It’s a new season, so time for some new thoughts about how best to cover the Washington Commanders. Hogs Haven already has several high end writers filling in key niches, with Mark covering “studs and duds” after each game, Jamual breaking down film on key players, Matt recalibrating expectations realistically, and Scott and Bill keeping us plugged in to the most relevant league goings-on via their lovingly hand-curated assortments of articles and nuggets about the team and its rivals.
Among other things, I’ve conventionally aimed to fill a role here that I enjoy: provocative “big idea” guy.
Sometimes those big ideas get ignored: “It’s time to end this Antonio Gibson experiment.”
Sometimes they get incorporated relatively quickly: “Sam Cosmi should be move to guard.”
And, sometimes, after a year or more, they are reluctantly adopted: “It’s time to trade Trent Williams.”
But they nearly always spur lively discussions and, sometimes - perhaps - even make their way to the brain trust in Ashburn for consideration. This season, I’ll look to formalize these treatises a bit, with a slightly more pointed conclusion to each.
So, consider this the first in a series of articles, each looking at “One Big Idea” to implement in order to improve Washington’s outcomes, on a weekly, or occasional basis, as the inspiration strikes.
First up: Play your best 11 players.
When Cody Barton arrived this offseason, I was cautiously optimistic that he might be able to approximate the level of production the team lost when Cole Holcomb decided to part ways for Pittsburgh.
If I’m being completely honest, I still hope that’s eventually the case. But right now, Cody Barton stinks.
Cody Barton just watches James Conner run right by him for a big gain… pic.twitter.com/zHh0M32061— Mark Tyler(Hogs Haven) (@Tiller56) September 10, 2023
Against the Cardinals, Barton was Washington’s lowest-rated defender - per PFF - and was terrible both against the run and the pass.
Cody Barton week 1 pic.twitter.com/s2JRtjaYCr— Commanders Declassified Podcast (@DeclassifiedWft) September 12, 2023
In Week 1, Barton played 100% of defensive snaps, to Jamin Davis’ 62%, yet Davis had 50% more tackles than the storied “run defender.”
Total Tackles (9/10): (league rank)
Jamin Davis - 6 (tied for 90th)
Cody Barton - 4 (tied for 180th)
The point of this piece, however, is not to pile on Cody Barton. He’s still learning the system. The point is, rather than continuing to try to jam a linebacker into a role that overwhelms him for a third straight season, wouldn’t it be nice if Washington could just get its two best linebackers on the field at the same time, before the bye.
Enter Khaleke Hudson.
Hudson was kept under a basket for nearly all of 2022, averaging just 1% of defensive snaps through Week 17, and being deployed almost exclusively on special teams. Then in Week 18, against the Dallas Cowboys, Hudson was finally given his shot, and he made the most of it, collecting 7 tackles (tied for the team lead).
Our own Phil Hughes did a film review of Hudson’s play in the game and offered the following:
“This kid’s got some skills, man. He should not be rotting away on the bench. I mean, what the hell, why are we not seeing more of this kid?”
“What more can you ask for from a guy that stands 6’ and weigh 220 lbs? Now once [offensive linemen] get their hands on him, you know, they might be able to manhandle him, but getting their hands on him is not an easy battle, and he makes a lot of tackles, and sheds a block, makes a tackle, and it seems like that’s what he does 90% of the time when he’s up against the run.”
I vociferously agreed with Phil’s take, identifying Hudson as one of three young Commanders’ players that I expect to make a significant improvement during the 2023 season.
The interesting thing is, Jack Del Rio seemed to be pretty impressed with Hudson’s play this offseason as well.
Jack Del Rio on Jamin Davis: "We had more splash plays and less 'what the heck are you doing?' plays. We need that trend to continue."— Matthew Paras (@Matthew_Paras) June 1, 2023
He also mentions that Khaleke Hudson has been "outstanding" and has built on his Week 18 performance against the Cowboys.
Yes, Hudson is considerably smaller than Barton (6”, 220 lbs vs. 6”2’, 237 lbs), but Hudson is faster and more athletic.
This move would likely involve shifting Jamin Davis back to MIKE, and sliding Hudson in at WILL, and perhaps giving the “green dot” - aka signal calling responsibilities - to Kam Curl, as has been done in the past, so as not to overwhelm Davis. That worked out fine last time.
Awesome play by Kam Curl to make a bone-rattling tackle on Michael Pittman on a 6-yard completion. He's quietly been outstanding again this season. Calling signals as the green dot without Holcomb today. #Commanders— Grant Paulsen (@granthpaulsen) October 30, 2022
Against the Cardinals, the rushing game wasn’t a serious issue, with James Conner only collecting 62 yards on the ground. That said, 62% of the Cardinals’ receptions (13 of 21) were to either tight ends or the running back, players who would conventionally be covered by a linebacker. Tight end Zach Ertz also ended up dropping several key passes throughout the game and was the subject of 30% of the Cardinals’ targets by himself.
Adding Hudson to the mix increases the defensive speed, and changes the complexion of the middle of this defense. As we’ve seen time and time again, hungry young players - even without top draft pedigrees - like Kam Curl, Darrick Forrest, and James Smith-Williams can become high-end contributors if just given the chance to perform.
I’d like to see us give Hudson a chance to show us what he’s got against the Broncos, a team with a badly wounded receiving corps, and a QB with a weak spot for quick pressure. Deploy Khaleke on some stunts and watch Russell get cooked.
As for Barton, ease him into the game, perhaps primarily on rushing downs, while upping Hudson’s usage dramatically.
Do you think Khaleke Hudson should be elevated to LB2?
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No, not right now.
No, not at all this season.
What do you think of a "One Big Idea" series?
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