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From the booth | Spilled milk can be cleaned up


The opinions expressed in this article do not reflect those of the team.

I woke up Sunday morning angry. A good kind of angry. The kind of angry that Jon Allen was summoning pregame against the Eagles when he was animating his team before the biggest Washington-Philadelphia game under Ron Rivera.

It was the same angry London Fletcher was feeling, too. When we first saw each other in the booth, we both admitted to having listened to rap on the Beltway.

It wasn't manufactured, either. The Eagles were loudly coming to our stadium to punk us, to sophomorically rattle Carson Wentz over some illogical grudge. Their coach was openly smirking about how the Commanders might have to use a silent count on Sunday.

The Cowboys organization pulled a similar move last year. They brought commissioned benches with their name printed on it. When asked about it, they laughably tried to suggest the company that produces the benches were not supposed to put their name on it, that this was some kind of mistake.

Now don't get me wrong. I like petty things. Petty is good for rivalries, especially ones as historic as Washington-Dallas and Washington-Philly. But when the pettiness leans into a full-on disrespect for our stadium, our fans and our organization, that's when it's time to not just play the music to get ourselves ready, but face the music. We collectively have to demand more from ourselves. And I mean everyone.

The Eagles and Cowboys are picking fights with us. And after last week's invasion of our stadium, it's time for us to step into that ring again. And it starts with our team on the field.

Nine sacks and an offense that was out-gained by nearly 300 yards and outscored by 24 points at home in a single half isn't going to galvanize anything. Being that this was the case for two straight weeks, it's time for the proverbial chalkboard to be wheeled out.

Unlike the first half of the Lions game, I agree with the coaches that this deficit was far easier to swallow, at least in terms of how the Eagles scored their points. Sometimes Heisman trophy-winning or $100 million receivers make plays, and both A.J. Brown and Devonta Smith did. Unlike in Detroit, this wasn't lost assignments; this was execution at the highest level, whether it be Smith going to get two late first half catches at the ball's highest point or Brown showing what he can do with a corner hugging him on a sideline go route.

On the bright side (and I know there isn't much of one), I thought Cole Holcomb had a major bounce back game. He was playing fast. For the second straight week, Jamin Davis flashed the speed that should make him an impact linebacker. On multiple occasions when Jalen Hurts either had a designed roll out to his right, or escaped the pocket in that direction, Davis was the one who closed the opening fast. This team was well-disciplined on an aspect of the Eagles game that is difficult to handle. And the Eagles are one of the most difficult rush offenses in the NFL. Go check the box score, and you'll see a winning metric there. Kam Curl’s presence was felt in the middle of the field proving he was sorely missed in weeks one and two. I don't think I have a single issue with the overall consistent effort the defensive front is getting from either Daron Payne or Allen.

Still, they gave up 24 points in a half. Only one of those scores came via a short field off a turnover, and they have yet to cause a single turnover that wasn't an end of game heave with a prayer attached to it. So, while I'll buy that the defense played a little better than the scoreboard suggested, what isn't happening are plays that can turn a game in the favor of the team as a whole. That has to change.

Now to the offense, which for two weeks has been inept in the first half. The Lions brought the house in the first half against Washington. They rushed more than we had to block, and it appeared early that maybe the route choices didn't have the requisite time to develop. Obviously, there was a massive adjustment at halftime in Detroit. The bigger issue this past Sunday was how often Philadelphia was able to generate pressure with a front four. The offense was sped up, and it showed. Wentz was sacked numerous times early, and then for a stretch in the second quarter, the quarterback had three drives where his accuracy was off. There were multiple misses to Curtis Samuel, one to John Bates, and ones that sailed on him intended for Terry McLaurin and Jahan Dotson.

There was a silver lining here as well. Once again in the second half, the team protected better, and Wentz largely was on target. His resilience here is really notable. Consider the week he had building up to his first game against Philadelphia since being traded from the Eagles and the purpose of the green invasion. On a third-and-22 in Eagles territory, he had a terrific 20-yard throw to the 5-yard that went through McLaurin's hands. On the previous drive that ended with a stop at the Eagles 1-yard line on 4th-and-goal, he had a dime to Dotson that was a pure drop. The point is that the second half should have and could have produced more points.

The biggest issue was protection. Does the team need to consider leaving a back or a tight end in to help against opposing fronts? It would stand to reason that they better against Dallas, who I'd argue is far superior to either the Eagles or Lions in pass rush ability. What was interesting to see upon review was how much leverage and power the line at large got running the ball and how often their pocket collapsed on throwing downs. If you watch the tape, you'll almost think these are two different offensive lines. So this begs the question, "Does this offense need to reconsider its identity?"

Over the last two years, they became more of a power rush offense, partially out of necessity. That said, if this team doesn't exploit its deep threat capability, then I think we can all agree it's a missed opportunity. That doesn't mean they have to identify this way.

While Wentz's accuracy was a part of the first half issues against the Eagles, for a third straight week, in general (and we can discuss a couple of early moments where he hung on to the ball maybe a touch longer than he should have) his decision making of ball placement has been excellent. He's not making dangerous throws and as we have learned here, execution of the entire unit is at issue here. And that means everyone from the quarterback being asked to make his decisions a tick faster, to the protection scheme being tweaked to help solve some vulnerabilities to the receivers and backs being steady and reliable weapons.

It's easy to get frustrated by this latest outcome. My drive home wasn't just rap infused; it was part rage room. I hope you felt the same way, because we collectively have to do better. We have to find ways to make our stadium far less available to mass invasion.

Because of circumstance, last week was the first real test of the Eagles-Commanders rivalry since Rivera came here. In 2020, there was no crowd for the season opener, and by the time we got to week 17, the Eagles' season was over. Against Dallas in 2020, both games were played with Dak Prescott out and the Cowboys season spiraling. Last year, a covid outbreak ruined Washington's chances of being competitive in those back-to-back to back to back late season meetings.

For that reason, this week offers a real opportunity. For the team, it's a chance to not only get a season back on track but do so by making a statement about what these rivalry games mean. For us, it's time to hold ourselves accountable too. Do whatever you have to do to get yourself ready for these moments and then BE THERE. It's the good kind of angry.

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