The start of the 2022 NFL regular is just a few days away. The Jacksonville Jaguars begin the year on the road, as the team travels to take on the Washington
Football Team Commanders at FedExField. The game will be broadcast on FOX in local markets, and DraftKings Sportsbook has the Jaguars at 2.5 point underdogs heading into opening weekend.
With the start of the season, it’s time to bring back our weekly Q&A columns to get to know the opponent better. This week, we spoke with “KyleSmithforGM” of Hogs Haven — SB Nation’s excellent website for all things Washington Commanders.
Can Carson Wentz find success in Washington? What does Jack Del Rio’s defense look like? What are the expectations for the Commanders this season? Continue reading below for the answers to these questions and more.
1. So, I have to ask first and foremost, what are the general thoughts regarding quarterback Carson Wentz through training camp and the preseason? Do you believe he’s the right person to lead this team? Why or why not?
KyleSmithforGM: It was clear after last season that, while much of the fanbase loved Taylor Heinicke’s heart, the team was going to need to upgrade the position for 2022. Many fans were terrified that Rivera and company would trade away several future drafts for someone like Russell Wilson or Deshaun Watson. Others were interested in someone more modest, like Jimmy Garappolo or Marcus Mariota. Wentz represented something of a middle ground, a higher ceiling, lower floor talent who a lot of the fan base was fine with, but who many felt came at too high a cost in terms of draft capital and salary cap hit.
This offseason, Wentz has looked fine. He hasn’t been spectacular, and at least some of that seems to be by design. It seems a bit like offensive coordinator Scott Turner was deliberately working with Wentz to focus on check downs and short passes to running backs and tight ends, rather that the deep bombs he’s more recognized for, which seems appropriate for practice games. I think, to a large extent, the jury is still out on Wentz. If he wins here, he’ll be quickly embraced. If not, the calls to start rookie Sam Howell — who isn’t ready — will grow louder by the week.
2. The shooting involving Washington running back Brian Robinson Jr. was very unfortunate, but luckily Robinson seems to be in stable condition. While football isn’t the most important thing here, how do you expect the Commanders’ rushing attack to play out against the Jaguars? Antonio Gibson has had his ups and downs, but do you expect him to lead the backfield?
KyleSmithforGM: Robinson was slated to be RB1 before he was shot, and that was, in many respects, going to be a win-win for both he and Antonio Gibson. Robinson is better suited to be a bell-cow, between-the-tackles running back, freeing Gibson up to be a “weapon” more in the mold of Cordarrelle Patterson, including taking on kick return duties. With Robinson out, I expect Gibson’s role for the first several weeks of this season to look a lot like it did last year, with a few changes. I expect him to get more pitches wide in space, and be used more actively in the receiving game. I also expect his total touches to drop off, per game, a bit from where they were last year, with Jonathan Williams handling much of the short-yardage action.
3. Is there a player or two on Washington’s roster who Jaguars fans may not be familiar with but could make an impact on Sunday? Who should fans watch out for?
KyleSmithforGM: Two players I expect could make their impact known on Sunday are wide receiver Jahan Dotson on the offense and linebacker Jamin Davis on the defense. Dotson was Washington’s first-round draft pick out of Penn State this year, and was relatively unheralded in the lead up to the draft and since, largely operating in Terry McLaurin’s shadow. The young wide receiver has shown a tremendous amount of maturity in camp though, and has amazing hands. His presence should also open things up for McLaurin as well.
Davis was last year’s first-round pick, out of Kentucky, and had a fairly lackluster first season, as Jack Del Rio and Ron Rivera forced him to play middle linebacker, a spot he was not ready for. This year, they’re playing him at WILL, which seems to be a better fit for his skill set and his current level of development. Washington fans hope Davis is able to put his top end athleticism on display against the Jaguars.
4. Former Jacksonville head coach Jack Del Rio is Washington’s defensive coordinator. Outside of his controversial takes on the Jan. 6 insurrection, what should Jacksonville expect from the Del Rio-led defense on Sunday?
KyleSmithforGM: Between his defense’s terrible performance last year and his frequent Twitter gaffes, Washington’s fan base has soured significantly on Del Rio. In the mind of many, he has this season to right the ship, or he should be gone.
In terms of what the Jaguars should expect, it’s somewhat hard to say. The team has consistently added personnel in the defensive backfield over the course of the past two years who are more adept at press man coverage, but who Del Rio often forced into zone last year. Will he do more of the same this year? We don’t know. We do expect to see an emphasis on a more disciplined pass rush from the talented defensive line with lots of nickel, and perhaps some dime, DB packages. But don’t expect to see a ton of defensive creativity, as that certainly hasn’t been JDR’s calling card in Washington, D.C.
5. What are your predictions for the Commanders this season? Is Washington a threat in the NFC East? Why or why not?
KyleSmithforGM: I’ve predicted the Commanders will finish 8-9 this season, but the reality is, it almost all comes down to Carson Wentz’s performance. If he plays very well, and the defense steps up, this could be a 10-or-11-win team, competing for the NFC East. If he struggles and the defense continues to have trouble getting off the field on third downs, it could be a seven-win team. One thing that many Washington fans expect, but that might surprise outsiders, is that the offense will significantly outperform the defense this year, and largely set the trajectory for its ceiling of success.
Bonus: What is your final score prediction?
KyleSmithforGM: My prediction is Commanders win 27-17.
A big thank you to KyleSmithforGM for providing thorough thoughts and analysis into the Commanders. For more coverage on Washington, follow @Smith4Gm on Twitter, and of course, follow Hogs Haven as well.
If you are interested in reading my responses to Hogs Haven’s question, please read our Q&A exchange here.