Skip to main content

News | Washington Commanders -

Three keys to Washington getting a win in Denver


The Washington Commanders will go on their first road trip of the season to take on the Denver Broncos at Mile High Stadium. Here are three keys to the game, presented by KIA. 

1. Eliminate offensive mistakes. 

Washington's offense did enough to win against the Arizona Cardinals, but every player on that side of the ball knew in the locker room after the 20-16 win that the entire unit could and should have played better. 

They'll need to against a much tougher and more experienced Broncos defense. 

"I thought in the first half we moved the ball well," Sam Howell said, "we just kept shooting ourselves in the foot." 

That's true; at the end of the first half, Washington had 11 more first downs and 54 more total yards compared to Arizona. The problem was that Washington was careless with the ball, as two fumbles and an interception led to 10 points and a 13-10 deficit. After Howell's strip-sack was recovered for a touchdown, ESPN's win probability swung from 62.1% in Washington favor to a 58.2% chance that the Cardinals would get the win. 

Despite only putting up 42 yards in the second half, Washington found a way to retake the lead thanks in part to its defense. That is not a consistent formula for success, though, and Washington will be in an even tougher spot if it repeats those mistakes against the Broncos. Led by Patrick Surtain II and Justin Simmons, the Broncos were tied with the Minnesota Vikings for the fifth most interceptions in the league last season. They were also seventh in yards allowed with an average of 320 yards per game. 

Washington showed enough to hint that it could have a more productive offense, but the unit must learn to get out of its own way first.

2. Keep Russell Wilson contained in the pocket.

It's only one game, but Russell Wilson looked much better compared to what we saw in 2022, completing 79% of his passes in the loss to the Las Vegas Raiders. Wilson rushed for one yard on one carry in Week 1, but Ron Rivera said on Wednesday that extending plays was still part of Wilson's skill set. Wilson has also burned Washington several times in the past with his legs.

The Commanders have to make sure that Wilson stays in the pocket on Sunday.

Much of that responsibility falls on the defensive line, which dominated the Cardinals and helped swing momentum back into Washington's favor. Aside from the two forced fumbles in the second half, Washington shut down any attempts from Josh Dobbs to carry the ball himself on quarterback keepers.

Dobbs finished the day with three rushes for -3 yards.

The key for the defensive line will be for them to maintain their rushing lanes, although it will be tempting to break contain as Wilson tries to scramble in the backfield. Both of Wilson's touchdowns in the first half came when he was running outside of the pocket.

But Washington should be equipped to contain Wilson. Aside from getting Chase Young back from injury, role players like James Smith-Williams are exceptional at playing within their assignments and keeping quarterbacks in front of him. If they can operate with discipline, Washington has a good chance to avoid any broken plays.

3. Prevent explosive plays from a more talented receiving corp.

The Broncos had just 11 plays resulting in gains of at least 10 yards, so it's difficult to expect much explosiveness from their offense in Week 2. However, they will have a bolstered group of pass-catchers with Jerry Jeudy back in the lineup, meaning the Commanders could see more shots downfield from Wilson on Sunday.

The Broncos plodded through most of their game against the Raiders. They averaged 4.5 yards per play, which was 21st in the league, and relied mostly on their running backs and tight ends to make plays in the passing game, which relied heavily on play-action. They moved down the field in small chunks, but there were moments when they tried to take shots downfield. That was the case in the third quarter, when Wilson almost connected with Phillip Dorsett, whose feet were out of bounds on what would have been a big gain for the Broncos.

No matter how much he plays on Sunday, Jeudy will not make a similar mistake. It will be on Washington to remove those explosive plays from Denver's playbook. It managed to do so against the Cardinals, who averaged just 3.6 yards per play.

The Broncos will be a tougher challenge, though. Unlike Dobbs, who was only in Arizona for a few weeks before being named the Cardinals' starter, Wilson has the ability to launch passes that can flip the field. What's more, the duo of Jeudy and Courtland Sutton are more experienced than the Cardinals' pass-catchers and have a history of making explosive plays.

Washington should be able to manage a Broncos offense that prefers to dink and dunk downfield, but it can't allow the game to be decided by one or two plays.

Related Content