, and as Detroit ran another cover one pressure, it forced the Lions to put their defensive end on Curtis, creating an easy win for the Commanders.
Overall, there were opportunities for Turner to adjust quicker than he did in the first half against Detroit. I believe that if Washington utilized their empty sets much more often in the first half, Carson could have had much more success than they did against Detroit. Furthermore, while the long-developing pass plays provided opportunities downfield in the first half, using max protection proved more problematic than Turner expected. Finally, Terry McLaurin and Jahan Dotson should have been utilized much more near the line of scrimmage than they did in the second half, and they, unfortunately, did not.
Does Turner learn from this situation moving forward? We will see.