The first part of the Stats & Snaps recap may have brought back unpleasant memories to many of the degradation of the offensive line and the ongoing struggle to field a competent starting quarterback. The second part should offer some relief as we revisit the performance of the defense which enjoyed a 10 week reign as the fourth best stop unit in the league.
We will also have a look at the Commanders’ special teams unit, which produced Washington’s first AP first team All Pro since 2020 (G Brandon Scherff) and the second one since 1996 (P Matt Turk).
2022 Stats Summary - Defense
Some creative and wishful narratives about the offense notwithstanding, the Commanders’ defense was really what kept them in games in 2022. The Commanders’ defense ranked 7th best in points allowed (343), 4th best in percentage of drives ending in an offensive score (31.5), 4th best in yards allowed (5178), 32nd in first downs allowed (286), and held opponents to the lowest 3rd down conversion rate (31.9%) in the league.
The one area where the Commanders’ defense was not strong was takeaways. They ranked 26th in total takeaways (18), 28th in interceptions (9), and 29th in percentage of drives ending in an offensive turnover (7.6%).
The defense was very good at avoiding penalties, ranking 27th in the NFL in total penalties committed (85), and tied for 26th in penalty yards.
The Commanders’ passing defense allowed the fewest completions (308) and first downs (155) in the NFL. They allowed the 2nd lowest completion percentage (59.9%), 4th lowest completion yardage, and held opponents to the 10th lowest net yardage per passing attempt (5.8). They were not so good at preventing scoring, allowing the 8th most passing TDs.
The Commanders’ pass rush ranked 12th in total sacks (43), 6th in percentage of dropbacks resulting in sacks, and 10th in pressure rate (23.1% of dropbacks).
The rushing defense was also very good. The Commanders’ defense ranked 11th best in rushing yards allowed (1,926), tied for 15th best in rushing yards per attempt (4.4), allowed the 8th fewest rushing first downs, and tied with Buffalo and the Chiefs for 5th best in rushing TDs allowed.
The Commanders’ defense also tied with the Giants for the fewest missed tackles in the NFL (49).
What is particularly remarkable about the Commanders’ season production stats on defense is that they did most of the heavy lifting in just 10 games, from Weeks 4 through 13. The Commanders performed poorly on defense through the first three games, ranking 22nd in defensive efficiency at +0.071 EPA/play. From weeks 4 through 13, they became the 4th most efficient team on defense (-0.094 EPA/play). Then, for the three critical weeks after the bye, they fell to 30th in defensive efficiency (0.095 EPA/play), before recovering their midseason form and then some in the season finale against Dallas (-0.498 EPA/play, 1st ranked in Week 18).
2022 Stats Summary – Special Teams
The Commanders punt unit was one of the best in the NFL due to strong performances by 2022 Pro Bowl punter Tress Way and the coverage unit. The Commanders ranked 6th in total punting yards (3885) and 14th in yards per punt (46.8). More importantly, however, they ranked 4th in net yards per punt (43.0), and 5th in percentage of punts downed within the opponent’s 20 yard line (44.6%).
The Commanders’ coverage unit faced the 8th most punt returns in the league (34, tie with Patriots). They, nevertheless, allowed the 12th fewest punt return yards (219) and the 4th fewest yards per return (6.4).
The coverage unit was not quite as good against kick returns, but was not a complete disaster either. The Commanders faced the 2nd fewest kick returns (15, 3-way tie with LAR and LAC) thanks largely to Joey Slye’s kickoffs. Slye had the 9th highest touchback rate on kickoffs in the league, at 77.9%. The coverage unit allowed the 4th fewest kick return yards (350), but also allowed the 11th highest yards per return (23.3).
The Commanders were not strong in the return game. They ranked 7th in the NFL in total punt return yards (336), but that was largely a function of having the most punt return opportunities, thanks to the efficiency of the defense on third downs. In fact, the Commanders ranked 23rd in the league in punt return productivity at 7.6 yards per return. The Commanders were slightly better at returning kicks, ranking 7th in the league in total return yards (902), but were 19th in the league in return productivity at 22 yards per return.
The Commanders were also not good at scoring on special teams. Kicker Joey Slye was tied for 19th in the league in field goal percentage (83.3%) and a disgraceful 31st in extra points at just 85.7%. More than half of the league’s kickers were above 95% on extra points.
DEFENSE – SNAP COUNTS
The defensive line was one of Washington’s key strengths in 2022. Pressure on opposing QBs from the DL made a significant contribution to the Commanders’ excellent performance in pass defense. Overall, however, the Commanders were only middle of the pack in pressuring the quarterback, with 137 total pressures ranking 15th in the league.
Daron Payne and Jon Allen combined for 46 QB pressures, equalling Chris Jones’ total, and ranking 3rd most by a pair of DTs after the Chiefs’ Jones and Khalen Saunders (55) and the Jets’ Quinnen Williams and John Franklin-Myers (52). Daron Payne had the 3rd most sacks among DTs (11), and the Payne-Allen duo tied with Jones and Saunders for the most sacks by a pair of DTs at 19.
Washington was unusual in that its DTs had more sacks than its DEs (16). However, the DEs led by Montez Sweat had the most QB pressures (DE 69 pressures, DTs 49 pressures). Sweat’s 31 pressures ranked 6th among NFL DEs and 9th among all edge defenders (DE + OLB). James Smith-Williams was second among Washington’s DEs with 18 pressures (NFL rank 22), followed by Efe Obada with 10 (rank 44) and Casey Toohill with 9 (rank 45). Chase Young had 1 QB pressure in three games after coming back from injury.
Sweat led Washington’s DEs with 8 sacks, which ranks 13th among DEs and 14th among all edge defenders. Efe Obada had the next most sacks among Washington’s DEs with 4, followed by James Smith-Williams with 3.
In run defense, Jonathan Allen led the DL in run stops, with 32 followed by Daron Payne (29), Montez Sweat (20) and Jon Ridgeway (17). However, the leader in terms of run stop efficiency among players with a large enough sample to measure was John Ridgeway at 11.2% stop rate (17 stops), followed by Jon Allen (10.5% stop rate), Payne (8.4% stop rate), and Sweat (7.4% stop rate).
According to PFF, Daron Payne had 10 missed tackles against the run, which gave him the second-highest miss rate among DL with significant playing time at 17.2%, behind only Efe Obada at 25% (6 misses). Ridgeway had the lowest at 3.7%, followed by Allen at 7.1%. Pro Football Reference gives Payne a much lower missed tackle rate of 7.2% across all defensive plays.
The Commanders played with 2 LBs on more than 50% of defensive snaps in 15 of 17 games this season. The most that a third LB saw the field was 26% of defensive snaps in the Week 2 game against the Lions. In the remaining games, a third LB played 16% of defensive snaps or fewer. Only 2 LBs played on defense in 7 games. Cole Holcomb played 100% of defensive snaps in 6 of 7 games before suffering a season ending foot injury. He was replaced by Jamin Davis who played 100% of defensive snaps in 8 of the 9 following games. On average, the second LB played 70% of defensive snaps throughout the season.
In the running game, Jamin Davis led the LBs with 28 stops (8.3% stop rate), followed by Holcomb with 10 stops (6.2% stop rate). David Mayo and Jon Bostic each had 6 stops and stop rates of 6.0% and 5.5%, respectively. Davis also led the LBs in missed tackle percentage at 9.0%, followed by Holcomb at 7.3%, then Bostic (6.3%) and Mayo (5.0%).
In my recent roundup of CBs, I proposed two complementary methods for rating defenders in coverage. Opposing Passer Rating (OPR) measures pass defense once passes are thrown, while Receptions per Coverage Snap measures the net result of pass defense and preventing receivers from getting open.
Jon Bostic only played 140 coverage snaps, but he was the Commanders’ best LB in coverage, with an opposing passer rating of 78.6 (23rd in the NFL) and a stingy 0.043 Receptions/Coverage Snap, which is better than any of the CBs. Davis was next best in OPR (86.6, NFL rank 54, 421 coverage snaps), but had the highest Receptions/Coverage Snap at 0.0998. Holcomb was next best at preventing receptions (0.0595 Rec/CS, 252 coverage snaps), but was pretty poor at defending passes (125.6 OPR). In 94 coverage snaps, Mayo was pretty also pretty good at preventing receptions (0.0638 Rec/CS), but was atrocious at defending passes (146.9 OPR). Khaleke Hudson only started one game and was alright at preventing receptions (0.0789 Rec/CS), but not so great at defending passes (116.7 OPR).
Kendall Fuller was the Commanders’ mainstay at CB, playing close to 90% of defensive snaps in every game this season. The other CB positions were manned by a platoon. William Jackson III was benched in Game 5 after failing to get the hang of Washington’s coverage scheme. Benjamin St-Juste started 12 games, missed 4 to injury and sat the finale against Dallas. Danny Johnson, Rachad Wildgoose and Christian Holmes also got turns starting.
It should also be mentioned that Safety/Nickel Back Bobby McCain also played 416 defensive snaps aligned at CB, primarily in the slot, which effectively makes him the CB with the third-most playing time.
I have recently published an evaluation of the Commanders’ CBs and McCain in coverage, in which I proposed new metrics to quantify how well defenders do at preventing targets and receptions. Rather than duplicate that effort, I’ll just summarize the main conclusions here. Kendall Fuller is by far Washington’s best CB at preventing receptions. Among the next tier of CBs, Rachad Wildgoose did surprisingly well in limited action, and St-Juste held his own as the Commanders’ CB2 for the majority of the season. The other CBs on the roster, including McCain exhibited significant limitations in coverage. Readers who are interested in the full detail can just click on the link.
Washington started three safeties in most games this season, and they were moved around the formation. Bobby McCain primarily split time between slot CB (404 snaps) and FS (353 snaps), but also lined up in the box on 195 snaps. Kamren Curl spent the most time lined up in the box as a strong safety (368 snaps), but also covered the slot as the Buffalo Nickel (112 snaps), and lined up as a deep FS (189 snaps). Darrick Forrest, meanwhile, spent the majority of time at FS (485 snaps), but also played 265 snaps in the box and 75 snaps defending the slot.
According to PFF’s coverage grades, Kamren Curl was the 10th best safety in coverage in 2022 (grade 80.8). Jeremy Reaves ranked 40th (grade 70.8), Bobby McCain ranked 45th (grade 69.5), and Darrick Forrest ranked 51st (69.0).
The objective stats tell a different story. Among safeties with 75 or more coverage snaps, Jeremy Reaves ranked 11th at defending passes, with a 56.8 Opposing Passer Rating in coverage. Darrick Forrest ranked 17th (OPR 68.0), Bobby McCain ranked 77th (OPR 102.7), Curl ranked 98th (OPR 121.3), and Percy Butler ranked 100th (OPR 124.0).
Percy Butler was the best of the Commanders safeties at preventing receptions. He had the 20th lowest Receptions/Coverage Snap (0.0326) in the NFL. Darrick Forrest ranked 60th (0.0518), Jeremy Reaves 69th (0.0546), Bobby McCain 86th (0.0671) and Curl 92nd (0.0719).
PFF ranked Kamren Curl the 15th best safety in run defense, with a grade of 80.5. Jeremy Reaves ranked 61st (grade 66.5), Percy Butler ranked 68th (grade 64.9), Darrick Forrest 78th (grade 63.2) and Bobby McCain ranked 158th (grade 33.9).
Once again, the objective metrics tell a different story. Percy Butler ranked 6th among NFL safeties in Run Stop Percentage at 8.3%, based on a tiny sample of 3 run stops. Curl and Jeremy Reaves were tied at 23rd (5.7% run stops), Darrick Forrest ranked 92nd (1.9%) and Bobby McCain ranked 101st (1.4%).
Among safeties with enough run tackles to draw meaningful conclusions, Kamren Curl had the lowest percentage of missed tackles, at 4.7% (30 run tackles). Forrest was second best at 7.5% (28 run tackles). Bobby McCain had 27% missed tackles (17 run tackles).
Jeremy Reaves had 16.7% missed tackles, but only had a total of 6 run tackles. Percy Butler had 3 tackles against the run with no misses.
SPECIAL TEAMS – SNAP COUNTS
Commanders’ special teams ace Jeremy Reaves was named AP First Team All Pro in 2022. Reaves’ 16 special teams tackles ranked 2nd in the NFL, just behind the 49ers’ George Odum at 17. Rookies Percy Butler and Christian Holmes had the next most coverage tackles at 5 apiece.
2022 Pro Bowler Tress Way ranked 6th in the NFL in total punt yards (3,885). He was 18th in total yards per punt (46.8), but ranked 7th in net yards per punt (43.0). Not surprisingly then, Way had the 3rd fewest return yards per punt. He also had the 7th highest percentage of punts downed within the opponent’s 20 yard line.
Kicker Joey Slye did not make the Pro Bowl. He tied for 21st in the league in field goal percentage at 83.3%. He was 25th in the league in extra point percentage at just 85.7%. He was better at kickoffs, ranking 9th in touchback percentage at 77.9%.
Dax Milne led the NFL with 40 punt returns. He didn’t do much with all those opportunities, though, ranking 34th in the league with only 7.8 yards per return.
In the kick return game, Antonio Gibson also ranked 35th in the league, at 23.1 yards per return on 21 returns. Jaret Patterson only returned 4 kicks and averaged 24.3 yards per return. Dax Milne returned 15 kicks, averaging just 20 yards per return (NFL rank 69).
Acknowledgement: Edited by James Dorsett. Stats sourced from Pro Football Reference and Pro Football Focus.
What is the Commanders’ biggest need on defense and special teams?
This poll is closed
A second starting LB
An upgrade at boundary CB
An upgrade at slot CB
Someone to fill Daron Payne’s shoes
Succession planning at DE
A rangy deep safety
A dynamic returner