The Washington Commanders wrapped up the 2022 preseason with a 17-15 loss to the Baltimore Ravens. Here are five takeaways from the contest.
1. The offense got off to a better start.
Slow starts were among the biggest problems for the offense in the previous preseason games. Against the Carolina Panthers and Kansas City Chiefs, the Commanders' opening drives of the first and second halves resulted in just 50 yards on 16 plays.
Against the Ravens, the Commanders were markedly improved.
Much of that is a credit to Sam Howell, who ended the game with 280 passing yards. He completed six of his first nine passes, including a 15-yard strike to Alex Erickson that set up a 44-yard field goal from Joey Slye.
It is also a reflection of Jaret Patterson's performance, which included 92 total yards on 11 touches. Not only did Patterson catch all four of his targets, but he also ran hard, fought for tough yardage and showed exceptional vision. Patterson is fighting for a roster spot, and he put together a solid example of why he deserves to stay with the team.
The Commanders amassed 388 total yards of offense, which is by far its best showing of the preseason. It's a good sign of what the depth players can accomplish.
2. The third down defense was improved.
Washington's slow starts in the previous preseason matchups were only overshadowed by the issues on third downs. The problems from the 2021 season made a return with the most glaring example coming in the form of six straight third down conversions from the Chiefs.
There were no such issues against the Ravens, as they could only muster one third-down conversion on eight attempts. The Commanders can thank their run defense for that, as they allowed just 21 yards on 14 carries. Washington forced back-to-back three-and-outs from the Ravens to start the game, which is a stark contrast from the rest of the preseason.
One of the more impressive plays came from Jeremy Reaves, who is another player fighting for a roster spot. With the Ravens at Washington's 48-yard line on a third-and-2, Reaves rushed into the backfield and sent running back Nate McCrary flying for a four-yard loss.
It was another sign of what Washington's depth can accomplish, but regardless of whether it is the starters or backups, allowing just one third down is a noteworthy night.
3. Big plays were a nagging issue.
With that said, another issue that hounded the Commanders in 2021 was a problem against the Ravens: there were simply too many big plays allowed in the passing game.
Most of those plays came from Demarcus Robinson, who had four catches for 135 yards, including a 67-yard catch-and-run that resulted in an easy touchdown. Danny Johnson fell for a double move, which led to Robinson being wide open down the left sideline.
The Ravens went back to the play several times, and it was met by little resistance on each occasion. With the score 10-6 in the third quarter, Robinson made a 52-yard reception using the same double move that ultimately led to a touchdown three plays later.
Those kinds of plays are concerning with the regular season about two weeks away. There is still time to fix it, but it will need to do so quickly.
The Washington Commanders take on the Baltimore Ravens to wrap up the 2022 preseason. (Emilee Fails/Washington Commanders)
4. The offense could not finish in the end zone.
It's one of the most cliché phrases in sports, but the score could have been different had the Commanders gotten the most out of their drives.
The missed field goal to start the game, which took all the air out of a 12-play, 56-yard drive, is the most obvious example, but the Commanders had to settle for field goals all night despite getting deep into Baltimore territory. Dyami Brown failed to haul in a pass from Howell on the second drive that would have at least put Washington inside the 10-yard line. Rather than taking a touchdown lead, Washington left the drive with three points.
Washington got inside the Ravens' 10-yard line two more times during the game and a mixture of drops, sacks and penalties forced out Slye to hit field goals instead of extra points. And considering how close Washington was to breaking the Ravens' undefeated preseason streak, it makes the miscues even more frustrating.
It is valuable experience for the younger offensive players; field goals are rarely enough to secure wins in the NFL especially against a quality team like the Ravens.
5. We're in the end game now.
The conclusion of the final preseason game means that we are just a few days away from the initial 53-man roster being finalized. Some, like Patterson and Reaves, seem to have strengthened their case; others did not.
It is a somber reality for many players, and Ron Rivera knows there are some tough decisions to be made. Positions like tight end, safety and receiver have been particularly contentious, and the head coach believes conversations around them will be particularly difficult.
Rivera and his staff will dive into the roster more heavily in the coming days. We will get to see their decisions when the roster is finalized on Aug. 30 at 4 p.m.