Analyzing the Commanders’ most disappointing performance under Ron Rivera

Oct 9, 2022; Landover, Maryland, USA; Washington Commanders quarterback Carson Wentz (11) fumbles a snap from center against the Tennessee Titans during the first quarter at FedExField. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports
Oct 9, 2022; Landover, Maryland, USA; Washington Commanders quarterback Carson Wentz (11) fumbles a snap from center against the Tennessee Titans during the first quarter at FedExField. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports /

There was the Chiefs’ dismantling of the team now known as the Washington Commanders back in December of 2013, 45-10. KC was up 31-0 twenty minutes into the game and Washington’s two QB’s combined for a QBR under 15. There was the Giants’ stomping of Washington early in 2019 in which Washington quarterbacks threw four interceptions and managed just three points. Yes, there have been some disappointments in the last ten years.

None have been as disappointing as what happened against Cleveland yesterday. With the playoffs on the line, at home against a team that was largely phoning in the end of their season, Washington suffered a total meltdown en route to a 24-10 loss. It was far worse than the score indicated.

And you want to know what the saddest part of it all was? This is the offense that coaches Ron Rivera and Scott Turner wanted.

They cannot blame the officials for this one. They cannot blame injuries. That’s not to say there weren’t a few banged up players. But it’s week 17 of the NFL season. Of course there are banged up players.

On defense, injuries did play a factor. The Commanders were without linebacker Cole Holcomb, cornerback Benjamin St-Juste and safety Kam Curl. They lost Pro Bowl tackle Jonathan Allen early. That doesn’t explain Efe Obada’s apparent unwillingness to tackle Deshaun Watson or Kendall Fuller’s apparent unwillingness to cover anyone. After strong first half, the defense did melt down after halftime.

The defense did not play well. But I don’t put this on them. I put it on the offense.

I won’t debate the Wentz/Heinicke decision here. Taylor Heinicke was quarterback when the Commanders tied and lost to the Giants in successive crucial games. Carson Wentz was awful against the Browns.

Whet I will point out is this:

Washington entered the 2022 season with a projected offensive line of Charles Leno, Jr., Andrew Norwell, Chase Roullier, Trai Turner and Sam Cosmi. The projected wide receivers were Terry McLaurin, Curtis Samuel, and Jahan Dotson. The tight end, once healthy, would be Logan Thomas. The running back, Brian Robinson. And Wentz would be the quarterback.

This was the lineup they chose.

Against the Browns, nine of those players started. Cosmi, whose combination of injury and inconsistency has prevented him from maintaining his starting role, did not start but did play.  The only one missing was Roullier. His backup, Tyler Larsen, was also out.

And Washington managed 10 points.

The play-calling offered nothing. Screen passes, which the Commanders have run unsuccessfully all season, once again netted little. Going for it on 4th & 1 early in the game is an understandable decision. Going for it on 4th & 1 without Brian Robinson on the field is not. Every fan I was with knew this. It’s hard to fathom why Scott Turner didn’t.

I want to focus on the offensive line for a moment, because that position has plummeted faster than FTX since the season began. I think Leno will be back in 2023, but it is possible that none of the other linemen who started today will join him. The interior of the line is a disaster. Wes Schweitzer has been a serviceable swing guard, but it is clear he is not a very good center. The former Panthers Norwell and Turner have been disappointments. Leno and Cornelius Lucas are not the worst tackles in the league, but both are getting older and it is unlikely they will ever be better than they are right now, which is average.

Washington went to the playoffs two years ago in no small part because their line coalesced while their NFC East rivals suffered multiple injuries to first-rate players. Now that those teams have healthy lines, the difference is glaring. The Giants, who started receivers drafted in the fifth, sixth, and seventh rounds on Sunday, went out and did exactly what the Commanders were supposed to do – they pummeled a struggling team at home and secured their playoff berth. The Giants have a young and improving offensive line.

There was plenty of blame to go around on Sunday, but to me, this game was lost due to the play of the two offensive lines. Both Wentz and Watson were very shaky in the first half. But in the second half, Cleveland’s line was able to give Watson some time in the pocket. You could see him grow more and more comfortable. Wentz was swarmed and never showed the ability to elevate his play.

There will plenty of time to evaluate and figure out what went wrong. But this team needs to start with a serious look at its offensive coordinator and its offensive line. The coordinator because he had most of the pieces he wanted and came up depressingly small in the biggest game of the year. The offensive line because – well, they’re just not very good.

You know who’s going to the playoffs this season? Trent Williams and Brandon Scherff (probably). Kirk Cousins and DeAndre Carter. Preston Smith and Tim Settle. Fabian Moreau and Landon Collins.

You know who isn’t? The Washington Commanders.