3 reasons to be bullish about the Commanders in 2022
3. A Humbled Defense
Washington’s defense came into 2021 with a considerable amount of hype, following a season where they finished 3rd in defensive DVOA. The plan was for the star-studded, ascending defense to carry most of the load, while a more explosive offense with improved QB play could supplement them.
The No. 1 toughest schedule according to Football Outsiders, featuring quarterbacks Justin Herbert, Josh Allen, Aaron Rodgers, Patrick Mahomes, Russell Wilson, Tom Brady and Dak Prescott twice, had different plans for the overconfident defense in 2021.
Early on in 2021, the Commanders ranked nearly dead last in every statistical passing defense category. After the bye, following moving Kendall Fuller to the outside corner, the Commanders defense improved steadily as the year went on.
After a historically poor start, the Commanders finished 27th in total defensive DVOA. Everybody on defense, except for Jonathan Allen, was humbled in some form or fashion. The front four never lived up to its potential, where multiple times Ron Rivera alluded to a lack of maturity along that front.
Jamin Davis had a poor rookie season, getting washed out on run plays, and looking lost in coverage at points. William Jackson gave up five passing touchdowns in his first season on his new contract. Like Fuller, he improved down the stretch but he needs to prove the pre-bye week version of himself was the anomaly.
Heading into 2022, the defense be driven to prove that 2021 was a fluke. With the volatile nature of defense in the NFL, independent of any personnel moves Washington’s defense should be improved.
Washington performed the worst, by far, of any team in the NFL on third and fourth downs. They ranked about league average on first and second downs, according to Warren Sharp on the Take Command Podcast. That alone points to a team that should “regress back to the mean.” It will be hard for the defense to be that poor on third downs again.
Couple that with playing a much easier slate of offenses and the defense should improve to around league-average play, at least. And if everything comes together, with relatively solid health, the defense could be explosive and exciting again.
Bonus: Ron Rivera’s tone
If one were to pay attention to Ron Rivera, he typically has a decent pulse on his team. He believed his team could rebound to win the putrid 2020 NFC East following a poor start. His vision came to fruition as Washington clawed their way to a division title
In 2021, his worries about a team that lacked maturity in handling their over-achievement in 2020 came to fruition. The defense was putrid and the offense was uninspiring. The plan to improve to double-digit wins on the backs of their defense blew up but it did not surprise Rivera.
Rivera’s tone heading into 2022 is noticeably more positive. Right after the victory over the Giants to close the season, Rivera said his hopes for year three were high. He compared it to how his Panthers team in Year 3 improved to a 12-4 record, after two losing seasons.
In his press conference the night before training camp he said, “The expectation is to win and we will leave it at that.”
Rivera is right. The expectation should be to win. The roster is far too talented to not be competitive this year. If everything on paper comes to fruition, it’s a roster that can make the playoffs, and win double-digit games. Ron Rivera believes so too.