Taking the temperature of the fans
The confidence of NFL fans is highly fickle, and is heavily influenced by the most recent game result. Here at Hogs Haven, we have “taken the temperature” of the fan base with a confidence survey after every game of the season. After beating the Cardinals in Week 1, it was surprising that confidence fell slightly from the preseason ‘benchmark’ confidence poll; however, it seemed that fan confidence was dented by the manner in which the Commanders secured the win — a come-from-behind victory against a Cardinals team that was, at that time, perceived to be the worst in the league.
After an uptick after the Week 2 victory to 95%, this past week’s confidence level fell precipitously to just 66%. Once again, this seems to have less to to with the fact of the loss to Buffalo than the manner of the loss. The Commanders were, after all, heavy underdogs, but being shut out until the final minute of the game, being outscored by 34 points, surrendering 9 sacks, and coughing up 5 turnovers was not what anyone expected.
While the 29-point fall in confidence looks enormous, it was, in fact, only the 9th biggest such fall among NFL fanbases in the Reacts surveys.
- After Tennessee lost to the Bengals to reach 1-2, Titans fan confidence fell by an incredible 69 points, from 83% to just 14%.
- The two fan bases with the lowest confidence in the NFL right now are those of the 0-3 Bears and the 1-2 Raiders, each polling at just 7%.
Washington’s fan confidence actually polled as the 2nd-highest in the NFC East behind the Eagles (95%). The division’s two other fan bases feel worse about their teams than we do, with the Giants fans at 56% for their 1-2 team, and the Cowboys fans at 46% for their 2-1 team. The loss of confidence among Dallas fans was even more precipitous this week than among fans of the burgundy & gold, with the former falling from 97% to just 46% in one week — second only to the Titans for the biggest one-week drop.
What went wrong against the Bills?
Sunday’s home loss to the Bills was ugly. Personally, I consider it to have been the 2nd ugliest loss of the Ron Rivera era, behind the 56-14 beatdown at the hands of the Cowboys in 2021.
The two stats (aside from the final score) that stand out from the Week 3 loss are the 9 sacks and 5 offensive turnovers surrendered by the Commanders.
While Washington’s heralded defense didn’t get any sacks, they did hold the explosive Bills offense to just 16 points into the 4th quarter, and the two touchdowns they gave up in the game both came on short fields (35 yards and 34 yards) following bad turnovers by the Commanders’ offense. It’s hard to pin a loss on a defense, even when the opponents score 37 points, when its offense turns the ball over 6 times (including the turnover on downs at the Buffalo 2 yard line).
After the game, team leaders stepped up and took responsibility. Terry McLaurin said that the receivers hadn’t done enough to get open. Jonathan Allen said that the DL hadn’t done enough to harry the Bills offense. Sam Howell said that he hadn’t played well enough.
With so many potential culprits, we asked Hogs Haven readers to say where the blame should be placed. Unsurprisingly, it got spread around pretty widely.
The offensive line got more votes than any other option, but 3 other options got 19% or 20% of the vote: Sam Howell’s play, Ron Rivera’s roster decisions, and Eric Bieniemy’s playcalling.
The honeymoon is over
The criticism of the OL and of Ron Rivera are nothing new; they have both been pretty constant themes on Hogs Haven and many other sports media platforms in the DC area for a long while now. This post game souring towards Eric Bieniemy, was, however, something very new, and it seems to mark the end of the honeymoon period for the Assistant Head Coach and Offensive Coordinator.
I’d like to quote from this week’s 5 Questions with the Enemy article recently published on the Bleeding Green Nation site:
The fans loved [Eric Bieniemy] through the undefeated preseason and first two games this year because the offense was up tempo, included some creative play calls, and featured some sweet long passes. Many were calling for Bieniemy to replace Rivera as Head Coach at the end of the year if not sooner. Fast forward a week, and fans are giving Bieniemy a lot of helpful suggestions about how to get the job done and there is no talk of his future as a Head Coach.
The degree of blame assigned to Sam Howell is a bit less surprising because fans had been expressing concern since Week 1 that he was holding the ball too long and ‘creating’ unnecessary sacks. Given that he had won his first three NFL starts while throwing 4 TDs and just 2 INTs (plus 2 rushing TDs), the concerns with his play were muted prior to the Bills game.
Following a bad home loss in which Sam held the ball again, threw 4 picks and was unable to get the ball into the end zone, it’s easy to see Sam Howell for what he is — a young quarterback who has started just 4 games and is still learning.
I’d like to quote again from the Questions with the Enemy article:
Anyone who expected that [Sam Howell] would have mastered the position at this point was ignorant or foolish. Very few QBs step in and succeed immediately in this league. Howell won’t have it mastered by this Sunday, either.
Yet, he is 3-1 after four games. Through four games, Sam Howell has completed 64% of his passes, thrown 4 TDs and 5 INTs (4 of them last week), averaged 7.1 Y/A, and has a QB Rating of 76. Comparison for Eagles fans: Jalen Hurts was 1-3 after four games (all in his rookie year), with 52% completed, 6 TDs and 4 INTs, 7.2 Y/A, and a QB Rating of 78.
With the relatively short 17-game NFL season, fans tend to either be ecstatic or depressed based on the results of the previous game. There is often very little ‘big picture’ context. Sam Howell is a guy with a lot of tools with a glaring flaw, but one that seems like it should be correctable. Sam isn’t in the MVP conversation for 2023, but he is a young QB who has been mostly successful so far in his football career; with patience, he may yet turn into the kind of player the team can win with.
Another ‘measuring stick’
Ron Rivera has a habit that I don’t like at all. He refers to games against opponents who are heavily favored as ‘measuring stick’ games that allow the team to ‘find out where it’s at’.
What I don’t like about his phrasing is the built-in implication that the other team is actually better than ours. To me, it is the kind of comment that carries with it an insidious message that seems likely to sow doubt in the minds of the players. If their own coach thinks the other team is better, what chance do they have?
Of course, Rivera’s squads have a decent record in such games. In 2020, the Alex Smith-led Football Team went to Pittsburgh in Week 13 and handed the previously unbeaten Steelers a 23-17 loss that completely derailed the AFC team’s season.
Last year, on Monday Night Football, Taylor Heinicke and the Commanders went on the road to Philadelphia as heavy underdogs to the 8-0 Eagles and left with an 11-point win.
A week ago, following two wins to open the season and an impressive performance by Sam Howell against the Broncos, Hogs Haven readers predicted a win against the heavily favored AFC East Bills. This week, having been embarrassed by that Bills team, fans are no longer ‘feeling it’.
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In this week’s survey of Hogs Haven readers, 79% are predicting an Eagles win, with 43% saying that it will be a lopsided game in Philly’s favor.
Of the 1 in 5 fans who think that Washington can get the win, nearly all of them see it as a close game.
None of this is particularly surprising. In a preseason Reacts survey less than a month ago, 66% of Hogs Haven readers surveyed predicted a 2-2 start to the season. This is from the article in which those survey results were published:
Based on comments in the survey article, fans are most confident about winning the home opener against the Cardinals, and there’s a lot of optimism that the team is up to the challenge of playing in Denver a week later.
Nearly everyone seems to think the Bills may be more than the Commanders can handle, even at home in September, though 4% of fans were bold enough to say that Washington would be a perfect 4-0.
The difference between those who predict two losses and those predicting only one seems to be the Week 4 visit to Philadelphia.
I think the only surprises for most fans — as mentioned at the top of the article — were that the Commanders struggled as much as they did to beat the Cardinals, and that the team looked as bad as it did in its loss to the Bills.
National Survey Results
SB Nation sends out surveys to NFL fans of all 32 teams on a weekly basis during the season. Fans are asked several questions, and are always asked to predict game outcomes for the coming week.
As has been the norm, the fans have already been proven right by the Thursday Night Football game in which the Detroit Lions embarrassed the Packers.
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Unsurprisingly, NFL fans predict that the Eagles will handle business at home against the Commanders. They also predict that Dallas will beat the Patriots at home in Texas, and that Seattle will come to the East Coast and beat the Giants on Monday Night Football.
This set of results would not be welcome, as they would cement Philly in 1st place, undefeated and 1-0 in divisional games, with the Cowboys a full game ahead of Washington.
Sneaking a peak at the 2nd quarter schedule
Looking beyond this week’s games, however, it appears that the Commanders may have the softest part of the season’s schedule ahead, while our division rivals — especially the Cowboys and Giants — have a seemingly tougher row to hoe.
(The number in square brackets is the latest NFL.com Power Ranking)
Washington’s opponents in Weeks 5-7 have a combined record of 3-6, with the Bears and Giants both ranked among the bottom 4 teams in the latest NFL.com Power Rankings.
Collectively, our division rivals play 8 games in Weeks 5-7; in half of those games, the opponents (Dolphins, 49ers, Bills) are ranked in the top-5 of NFL.com’s latest Power rankings.
The Cowboys go on the road to San Francisco to face one of the NFL’s best teams, a game in which they are currently 3-point underdogs. In Week 6, they travel west again to visit the Chargers, who, with a 2-point opening week loss to the Dolphins, are a tougher team than their 1-2 record might indicate,.
The Giants have to face two of the league’s best teams in Weeks 5 and 6 as they are on the road against the Dolphins and Bills.
While I’m not suggesting that any wins or losses are automatic, Washington has an opportunity to pick up 3 wins in 3 weeks before hosting the Eagles in Landover in Week 8. The Giants could possibly arrive at Week 8 on a 3- or 4-game losing streak, while the Cowboys will find it tough to go 2-0 in Weeks 5 & 6.
By Week 8, the landscape of the NFC East could look very different than it does today.