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Commanders looking to push through 'frustration,' get ready for Eagles


Ron Rivera hears the frustration. He respects the disappointment from the fans and the emotions from players like Jonathan Allen who are "tired of this s---" after the Washington Commanders suffered their fourth loss in five games. 

He gets it, because he feels the same way. 

"We all want to win," Rivera told reporters during his Monday press conference. "We're all passionate about this game. We want to win, and that's the bottom line." 

After a 2-0 start to Year 4 of Rivera's tenure, the Commanders have slumped to 3-4 thanks to a mixture of heartbreaking losses and blowouts. The most recent was a 14-7 defeat at the hands of the previously 1-5 New York Giants. It might not look as deflating as the 37-3 loss to the Buffalo Bills, but the score hides the fact that Sam Howell was sacked six times as part of an ugly offensive performance. 

As distressing as things have been for Rivera and the Commanders in the last month, they are not turning to despair. Instead, their attitude is what it always has been after losses: acknowledge the negatives but move on and prepare for next week as they try to turn their season around. 

"We understand their frustration," Rivera said. "Believe me, because there's a lot of us that are frustrated here because we're working our butts off."

It's hard to pin down one reason why a Commanders team that is objectively deep in talent at certain positions is not performing up to expectations, because there are a few culprits at the root of the problem.

The most obvious can be found on offense. The Commanders are giving up sacks at a historic rate with Howell being taken down 40 times in seven games. That puts them on pace for 96 this season, which would be an NFL record that no one wants to be associated with.

The sacks are one of the main reasons why Washington is 20th in points per game and 22nd in average yardage, but there are several causes for that problem as well. It might be easy to put the blame on the offensive line -- after giving up a sack on the second offensive play of the day against the Giants, they certainly own some of it -- but it's an issue that a few players are responsible for.

The offensive line could be better, but Howell could also protect himself by getting rid of the ball quicker. Even Eric Bieniemy could perhaps have done something differently, whether it's adding more players to the protection scheme or moving the pocket to avoid pressure.

The point is, it's a systemic problem for the offense, rather than one specific person or position.

"We do talk constantly about lowering the sack total," Rivera said last week. "Again, that's twofold. That's some things that we can do up front better and some things we can do better as the quarterback."

Check out the best photos from the Washington Commanders' Week 7 matchup against the New York Giants. (Photos by Emilee Fails/Washington Commanders)

The other problem is that Washington has been unable to sustain drives. They have the second-worst third-down conversion rate in the league, and over the last three games, they've ranked last by converting just 24.32% of their third downs.

So, even though the Commanders were technically in the game against the Giants, they couldn't muster a response for most of the day because they were 1-of-15 in third down scenarios.

"I think they did exactly a lot of the things that we thought they would do," Rivera said. "Unfortunately, we didn't capitalize on the chance to get out on third down. We didn't capitalize on the opportunity to make plays when we had them."

In some ways, the Commanders are caught in an aggravating cycle. The sacks kill drives, which leads to them playing catchup for most of the time. That means they can't be balanced and must lean more on the passing game, which leads to more sacks. Rinse and repeat.

"I think some of the things were just some of the missed opportunities," Rivera said. "Some of the things, some of the mistakes we had individually, that could have helped us. It really could have, miss a block or unfortunately, miss a throw or catch opportunity, those things are pretty disruptive."

There's no denying that things have looked bleak for the Commanders as of late. That doesn't mean there is an absence of hope on the roster.

For Rivera, much of that hope comes from the growth Howell has shown as the starter. He's not where he needs to be yet. The sacks are an indication of that, but the types of throws he makes at certain moments could be better. An example of that came against the Giants, when he had Jahan Dotson open but threw an interception because he didn't put enough air under the ball.

At the same time, Howell has also had some plays that show how much he has developed under center. Again, there was an example of that against the Giants. He laid out a pass exactly where Terry McLaurin needed it to be on third-and-9, and the wideout rewarded him with a 31-yard reception.

"With the young quarterback, I really think there's hope, there's an opportunity," Rivera said. "I mean, the young man has given us opportunities to win some of these games that a lot of people felt we couldn't. But at the same time, we've been in a lot of games, we were in the Philadelphia game, we were in yesterday's game at the end. We had a chance to win. We did."

While the Commanders do have a nasty habit of playing down to their competition, they can also look more competent against better opponents. They took the Philadelphia Eagles to overtime, and they responded to a 40-20 loss to the previously 0-4 Chicago Bears with a much better performance against the Atlanta Falcons.

That point does not absolve Washington from losing to what were perceived to be inferior opponents. It also doesn't make watching the team play so inconsistently any less exasperating. But it does show that Washington is at least capable of getting back on track.

To Rivera, that's enough reason to avoid making any drastic changes right now.

"We're not going to go around cutting a bunch of people, trading for a whole bunch of people, trying to hire a whole bunch of people," Rivera said. "We're trying to develop a young football team to be a very good football team for the future. And that's what we're going to continue to work on. We're going to continue to find ways to win football games and we'll do the best we can."

As Rivera pointed out after the Giants loss, "With 10 games left to go, you never know what's going to happen." Up next for the Commanders are the Eagles, who just took down the Miami Dolphins on Sunday Night Football and bolstered their secondary by trading for safety Kevin Byard. They will head into the matchup as underdogs, which is to be expected considering how well the Eagles are playing at this point.

And the reality is that a win would not only get the Commanders up to .500 again, but it would also provide a much-needed morale boost for the team.

"We can't do anything about the past," Rivera said. "We've got to focus on what's coming right now and not what's coming next week. So again, this week is an opportunity for us to get on track. We've got to get ourselves prepared and ready to play a very good Philadelphia team."

So, as much as the loss to the Giants stings, there's really only one thing for the Commanders to do.

"Get our minds right and get f---ing ready to play Philadelphia," Allen said.

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