After 23 minutes of football on Sunday, the Washington Commanders were trailing the Detroit Lions 22-0. How? Why? The Lions have one of the better young coaches in the league in Dan Campbell. They fought last season and stayed in games in which they were clearly overmatched. But this is still the team that went 3-13-1 in 2021.
It is also the team that defeated Washington back in 2020, in a game not unlike the one this past Sunday. Detroit dominated early, Washington fought back valiantly, and Detroit pulled it out late. The 2022 version of that game was not as close. Though Washington fought back, some bonehead plays and decisions late prevented a complete comeback.
And those first 23 minutes proved to be too massive a hole to dig out of.
What went wrong in those early minutes? Let’s focus on five key plays to understand.
3 first half plays that doomed Commanders in Week 2 loss
1. First quarter (10:18), 3rd and 3 from the Detroit 27
The score was tied after the first two series. Both teams had gone 3 and out. Washington’s defense actually looked great on the first series. They employed a five-man front, with the quick tackle Daniel Wise lining up over center, and Cole Holcomb as the only linebacker. Darrick Forrest, William Jackson III, and Jamin Davis (on as a blitzing linebacker on 3rd and long) all made plays. Sadly, that would not continue.
On Detroit’s second series, D’Andre Swift and Jamal Williams managed modest runs to set up a 3rd and 3. Then, Jared Goff found his number 1 receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown running free across the middle and hit him in stride. 49 yards later, Darrick Forrest finally ran him out of bounds.
This was a blown coverage, pure and simple. Both corners playing on the left, Jackson and St-Juste went with the outside receiver Josh Reynolds as he went deep. Kendall Fuller had coverage on the other side. Bobby McCain was on the tight end on a short cross. Forrest was playing 25 yards deep, also shading to the left on Reynolds.
So essentially, the Washington Commanders devoted three fifths of its secondary to covering Josh Reynolds on a fly pattern, leaving Detroit’s best receiver uncovered over the middle.
This is a mental mistake. All three players responsible for it are now in their second season with the Washington Commanders. I have remained optimistic about the talent in the secondary but I have to admit this game, and a play like this, is chipping away at that confidence. This defensive backfield, especially William Jackson III, continues to look lost.
Is that Jackson’s fault? Defensive backs coach Chris Harris’? Defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio’s? As with most things, it’s probably a bit of everything. No matter whose fault it is, Washington would soon be trailing 3-0. That is in large part due to the fact that Jonathan Allen, Daniel Wise, Jamin Davis and Benjamin St-Juste all made pretty good plays to prevent Detroit from reaching the end zone.
See, this team does have the ability to pay good defense. It just doesn’t do it nearly consistently enough.