The Washington Commanders are looking to get back to .500 with a road matchup against the Atlanta Falcons in Week 6. Here are three keys to them breaking their three-game losing streak, presented by KIA.
1. Force Desmond Ridder to make mistakes.
Desmond Ridder started off his first season as the full-time starter with pedestrian stats. The Falcons won the game against the Carolina Panthers, and he completed 83.3% of his passes, but his 115 passing yards were the second lowest of his career. He was also sacked four times by the Panthers' defensive front.
Things have been inconsistent for Ridder since then. There have been some promising signs, like his 329-yard performance against the Houston Texans, but there have also been some head scratching moments, such as his two turnovers against the Jacksonville Jaguars. The Commanders need to make sure they force Ridder out of his comfort zone as often as possible.
Unlike the previous quarterbacks the Commanders have faced, Ridder isn't known for scrambling as much, although he does still have that ability. It should be the Commanders, who are tied with the Seattle Seahawks for the most sacks in the NFC, to crash the pocket around Ridder and either get him on the ground or force him to make an errant throw.
Leading that charge should be Chase Young, whose 27 pressures this season are tied for fourth in the NFL. Young has looked stronger since his return to the field in Week 2. He should have plenty of opportunities to get to Ridder, too, as the Falcons rank 26th in pass-block win rate.
Ridder's completion rate is drastically affected when under pressure. With a clean pocket, he completes 67.7% of his passes. When under duress, his completion rate drops to 56.3%.
2. Prevent Bijan Robinson from breaking off explosive plays.
Bijan Robinson has lived up to the hype of being the rare running back to deserve a first-round pick. He's tied for ninth in rushing yards, and Pro Football Focus has him graded as the 10th best running back in the league.
Robinson's performances have been mixed so far. He has two 100-yard games, but he's also been bottled up for less than 60 yards on three occasions. Washington needs to do better at containing Robinson than they did with Bears running back Khalil Herbert, who had 76 yards on 10 carries.
The trick is to keep Robinson from using cutback lanes, which are the result of the Falcons trying to get defenses moving laterally. To stop that, Washington needs to have a stellar game from their defensive ends. Young and Montez Sweat to stay vertical when moving upfield, which will prevent Robinson from bouncing runs to the outside and force him to take on Washington's interior defenders.
And if Robinson's previous games are any indication, he has little success when running between the tackles. Just look at his running charts on Next Gen Stats; there's a lot of green on the outside, but there's also a lot of red and yellow, which signify a tackle for loss or minimal gain, up the middle.
3. Avoid being forced to be one-dimensional on offense.
The Commanders called 55 consecutive pass plays without a run during their Thursday Night Football game against the Chicago Bears. Part of that was because they were down 27-3 by halftime, but that simply cannot continue if they hope to be a successful offense.
There are a few ways the Commanders can avoid that. They want to be balanced, and that will require them to run the ball at a more consistent clip, particularly in the first half. The best example of that came against the Philadelphia Eagles, as the Commanders had 15 carries compared to 17 pass attempts from Sam Howell. As a result, the Commanders were up 17-10 at halftime.
Eric Bieniemy said "of course" he would like to get Brian Robinson Jr. and the running game more involved. In order to do that, though, the Commanders need to have more success earlier in games. Against the Bears, for example, Washington was down 17-0 in the second quarter, making it much more difficult to justify running the ball when they needed to score quickly.
Should the Commanders manage to get out to a fast start and get in the end zone on their opening drive, it will be a first for the Falcons. They have only allowed three points on opponents' starting possessions, and that came last week against the Houston Texans.
Regardless of when they score, the Commanders can't afford to be in an early deficit again. If they can keep things close, they can execute the offense the way the players know they are capable of.