The opinions expressed in this article do not reflect those of the team.
The Washington Commanders are on the road this weekend to take on the Kansas City Chiefs for their second preseason game. Team analyst Logan Paul and Staff Writer Zach Selby give their three keys for Washington on Saturday.
Who needs to step up this week?
Logan: It is amazing how one play can change the narrative on a player. The coaching staff and the press have staunchly been in Antonio Gibson’s corner since his fumble against the Carolina Panthers. Gibson is the same player he was early in the offseason; a player with tremendous upside but still needs to grow as a pure running back. The ball security issue is real and something that must be corrected, but it was one play.
After watching this week of practice, Gibson seems poised to have a productive outing against Kansas City. Gibson ran routes on Tuesday, motioning to traditional wide receiver positions. He doesn't have quite the same skill set as J.D. McKissic, but he is a speedy, powerful runner. During that practice, he ran by a linebacker on a go ball and made a nice catch. When I see plays like that, I see a playmaker who adds value to this offense. He ran with great vision on Wednesday and forward body lean, which people have been talking about all of camp.
Gibson is still a playmaker, and I hope he shows the fanbase what the fumble made them forget.
Zach: It's hard to argue with Logan's point that Gibson needs to step up this weekend. However, I'm going to cheat a little and say that either Curtis Hodges or Armani Rogers needs to step up.
I'm giving two answers here because the depth at tight end has been a question all camp. It's becoming more likely by the day that Logan Thomas will not be ready for Week 1, and with Cole Turner and John Bates still nursing injuries, Rogers and Hodges are the top options at the position.
Both have had strong camps. I've seen a little more from Hodges as a run-blocker, but Rogers has been more consistent as a pass-catcher in practice. Unfortunately, we didn't see much of that from either against the Panthers. Their six combined catches resulted in 23 yards.
Ron Rivera said the discussion on who to keep at tight end is going to be a difficult one. A solid performance from either might make that conversation a bit more clear.
The Washington Commanders officially wrapped up training camp with a Thursday practice in front of fans. Take a look at the top images from the morning. (Photos by Emilee Fails/Washington Commanders)
What do you want to see from the starting defense that you didn't see against the Panthers?
Logan: The defense had a solid outing against Carolina, but most fans remember the struggles on third down. I agree the production on third down needs to be better. However, I am not as concerned because I think some of the third down issues are easily correctable.
On the first third down attempt by Carolina, there was an obvious miscommunication between Kam Curl and Cole Holcomb. Miscues like these are common in the preseason, and this was the only one I noticed from the starters. Both players have had great camps and generally had solid games outside of this play. However, this play highlights something the team struggled with last year. After watching every training camp practice, I think they have improved in this area and expect them to show that against Kansas City.
Another issue was a confusion about leverages in coverage. This may seem obvious, but it must be said: it's hard to play defense in the NFL. Offenses are excellent at creating concepts that challenge coverage rules within defenses. Defenders need to give themselves every advantage. When looking at the completion Danny Johnson allowed on the first drive, he overplays to the defender's outside shoulder leaving a void to the inside. Based on the safety's position, I believe Johnson should shade the player to the inside and force him closer to his help.
Both mistakes might be expected in the preseason when defenses do little prep for opponents. I will be watching to see how the group progresses. Kansas City has a history of stressing defenses in these categories. Can they execute these techniques? That remains to be seen.
Zach: My answer relates to Logan's, but I would like to see a quicker start from the defense than they showed against the Panthers.
Two-thirds of the Panthers' 288 total yards last Saturday came on four drives -- the first two drives of the first and second halves -- and all of them ended in points. Logan went into great detail about the third downs, so I will not cover that again, but during those drives, Carolina's quarterbacks completed 63% of their passes, including a touchdown from Sam Darnold.
The good news is that the defense looked closer to the unit we saw in camp for the rest of the afternoon. Outside of their scoring drives, the Panthers averaged just 2.3 yards per play with just three points. The defensive backs were creating problems for receivers, and players like Daniel Wise and David Bada were putting pressure on P.J. Walker.
I know most of the starters were out of the game by the second quarter, but I would like to see more consistent play, rather than a recovery after spotting the opponents 10 points.
What is one position group you'll have your eye on against the Chiefs?
Logan: Every position has compelling storylines at this point. The offensive line, which played well against Carolina, is suddenly a question mark. Wes Schweitzer sustained an injury in practice, and the shuffling of Sam Cosmi to guard is fascinating to me. The young safeties and tight ends are always compelling because of their upside, but positions like linebacker and cornerback are also worth watching.
Despite these pressing football questions at other positions, my inner fan trumps my logical football mind: what about the receivers? We know this group is talented, and the depth chart is about as clear cut as any position on the team. The anticipation for the position grew with Jahan Dotson’s talent in OTAs, Curtis Samuel’s improved health and Terry McLaurin's growing chemistry with Carson Wentz. I have seen what they are capable of in practice, but I am anxious to see them perform in a game. They could be something special.
The starters had limited opportunities against Carolina and there was little to no actual game plan. However, Week 2 of the preseason has become the "dress rehearsal" where coaches play the starters more and put together a "soft" game plan for the opponent. I am hoping that Rivera allows Scott Turner to show more of what he intends to do with the receivers during the regular season leading to more production from the group. It probably won't be much, but a little taste will hopefully tie my inner fan over until the regular season.
The Washington Commanders continued their week of practice by preparing for a road matchup against the Kansas City Chiefs in Week 2 of the preseason. Check out the top photos from Wednesday morning. (Photos by Emilee Fails/Washington Commanders).
Zach: I was focused on the run game last week, and I was pleased with what I saw from the powerful running by Brian Robinson. This week, I'm still focused on the run game, but this time it will be mostly on the offensive line, particularly at guard.
Everything seems fine four days ago. Both Andrew Norwell and Schweitzer were playing well, but now neither were on the field much as they recovered from injuries. As Logan pointed out, Washington put Cosmi at guard out of necessity.
John Matsko has done a good job of preparing for situations like this, but Washington will need to rely on its depth to get through this preseason game. That should be a benefit for Chris Paul, who has had reps with the starters in practice and shows good explosion during run plays. His technique isn't perfect, as you would expect from a seventh-round pick, but he's shown consistent improvement.
Washington dealt with a similar situation last season, and diving into its depth again is not ideal. However, this is the time to have that problem, as it will give players like Paul more experience to lean on during the regular season.