NFL Wars Episode II: The Phantom Wentz
Soooooo, I was off with some (okay, okay, most) of my predictions for Week 1. I am sorry, and I will endeavour to do better this week. This week, we welcome another NFC East opponent to Ford Field, this time it's the Carson Wentz-led Commanders. While I shall try to stave off drinking the Kool-Aid, this is a winnable game in my eyes, and perhaps it needs to be won to right the ship and get us back on course for dry land (read: reassure us fans that things are going in the right direction.
As with last week, I'll break down their roster to find potential weaknesses and how they might match up against our team, set out my keys for victory, and make some predictions (that I'm sure won't come back to bite me in the kneecaps).
1-0 (W vs Jaguars), 2nd in NFCE, 7th in NFC, 13th overall
Offence- 28 points (5th), 390 total yards (10th), 305 passing (4rd), 85 rushing (20th), 3 TOs (t-20th)
Defence- 22 points (19th), 383 total yards (20th), 260 passing (22rd), 123 rushing (20th), 1 TO (t-14th)
Offence: (notable players only) [* denotes offseason addition]
QB- Carson Wentz*, Taylor Heinicke, Sam Howell*
RB- Antonio Gibson, J.D. McKissic, Jonathan Williams
WR- Terry McLaurin, Jahan Dotson*, Curtis Samuel, Dax Milne, Cam Sims
TE- Logan Thomas, John Bates, Cole Turner*, Armani Rogers*
OL- Charles Leno, Andrew Norwell*, Chase Roullier, Trai Turner*, Sam Cosmi, Cornelius Lucas, Chris Paul*, Wes Schweitzer
Those who were on the trade for a QB2 train this offseason will already know a lot about both Heinicke and rookie Sam Howell. However, unless something drastic happens in the next few days, it will be former Eagle/Colt Carson Wentz who will be in the sights of Hutch and co. Against the Jaguars, Wentz put up 313 yards, 4 TDs and 2 INTs with a 66% completion rate and a 101.0 passer rating. On first inspection, these look like good numbers, over half of his yards came after the catch (178 yards), and 2 of his 4 TDs came from over 20 yards out, meaning he relied on his receivers to create offence. Wentz also had 6 rushing attempts for 12 yards, 3 of which were non-designed scrambles. He took one sack for 8 yards, was hit another 3 times, and pressured on 4 attempts, with an average time to throw of 2.5 seconds. As the stats show, unlike last week, we are not facing a mobile QB. Therefore our pass rush can not worry about running contain, but rather can pin their ears back and attack.
These pressure stats also show that the Washington OL isn't good. Leno has regularly been cited by PFF as the definition of the average starting LT, Norwell was a good OG in Jacksonville but this will be his second game for the Commanders, Roullier is (in my not-so-expert opinion) an under-rated C, both RGs Turner and Schweitzer appeared on the latest injury report with an LP-quad and DNP-hamstring respectively, and Cosmi is just entering his second year in the pros. As for match-ups between these players and our DL, it looks more positive than last week. Hutchinson, Harris, Bryant, and the newly-returned Julian Okwara (FP-hamstring on the latest injury report) go from facing one of the best OT pairs in the league to at best a league average set. Harris' speed rush should be able to get around the elder of the pair in Leno and should confuse Cosmi, while Hutch's athleticism should overpower both. Alim's power and speed should occupy both Roullier and the guard he's lining up over so personally I would line him up over the inside shoulder of Norwell to then give our starting 3T the best possible matchup in an injured RG.
In the running game, Gibson carried the load, toting the ball 14 times for 58 yards, 5 first downs, 1 broken tackle and 13 yards after contact. Curtis Samuel had 4 carries for 17 yards, 1 first down, and 4 yards after contact. As mentioned above, Wentz carries the ball 6 times for 12 yards, but for no first downs and 1 yard after contact. Former Lion J.D. McKissic had 3 carries for 8 yards, 1 first down and 2 yards after contact. Rookie WR Jahan Dotson also seemingly took an end-around but was tackled in the backfield for a 10-yard loss. These numbers are encouraging, as they aren't exactly ground-breaking (hence their current 20th ranking in the league). What's even more encouraging is that Samuel coughed up the ball once last week, and Gibson is infamous for having Igwebuike-esqe fumble-itis (6 fumbles last year, 1 fumble in the preseason). Therefore, just like last week, expect the second defender to target the football (or in the case of Rodrigo last week, pick up the man and literally try and shake the football loose). Shutting down the run game will also come down to the LBs filling their lanes and not missing assignments, which unfortunately is something we cannot be certain about (except for Rodrigo, who DC said did not miss an assignment against the Eagles).
In the receiving game, Curtis Samuel had 8 receptions on 11 targets (73%) for 55 yards (6.9 Y/C), 1 TD, 5 first downs and a 113.8 rating. As he operates out of the slot, we can expect Mike Hughes to be covering him, which might be a mismatch in their favour as Samuel is quite shifty. The outside receivers were not as targeted last week. Jahan Dotson had 3 receptions on 5 targets (60%) for 40 yards (13.3 Y/C), 2 TDs, 2 first downs and an 85.4 rating. "Scary" Terry McLaurin had 2 catches on 4 targets (50%) for 58 yards (29 Y/C), 1 TD, 2 first downs and a 135.4 rating. If I were AG, I would stick Jefe on McLaurin to nullify his physical threat and Amani (or if he can't go as he appeared on Thursday's report with an LP-hamstring, Will Harris) on Dotson initially. Gibson garnered 7 receptions on 8 targets (87.5%) for 72 yards (10.3 Y/C), 3 first downs and a 64.6 rating. Wentz, as to be expected given his time in Philadelphia, loves to target his TEs. Former QB/Lion Logan Thomas had 3 catches on 6 targets (50%) for 45 yards (15 Y/C), 2 first downs and a 75.0 rating. John Bates had no catches, having dropped his only target for a 39.6 rating. Rookie TE Armani Rogers caught his only target for 23 yards, a first down and a 118.7 rating. They are probably the responsibility of our LBs and safeties to cover, though I believe AG could choose to man Gibson up with either Elliott or Walker given Wentz's favourability towards him. WRs Cam Sims and Dax Milne did not manage to bring in their only targets in the game, garnering a 39.6 rating like Bates.
DE- Montez Sweat, James Smith-Williams, Casey Toohill, Shaka Toney
DT- Daron Payne, Jonathan Allen, Daniel Wise, Efe Obada*
LB- Jamin Davis, Jon Bostic*, Cole Holcomb, Davis Mayo
CB- Kendall Fuller, William Jackson III, Benjamin St-Juste, Christian Holmes*, Tariq Castro-Fields*
FS- Bobby McCain, Percy Butler*
SS- Kamren Curl, Darrick Forrest
The once feared Washington DL is not what it was. Chase Young is on IR, as is rookie DT Phidarian Mathis. Jonathan Allen was an LP-groin on Thursday. Matt Ioannidis was released. Against a really weak Jacksonville OL (PFF ranks it near the bottom of the league), they only managed 2 sacks. Unfortunately for our Lions, both of these sacks came from their starting DTs in Payne and Allen, so where we are weakest considering our own current injuries. The Commanders' starting edges are Montez Sweat (3 tackles, 3 pressures, 3 QB hits, 1 PBU) and James Smith-Williams (2 tackles). One can hope that Sweat is matched-up on Sewell for most of the game because if that is the case, we could feasibly seal the edges both in the pass and run games as Sewell could match up well against Sweat's athleticism and Decker (LP-calf on Thursday) is a good technician to stop a secondary threat in JS-W. It is the interior where Washington is still strong, so we must hope Jackson (DNP-finger) and Ragnow (DNP-groin/foot) are healthy, and Stenburg takes a step forward in development, so we can nullify Payne (3 combined tackles [2 solo], 1 sack, 1 TFL, 3 pressures, 3 QB hits, 2 PBUs) and Allen (3 tackles, 1 sack, 2 TFLs, 1 pressure, 1 QB hit).
Washington's starting LBs are both reasonable starters. Cole Holcomb (LP-quad on Thursday) had 5 total (2 solo) tackles against the Jags while allowing a catch for 7 yards and a 95.6 rating on his solo target. His partner Jamin Davis had 3 solo tackles and allowed 3 catches for 39 yards and an 84.6 rating on 5 targets. This could be another positive matchup for Swift and Jamaal in the run game, and Swift and Hockenson through the air as Goff could pick on these LBs with passes in the short-to-intermediate game. The only other LB who showed up on the stat sheet for Washington against Jacksonville was Milo Eifler, who missed his only tackle attempt. Therefore, the middle of the field could a prime area for Campbell and Johnson to target in their game planning.
Washington's secondary is average on paper. The starting CBs on the outside are William Jackson III (9 total tackles [8 solo], 7 completions on 8 targets [87.5%] for 60 yards and a 97.9 rating) and Kendall Fuller (4 total tackles [3 solo], 2 further missed tackles, 3 completions on 7 targets [43%] for 74 yards and an 81.6 rating). These are positive numbers for us to attack if second-half Goff is the one who starts the game on Sunday. Since the Commanders run a zone scheme, their CBs won't travel, allowing Johnson to try and exploit matchups by getting the big quick Chark on the elder Jackson. The Sun God will likely face Benjamin St-Juste in the slot. St-Juste had 4 tackles, a QB hit and a pressure off 2 blitzes, and allowed 2 catches for 4 targets (50%) for 22 yards and a 66.7 rating against Jacksonville. Last week, starting strong safety Kamren Curl was missing through a thumb injury, and he appeared on Thursday's report as LP-thumb. In his place, Darrick Forrest had 5 tackles (4 solo), a FF, and allowed 3 completions from 7 targets (43%) for 31 yards, an INT, 2 PBUs, and a 16.7 rating. Starting free safety Bobby McCain had 3 tackles and allowed 2 catches from 3 targets (66.7%) for 26 yards and a 93.7 rating. In short, if Hock is covered by a safety, it might be in our best interests for Goff to look elsewhere.
K- Joey Slye
P- Tress Way
KR- Dax Milne
PR- Dax Milne
Former BYU Cougar Dax Milne (whom you might remember as the guy who was Jets QB Zach Wilson's former roommate who is now dating Wilson's ex and perhaps nearly became Wilson's son-in-law) returns punts and kickoffs for Washington. Against the Jags, he returned 2 punts for 22 yards (11 yards average, long of 13), and 2 kicks for 44 yards (22 yards average, long of 24). Tress Way punted 3 times for 147 yards (49 yards average, long of 57). Slye kicked off 5 times, all of which were touchbacks, didn't attempt a field goal, and was perfect on both of his PAT attempts. Just like with the Eagles ST, Washington doesn't scare me. The only downside I can see is that we recently signed Justin Jackson up from the PS to be our KR, and Slye just kicks off into the endzone, rendering Jackson unnecessary in this game.
Keys to Victory:
Set the edge in the run game- If our LBs/DEs can set the edge, it will force Gibson and co. inside towards Washington's weakened IOL, allowing us to potentially limit gains on the ground.
Contain big plays- If we can limit Samuel/McLaurin getting vertical, we can keep Washington behind the sticks and force punts.
Get outside with runs- Our IOL is weakened. Despite Duce's love for bouncing runs inside, perhaps we should go outside behind our strength (our OTs) and attack Washington's weak LB room.
Goff starts hot- We cannot have Goff starting slow again. If he can come out swinging, we can attack outside the numbers, get our deep threats in Chark and Reynolds going, it can open up the middle for Swift, Hock and the Sun God.
Goff- 21/33 (64%), 250 yards, 3 TDs, 0 INTs, 2 rushes, 12 yards
Swift- 14 carries, 68 yards, 0 TDs, 5 catches, 45 yards, 1 TD
Chark- 6 catches, 85 yards, 1 TD
Hutchinson- 3 tackles, 1 TFL, 1.5 sacks
Rodrigo- 5 tackles, 1.5 TFLs, 0.5 sacks, 1 PBU
Okudah- 6 tackles, 1 INT, 2 PBUs
Wentz- 26/39 (66%), 275 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT, 3 rushes, 8 yards
Gibson- 12 carries, 46 yards, 1 TD, 6 catches, 48 yards, 0 TDs
McLaurin- 6 catches, 65 yards
Allen- 2 tackles, 1 TFL, 1 sack
Holcomb- 9 tackles, 1 PBU
Forrest- 7 tackles, 1 PBU
Hot take- Slye kicks more FGs than Fox punts
Score- Lions 31, Commanders 23
How do you think the game will go? Can our Lions get back to .500, or will we suffer another defeat? Who do you think will lead in the box score, and what will the final score be?
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