The Washington Commanders' defensive make it a point to tell their players that they need to finish plays. Montez Sweat did plenty of that on Sunday.
The Commanders' defensive line dominated and played a key role in turning the tide in the 20-16 victory over the Arizona Cardinals, but Sweat was the catalyst for much of the success up front with his five tackles (two TFLs), 1.5 sacks and two forced fumbles.
Sweat causing problems for offenses is not a new development; ask any opposing quarterback since he was drafted in 2019, and they'll tell you have much of a challenge he can be. The sack numbers, however, have not always shown his effectiveness. His performance in Week 1 indicates that might be changing for Sweat.
"He's dialed in," said Commanders defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio. "He's going after things and really that finish element is part of it."
The supposed breakthrough Sweat has had is similar to the one Daron Payne experienced last season. Payne had always been a talented player, but not being able to consistently finish plays held him back from putting up stronger numbers. That changed in 2022, and after tying a franchise record for a defensive tackle with 11.5 sacks, Payne earned a contract extension that will keep him in Washington for the foreseeable future.
It's only one game, but it would seem that Sweat is on the same path. As Brian Baldinger pointed out on social media, Sweat's effort was noticeable on several plays, like when he rushed the quarterback before sprinting in the other direction to help wrap up James Connor.
Then there was the third-and-15 in the closing seconds of the third quarter. Sweat worked around left tackle D.J. Humphries to chop down on Josh Dobbs' throwing arm, leading to a forced fumble and the ensuing recovery from Payne.
Del Rio said Sweat's improved conditioning is part of why his skill set has been boosted.
"I think his ability to stay on the field was stronger than it has been, which is a plus. And then it's just a focus. I think he's pretty dialed in right now."
Regardless of where it comes from, Sweat's ability to change games is appreciated by his teammates.
"I think that's the Montez that has been continually getting better each and every year," said wideout Terry McLaurin. "And now, he's at a place where he's changing the game, and I think you need that from a guy with his potential, a guy with his skill set, and it changed the game what he did."
The Washington Commanders went through their first practice of the week to prepare for their Week 2 matchup against the Denver Broncos. (Photos by Kourtney Carroll/Washington Commanders)
-- As the Broncos' defensive coordinator for three seasons and the Raiders' head coach from 2015-17, Del Rio has more experience than most players on the Commanders' roster when it comes to playing at Mile High and dealing with altitude conditions. "It's a great environment," Del Rio said, and there are signs everywhere reminding people of the high altitude. But as long as they prepare well and execute, Washington should be fine during their first road game of the year.
"Teams that play well and prepare well and go and execute, all those things don't become as big a deal," Del Rio said. "I think if you go in and you slop around and you don't play well, then those things can add up."
-- Del Rio normally doesn't give too much away when it comes to planning for opponents, but he had some praise for the Broncos' ground game.
"Solid. They do some core concepts that they believe in. They dress it up with motions and shifts and alignments and things to hide it, but they do what they do upfront and good backs. Good strong line. Good design. It'll be a challenge for us."
-- Del Rio also commented on the chemistry between Jonathan Allen and Payne.
"I think there's certainly a comfort level in them understanding what they need to get done and where they can take their opportunities. I think that's part of it. We want to be penetrating and disruptive with our tackles. That's part of what we do. I thought they were both really, really on point last week."
-- Offensive coordinator/assistant head coach Eric Bieniemy got asked a lot about Sam Howell’s performance. There were some mistakes, all of which have been pointed out several times by now, but what Bieniemy liked the most was that he managed to play through them and find ways to win.
"I thought Sam did basically what a first year starting quarterback probably would do. And so, I thought there were moments where he looked great, I thought there were moments where he just looked okay, and I thought there were moments that he can use as growing pains. But on top of that, using it as a life lesson springing forward."
-- Bieniemy will be coaching against Broncos defensive coordinator Vance Joseph, who he considers to be one of his best friends, on Sunday. The two have a mutual respect for each other, and he knows getting past Joseph's defensive scheme is going to be a tough challenge.
"I'm not going to say I know his entire defensive scheme, but he has a heck of a scheme. The thing I know about VJ, because VJ played in the secondary, he's always going to give a quarterback, especially a young quarterback, an unscouted look to where he can cause confusion. So our job, is to make sure each and every week that we're preparing our guys for all those unscouted looks, always expect the unexpected, apply your rules and go play."