5 Commanders reality checks for Week 5 against the Titans
By Tim Payne
The Reality Is, the Washington Commanders are a bad football team made up of mostly really good dudes coached by a nice man with very little track record of on-field success.
Ron Rivera’s number one priority in coming to Washington was to rebuild the reputation of an organization that had taken a progressive series of self-inflicted hits under the leadership of Bruce Allen and Daniel Snyder. Nearly two and a half years into his tenure, Rivera has largely done that according to all reports. He’s repaired the culture in the building. The problem is, the on-field results…the “winning” part of the “winning culture” he promised has been woefully lacking. As a result, the good off-field work he’s done building around pillars like Terry McLaurin and Jon Allen is in danger of being lost in the inevitable tidal wave that losing creates in any professional sports organization.
If job one for Rivera was rebuilding the culture. Job 1a was building a winning product on the field. Given all authority and autonomy to build the football operation, Rivera has produced a combined 15-23 record with a whopping 10 losses having been by two scores or more. In a league built around parity, this team, on the field, is regressing…having looked worse in 2021 than in 2020, and worse, so far, in 2022 than in either of the previous years.
With two games coming up in the next six days, Rivera will need to find a way to start producing consistent results on the field if he hopes to have the opportunity to finish out his 5-year contract. With that backdrop, here are some Commanders’ Reality Checks for Washington’s home tilt this weekend versus the Tennessee Titans.
5 Commanders reality checks for Week 5 vs the Titans
5. The Reality Is, it’s Matsko’s time to shine.
John Matsko has developed the reputation in Washington as their best position coach largely because of how his unit has performed in spite of constant shuffling due to injuries the last couple years. This week, it looks likely that Washington will start only two of their intended O-Line starters from the beginning of the season. Washington needs Matsko to work his magic and get a consistent and effective day out of his entire unit. How close comes to getting a quality performance out of the group of Chares Leno, Andrew Norwell, Nick Martin, Saahdiq Charles and Cornelius Lucas will be a massive key to Sunday’s game.
4. The Reality Is, Carson has to be cut loose.
No, not that way. I mean he has to be cut loose to play free and fast, rather than being asked to do a ton of things that aren’t his forte. He’s not excellent on slow-developing plays. He’s not excellent at reading out mesh or dragon concepts. He’s not the kind of field general likely to excel on 15-play drives. You can’t expect to win games 10-9 with Carson Wentz as your quarterback, so Turner and Rivera have to stop coaching toward those types of results.
If Wentz is given these opportunities to maximize his playmaking skills, and he’s given decent protection, then the team should demand improved results. And if he doesn’t produce those results over the next two weeks, he should be benched in favor of Sam Howell for the purpose of evaluation toward the end of knowing whether they need to draft a QB next offseason. That’s the plain reality. Put Wentz in the best possible position for the next two weeks, and if he can’t produce dramatically improved results, cut bait.
3. The Reality Is, the Commanders need a spark on special teams
Possibly, with Brian Robinson set to make his return this Sunday, Antonio Gibson will get an opportunity to return a kickoff. Or perhaps Rivera will get back some of his Riverboat vibe and try a fake punt or a field goal. Or perhaps the coverage unit will force a muffed punt. Whatever the source, this team needs a spark, and the special teams unit needs to provide it.
2. The Reality Is, this is a better matchup for the defense.
The defense performed relatively well the last two weeks, all things considered. In spite of being put in tough situations by the offense multiple times, they only gave up 24 and 25 points. They performed admirably against the run, and were it not for a few deep shots that resulted in penalties or contested catches, they would have kept those scores down even more. The Titans don’t pose the level of dynamic pass-catching threat that burnt Washington the last two weeks, and their strength being Derrick Henry plays into what has been the Commanders’ defensive strength so far this season.
Look for Washington to be aggressive to attack Henry and seek to force Ryan Tannehill to beat them with a depleted and under-manned offensive line and pass-catching corps. One key matchup will be Kam Curl and/or Jamin Davis guarding the backs and tight ends, as they make up the bread and butter of the Titans’ passing attack. How that game within the game goes may be a deciding factor in the final result.
1. The Reality Is, it’s time for the offense to click.
Ron Rivera’s refusal to utilize joint practices or appropriately manage the pre-season schedule has predictably led to slow starts for his football teams pretty much his entire career. But, he’s historically gotten his teams to rebound in the middle of the season to at least make the last third of the season somewhat meaningful.
If Washington is going to have a renaissance this season, the offensive unit is going to have to start putting together cohesive efforts. The play calling is going to have to mesh with Carson Wentz’ strengths. Wentz is going to have to trust his reads and get the ball out. The offensive line is going to have to do a much better job marrying play-action to the look of actual runs. Tight ends are going to have to be much more effective in run blocking, and the backs are going to have to be much better in pass protection.
While all of these issues could be stemming in large degree from the lack of competitive reps these players got in the preseason, they’ve now got 4 weeks under their belt, and it’s time to see things come together. With Brian Robinson returning to the offense, Washington can get back to their plan of utilizing Antonio Gibson in the passing game and even on special teams. On top of all these factors, the Tennessee defense is ranked in the bottom half of the league. It’s time for Washington to put together 4 quarters of clean offensive production.
Will it happen? Can Washington get back on track against a mediocre (but very well coached) Titans team? Follow me on Twitter @TheRealityIs__ for GameDay Reality Checks and predictions. In the mean time, #HTTC.