Notebook: What and who stood out re-watching Commanders-Lions originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington
Pete Hailey is not a current or former NFL player, nor is he a current or former NFL coach. He is a reporter. Therefore, this space won't be used to closely analyze schemes or assign blame on coverage breakdowns or anything like that related to the Commanders, because those things are hard to discern without knowing the design of and plan for a given play.
That said, he does cover Washington on a day-to-day basis, meaning he can (hopefully) pass along helpful observations after re-watching each of the franchise's games. So, here's what stood out to him from the Week 2 loss to the Lions:
The Commanders allowed three — THREE — plays of 49-plus yards in the first quarter alone at Ford Field. Amon-Ra St. Brown got it started on a crossing route that Benjamin St-Juste and William Jackson III miscommunicated on, resulting in St. Brown having half the state of Michigan to navigate after making a reception that ultimately spanned 49 yards. Then, D'Andre Swift knifed through the defensive line, took advantage of what appeared to be a poor angle by Darrick Forrest (see the tweet below) and sprinted for a 50-yard gain. Lastly, Khalif Raymond returned a Tress Way post-safety free kick for 52 yards thanks to a bunch of excellent blocks. If the first quarter was a couple of minutes longer, someone from section 212 at the stadium would've probably joined in on the fun.
Charles Leno Jr., who was stout in the season-opening win against the Jaguars, got outclassed on the strip-sack of Carson Wentz that concluded in two points for the home side — and that sequence came on top of the three where Aidan Hutchinson picked up a sack. That shoddy protection, when combined with what was a sputtering rushing effort, explains why Ron Rivera's club was blanked in the first half.
Forrest, unfortunately, wasn't nearly as productive as he was in Week 1 (that statement can be applied to almost every one of his teammates, by the way). Perhaps his worst rep (aside from his gaffe on the Swift scamper described above) came near the goal line, when Jared Goff and Josh Reynolds combined to burn him for a touchdown in the second quarter. After the snap, Reynolds briefly acted like he was going to engage Forrest on a block, at which point Forrest lunged at him. As soon as that happened, Reynolds gladly blew past him and snagged Goff's toss for the score. Forrest competes hard and has success at times but his inexperience will lead to mistakes like that one. Kam Curl can't come back soon enough for Washington.
If you want to praise the Commanders — you are not legally bound to do so and therefore can decline — then focus on how they came out of the locker room and handled the third quarter. Wentz linked up with Jahan Dotson for a 40-yard strike where Dotson zoomed by his assignment, and then, the quarterback connected with Curtis Samuel for a pretty six-pointer where Samuel held on despite being demolished at the pylon. Samuel shot out of the backfield on that highlight and unsurprisingly cooked the poor defensive end who had to try and corral him. What Samuel's put on tape through two contests has been outrageous; he's so tough to tackle.
Logan Thomas' end zone visit was equally as enthralling as Samuel's. Thomas and Samuel lined up next to each other in the left slot area of the formation, and Samuel ducked in front of Thomas following the snap. In doing so, Samuel forced his man into the path of Thomas' man, and that short pause on Detroit's behalf was all Thomas needed to find space over the middle. Thomas' TD and the ensuing two-point conversion pulled Washington to within seven.
Jackson III's 2022 was supposed to be a bounce-back campaign. Instead, he's bouncing back to his unhelpful ways of 2021. On a devastating jet sweep handoff to St. Brown that tailed the eight-point possession that was just recounted, Jackson III's eyes were in the totally wrong place, and due to that, St. Brown escaped to the edge with ease. Nice knowing you, momentum.
Sunday was Daron Payne's second-consecutive strong performance to kick off 2022. Payne can embarrass opposing 300-pounders with his physicality or his quicks, and he accomplished both versus the Lions. Payne is going to have to change his last name to Paid at this rate, as he's setting himself up for a serious new contract in a few months.
Guarding Dotson one-on-one seems... not fun. And for a 5-foot-11, 180-pound rookie, No. 1 sure has emerged as a go-to, red-zone option already.
Dax Milne doesn't come close to topping the list of problems for Rivera's squad, but he is definitely on that list somewhere. For someone who isn't that explosive or battle-tested on kick returns, Milne should probably accept a chance for a touchback whenever one presents itself. He rejected one such opportunity on Sunday, though, and was dropped at the 16-yard line. That's an easily avoidable error.
Antonio Gibson finished with 28 yards on 14 totes, underscoring what's become clear about his game: His abilities are most useful in space. In Detroit, there was a shortage of that (he chipped in with just 13 receiving yards, too) and until Brian Robinson Jr. re-enters the lineup, the backfield will have to make do without a true ball carrier. Gibson has special talent, but identifying creases in crowds isn't one of them.
Finally, while a horror movie becomes less scary the more you watch it, Swift's catch-then-fall-then-stand-up-then-juke-multiple-Commanders-then-celebrate-the-touchdown play only grew more frightening with each rewind. Whatever gripe a particular fan currently has with the franchise's defense — whether it be Jack Del Rio's coordinating, the talent of the unit or the down-by-down execution — that fan could log a complaint regarding their aspect of choice based on what they witnessed on that debacle. Viewing that over and over is not recommended.