Behind Enemy Lines: Previewing Commanders’ Week 1 game w/Broncos Wire

The Washington Commanders have a big challenge standing before their first 2-0 mark since 2011. The Denver Broncos host the Commanders from Empower Field at Mile High in Week 2.

Last week, the Broncos dropped their first game under new head coach Sean Payton. Quarterback Russell Wilson, looking to turn around his career, passed for 177 yards on 27 completions.

Washington’s defense was outstanding in the Week 1 win over the Cardinals, holding Arizona to 210 total yards and recording 11 tackles for loss. The Broncos will represent more of a challenge for the Commanders.

As we continue our previews for this weekend’s game, we spoke to Broncos Wire managing editor Jon Heath to learn everything about Denver.

What's your opinion of Russell Wilson under Sean Payton?

I think it’s a way better fit than Russell Wilson under Nathaniel Hackett. Wilson wasn’t perfect in Week 1, but he looked more comfortable than last year. Sean Payton tailors his offense to his QB’s strengths, something that helped him have success not only with Drew Brees but also with Taysom Hill, Teddy Bridgewater and Jameis Winston. Wilson might never return to the level he once played at in Seattle, but Payton can help get the best out of him at this stage of his career. Payton’s offense will highlight Wilson’s strengths, like play action and getting out of the pocket to make plays on the run. So far, so good for the Wilson-Payton marriage.

How would you view the Broncos offensive line?

Again, much improved from last year. One of Payton’s big priorities this offseason was to upgrade the offensive line and he did that by giving big-money contracts to guard Ben Powers and right tackle Mike McGlinchey during free agency. Similar to Wilson, the line had a few down moments in Week 1, but overall looked much better than last season. It might only be a league-average unit, but Denver’s offensive line isn’t a glaring weakness like it was last season.

What are Denver's offensive strengths?

The Broncos have two quality running backs in Javonte Williams and Samaje Perine, plus a fullback and three blocking tight ends. Payton wants to pound the rock in 2023, and when they are able to establish the ground game, it opens up PA and makes life a lot easier for Wilson in the passing game. Courtland Sutton and Jerry Jeudy (when healthy) are also talented wide receivers, so Wilson has plenty of playmakers around him. Overall, though, running the ball is probably Denver’s best strength, and then things go from there.

Tell us about the Broncos defense

Last week, the pass rush was non-existent, but that was against Jimmy Garoppolo’s quick release. They might be able to find more success against Sam Howell on Sunday. The defensive line is about average, and the inside linebackers are solid. The secondary is the strength, with cornerback Pat Surtain and safety Justin Simmons among the NFL’s best at their positions. One weakness in the secondary, though, is second-year CB Damarri Mathis. Playing across from Surtain, Mathis gets picked on by opposing QBs, and he was a huge liability in Week 1. Mathis could prove to be a mismatch against any of Washington’s three talented WRs.

What type of pass rush does Denver have in 2023?

Vance Joseph runs a 3-4 base scheme that features outside linebackers in the edge rusher role. Randy Gregory is the team’s big-money OLB, but he hasn’t lived up to expectations so far. Baron Browning is the team’s other starting OLB, but he’s currently out injured. That leaves Jonathon Cooper, a former seventh-round pick, as the starter across from Gregory at the moment. Veteran Frank Clark and second-year OLB Nik Bonitto are the backup rotational rushers. The pass rush was terrible last week, but game flow probably had something to do with that. Howell was sacked six times in Week 1, so Denver might get a little more from their OLBs on Sunday. Zach Allen is the team’s top interior pass rusher, but a one-game sample size isn’t enough to judge how effective he’ll be in Denver.

Prediction and why

In my Sports Weekly preview, I predicted a 23-17 win for the Broncos. Playing at home, I think Denver’s defense will give them the edge over Washington.

Story originally appeared on Commanders Wire