The Washington Commanders will look to get back to .500 with a road game against the Atlanta Falcons on Oct. 15. Here are five things to know about the Commanders' next opponent.
1. The days of underestimating Desmond Ridder are in the past.
Desmond Ridder has gone through an astoundingly similar path as Commanders quarterback Sam Howell. Both were picks in the 2022 draft; Ridder as a third-round pick by the Atlanta Falcons, while Howell was taken in the fifth. The two were alike in that they spent most of their rookie season as a backup to more experienced signal-callers until given their moment to utilize their skill set.
And while Ridder has had an up-and-down season, there are moments where he has shined for Atlanta's offense. In the Falcon's first four games, Ridder averaged 186 passing yards- compared to Howell's average of 240.25 during the same stretch, but in the Falcon's most recent matchup against the Houston Texans, Ridder show the traits his coaches had said he's been capable of throughout his development.
Ridder had a quality game against the Texans, which led to Atlanta taking home a 21-19 win. He showed an excellent ability to avoid incoming sacks, which, for his teammates, means more opportunity to execute explosive plays downfield. He had a career-high last week, completing 28-of-37 passes for 329 yards and a touchdown with no turnovers or sacks. He targeted 11 pass-catchers, proving his ability to spread the ball around to a variety of targets.
Washington's 40-20 loss to the Chicago Bears last week proved that any threat of underestimating their opponents will be a setback for them before the first kickoff.
The Washington began preparations for their Week 6 matchup against the Atlanta Falcons. Check out the top photos from the afternoon.
2. Dee Alford has the fire.
Dee Alford has had an aggressive and successful series of plays for Atlanta while playing as a nickel corner. His versatility and knowledge of the defensive backfield and running positions allow him to be disruptive at any spot on the field. He also has excellent agility on the field and has a knack for being around the ball.
Against the Texans, Alford was a problem for CJ Stroud and his offense. He recorded six tackles (one for a loss) and deflected two passes. Pro Football Focus has him ranked fifth among all cornerbacks of with a grade of 81.2, which is also the second best grade on a Falcons secondary that is allowing the seventh fewest passing yards per game.
3. They struggle with getting sacks.
The Falcons' defense has a relatively sound awareness of offensive playmaking, as the unit has allowed the ninth fewest total yards (1,476) through five games. Luckily for the Commanders, the Falcons have failed in one particular defensive area -- sacking opposing QBs. While the team attempts to put some pressure on opposing quarterbacks with 69 total pressures, they're tied with the New York Giants for the fewest sacks in the NFL (5).
Atlanta's struggles with getting quarterbacks on the ground Atlanta be an advantage for the Commanders if the offense can find better ways of protecting Howell, who has taken a league-leading 29 sacks this season. The players have said that they need to do a better job of avoiding drive-killing sacks, and Sunday's game should be an opportunity to show just how much they've improved in that area.
4. Bijan Robinson can make spectacular catches.
After being selected eighth overall in the 2023 NFL Draft, Bijan Robinson's potential stirred significant buzz going into the season. His field awareness and abilities as a receiver have given Atlanta's offense an extra wrinkle to help keep drives alive, all while being the youngest starting running back in the league this year at just 21 years old. His specialty: one-handed catches.
Robinson's ability to cut clean routes around corners and give himself space moving forward dates back to the preseason. And in the situations where he couldn't get that extra space, he still finished the play off with his talented, one-handed grabs.
Now, it seems like a weekly routine for Robinson to come down with a highlight reel catch. For Washington to cut Atlanta's scoring potential, they'll need to account for Robinson's habit of creating explosive plays.
5. Jessie Bates III will be ready.
After five seasons with the Cincinnati Bengals, Jessie Bates III is still proving that he's a dynamic playmaker. He's an experienced safety who has helped the Falcons' secondary thrive this season and shown this talent as the second highest graded safety in the league by PFF.
Starting with tackles, Bates has 35 stops after their first five games, which is second on the Falcons' defense behind linebacker Kaden Elliss. Additionally, he's leading the roster with three interceptions and four pass breakups. Bates' cover grade, according to PFF, is the best in the NFC.
Washington's group of receivers should be a challenge for Bates, but they will need to run tight routes and be prepared for contested passes if they hope to get past him. In turn, Howell must avoid forcing throws unnecessarily and take what Bates and his fellow defensive backs give to him.