Hailey's Notebook: What stood out re-watching Commanders' Week 9 loss to Vikings

Notebook: Who and what stood out re-watching Commanders-Vikings 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 follow 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 9 loss to the Vikings:

  • Ron Rivera's immediate anger over the fourth-quarter unnecessary roughness flag on John Ridgeway — an infraction that cost the hosts a comeback opportunity at FedEx Field — didn't subside by the time he spoke to reporters on Monday. In that media session, Rivera said, "I don't agree with the call. I went and looked at it, looked at it, looked at it, looked at it and he didn't hit him with his shoulder pads, he didn't hit him with his helmet." While that may be true, Ridgeway definitely contacted Minnesota's long snapper with force on the late field goal, which allowed the Vikings' offense to return to the field and essentially drain the rest of the clock before kicking again. By being aggressive with his rush, Ridgeway put the decision in the officials' hands. That proved to be an irreversible mistake.

  • Taylor Heinicke was awfully hard on himself for his Sunday interception and a review of the sequence quickly explains why. As Heinicke said in his postgame presser, he should've just thrown to Dax Milnewho was the first read on the play and who had lots of space around him. However, Heinicke declined to do so and instead attempted to pick out Logan Thomas over the middle. Thomas was also open so it's not like that was an unforgivable choice on its own, but the window there was far tighter and Heinicke ended up overthrowing Thomas because of messy mechanics. Heinicke was lucky to not have been picked off on about a half-dozen earlier tosses, yet his luck finally ran out on this turnover.

  • Here's how the Commanders' offense has done on third downs in its last four outings: 2-of-11 in Chicago, 7-of-16 vs. Green Bay, 2-of-12 in Indianapolis and 3-of-10 against Minnesota. Somehow, the team is 3-1 in those contests, but the inability to sustain possessions is undoubtedly limiting the group's potential. On Sunday, sacks — Cornelius Lucas was beaten for two of them — batted balls and an apparent miscommunication on the offensive line all contributed to another shoddy showing in chain-moving chances.

  • Pro bowl? Forget it. Jonathan Allen should be garnering All-Pro consideration. He's registered 4.5 sacks thus far and 11 tackles for loss, as his explosion at the snap is causing constant trouble for those tasked with blocking him. He's excellent as a pass rusher, run stopper and screen reader. Whatever the Washington's record is come the conclusion of the season may prevent Allen from receiving the recognition he deserves, but those who watch him on a weekly basis understand how unstoppable he's become.

  • Another defender worth highlighting is Jamin Daviswho's removed himself from the category of "possible bust" and is now sitting firmly in the "useful defender" category. Davis' ability as a blitzer was noticeable in the Vikings contest and he also logged one violent takedown of the burly T.J. Hockenson. Should Davis continue on this trajectory, he'll be an above-average linebacker in 2023 at the very least.

  • Kirk Cousins' sometimes-cheesy/goofy personality could lead one to assume that he lacks toughness, but that same person would be hard-pressed to maintain those doubts after studying his performance in Week 9. Cousins took shot after shot from his opponent's defensive line and yet he never wavered aside from having to sit out one play when refs had to stop the game to check on him. Daron Payne said of Cousins: "If you can stand in there and take them licks and keep making those throws, then I commend you." Quality quarterbacking in the NFL matters, clearly, but so too does durable quarterbacking. While Cousins comes up short at times in the former category, he's definitely elite in the latter.

  • The fourth-quarter interference penalty on Benjamin St-Juste that wiped away his pick-six sure looked like an infraction despite Rivera's opposition to it. Justin Jefferson was being physical with St-Juste, yes, but the corner locked up with the star wideout at the top of the route and obviously kept Jefferson from making a play on the ball. BSJ's last six weeks or so have included lots of encouraging moments, as he's been very involved in terms of contesting throws all over the field. However, he still has a tendency to grab too much and that flaw erased his first-career touchdown on Sunday.

  • The kick returner job should probably be Antonio Gibson's as long as Gibson is a part of the organization. His runback to almost midfield to open the second half provided the Commanders with serious momentum and was just the latest example of Gibson getting reacquainted with a role he thrived in as a college player. Unfortunately, he and Brian Robinson Jr. weren't as effective in their traditional running back gigs; they combined for a mere 80 yards on 24 combined carries.

  • To close, taking this game in on a screen after first consuming it at the stadium really hammered home how winnable of a contest it was for Washington. The Vikings were extremely quiet on offense for about two-and-a-half quarters between their opening score and fourth-quarter flurry, while the Commanders benefitted from that ridiculous Curtis Samuel touchdown and a facemask flag that extended their other touchdown drive. Perhaps this isn't a Wild Card club either way, but a victory on Sunday would've made any postseason talk feel a lot more legitimate. Now, the Eagles are looming, as is a 4-6 record.