In the first game of the Josh Harris era, the Commanders beat a team that many expected to be picking first in the 2024 draft. In Week 2, they travelled as underdogs to Mile High Stadium, with questionable preparation for the altitude, and upset the 4-point favorite Denver Broncos.
It still might be a little early to fire up the bandwagon, but with the Commanders among the 9 remaining undefeated teams, it might be a good idea to get it out of storage and check the tires and oil. Just in case.
For the second week in a row under new ownership, Washington overcame an early deficit to achieve a comeback victory. This is the first time Washington has started 2-0 in Ron Rivera’s tenure as head coach. The last time the Redskins started a season 2-0 was 2011, with Rex Grossman at QB.
The Denver Broncos scored touchdowns on their first three drives to build a 21-3 lead in the first quarter. The last time the Broncos scored TDs on their first three possessions was in Week 10 of the 2010 season, with Kyle Orton at QB against Matt Cassel and the Kansas City Chiefs.
According to ESPN, Sunday’s 32-3 point scoring rally, starting with Logan Thomas’ TD near the end of the 2nd quarter, was the 2nd biggest comeback in Washington franchise history. The Redskins’ biggest comeback was an overtime victory over the Detroit Lions on November 4, 1990, in which Jeff Rutledge relieved starting QB Stan Humphries, throwing for 363 yards and a TD to overcome a 21 point deficit. Unlike Sunday’s game, the Redskins trailed the entire game and only pulled ahead on Chip Lohmiller’s game-winning field goal in overtime.
Washington’s historic comeback against Denver saw a flip of the usual script, with the Commanders’ offense outpacing the defense. Could we be seeing the payoff from the switch at offensive coordinator already? Interestingly, the Chiefs’ offense, which ranked 1st in the league at 29.2 points per game in 2022, is currently sitting at 22nd and averaging just 18.5 points per game. Meanwhile, since Eric Bieniemy moved to Washington, the Commanders are averaging 27.5 points per game and rank 7th in the league, up from their 24th rank in 2022 at just 18.9 points per game. This will be something to keep an eye on.
One big difference on offense in 2023 is explosive plays, defined as rushes over 11 yards and pass completions over 15 yards. From 2017 through 2022, Washington had the fewest explosive plays in the NFL. Against Denver on Sunday, Washington had 11 explosive plays, which tied them for most in the league with Seattle and last week’s opponent, Arizona. The reason that the game was close down to the final whistle had a lot do with the fact that the Commanders defense gave up the second most explosive plays (10), trailing only the Broncos, Giants and Lions.
Washington had 4 explosive rushing plays (rank 2nd) and 7 explosive pass plays (rank 4th). The defense gave up 4 explosive running plays (2nd most) and 6 explosive pass plays (6th most).
In Week 2, Washington’s offense ranked 3rd in the league in total points (35), 12th in passing yards (266) and 14th in rushing yards (122).
The Commanders ranked 5th in offensive efficiency (0.208 EPA/play) this week, behind Buffalo (0.316 EPA/play), the Gardner Minshew led Colts (0.231 EPA/play), Baltimore (0.225 EPA/play) and Seattle (0.218 EPA/play). The sons of Washington ranked 10th in passing efficiency (0.232 EPA/play) and 5th in rushing efficiency (0.147 EPA/play).
Despite the improvement on offense, there has been some debate about the extent to which poor offensive line play might or might not be holding the team back. It is fair to ask whether excuses are needed when your offense scored 35 points. If there is an issue, it seems to impact the running game more than the passing game.
Washington’s rushing offense was tied with Houston’s for the second fewest yards before contact per rushing attempt (1.0 yd) in Week 2. Fortunately, the Commanders’ running backs were able to make up for that handicap with the highest yards after contact per rushing attempt in the league (4.3 yds). They were also tied for 8th highest rate of broken tackles, at 7.7 rushing attempts per broken tackle. These figures suggest that the running backs are doing their part, despite little help from the offensive line.
In the passing game, the Commanders tied (7-way) for 9th most average pocket time per pass play. Sam Howell was pressured on 17.8% of drop backs, which was only the 17th highest figure in the league. It seems that the line is doing a decent job, by league standards, of keeping Howell clean and giving him enough time to complete passes.
Despite making some big plays, overall the defense struggled to contain Denver’s offense, giving up the 9th most points in Week 2. The Commanders held Denver to just 122 rushing yards, which was only the 14th highest rushing total allowed this week (tied with Denver). However, they were helped by Denver passing a lot more than running. The Commanders allowed 5.3 yards per rushing attempt, which was the 5th highest in the NFL (again, tied with Denver).
Against the pass, the Commanders gave up 277 yards (10th most), and 3 TDs (2nd most, 4-way tie). Washington was particularly vulnerable to big passes from Russell Wilson and, as a result, gave up the third highest yardage per passing attempt (8.66 yds/attempt) in the league, despite holding Wilson to the 7th lowest completion percentage (56.3%).
In Week 2, the Commanders fell to 22nd in defensive efficiency, at 0.148 EPA/play (positive numbers on defense are not good), marking a sharp drop from Week 1 when they were the 4th most efficient (-0.348 EPA/play). They ranked 24th in defensive efficiency against the rush (0.104 EPA/play) and 17th against the pass (0.169).
Washington tied with 3 other teams for 3rd most penalties (8) this week, but only had the 6th most penalty yards (71).
BIGGEST PLAYS OF THE GAME
These plays had the biggest impact on the Commanders’ probability of scoring or being scored upon, as quantified by Expected Points Added (EPA).
13:46 Commanders ball, 3rd and 9 at WAS 26, Sam Howell completion short right to Jahan Dotson for 18 yds, EPA 2.35
10:22 Commanders ball, 4th and 10 at DEN 30, Joey Slye 49 yd field goal attempt no good, EPA -2.94
0:20 Broncos ball, 1st and 10 at DEN 40, Russell Wilson 60 yd TD completion to Marvin Mims, EPA -5.4
14:12 Commanders ball, 4th and 11 at WAS 24, Tress Way punt 66 yds downed by Dyami Brown, EPA 2.15
13:16 Broncos ball, 3rd and 4 at DEN 16, Russell Wilson 53 yd completion to Marvin Mims, EPA -4.23
10:25 Broncos ball, 4th and 1 at WAS 22, Russell Wilson run for 2 yds, EPA -2.1
9:07 Broncos ball, 2nd and 6 at WAS 16, Russell Wilson 16 yd TD pass to Brandon Johnson, EPA -2.72
6.46 Broncos ball, 2nd and 15 at WAS 45, Russell Wilson sacked by Jamin Davis for -1 yd, fumble recovered by Cody Barton, returned 5 yds, EPA 4.02
1:52 Commanders ball, 4th and 4 at DEN 4, Sam Howell 4 yd TD completion to Logan Thomas, Penalty on Kareem Jackson – ejected, EPA 3.97
0:20 Commanders ball, 3rd and 11 at WAS 34, Sam Howell 35 yd completion to John Bates, Offside penalty on Thomas Incoom declined, EPA 3.61
12:59 Commanders ball, 3rd and 10 at WAS 43, Sam Howell scramble for 11 yds, Defensive holding penalty on Fabian Moreau accepted for 5 yds, EPA 2.29
11:53 Commanders ball, 1st and 10 at DEN 30, Sam Howell 30 yd TD pass to Terry McLaurin, EPA 3.42
10:33 Broncos ball, 3rd and 10 at DEN 36, Russell Wilson pass intercepted by Emmanuel Forbes at DEN 47, returned 3 yds, EPA 2.75
8:19 Commanders ball, 3rd and 3 at DEN 24, Sam Howell sacked by Jonathon Cooper for -17 yards, fumble recovered by Andrew Wylie at DEN 41, EPA -2.67
7:36 Commanders ball, 4th and 20 at DEN 41, Joey Slye 59 yd field goal attempt no good, EPA -2.72
15:00 Commanders ball, 2nd and 14 at DEN 50, Sam Howell completion short left to Antonio Gibson for 36 yds, EPA 3.21
14:13 Commanders ball, 1st and 10 at DEN 14, Sam Howell complete short middle to Cole Turner for 12 yds, EPA 2.09
7:18 Commanders ball, 2nd and 1 at DEN 15, Brian Robinson 15 yd TD run, EPA 2.15
2:07 Broncos ball, 1st and 1 at WAS 1, Russell Wilson sacked by Montez Sweat -7 yards, EPA 2.4
0:28 Broncos ball, 4th and 3 at DEN 20, Russell Wilson scramble 14 yds, EPA -3.23
0:03 Broncos ball, 1st and 10 at WAS 50, Russell Wilson 50 yd TD completion to Brandon Johnson, EPA -4.74
0:00 Broncos ball, WAS 2, Two point attempt: Russell Wilson pass incomplete, EPA 2.0
SNAP COUNTS AND STATS - OFFENSE
In his third pro start, Sam Howell completed 27 of 39 passes for 299 yards, 2 TD, 0 INT, while taking 4 sacks for 33 yds. He added 2 rushes for 13 yards and a 1st down. His performance was good for a total QBR of 64.1, which ranked 18th among NFL starters in Week 2. Howell was responsible for Washington’s three biggest plays on offense: a 4 yd TD pass to Logan Thomas on 4th down, a 35 yd pass to John Bates on 3rd and 11 from his own 34 yd line and the perfectly placed 30 yd to Terry McLaurin for the go-ahead score in the 3rd quarter. He was also involved in the third worst play on offense, when he was sacked for -17 yards on 3rd and 3 from the Denver 24 yd line in the 3rd quarter.
Howell demonstrated an ability to spread the ball around, completing passes to 10 different receivers, with 9 different players having at least two receptions, and 6 of them having three or more. That has to be some kind of record, but I don’t know how to look it up.
Howell was under pressure on 20% of drop backs this week, up from 17.9% in Week 1. Commanders’ fans might be surprised to learn that Howell is only the 19th most pressured QB with at least one start in 2023. Sadly, he is the 3rd most frequently sacked, at 12.5% of drop backs, behind Daniel Jones (13.3%) and Justin Fields (13.2%). On a positive note, his sack rate is trending down, dropping from 16.2% in Week 1 to 12.1% in Week 2.
There still appear to be a few fans who don’t get that it normally takes a season or more for QBs to come up to NFL speed. To put Howell’s third start into perspective, I compared it to those of three of the greatest QBs of the Super Bowl era, and some other QBs who have been raised as alternative options in recent years on Hogs Haven.
Last week we saw that Howell’s second start was better than those of all-time greats Peyton Manning, Tom Brady and Drew Brees. That continued to be the case in his third start. Tom Brady came the closest, throwing for more total yardage, on close to 40% more passing attempts. Howell did better than Brady in yards per attempt (7.7 vs 6.7).
Prior to Washington announcing the Wentz trade, there was interest among Washington fans in trading for Russell Wilson. After the Wentz trade was announced, the general mood was that the QB problem was solved for the 2022 season. For those not convinced, the highest rated QB in the 2022 draft was Kenny Pickett. And who could forget the revisionist narratives that developed after the 2022 season that the Commanders should have drafted Justin Herbert instead of Chase Young? Howell was better than Pickett or Wilson on Sunday, and had nearly identical stats to Herbert.
Brian Robinson and Antonio Gibson split time nearly equally this week, but Robinson got the lion’s share of touches on offense. Robinson led Washington skill players in total touches (20), yards from scrimmage (129), TDs from scrimmage (2), rushing yards (87), and yards per reception (21). He had 18 carries for 87 yds (4.8 Y/A) with a long of 27, 2 TDs, a 2 pt conversion and 8 1st downs. He averaged 1 yard before contact rushing, and 3.8 yards after contact per attempt, with 3 broken tackles. He also had 2 receptions on 3 targets for 42 yards and another broken tackle.
Gibson was Washington’s 4th (last) placed rusher with just 2 carries for 9 yards. He did more damage as a receiver in the screen game, tying for 2nd on the team in receptions, and ranking 3rd in receiving yards with 3 receptions on 3 targets for 44 yds, and leading all receivers in yards per target (14.7 Y/tgt). All 44 receiving yards were after the catch. Perhaps Bieniemy should get him the ball in space more often, because he is highly effective when used that way.
Chris Rodgriguez saw the field on 2 snaps as a run blocker, lined up as an inline tight end.
Jahan Dotson got a few more offensive snaps than Terry McLaurin this week, but McLaurin was the leading receiver in most categories. He led the team with 5 receptions on 6 targets (83.3% catch rate) for 54 yards. He was second in TDs scored to Brian Robinson. His 30 yard TD reception was Washington’s third biggest play on offense, in terms of EPA, and was the Commanders’ third longest reception in the game. McLaurin averaged 9.2 yards before the catch and 8 yards after the catch.
Dyami Brown had the 2nd most receiving yards among Washington WRs, but ranked 5th on the team after Terry, a TE and 2 RBs. Brown caught all 3 passes thrown to him for 25 yards (8.33 Y/tgt), with a long of 9. Dotson was 3rd in receiving yards among WRs, and tied with Logan Thomas for 6th on the team, with 3 receptions on 5 targets (60% catch rate) for 22 yds. Curtis Samuel caught all 3 of his targets for 19 yards, and Byron Pringle was targeted once for 4 yards.
Logan Thomas was the designated starter and made one of the biggest plays of the game when he held on to a 4 yard TD pass at the end of the second quarter. The illegal hit he took on that play knocked him out of the game. Up to and including that play he caught 2 of 3 targets for 22 yards and a TD.
John Bates seized the opportunity with Thomas out to become the Commanders’ second leading receiver with 3 receptions out of 5 targets for 46 yards, including a 35 yard play on 3rd and 11 from the Washington 34 near the end of the first half. Cole Turner chipped in 2 receptions on 2 targets for 21 yards.
PFF ranked Logan Thomas the 11th best run blocker among TEs with a minimum of 15 blocking snaps (Run block grade 67.2). John Bates was not far behind with a run block grade of 64.4 to rank 13th. Cole Turner ranked 33rd with a run block grade of 56.8. John Bates ranked 26th in pass blocking (grade 71.1) and Cole Turner ranked 33rd (grade 69.7).
For the second week in a row, Washington’s offensive line graded better in some key categories than a lot of fans perceived during the game. As a group, the O-Line ranked 7th in the league in ESPN’s Pass Block Win Rate. The best individual performer in that category was Nick Gates, who ranked 8th among interior offensive linemen. Next best, believe it or not, was Andrew Wylie, the 15th ranked OT. Overall, the OL did not grade as well in run blocking, ranking 23rd with a Run Block Win Rate of 69%. That was despite the fact that Charles Leno ranked first among OTs with a win rate of 89% (2nd place was 2023 mock draft favorite Darnell Wright).
PFF saw things differently, giving Saahdiq Charles the highest pass blocking grade on the O-Line (62.8), with Gates second (61.3). Andrew Wylie graded worst (54.0). PFF’s highest run block grade on the entire team went to Saahdiq Charles (85.9), followed by Nick Gates (74.8), Sam Cosmi (66.0), with Chales Leno (61.6) in last place. So, depending on whether you believe ESPN’s or PFF’s ratings more, Charles Leno was either the best run blocking OT in the NFL or the worst run blocker on Washington’s line.
More objectively, Leno was charged with giving up the most pressures (4), followed by Gates (3). The other OL were credited with 2 apiece. Leno and Wylie each gave up one sack. Leno, Gates and Cosmi had one penalty apiece.
SNAP COUNTS AND STATS - DEFENSE
The big story on the DL this week was Chase Young’s return. James Smith-Williams was named the starter, opposite Montez Sweat, but Young played the second most snaps. Young did not disappoint as a disruptive presence in the backfield, racking up 1.5 sacks, 1 TFL and 3 QB pressures according to Pro Football Reference. PFF credited Young with 7 pressures, which ranked 25th among edge rushers. Young was not so great at setting the edge against the run. PFF gave him a 61.4 grade for run defense, which ranked 57th among edge defenders.
Montez Sweat had similar stats to Young, with 1.5 sacks, 1 TFL, and 4 total pressures. PFF gave him a 70.9 grade in run defense, ranking 25th among edge defenders. Despite playing fewer snaps, James Smith-Williams made his presence felt with 1 sack and 1 TFL. Casey Toohill made 2 solo tackles and a QB hit.
Daron Payne picked up where he left off last week with 5 solo tackles, 1 sack, 2 TFL, 1 pass batted down, and 3 total pressures. He was a one man wrecking crew on the Denver possession to start the third quarter, with Washington trailing by one TD. In three successive plays he recorded a sack for -9 yards, a tackle for loss of 2 yards, and a pass deflection to force a three and out. That stop led to the drive ending in Washington’s tying score on the 30 yard reception by Terry McLaurin.
Jonathan Allen had a relatively quiet week, with just 1 solo tackle and 2 assists, and no QB pressures. That might have something to do with the fact that he has faced the 8th most double teams among interior defensive linemen through Week 2 this season. The problem that poses for offensive coordinators is they also have to account for Daron Payne (see above).
John Ridgeway had 2 solo tackles and 1 assist. Following his standout performance on limited snaps in Week 1, Abdullah Anderson came down to earth, recording no stats in Denver.
For the second week in a row, the Commanders subbed out their best linebacker in dime packages and kept their second best player on the field every down.
Jamin Davis had 2 solo tackles and 1 assist, with 1 sack and 2 total QB pressures. His forced fumble on the sack of Russell Wilson, recovered by Cody Barton, was the Commanders’ biggest play in terms of EPA (4.02 pts), and sparked the Commanders’ comeback from a 3-21 deficit. Davis was targeted once in coverage, unsuccessfully.
Cody Barton had 4 solo tackles and 6 assists, with 1 QB pressure and the fumble recovery. He was targeted 4 times in coverage, allowing 3 receptions for 31 yds (opposing passer rating 96.9).
Kendall Fuller mainly lined up at boundary corner, splitting time almost equally on left (34 snaps) and right (29 snaps) sides. He also played 2 snaps in the slot and 1 at box safety. St-Juste moved around more, playing 38 snaps in the slot, 11 at boundary corner, 16 in the box, and 1 at free safety. Forbes played exclusively at boundary corner, taking 19 snaps at left CB and 25 snaps at right CB.
Kendall Fuller had a fairly quiet day on the stat sheet, recording 2 solo tackles and 2 assists, with 1 pass breakup. He was targeted 6 times in coverage, allowing 3 completions for 69 yards and 1 TD, with an opposing passer rating of 131.2. Those stats can be a little deceiving. Fuller was quietly the 13th best lockdown corner in the league, averaging 18.8 coverage snaps between receptions.
Benjamin St-Juste had 3 solo tackles and 1 assist. He was targeted 6 times in coverage, allowing 5 receptions for 33 yards, no passes broken up, and an opposing passer rating of 89.6. He ranked 24th at limiting receptions, with 14.8 coverage snaps per reception.
Emmanuel Forbes got his first NFL reception, but he was pretty leaky in coverage when not making plays on the ball. He had 3 solo tackles, 2 passes defended and 1 interception. He was targeted 6 times in coverage, allowing 2 completions for 81 yards, with 2 passes defended including the INT. He was not as good as the other two CBs at shutting his receivers down, with an average of 9.2 coverage snaps per reception (NFL rank 62).
Kamren Curl was the moveable chess piece of the Commanders’ defense against Denver, lining up at box safety for 30 snaps, free safety for 18 snaps, slot corner/Buffalo Nickel for 15 snaps, and even taking a few snaps on the defensive line. Darrick Forrest played 37 snaps at free safety, 19 at box safety, 9 at slot corner, and 1 on the defensive line. Percy Butler played 25 snaps at free safety, 4 in the box and 2 at slot corner.
Curl was the Commanders’ second leading tackler, with 4 solo tackles and 5 assists. He was targeted 5 times in coverage and allowed 4 receptions for 42 yards. Forrest had 2 solo tackles and 1 assist. He was targeted 3 times in coverage and allowed 1 reception for 9 yds.
Percy Butler had a rough day. He was targeted just 2 times in 25 coverage snaps, but allowed 2 receptions for 110 yards and 2 TDs.
SNAP COUNTS AND STATS – SPECIAL TEAMS
Tress Way punted 3 times on Sunday for 168 yards. His average of 56 yards per punt was the third highest in the league. All three landed within the Denver 15 yard line, but Marvin Mims returned one for 45 yards.
Camaron Cheeseman continued to make headlines this week, which is seldom good for a longsnapper. Cheeseman’s bad snap led to a missed field goal on Washington’s first drive of the game. For the second week in a row, Cheeseman earned PFF’s lowest grade on special teams (25.4) to rank dead last out of 1212 players. Somehow, he managed to keep his job after long snapper tryouts through the week.
Joey Slye did the best with what he was given, making 2 of 3 field goals under 50 yards (miss on the bad snap) and missing one from 59 yards. He made all three extra points attempted.
There were only 16 kick returns in the NFL in Week 2. Antonio Gibson didn’t make any of them. All of Denver’s kickoffs went for touchbacks on Sunday, except for the onside kick after the two minute warning which was recovered by Chris Rodriguez.
Jamison Crowder fielded 3 punts. He fair caught one and returned the others for 3 and 6 yards (4.5 yd average). Through 2 games he is averaging 3.8 yards per return, less than half of Dax Milne’s 7.8 yard average in 2022.
Casey Toohill’s tackle to end Marvin Mims’ 45 yard punt return was the Commanders’ only tackle on special teams. The Commanders avoided penalties on special teams.
Acknowledgement: If not stated otherwise, stats were sourced from Pro Football Reference and Pro Football Focus. Team EPA data sourced from rbsdm.com.
What will be the key to beating Buffalo?
This poll is closed
Keep the pressure on Josh Allen
Intercept Josh Allen
Contain explosive plays
Control the clock on offense
Ha ha! Funny man