Commanders vs. Jaguars Preview: What to Watch

Carson Wentz calls a play in the huddle during the Washington Commanders second preseason game against the Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium.
Photo Credit: Emilee Fails/Washington Commanders

The Washington Commanders regular season is just around the corner! Week 1 is here! This team will take the field for the first time in the regular season as the Commanders. Their first matchup will be against the Jacksonville Jaguars, the worst team in the NFL last season. Don’t let that fool you, however. This is by no means a game that should be taken for granted. The Jaguars have improved their team in various areas and could be one of the NFL’s surprise teams this season. The same could also be said of the Commanders. Let’s get into a quick preview of Washington’s first opponent and what to watch for in Week 1.

The Opponent

The Jaguars have a new head coach that Washington fans are familiar with, former rival Philadelphia Eagles and Super Bowl winning head coach, Doug Pederson. This is a major positive for second year quarterback Trevor Lawrence, who was the unquestioned 1st overall pick in the 2021 draft. Lawrence has everything you’d want in a franchise quarterback. While he did struggle in his rookie season, I don’t think anyone expects a repeat of last season. That is attributed to the addition of the aforementioned head coach Pederson and the addition of weapons around Lawrence.

The Jags added to their offensive line in the offseason, most notably former Washington All-Pro guard Brandon Scherff. They also signed a big and fast wide receiver from the Arizona Cardinals in Christian Kirk. Second year running back Travis Etienne is returning after being injured his entire rookie season. Etienne and Lawrence were college teammates at Clemson and were a dynamic duo during their college careers. Etienne is primed for a breakout year and that would only help Lawrence. All these things could add up to a big year from Jacksonville, a year that many around the league won’t be expecting. That all depends on, however, if Trevor Lawrence can begin to show that he was deserving of his number one overall selection in last year’s draft.

What to Watch

The Offensive Line

In order for the Commanders to be successful this season, Carson Wentz needs to be much closer to his 2017 form than his 2020 form. In order for that to happen, he needs to be protected and be given time to throw. Enter a new offensive line for Washington. Sam Cosmi returns at right tackle after being injured for many games in his rookie season. Washington signed veteran guards Andrew Norwell and Trai Turner to replace Brandon Scherff and Erick Flowers. The team also resigned left tackle Charles Leno Jr., who was also recently named as a team captain.

I’m not as worried about our tackle situation. Leno Jr. was solid last season and there’s no reason to believe he can’t deliver a similar campaign in 2022. If Cosmi can stay healthy, I only see good things coming from him and hopefully steps forward in his progression as a pro in this league. Cornelius Lucas and Saahdiq Charles as backups are good enough for spot starts or in Lucas’s case, starting for extended periods.

The guard situation though is something to be desired. I don’t feel supremely confident in Norwell and Turner as our starters. There’s a reason they were available on the cheap. Their best playing days are most likely behind them and both have dealt with various injuries over the past few seasons. Backup guard Wes Schweitzer has started several games in the past for Washington and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him start the majority of games when the season is all said and done. Depth behind those three is questionable at best. To make matters more questionable, the starting five has had very few reps with each other this offseason. Watch to see how this unit performs in their first real action against the Jags.

Antonio Gibson

Maybe the most questionable player on offense is Antonio Gibson. Going into the offseason, Gibson was the unquestioned lead back for Washington after his first thousand yard season in 2021. Then, Washington drafted Brian Robinson Jr. in the third round of this year’s draft. Then, Gibson fumbled in the first preseason game against the Panthers. He was promptly benched in favor of Robinson Jr. who had not fumbled once in college or in the preseason. Robinson Jr. is currently recovering after an unfortunate incident in which he was shot twice in the leg last month. The starting job has now been relegated back to Gibson until Robinson Jr. fully recovers.

Commanders head coach Ron Rivera recently voiced his confidence in Gibson and that the team won’t shy away from giving him the bulk of the carries. Rivera also stated not long ago how much they like running back Johnathan Williams and his ability to run between the tackles. Gibson is an offensive weapon, first and foremost. Whether that be as the lead back, as a third down back, as a receiver, as a returner, it doesn’t matter. Getting Gibson touches is a positive for the Commanders offense. I recently wrote an article articulating the role that best suits Gibson and how Washington can get the most out of him. Watch to see how Gibson is used and how frequent he is used at various positions in Week 1.

The Defense

The starting defense was not good in 2021. The starting defense was also not good in the preseason, with many of the same problems as last year being on display; lack of communication on the back end, lack of a consistent pass rush, and a lack of playmaking. This unit also struggled to get off the field on third down in the preseason, which was one of the biggest issues with this unit last season as well. There were no major additions to the unit in the offseason, which is a concern. Washington lost depth on the defensive line and did not add anything of note on the back end.

Depth is a major concern on the back seven. At linebacker, there’s a veteran presence behind starters Cole Holcomb and Jamin Davis. Although there were moans and groans heard for miles from the fan base when Washington brought back David Mayo and Jon Bostic, they provide depth and Rivera trusts them to step in when needed.

That’s more than what can be said at cornerback. Behind starters William Jackson III and Kendall Fuller is a whole ton of unknown. Second year man Benjamin St. Juste flashed at times his rookie season before missing the latter half of the year, but he also struggled more times than not. Behind St. Juste are rookies Christian Holmes, Tariq Castro-Fields, and second year corner Rachad Wildgoose.

That’s a whole lot of yikes. That doesn’t mean these guys are going to be terrible by any means. But with a team that is expecting themselves to win now and be in contention to make the playoffs, it’s not a comfortable situation. Watch to see how this unit performs against an inexperienced Jags offense that could need time to work in new pieces and gel.

Carson Wentz

This season, for better or worse, is riding on the shoulders of Carson Wentz. Rivera traded a lot of assets to aquire him. Wentz has possibly the best set of weapons at his disposal that he has had in his career. He has a coaching staff that believes in him and his teammates have been vocal in their support of their new quarterback. There are no excuses.

This team won seven games last year with a significantly less talented quarterback and a significantly harder schedule. With a quarterback like Wentz, Rivera would have a lot of explaining to do if this team does not win nine games at the very least. The division is up for grabs and no one (nationally) is giving an ounce to respect to Washington because of Wentz. He can change that. Week 1 is his opportunity to do so. We, as fans, need to see Wentz make quick, smart decisions. Wentz needs to quickly develop a rapport with the receiving corps. We need to see him be a distributor at the least. Needless to say, we all will be watching Wentz very closely in his regular season debut as the Washington Commanders starting quarterback.

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