The 5 o’clock club is published from time to time during the season, and aims to provide a forum for reader-driven discussion at a time of day when there isn’t much NFL news being published. Feel free to introduce topics that interest you in the comments below.
Let’s take a look at Washington’s Week 1 opponent, the Arizona Cardinals, who will travel to FedEx Field on 10 September to kick off the 2023 season.
Usually, when you face a team early in the season that has just fired its head coach, then you go in licking your chops. Washington opens the season with two such teams — the Cardinals and the Broncos — but both coaching situations are special enough that the expected advantage may not fully accrue to the Commanders. In Week 2, on the road in Denver, the Commanders will face a new head coach, but not a rookie head coach. Rather, that game at Mile High Stadium will be against one of the best coaches in the league, Sean Payton, who will be aiming to get Russell Wilson’s career and the fortunes of the Broncos franchise back on track.
Week 1 will be against a rookie head coach. Jonathan Gannon turned 40 in January, which makes him the NFL’s seventh-youngest head coach. He has never run his own team at any level.
Gannon spent the last two seasons as the highly successful defensive coordinator of the Philadelphia Eagles. Over those two seasons, the Washington offense scored 17, 16, 8, and 26 points against the Eagles, averaging less than 17 points per game, and compiling a 1-3 record vs Philly.
In other words, Gannon knows Washington’s personnel (though not so much the new offensive coordinator or quarterback), and he has the next 4 months to prepare for that game.
Kyler Murray is currently recovering from a knee injury. No one expects him back for the season opener.
The likely starter is 36-yr-old former Redskins QB Colt McCoy, whom Washington fans know well.
The other QBs on the roster include this year’s 5th round draft pick, Clayton Tune, and undrafted signal callers Jeff Driskel and former Lion (and Viking) David Blough.
This is probably the best situation that Washington’s traditionally slow-starting defense and its two rookie DBs and rookie edge defender could ask for to open the season — a home game against a limited team starting a backup quarterback.
There’s a good chance that the Cardinals will open the season without their top offensive TE, Zach Ertz, who injured his knee last year and had late-November surgery to repair torn ACL/MCL.
Look for James Conner to carry the load at running back. Conner is a solid back whose best statistical season came in 2018 with the Steelers.
Last year, he compiled 752 rushing yards at 4.3 per carry, and added 300 receiving yards to squeak over the 1,000 yards from scrimmage threshold.
Arizona Cardinals wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins has been the subject of trade rumors for months but general manager Monti Ossenfort doused the flames with cold water Thursday night. According to ESPN, Ossenfort said “I don’t foresee that happening...DeAndre’s a Cardinal and we’re moving forward.”
From 2013 to 2020, Hopkins missed only one game. In the past two years with the Cardinals, he has played in only 19 games (combined). He’s been productive, compiling almost 1,300 yards at more than 12 yards per reception, but the $30m 2023 cap hit for the 31-yr-old receiver is a poor fit for a rebuilding team that could probably acquire valuable draft capital in a trade.
Marquise “Hollywood” Brown
The Cardinals traded for Brown a year ago in an effort to inject some “oomph” into their offensive attack. Brown played in just 12 games, missing 5 games with a broken foot in the middle of the season. Having surpassed 90 yards in just one game prior to the injury, Brown’s best game post-injury was 61 yards on 6 catches.
He averaged just 37 yards per game and did not score a touchdown after returning from injury last season. “Hollywood” will be seeking a return to his 2021 form, when he had 1,008 yards and 6 TDs for the Ravens.
Other receivers of note include:
- Rondale Moore - drafted 2nd round, 2021
- Michael Wilson - drafted 3rd round, 2023
- Zach Pascal - former Redskin; former ODU Monarch and teammate of Taylor Heinicke
It’s probably fair to suggest that the offensive line is not the strength of the Cardinals, who are not expected to be a very good team in 2023.
ProFootballNetwork ranks the Cardinals offensive line at 27th in the NFL, right behind the Commanders, ranked 26th.
Lineups.com has Arizona at 29 and the Commanders at 21.
Starting Five: LT D.J. Humphries, LG Paris Johnson Jr., C Hjalte Froholdt, RG Will Hernandez, RT Kelvin Beachum
Ranking Before 2022 Season: #29
Key Additions: OT Paris Johnson Jr., C Hjalte Froholdt
Key Losses: OG Cody Ford, OG Justin Pugh, OG Max Garcia, C Rodney Hudson
The Cardinals faced free agency for the right side of their O-line in Beachum and Hernandez, but they were able to retain both players. Those two led the team in snaps upfront last year and Beachum was the only lineman on the team to play in all 17 games. Humphries and Jones also return, and all four of those guys had strong pass-blocking grades of 75 or higher per PFF.
Froholdt, a former fourth-round pick in 2019, is the new arrival after playing significant snaps for the first time in 2019. He ranked 12th among 39 qualified centers in PFF run-blocking grades, and the Cards will hope he can bolster a run-blocking unit that ranked just 27th in adjusted line yards last year. He’ll replace now free agent Rodney Hudson at center.
Arizona grabbed Ohio State product Paris Johnson Jr. at the #6 overall pick in the draft, and he’ll be their left tackle of the future. Johnson has every physical attribute you could want from a tackle prospect, but I slotted him at guard for now with Humphries and Beachum both back next season.
Bleacher Report has the Cardinals defense ranked dead last following the draft (the Commanders are ranked #4).
2022 Yardage Ranking: 21st
2022 Points-Allowed Ranking: 31st
Key Additions: LB Kyzir White, LB Krys Barnes, Edge BJ Ojulari,
Key Losses: Edge Zach Allen, CB Byron Murphy Jr., LB Ben Niemann, Edge J.J. Watt (retirement), DT Trysten Hill
Theoretically, the Arizona Cardinals will have a newfound defensive focus under new head coach Jonathan Gannon. The former Philadelphia Eagles defensive coordinator coached one of the best units in the NFL last season and knows that offense alone won’t win games.
The Eagles racked up 417 yards and 35 points in Super Bowl LVII but still lost.
Unfortunately, Gannon inherits a defense that was one of the worst in the league—before losing key players like Zach Allen, Byron Murphy Jr. and J.J. Watt. The Cardinals added a couple of veteran linebackers and used a second-round pick on pass-rusher BJ Ojulari, but this is not a talented overall unit.
With Pro Bowl safety Budda Baker requesting a trade early in the offseason, Gannon might not have a solidified locker room either. Toss in the fact that quarterback Kyler Murray is recovering from a torn ACL—which could make keeping the defense off the field difficult early in the season—and you have a recipe for the worst unit in the league.
Sportsnaut also has the Cardinals defense ranked dead last. Here is their assessment:
The Arizona Cardinals allowed the highest completion rate (69.8%) to opponents and it surrendered the second-most passing touchdowns (29). The Cardinals weren’t any better at stopping the run, allowing the 10th-highest yards per carry (4.5). Now, they are through the first wave of free agency and this unit has suffered even more hits with J.J. Watt, Byron Murphy and Zach Allen all gone.
In the 2023 NFL Draft, Arizona added defensive end BJ Ojulari and cornerback Garrett Williams. Given Williams is coming off an ACL tear and Ojulari profiles as a rotational player to start, it’s fair to say this is the least-talented defense in the NFL.
Bleacher Report assessment of Washington’s defense:
2022 Yardage Ranking: 3rd
2022 Points-Allowed Ranking: 7th
Key Additions: LB Cody Barton, CB Emmanuel Forbes, S Jartavius Martin
Key Losses: LB Cole Holcomb, CB Bobby McCain
The Washington Commanders might have reached for 166-pound cornerback Emmanuel Forbes in the first round of last month’s draft, but it’s not hard to see why. Forbes is a turnover machine who recorded 14 interceptions and six pick-sixes in three years at Mississippi State.
A few more turnovers might be all Washington needs to have the league’s best overall defense.
The Commanders recorded only nine interceptions and 18 total takeaways last season. In most other key categories, they were elite. The Commanders logged 43 sacks, ranked third in yards allowed, seventh in points allowed and eighth in defensive red-zone touchdown rate (51.9 percent).
No defense was better than Washington’s on third down, as opponents converted just 31.9 percent of their attempts.
Led by arguably the league’s best defensive line—Montez Sweat, Daron Payne, Jonathan Allen and Chase Young—Washington is powerful up front and very sound overall. If Forbes and fellow rookie Jartavius Martin help in the turnover department, this will be the sort of unit that keeps opposing coaches up at night.
Confidence is not high among Cardinals fans. The SB Nation site, Revenge of the Birds, predicted an opening week loss to the Commanders and a 6-10 season finish. Commenters (fans who follow the Cardinals closely even in the offseason) accused the writer of being a ‘homer’ for his 6-win prediction.
This comment was pretty typical of the tenor:
“You lost me with a Week two win over the Giants. The only race the Cards will be in will be for the draft’s first pick.”
What’s your prediction for the outcome of the Week 1 game against the Arizona Cardinals?
This poll is closed
Win by 6 points or more (current spread is -5.5)
Win by less than 6 points
Start the season with a tie at home