Here's a question: Do you remember who the Commanders played last preseason? If you do, can you recall if they won or lost the games and whether they were competitive? The point is the preseason is not supposed to be a harbinger of what's about to happen in the games that count. And this year, I hope that's the case.
The most difficult part of reviewing a preseason performance is that overriding storylines often are based on a small subset of information. But there are trends from both the Kansas City and Carolina games that are concerning when you look at the starting units. All four halves played have started with long drives by the opponent. Against the Panthers, Baker Mayfield led a 14-play, 54-yard opening drive that ended in a field goal. The second half started with a 12-play, 75-yard touchdown drive with PJ Walker under center.
Patrick Mahomes ran two drives in Kansas City this past weekend. Both went for 12 plays, both went 80-plus yards and both ended in touchdowns. The Chiefs were 6-of-6 on third downs. The second half at Arrowhead started with a seven-play, 57-yard drive that ended in a field goal.
This is not a good trend. Four distinctly different units on both sides of the ball, all with the same result: the opponent is able to move the ball effectively, dominate time of possession and most importantly take a lead or add to it.
This team has proven there is no hole too big to dig out of: see the starts to both the 2020 and 2021 seasons. But it would be refreshing if this team started fast in games, let alone seasons.
Now for the good news: While Ron Rivera is openly talking about how his pass rush does need to improve, the rush defense is posting stout numbers. The Panthers rushed the ball 30 times and finished with a 3.1 yard average per carry. The Chiefs 24 carries were even less effective and they included more than a handful of scrambles by backup quarterback Steve Buechele, who frankly had vast run lanes that were too large to ignore. In pure run plays, the leading rushers in terms of attempts were Derrick Gore and Tayon Fleet Davis with five each. They combined for 16 yards. If this is what the Washington run defense is going to be, then I'm beyond optimistic that tweaks to the rush could make the unit a formidable group.
On the other side of the ball, for a second straight week, Carson Wentz appears to have a distinct comfort level with whatever portion of the offense that is being shown this summer. In the Kansas City game, his reps under center were an interesting development. The overarching criticisms of his game seem to overlook his strengths. Wentz was excellent in play action, ball fakes and quick strike action. While I know Wentz and the offense would like a couple of those early opportunities on the Chiefs' side of the 50 back, his ability to keep the defense off balance from under center (run and pass options are wide open) felt useful. And largely, I'd describe what I saw as another successful step toward the regular season.
The Washington Commanders were back on the field to begin preparations for their final preseason game against the Baltimore Ravens. Check out the top photos from Monday's practice. (Emilee Fails and Kourtney Carroll/Washington Commanders)
On the lack of third down conversions in KC territory, it goes without saying that the situational failures would have cost them in a real game. This is the second straight week where some situational metrics don't look great. Against Carolina, turnovers, untimely penalties and third down defense put them on the wrong side of the outcome. Against Kansas City, third down defense and definitely 3rd down conversions especially in Chiefs territory would be almost impossible to overcome. And not that I'm overly concerned about it, but it is notable that the Commanders haven't caused a single turnover yet.
The O-Line Held up. This was one of the positive developments of the weekend. With two players (Cornelius Lucas and Chase Roullier) on pitch counts due to conditioning and multiple starters and backups out, the line was frankly a potential liability. It didn't play out that way. I was particularly impressed with Saahdiq Charles who flashed his athleticism. Go watch him pull from his guard spot and I get the optimism for him. I'll give a golf clap to Aaron Monteiro, who started by necessity and ended up playing the majority of the game at both guard positions.
On Antonio Gibson: While the shift on his role as a primary back feels sudden, the reality is and always has been that Gibson is a home run hitter in space. I'd argue he is the most dynamic playmaker on the team with his topline speed, size and elite playmaking ability. Here's what I know: despite what feels like a sudden departure from how we perceived his usage, there is no chance he doesn't play a big role in the offense. While his touches figure to be fewer especially as a traditional runner, his impact could end up being far greater. I'd take Gibson as a five-to-10-carry, 5-plus target back then a 20-plus carry back all day. And Brian Robinson offers the team a much needed option.
While the defense and the pass rush has received most of the attention from Rivera and the media, I will say I do continue to love the camp Kendall Fuller has had. He was tested numerous times in Kansas City and as he has all summer in practice, he's winning. The other development that is promising is the physicality of the back end. Percy Butler was a little late on a hit on Buechele, but his top end speed makes him a prospect I cannot wait to see develop. When I spoke to Darrick Forrest after practice recently, he told me Butler is way ahead of where he was as a rookie a year ago. Forrest himself has shown a willingness to be really aggressive and his role figures to be pivotal in the safety rotation.
One last thing: since we agree that we don't remember or care all that much to remember the preseason opponents let alone the result, can someone give me an explanation as to why the Ravens care so much about winning every exhibition game? The streak is at 22 straight games which might be the strangest current streak in all of sports. It can't be a coincidence anymore, it's now become their thing. So would a Commanders win Saturday mean something? To them it would. For me, I'll take a third-down stop, an early lead and some turnovers to feel good about the start of the regular season.