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Commanders fans unhappy with coaches and players as the team is last in NFCE and confidence crashes

Survey results!!

Philadelphia Eagles v Washington Commanders Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images

The Washington Commanders’ 1-2 record doesn’t sound too bad; after all, half the league — 16 teams — has just one win or is winless. But the record doesn’t begin to tell the story of where Commanders football is as we enter Week 4 of Ron Rivera’s 3rd season as head coach.

It wasn’t impossible to feel good about the team’s home victory in Week 1, despite a 20-minute stretch with 3 turnovers in which Washington let the Jaguars back into a game that the Commanders had dominated for most of the first half. That 20-minute stretch could be written off, if you really wanted to, as an aberration. After all, the team came back and scored two touchdowns in the 4th quarter to win the game.

But Weeks 2 and 3 were eerily similar to one another, with the Commanders trailing 22-0 at halftime against the Lions in a game that they eventually lost by 9 points. The loss was a full-team affair, with the offense, defense, and special teams playing horrible football for the entire first half before showing up in the 2nd half and making the score a bit more respectable. Last week against the Eagles, the special teams seemed competent, and the defense held the Eagles scoreless in the 1st, 3rd & 4th quarters, but the offense simply looked overmatched. The offensive line, in particular, appeared to have no answers for the Eagle’s defense, while Carson Wentz seemed hesitant and confused on his way to 9 sacks.

In talking about how the team can help No. 11, Ron Rivera had a fair bit to say:

I think really it’s just assimilating to him and him assimilating to what we do. We understand some of the things that he does really well, and we try to feature those things in our offense. It’s difficult to explain, but when [we] watch the tape and we see it, we know the things that have to be corrected. We know who to talk to. We know the players that we’ve gotta talk to, and then us coaches talk about the things that we can do with protections to help a little bit more. Those are all things that we’re working on right now.

I mean it’s not as if we didn’t look at the tape and we didn’t know that a three step beats, some pressure sometimes, or that you run a bubble screen to get it out on a zero blitz, stuff like that.

Whatever things the coaches did consider to help their quarterback — from three step drops to bubble screens — little of it seemed to get called by Scott Turner in the first half against the Eagles, and none of it seemed to work. The offense looked lost in Week 3, as did the entire team during the first half in Week 2.

Regardless (irregardless, even), Scott Turner confirmed this week that the plan is to play the same offensive line starters (aside from changes forced by injury).

For a front office that did little this past offseason to upgrade the roster outside of the draft and the trade for Wentz, it seems to raise a lot of questions about their ability to build a championship roster in today’s NFL, and the ability of coaches to prepare players for the opponents from week to week.

It seems as if Ron Rivera thinks the answer may lie in a commitment to more “old school” offensive football:

We can’t feel that our best three offensive players are our three wide receivers because if we go into that with that mindset, the tendency is gonna wanna throw the ball to get it in their hands. With what we can do with our ability to run the ball, we have to give that a shot as well. I know not having [RB] Brian Robinson out there right now is hampering us a little bit, but we still have some very capable runners, so we’ve gotta look at [running the ball] as an option as well.

Then the same thing with the tight end position. We can’t forget those guys. [In] the Jacksonville game, a huge number of guys...touched [the ball]. You look at the second half of the Detroit game and we got to that combination and mixture guys. [Against Philadelphia], it took a while before we got there. We have so many play makers, but there’s only one ball and we’ve gotta find that [right] combination. Whether it starts with running the ball. Whether it starts with throwing the ball early on, [or] throwing the shorter passes with the intermediate passes, [we have to] take a little bit of pressure off the quarterback, and then every now and then throw the deep one. It’s a combination of things that we’re working through and we’re trying to find.”

In this week’s Hogs Haven survey of members, the key question was where to lay the blame for the horrendous football we’ve seen over the past two weeks.

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The majority of fans are spreading the blame around, pointing the finger at both coaches and players, although more than a third of those responding to the survey were ready to blame just the coaches.

Hogs Haven member comment:

I can’t see us beating Dallas - much as it pains me to say it. They’ve got a great D and even when he was in and out of the game and looking out of sorts, Parsons was still piping off the screen on Monday. I wouldn’t be surprise if it’s the third week in a row we get behind badly.

As for blame, as I said to Matt in a different thread it’s on the coaches for me, and specifically Ron.

I’m getting tired of the “it’s all the players” narrative that’s coming from Ron but this is his roster, and if it’s not good enough to execute the schemes and there’s no problem with the schemes/coaching, then it’s on Ron’s construction.

If they are good enough - as he seems to stand by (because he has to, as it’s the roster he built) - then it’s on the coaches as well as, if not more than, the players.

This is the roster Ron built, with the coaches Ron hired. If it’s not working and we’re not competitive after three years of Ron’s rule as coach and de facto GM, the buck stops with Ron.

Certainly the team has come out flat two weeks in a row, once in a road game in front of a rowdy Lions crowd in Detroit, and again last week in front of a mixed crowd of both Washington and Philly fans at FedEx Field. Indeed, there were so many Eagles fans in attendance that the Commanders offense often had to use a silent count.

For his part, Ron Rivera seems to be pointing his finger at the players. He said earlier this week:

“I’m optimistic. I’ve told you guys that yesterday I’m an optimistic person. But what has to happen is the guys that need to play better, got to play better. That’s the truth in the matter, because you go back and look at some of the things that happened. We had some opportunities in that game. Okay. Whether it was some of the things that happened up front with the offensive line, or it was some of the things that happened downfield or some of the things that happened at other positions, there’s some things that we have to fix and that’s the truth of the matter. We have to play better. When we’re in opportunities and situations to make something happen; we’ve got to do those things. We’ve looked at it. We’ve figured it out. We’ve addressed it. Now we got to go out and do it.”

Things on that front are not likely to get any easier this Sunday, as the team travels to Dallas to face the Cowboys in front of a crowd that seems to be rallying behind backup QB Cooper Rush, who is 2-0 as a starter in place of the injured Dak Prescott.

This is a critical early season divisional game for the last place Commanders, who will be in a deep hole if they lose this week. The Eagles are favored at home against the Jaguars, and the Giants are similarly favored at home against the Bears. The prospect of falling to 1-3 (0-2 in the division) while the Eagles are undefeated and the other two teams sit at 3-1 is really unappealing, but that’s what the Vegas oddsmakers are predicting.

We asked fans a particular question about the coaches in this week’s survey: Which coaches should be on the hot seat right now (in imminent danger of getting fired)?

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There’s no real surprise in Hogs Haven readers directing their ire at defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio. His defense has surrendered 82 points in 3 games — the third most in the NFC. Many critics see Del Rio as unimaginative and ineffective.

Meanwhile, 42% of Hogs Haven readers say that Ron Rivera should be on the hot seat just 36 games into his Washington tenure, but after two sub-.500 seasons and two horrible games so far this season, fans want to see much better results from the Commanders. I think it’s fair to say that most fans either wanted or expected a lot better than the 15-21 regular season record and 0-1 playoff record that Rivera has produced to date.

In his introductory press conference in January 2020, Rivera was not afraid of setting high expectations by talking about Super Bowls and saying that he did not have patience for a 5-year plan. This offseason, he seemed ready embrace the idea that, as he entered his 3rd year, it was fair for fans to expect results. I’m not sure many people see the plan materializing.

Hogs Haven member comment:

Someone made this point the other day. When we get injuries we are bringing in guys like Wildgoose and Castro-Fields, instead of a Chris Harris Jr., AJ Bouye. Defensive line again we are poaching PS players with little to no experience, in lieu of a Suh, JPP (aware he just signed with Balt).

Year 1-2, perhaps you are bringing in back of the roster as developmental guys/hope to catch lightning in a bottle. At this point you needs to bring in solid if albeit slightly over the prime vets, who know what it takes to succeed, bring a pedigree, and plugs the holes adequately.

Rivera seems to be treating this as a college program where players are churned through every 2-3 years. It’s not.

Of course, we all know that Ron Rivera’s tenure probably could not have been more adversely affected by circumstances outside of his control when he firs arrived in Washington. Everyone admired the way he battled through is own cancer diagnosis and treatment, the challenges of coaching during the pandemic, and the multiple challenges at the quarterback position that included Dwayne Haskins and his on-field and off-field issues, Kyle Allen’s broken bones, Alex Smith’s amazing leg, and the incredible emergence of the unheralded Taylor Heinicke, not to mention the constant drama that comes with working for Dan Snyder.

Hogs Haven member comment:

I blame Dan Snyder for hiring Ron Rivera and Rivera for everything else.

When Rivera said this was not going to be a 5 year rebuild, I naturally assumed he meant it would be done in 2 to 3. It never occurred to me that he was embarking on a 10 year project.

But it’s also true that the NFL, like most professional sports, is a “no excuses” (or at least “few excuses”) league where you’re either winning or leaving.

The sense seems to be that the urgency is building quickly — that it’s time for Ron Rivera to do one or the other, and that the clock is ticking — if not with the owner, then with the fans, who have waited and waited for the entirety of this millennium for the team to turn the corner and return to its former glory of 30 years ago.

Hogs Haven member comment:

I dont think its about 5yr rebuild program anymore. He is just a bad coach and game has passed by him.

All these new OCs and young HC would be even wiser in these 5 yrs. He can’t handle them now, [what] the hell [will] he be doing then?

According to this week’s survey, Commanders fans have lost confidence in the team, with the percentage of fans who still believe crashing to just 7% — the lowest in the league.

After back-to-back embarrassing losses, it’s hard to know what optimism or hope the 7% minority is still holding onto.

This week’s game in Dallas will take place in front of a large TV audience, as the top broadcast team has been assigned to cover our game against “America’s team”. As devastating as a loss would be to the team’s hopes for a successful season, getting blown out for a third consecutive week in front of a huge television audience would simply rub salt in the wound. Let’s hope that the 7% who remain confident in the direction of the team are right, and that there is hope left. We really need the team to come out and play well in Dallas, for the sake of pride, at the very least; a win would be a huge bonus.

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It’s no surprise at all that 77% of Hogs Haven readers who responded to the survey this week expect the Cowboys to win, with nearly half of all respondents expecting the Cowboys to “win big”. Just 23% think the Commanders will prevail, and only 3% expect Washington to have a big margin of victory.

Hogs Haven member comment:

There was a play during last night’s game where Micah Parsons was the bowling ball and the poor offensive lineman was the pins. Between him and Demarcus Lawrence, I’m legit concerned for Carson’s well being.

Offensive coordinator Scott Turner put a fine point on it when he addressed the media this week, saying of the Dallas defense:

They’re a little bit more multiple upfront than Philly. With Parsons, I guess he’s a linebacker, but he’s a defense alignment [nightmare]. I mean, he plays everywhere. Then obviously there’s DeMarcus Lawrence and then the rest of the group, I mean, they all play extremely hard. They do a lot of stunts and twists and stuff up front that you gotta prepare for.

With the problems that the offense has had protecting Wentz so far this season — the Commanders have allowed 15 sacks and 53 quarterback pressures, both NFL highs, and Philly got seven of its nine sacks without blitzing — Scott Turner and offensive line coach John Matsko need to work hard this week to figure something out. With the offseason release of Ereck Flowers, the departure of Brandon Scherff in free agency, and the latest serious injury to Chase Roullier, the interior of Washington’s OL is completely different this season, and the players manning all 5 OL positions seem to be struggling.

All-in-all, things look pretty grim for a team and coaching staff that should be just hitting stride in Ron Rivera’s 3rd season of “culture change”. At 1-2, the season isn’t over by any means, but the nature of the two losses has shaken fan confidence to the core.

Commanders football appears to be in trouble and in need of a dramatic turnaround.