The Washington Commanders opened their 2023/24 season with a win over the Arizona Cardinals. The win was expected, but a 4-point victory over a Josh Dobbs-led Cardinals team didn’t inspire confidence in some of this week’s power-rankers. Washington still averages as a bottom-12 team in the NFL, despite their 1-0 record. A lot of “good” teams lost, and some people want to see more than one week before making drastic changes to their preseason thinking.
DraftKings still has the Over/Under for Washington’s team win total at 6 1⁄2 this year. That would mean another losing season for Ron Rivera, and an easy reason for new team owner Josh Harris to make sweeping changes to the organization. New QB Sam Howell and OC Eric Bieniemy are looking to keep their jobs(and possibly move up), and that means winning a lot of football games, especially the ones you’re supposed to win.
Washington has their first road game of the season on Sunday when they travel West to face the Denver Broncos. They opened as 3 1⁄2 point road underdogs, and will need this win as they prepare for the Bills and Eagles the following weeks.
Sam Howell had some rough moments against the Cardinals, but he did enough to pull out a close victory. That offensive line had some major issues. Last week: 13
The curse is lifted. In the first game this century not under Dan Snyder’s ownership, the Commanders turned two Cardinals fumbles in the fourth quarter into 10 points, and Ron Rivera gave new owner Josh Harris a game ball in the locker room. (Even though we’re overreacting, we don’t think that’s going to be enough for Rivera to stick around into next year.) Last week: 25
They really tried to lose to the consensus worse team in the NFL, but Sam Howell and the offense did enough to get the job done, and the defense held the Cardinals to just 210 total yards. Howell needs to protect the ball better going forward, but a win is a win. Last week: 16
It wasn’t a pretty win on Sunday, but this is a new era for the Washington Commanders. While the roster and coaching staff are largely the same, this wasn’t a game Washington wins in previous years. As long as the Commanders have a top-10 defense and Sam Howell can clean up his turnovers, there’s an outside shot at making it as a Wild Card team. Last week: 22
Sam Howell is a gamer and should get better with his arm and athleticism once he cleans up mistakes and gets more on the page with all of his key targets. The defense got a pass vs. the anemic Cardinals, but played well still minus Chase Young. Last week: 21
New ownership motivates the Commanders into a playoff team. Washington certainly left a lot on the table as the club squeaked by the lowly Cardinals. Still, the Commanders found a way to win, which isn’t something they did often under the previous regime. Last week: 21
Good news, they won. Bad news, they might not be much better than the Cardinals. Last week: 20
Best debut performance: CB Emmanuel Forbes
Week 1 stats: 3 tackles, tackle for loss, 1 pass defensed
None of Washington’s newcomers made a tremendous impact, but Forbes, their first-round pick (16th overall), played a solid game. He handled his assignments well, didn’t bite on some double moves, kept his eyes in the right place in zone coverage and drove well on the few passes thrown to his man. On his TFL, he showed good recognition and quickly sped past a lineman headed his way and made the tackle on a run. — John Keim Last week: 25
It wasn’t the start Sam Howell and the offense wanted, especially in terms of pass protection. Turnovers, penalties and sacks were huge bugaboos in Week 1 against a rebuilding Cardinals team, yet Washington escaped with only a four-point edge. That’s worrisome but not yet a travesty. The offensive line, Howell and offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy all can share some blame for the pass-pro mistakes. The Commanders’ defense showed it can take over games, but asking that every week likely won’t fly for very long. Last week: 23
It’s hard to have a more underwhelming Week 1 win than Washington had. There were no standouts and nothing that looked great. The Commanders were in serious danger of losing to a bad Arizona team at home deep into the second half. It was a win, and you don’t turn those down, but Washington is going to have to be much better to keep winning. Last week: 23
The Sam Howell era officially opened with a bang for the Commanders, even if their Week 1 win over the lowly Cardinals was a lot closer than it needed to be.
A 202-yard passing attack was led by Logan Thomas, Curtis Samuel, and Jahan Dotson, all of whom received at least five targets. Howell is still very much a work in progress, but signs are pointing up after his first start in the NFL. Last week: 24
Probably a bit closer than they’d have preferred against likely the NFL’s worst team, but 1-0 feels especially important when you’re making an ownership change. It feels noteworthy that Sam Howell committed two turnovers that led to 10 Arizona points — but also led his team on two fourth-quarter scoring drives to win the game. You take the good with the bad, I guess. Last week: 24
Sometimes, a team just has to take an ugly win and accept it. They count the same as the pretty ones.
Washington’s four-point victory over the Arizona Cardinals, who may well be the worst in the NFL team, qualifies as an ugly win.
After the game, second-year quarterback Sam Howell admitted that if the Commanders are going to make any noise in a loaded NFC East, he and the offense must play better.
“Offensively, we could’ve played a lot better,” Howell told reporters. “Turnovers, penalties, sacks—just a lot of things I think I can do better. Definitely a lot to clean up on the offensive side of the ball.”
Howell was making only his second career start. But he finished 19-of-31 for 202 yards with one touchdown, one interception, one lost fumble and a passer rating south of 80. He was sacked six times, and the Commanders were held under 250 total yards in offense and turned the ball over three times.
Against the hapless Redbirds, those kinds of mistakes can be overcome. And next week’s trip to Denver appears to be winnable given how the Broncos looked in Week 1.
But after that comes a home date with the Buffalo Bills and a trip to Philadelphia to play the defending NFC East champions. If the Commanders play against those heavyweights the same way they did against the Cardinals, those games could quickly get out of hand. Last week: 24
Sam Howell became Washington’s seventh different Week 1 QB1 in the past seven seasons … and did little to dispel doubts there might be an eighth new face behind center in 2024. Last week: 24
The Washington Commanders struggled against the worst roster in the league on opening day. The Commanders’ defense was good, as expected, but Sam Howell and the offense left a lot to be desired. A trip to Denver is a far more arduous task than a home game against the Cardinals. Last week: 24
Commanders-Broncos is going to be a sneaky banger next week. One team tries to fend off absolute embarrassment while the other tries to hoist a Sam Howell-quarterbacked team to a first place start in the NFC East. Howell is tough, by the way, and was no worse than any of the quarterbacks who made up that middle-tier equator of passers last year. He threw players open, and, at least against the Cardinals, they were able to create a lot of space in the run game. Last week: 28
Sam Howell committed a horrible turnover to put the Commanders behind, but came alive late to avoid what would have been an embarrassing loss to Arizona. Last week: 26
Where should the Washington Commanders be ranked going into Week 2?