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From the booth | Focus and refocus


I made an appearance on a radio show Monday morning, the day after Brian Robinson Jr. was the victim of an armed assault in Washington, D.C. that left him hospitalized. The second question I was asked was about the state of the Commanders run game with Robinson's availability in question. I expected that, and I'm not mentioning it to insinuate the host was being insensitive, but all I could initially muster was a sigh and an admission: For a moment, I just don't care. I just want a kid who has a huge future ahead of him to get out of the hospital, heal his wounds and when he comes back, he comes back.

The rest of this piece will be as intended, with observations of the Commanders as they enter the 2022 season. But for the sake of answering the question of how the offense functions without Robinson for however long he is out: the only thing that needs to be said is that I'm not worried about it. Robinson made an already good unit better, period.

On the game in Baltimore: Go read the stat sheet and tell me if you've ever seen it that tilted in a loss. The Commanders had the ball for nearly 40 minutes, held the Ravens to 1-of-8 on third down and gave up less than two yards per carry. The scoreboard didn't represent how one sided the game was.

But when you fail to score a touchdown on two drives that got inside the opponent's five yard line, miss a field goal from 50 yards and in, commit 10 penalties and give up three plays of 50 yards or more, you end up on the wrong side.

And it is the subject of situational football this summer that has me most worried heading into the regular season. Five of the six halves played in the preseason ended with the opposition scoring points on long drives. Is that a coincidence?

The team was penalized 10 times against the Ravens, one of the main reasons that the time of possession stat was marginalized on the scoreboard. In the first preseason game, it was a penalty that gave Carolina a late opportunity to survive a late rally.

In the last two weeks, the starting unit failed to convert in Kansas City territory multiple times and as described earlier it was the backups in Baltimore who got into the Ravens red zone over and over and over and over and ended up with 15 total points. But maybe the most troubling item of the summer is the fact that not a single turnover was caused.

All of these items can magically be whisked away when real games are played, real game planning happens and the players who this team will lean on are expected to be out there in critical moments. But there is a reality: losing the turnover battle, trouble converting on and stopping teams on third down and red zone inefficiency always leads to losses in close games.

Now on the positive side, for the third straight game, the Commanders gave up less yards per carry than the week before and it started with the Panthers gaining only three yards per attempt. The Ravens finished with 14 carries for 21 yards. If Washington is going to possess one of the stingiest run defenses in the league then I love this teams' chances to win the NFC East. Dallas has questions along its offensive line and at least early in the season will sport an unproven set of wide receivers. The Giants figure to lean on Saquan Barkley more as they work through a passing offense that already had questions about the viability of Daniel Jones. And we know the Eagles potentially have the most devastating rush attack in the NFL. Counter these teams with what we saw from the Commanders defense this summer and December is going to get really interesting around here.

The Pass O: I don't think we have seen much yet so it's hard to know exactly what to expect come Sept. 11 against the Jaguars. How Curtis Samuel gets utilized as a utility player will be fascinating. I'm excited to see where on the field Jahan Dotson finds his comfort zone. With the arm talent of Carson Wentz, how often does Terry McLaurin get utilized as a deep threat? For the first time in years, the roster is replete with weapons who can be specialists at every level of the field. So Scott Turner’s ability to emphasize what at this point are hidden strengths and develop a cohesive offense that has dynamic playmakers may end up being the story of the season.

Health: Clearly, the Commanders were playing it very safe with tight ends John Bates and Cole Turner. And they went out of their way to protect the veterans on the offensive line. Now we find out if they are coming into the season with a full deck and if not, what the contingency plans truly are. The team is relying on some veterans to keep the interior of the offensive line together and not one of the projected starters missed less than at least a week of practice. I'll buy the team has depth and I'll also buy the readiness of the entire unit under John Matsko, but like situational football, attrition is one of the leading indicators of full season success. So, can the line and tight end room remain healthy? It may determine just how effective this offense can be.

Defense: This team has played from behind so many times in the first two years under Ron Rivera and Jack Del Rio. It's probably why I was so sensitive to the start of the halves in each of the three preseason games. Last year's early season woes on third down were a huge part of the hole the team needed to dig out of. Here is what I know about this team through two seasons, the coaches do adjust and the players are playing hard. But a slow start this time against opponents who had the first and second overall picks in the draft won't play well with the critics and naysayers. Starting fast is a necessity this year literally and figuratively. In a season where we begin a new era, the best way to turn the page is to get some early momentum.

Lastly, I'm optimistic that one way or another this team is going to the playoffs whether it is via an NFC East title or a wild card berth. With an offense that should be more explosive and more in the middle of the pack in scoring at worst and a defense that isn't facing a slate of pro bowl/Hall of Fame quarterbacks like they did in 2021 and thus out of excuses not to produce, it's all set up for a really fun ride.

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