The Washington Commanders must keep these players quiet in order to achieve success against the Arizona Cardinals at a sold-out FedEx Field.
Rolling over an Arizona Cardinals team widely expected to struggle would be the perfect way for the Washington Commanders and head coach Ron Rivera to begin a make-or-break season. Especially considering all the excitement surrounding opening day, new ownership, and FedEx Field being legitimately sold out for the first time in a decade.
It won't happen unless the Commanders find ways to keep the Cardinals' biggest threats under wraps. Let's take a closer look at the three most pivotal.
Commanders must keep Budda Baker quiet
All-Pro safety Budda Baker is a roving disruptor who can wreck offenses from anywhere on the field. Quarterback Sam Howell and offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy need a flexible plan for keeping him quiet.
Bieniemy's main coaching point for Howell must involve identifying where Baker is before every snap. The versatile defensive back is a master of disguising his intentions, but he's most effective when blitzing from the box.
That effectiveness was shown by Baker blitzing 55 times in 2022, per Pro Football Reference. His talent for timing pressure was highlighted by Ron Kopp Jr. of SB Nation's Arrowhead Pride early last season.
Howell won't be able to rely on running backs Antonio Gibson and Brian Robinson Jr. to block Baker. Pass protection is hardly a strength of either player's respective games. It would be better to task backup tight end John Bates - arguably the best-blocking non-lineman on the roster - to account for the physical defensive back.
Alternatively, the Commanders could kick out one of their interior offensive linemen - Saahdiq Charles or Sam Cosmi - to execute a "Molly" technique and absorb Baker on the edge.
The Commanders have many ways to deal with Baker, so Howell and Bieniemy should keep him guessing. Multi-layered plans will also be needed to help Washington's defense deal with Arizona's two main playmakers in the passing game.