Fans were already ecstatic to have Josh Harris as the team’s new owner.
Then, the Commanders opened their season with a 21-16 win over the Arizona Cardinals to dial up all those giddy emotions. Now Washington will look to get its first win on the road as they head to Denver.
DraftKings Sportsbook has the Broncos as a slight -3.5-point favorite over the Commanders at Mile High. Since Denver is at home the line makes some sense. The total sits at 39 for Sunday’s game. It would appear the trend of betting the under for the Broncos remains the safe bet.
To preview Sunday’s game, we go behind enemy lines to get a feel for the Commanders heading into Sunday’s game with LASkin from Hogs Haven.
MHR: How are Commanders fans feeling after the Week 1 win over the Arizona Cardinals? And how are they feeling now that Dan Snyder is finally gone?
LASkin: Let’s start with the second part of this. The feeling about Snyder’s departure is “Ding, dong, the witch is dead.” The worst owner in professional sports is gone. The new ownership group has been pitch-perfect so far, Ron Rivera is standing a little taller and is more relaxed, the players are happier (although a bit tight-lipped about it all), and the fans are back in force. Fans had been boycotting Snyder and there have been empty seats at the stadium, and seats filled with fans from opposing teams, for years. Last Sunday it was filled with home team fans and FedEx Field was, according to several players, the loudest they had ever heard it.
I’d say the general sentiment after Sunday has been, an ugly win is better than a pretty loss. Most fans expected a blowout of the worst team in the NFL, and that didn’t happen. It turns out that although Arizona has no QB, it does have a good defense that plays hard (if a little dirty). Fortunately, Washington’s defense stepped up. It held Arizona without a TD — their only TD came on a strip-sack of Sam Howell near the goal line that the defense ran in. The offense was not a well-oiled machine, but it did enough to win.
MHR: What did the Commanders do on Sunday to get the win and what will they do to replicate it on Sunday?
LASkin: Defensive Coordinator Jack Del Rio’s group is going to have to carry the load this year. In statistical rankings, Washington had a top five defense last year and they are probably better this year with a new starting cornerback and #1 pick Emmanuel Forbes. Their defensive line is elite, even with Chase Young out due to a neck injury. Nobody has two better starting Defensive Tackles than Jonathan Allen and Daron Payne. DE Montez Sweat, in his contract year, is on a mission to prove his worth. The secondary, led by Safety Kamren Curl (also in a contract year), is quite good. The linebackers are not outstanding but are good enough.
Special teams are good. Punter Tress Way is one of the best and Joey Slye has a very strong leg, but the kick and punt return teams are merely adequate.
Fans have big hopes for new OC Eric Bieniemy’s offense, but in truth, it is a work in progress. QB Sam Howell was making his second NFL start last Sunday. The coaches and the fans think that Howell can develop into a franchise QB. He is short but he is smart, he has a powerful arm, he can make all the throws, he is mobile, and he can throw very well off script, including on the run. (Remind Denver fans of anyone? He has a different personality than a younger Russell Wilson, but many of the same attributes.). However, like most young QBs, he mixes outstanding plays with some bad decisions, and he tends to hold the ball too long. He was sacked six times on Sunday, and two or three of those were his fault. He had more good plays than bad plays on Sunday, but he reminded everyone that he isn’t a veteran yet. He will need to get better throughout the year, and fans are hopeful that he will. Interestingly, he had the best day by the numbers of any NFCE QB on Sunday.
Skill players are a strength. Howell is aided by an exceptional group of wide receivers (Terry McLaurin, Jahan Dotson, and Curtis Samuel) and a good set of running backs led by Brian Robinson.
The offensive line is the Achilles heel of the team, as it has been for several years. It was not especially good at either run blocking or pass blocking last weekend. There are new faces at three positions, and Sam Cosmi has been moved inside to RG, but so far, the play of the OL is a worry. The play calls need to get the ball out quickly; longer and slower-developing plays tend to fail behind this line. They need a rushing attack to help the young QB, but it didn’t show up on Sunday.
MHR: How does Washington match up against the Broncos and where do the Commanders have the advantages?
LASkin: My assessment is that Washington has a much better defense and it’s unclear who has the better offense. In many ways, the Commanders are like most Denver teams since their last Super Bowl — a defense that’s often stifling, but an offense that is not there yet. Denver’s offense has a more established QB and looked pretty good on Sunday — for a half. I think the Denver WR crew will have trouble getting open against the Commanders. The Commanders have been repeatedly torched by TEs in recent years, but I don’t see the Denver crew doing a Travis Kelce imitation next Sunday. In Denver’s favor, Washington (like most defenses in the NFL) has had a lot of trouble controlling mobile QBs; Wilson is still mobile enough to pose a major threat, especially since he is likely to be flushed from the pocket multiple times. Denver also may be able to run on Washington; we’ll have to see about that.
I think the story of the game may come down to how the stoppable force (Denver’s pass rush) does against the moveable object (Washington’s OL). Washington will score a lot of points if the defense can’t get to the passer any better than they did last weekend. On the other hand, Denver will look to bounce back and prove that their performance against the Raiders was a fluke — and to do what they saw Arizona do on film.
An interesting storyline will be the matchup of Eric Bieniemy’s play-calling against the Denver defense. The new OC certainly knows Denver’s personnel from his years in Kansas City, even if Joseph’s scheme is new, and Denver has had years to learn how to play the Kansas City offense that Bieniemy has imported to Washington. Bieniemy’s skills will be put to the test; he needs to capitalize on strengths and minimize weaknesses better this week.
MHR: What is your best bet for Sunday’s game at DraftKings Sportsbooks? And what do you think about the Broncos being the favorite?
LASkin: This is a very important game for either team if they are to make a playoff run. The Broncos don’t want to drop to 0-2, especially at home. The Commanders need to show progress and momentum and they badly want a win because they face Buffalo and Philadelphia in the following two weeks.
The Broncos have the same plus 3.5 points this week that they did against the Raiders. Commanders fans are hoping for the same result. Honestly, that spread mostly reflects a home-field advantage, and that’s fair at this point in the season. The Commanders will want to jump to an early lead to help neutralize the home crowd.
MHR: What are your expectations and predictions for Sunday’s game?
LASkin: I feel pretty good about the Commanders’ chances, but this probably is going to be a tough contest. If I’m betting with my head, I say the Broncos win a close game. If I’m betting with my heart (never a smart thing to do), I say the Commanders win a close contest. As for the over-under, I think it’s about right, but I’d bet on the under 40.5 points. I don’t think either team is likely to blow out the other. Because the Commanders' WRs are more explosive, I think a blowout win would probably go to the Commanders.
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