Well, that was a little disappointing.
The hope heading into the 2022 season was that improved play at QB, thanks to Ron Rivera’s trade acquisition of Carson Wentz, would elevate the team into playoff contention. When the clock ticked 0:00 in the season finale, the Commanders had, in fact, achieved the highest win total of Ron Rivera’s tenure as head coach and chief of football operations by 1.5 games. Nevertheless, for the sixth season in a row, and third of three under Rivera, the Commanders failed to post a winning record.
Thanks in part to some cowardly play calling in the first Giants game, they did achieve the dubious distinction of becoming the first team to finish a 17 game season with a 0.500 record.
As we prepare for the first offseason with new Offensive Coordinator Bieniemy, and hopefully new ownership, here is a recap of the snap counts and the statistical highs and lows of the Commanders’ 2022 season. In part 1 of 2 we will review the final year of former offensive coordinator Scott Turner’s offense.
2022 Stats Summary - Offense
As for the offensive renaissance that fans were led to expect, the Commanders finished the season ranked 24th in points scored (down 1 place from 2021), averaging just 18.9 points per game, and 20th in yards gained (up 1 place). In the passing game, the team ranked 21st in yardage (same as 2021), 23rd in net yards per attempt (down 1 place), 17th in TDs (up 3 places), and had the 6th most interceptions (4 places worse than 2021).
Adjusting to the disappointing passing game, around midseason the Commanders began leaning on the running game as their fortunes on offense improved. They finished the season ranked 4th in rushing attempts (up 6 places from 2021), 12th in rushing yards (same as 2021), 29th in rushing TDs (down 8 places), and 28th in yards per attempt (down 10 places). As a result of the reliance on the run, the Commanders finished the season with the 9th highest run/pass ratio (47.2/52.8) in the league.
Rivera’s allegedly revamped offense finished the regular season as the 25th least efficient unit in the NFL as judged by Expected Points Added (EPA) per play (-0.066). This represented a drop in the rankings of 4 places from 2021 (-0.036 EPA/play).
Contrary to popular perceptions, the decline in offensive efficiency since last season was more pronounced in the running game than in the passing game. The Commanders’ passing offense ranked 24th in efficiency, at -0.045 EPA/play (good offenses post positive numbers), down one place in the league rankings from 2021. The rushing offense ranked 23rd in efficiency, at -0.092 EPA/play, which represented a drop of 9 places in the league ranking from 2021 (-0.062 EPA/play).
The fact that both aspects of the Commanders’ offense declined in efficiency points to the one common factor, the offensive line. According to Pro Football Focus, the Commanders’ offensive line ranked 26th in pass blocking (grade 61.7) and 23rd in run blocking (grade 55.6) in 2022. These figures represent a 22-place drop in the league rankings for pass blocking from 2021 (rank 4th, grade 78.3) and a 17-place drop in run block ranking (2021 rank 6th, grade 80.2).
One consequence of the heavy reliance on the run, combined with their poor offensive efficiency, is that the Commanders tended to dominate time of possession. A narrative arose within the fanbase that controlling the clock was the key to the team’s success during the winning streak in Weeks 6 through 12. In actual fact, in 2022 the Commanders tended to have greater time of possession in games that they lost (DET, PHI #1, DAL #1, MIN, SF, CLE) and tied (NYG #1), as well as those that they won (JAX, GB, IND, PHI #2, HOU, ATL, DAL #2). Time of possession was positively correlated with point differential in the Commanders’ 2022 games, but the correlation was weak (r = 0.32) and only explained 10% of the variance in point differential per game.
A simpler explanation of the Commanders’ winning stretch from Week 6 through 12, and their season W-L record as a whole, is strength of schedule. From Weeks 6 through 12, the Commanders faced two teams that finished the season with winning records, and split those games 1 W and 1 L. The other 5 opponents during the winning stretch finished the season with losing records. In the season as a whole, the Commanders only won 3 games against winning teams. Their season record against winning teams was 3W-6L-1T, while against losing teams they were 5W-2L.
Another factor that correlated very strongly with winning and losing this season was turnovers. The Commanders were 5-0-0 in games in which they had a positive turnover differential (more takeaways than giveaways), 1-7-0 in games in which they had a negative turnover differential, and 2-1-1 in games with 0 turnover differential.
The Commanders actually had a better record than you might predict based on turnovers, as they ended the regular season with a turnover differential of -5, which was the 7th worst figure in the league. The offense and defense were about equally to blame, as the team had the 7th fewest takeaways in the NFL, with 18, and was tied for the 8th most giveaways with 23. That giveaways figure isn’t quite as bad as it sounds, because the Commanders were tied with 8 other teams. Nevertheless, it still puts them in the top half of the league in giveaways.
SNAP COUNTS - OFFENSE
For the second season in a row, Washington’s appointed starter got injured, and backup Taylor Heinicke was forced into action as the team’s primary starter. When given the opportunity to start in Week 7, Heinicke demonstrated that he was no worse than the trade-acquired starter, and in many respects was better.
In 9 starts for Washington, Heinicke achieved a 62.2% completion rate, 206.6 yards per game, 6.18 net yards per attempt, a touchdown percentage rate of 4.6%, interception rate of 2.3% and sack rate of 6.8%. Heinicke did this while facing the second highest pressure rate (27.7%) among NFL QBs with 6 or more starts, due in large part to the regression of the OL. Heinicke also had an uncatchable throw rate of 16.7% (NFL rank 11) and finished the season with a Total QBR of 44.5 (NFL rank 25).
Heinicke had an essentially identical completion rate to Wentz (62.3%), trailed Wentz by 12.8 yards/game, threw for 0.9 more net yards per attempt, had a 0.6 higher touchdown percentage and a 1% lower interception percentage (meaning Wentz was 1.4 times more likely to throw INTs), and a 1.8% lower sack percentage. Heinicke was also the more accurate passer, throwing 1.9% fewer uncatchable balls. Wentz’s bad-throw rate tied Derek Carr for 4th highest in the NFL. He finished the season ranked 32nd among NFL QBs, with a Total QBR of 33.0.
After flashing starting potential in preseason, and despite the struggles at QB, rookie Sam Howell rode the pine until the season finale against Dallas. In his first NFL start, he posted fairly pedestrian numbers including 11 completions on 19 attempts (57.9%), 169 passing yards, 1 TD to 1 INT with 3 uncatchable throws (16.7%). He also rushed for 35 yards and 1 TD on 5 carries. His passing stat line was brought down by two drops by receivers. Had they hung on, it is likely that he would have more closely approximated the two starters’ season averages at 13/19 (68.4%) for 214 yards.
Most importantly, Howell flashed enough arm talent and dual-threat running ability against a snake-bitten Cowboys’ team to secure a tentative nod as the team’s starter going into the 2023 season.
Brian Robinson was named the starter when he joined the lineup in Week 5, yet Antonio Gibson frequently played more snaps throughout the season.
Robinson finished the season with 797 rushing yards and 2 TDs on 205 attempts (3.9 Y/A) and averaged 66.4 yards per game. He also had 9 receptions on 12 targets for 60 yards and 1 TD, for a total of 857 yards and 3 TDs from scrimmage. Robinson’s 3.9 Y/A rushing efficiency ranked 52nd (tie with Joe Mixon and James Robinson) among 67 backs with 50 or more attempts.
Gibson ran for 546 yards and 3 TDs on 149 attempts (3.7 Y/A) and averaged 36.4 rushing yards per game. He also had 46 receptions for 353 yards and 2 TDs, for a total of 899 yards and 5 TDs from scrimmage. Gibson had additional value on Special Teams.
The running backs’ rushing totals do not appear to have been helped by the poor state of Washington’s offensive line. Robinson and Gibson both averaged 2.2 yards before contact, which tied for the 18th lowest YBC among 71 running backs with a minimum of 200 offensive snaps.
While fumbling had been the topic of the offseason in the RB room, Robinson and Gibson both had only one fumble apiece in 2022. HH regular LASkin’s piece on fumbling by RBs proved to be prophetic on that topic.
Third down back J.D. McKissic played 8 games before being placed on IR with a season-ending neck injury. Prior to that he rushed for 95 yards on 22 attempts (4.3 Y/A) and made 27 receptions on 40 targets for 173 yards with no touchdowns. His 4.3 yards per target was the lowest mark of his career.
Jaret Patterson’s playing time was mainly limited to the season finale against Dallas. On the season he had 78 yards on 17 rushing attempts (4.6 yards/attempt) and no receptions on 1 target.
In 2022, 87.5% of Washington’s 312 passing targets to WRs were directed to Terry McLaurin (38%), Curtis Samuel (29%) and Jahan Dotson (20%). The other four receivers on the roster barely got a look. Cam Sims was next with just 18 targets (6%), while Dyami Brown only had 5 receptions out of 14 targets.
McLaurin had the 10th most receiving yards amongst all NFL receivers this season, with a total of 1,191 yards on 77 receptions out of 120 targets (64.2% catch rate, rank 47th out of 100 WR with 40 or more targets) and 5 TDs. McLaurin was the 6th most efficient receiver in the NFL at 9.9 yards per target. That is not bad considering that he was catching passes from QBs with poor accuracy all season. He dropped only 3 passes, and his drop rate of 2.5% was the 28th lowest among 100 receivers with a minimum of 40 targets. It would be interesting to see what Terry could achieve catching passes from a top 10 QB.
Curtis Samuel was the next most productive WR, with 64 receptions on 92 targets (69.6% catch rate) for 656 yards and 4 TDs. His drop rate of 5.4% ranked 59th among 100 WR with over 40 targets. Samuel also rushed for 187 yards and 1 TD on 38 attempts, making him the Commanders’ most efficient rusher with more than 20 attempts. He fumbled once this season.
2022 1st round pick Jahan Dotson ranked 5th in the draft class with 43.6 yards/game, and 6th in the class with 8.6 yards/target, which aligns pretty well with his being selection 5th in the class. The one area where he exceeded his draft status was TD receptions. He and Christian Watson were class leaders with 7 TD apiece. Dotson had the second-highest productivity among Commanders’ receivers at 43.6 yards per game, which ranked 48th among WR with 40 or more targets (again tied with Watson). Dotson’s one major area for improvement is holding on to the football. His drop rate of 9.8% was the 7th highest of 100 receivers with more than 40 targets.
Cam Sims had 8 receptions on 18 targets (44.4% catch rate) for 89 yards and 0 drops.
Dyami Brown caught 5 passes on 14 targets (35.7% catch rate) for 143 yards with a long of 75.
Washington’s tight ends appeared to go missing from the passing game in 2022. The four tight ends combined for a total of 518 receiving yards. Surprisingly, that was only the fourth-lowest total among tight end groups around the NFL. Even so, it represents a 30% drop in receiving production from last season (716 yards), when they didn’t exactly set the league on fire either.
Washington’s leading receiving tight end was Logan Thomas, who did not appear to be fully recovered from injury and put up 39 receptions on 61 targets (63.9% catch rate) for 323 yards and a touchdown. John Bates caught 14 receptions on 22 targets (63.6% catch rate) and 1 TD. Armani Rogers played the fewest snaps and had the fewest targets, but caught 5 of the 6 passes thrown his way (83.3% catch rate) for 64 yards. His receiving efficiency mark of 10.7 yards per target was more than twice that of the next best TE, Logan Thomas (5.3 yards per target). Perhaps Rogers should play more.
Rookie Cole Turner had an abysmal catch rate of 22.2%. As a result, he only managed to get 23 receiving yards out of 9 targets (2.6 yards per target).
Washington’s tight ends were also used as blockers. John Bates received a 65.0 run blocking grade from PFF, which tied him for 19th best among TEs. Cole Turner had a pass blocking grade of 64.4, which ranked 58th among tight ends. Aside from those “highlights”, Washington’s TEs were pretty much trash in the blocking department.
As mentioned in the introduction, Washington’s offensive line dropped off a cliff in 2022 due to the failure to find adequate replacements for departed starters Brandon Scherff and Ereck Flowers and recurring injuries to center Chase Roullier.
Left tackle Charles Leno was the only Commander to play 100% of offensive snaps throughout the season. I have recently subscribed to PFF to access their play-by-play advanced stats, and the blocking stats on Leno are a bit of a paradox. On the one hand, PFF’s subjective grading system gives Leno an 80.9 pass blocking grade, which ranks 16th best for OTs. On the other hand, their Pass Blocking Efficiency rating, which is based on the more objective stats of pressures per opportunity, ranks Leno as only the 72nd best pass blocker, with a blocking efficiency rating (EFF) of 96.4. That is quite a discrepancy. All I have to go on in run blocking is the subjective run blocking grade of 55.9, which ranks 93rd among OTs.
Washington’s other OTs rated much more poorly than Leno in pass blocking. Sam Cosmi had a pass block grade of 66.6 (rank 70th) and an EFF rating of 95.9 (rank 90th), while Cornelius Lucas had a pass block grade of 63.5 (rank 82nd) and an EFF of 94.4 (rank 111th). We can split hairs about which metric is best, but the general message is that Washington’s OTs other than Leno rank somewhere south of 70th in the league at pass blocking.
The other OTs rated a bit better in run blocking. Cosmi had a run block grade of 71.5 (rank 31st), and Lucas had a grade of 70.0 (rank 34th).
The starting guards did not grade well in pass blocking. Andrew Norwell had the best pass block grade at 60.8 (rank 71st) and an EFF of 97.3 (rank 60th). Trai Turner graded at 59.1 (rank 76th) with an EFF of 97.0 (rank 74th). The fat, out of shape ex-Panthers weren’t much better at run blocking. Norwell had a run blocking grade of 59.9 (rank 59th), while Turner had a grade of 52.7 (rank 102nd).
Center was a disaster after starter Chase Roullier was lost for the season with a knee injury in game 2. Following that, three players took turns at center: Tyler Larsen (8 starts), Wes Schweitzer (5 starts), Nick Martin (2 starts). Roullier was the only center with a half decent pass blocking grade (60.4, rank 36; EFF 98.5, rank 15th). Schweitzer and Larsen had respectable run blocking grades (Schweitzer 65.3, rank 20th; Larsen 63.4, rank 24th). The other Commanders centers ranked below 36th in pass blocking and run blocking, which is a good way of saying they were well below starting level.
Acknowledgement: Edited by James Dorsett
Where do you expect to see the most improvement in Bieniemy’s first season as Offensive Coordinator?
This poll is closed
Passing production (Yards per game)
Rushing efficiency (Yards per carry)
Offensive line play (Blocking Grade)
TE production (Receiving yards per game)
Fullback utilization (Offensive snaps)
Better play calling on third and long and in short yardage situations