Washington Commanders vs. Carolina Panthers Preseason Week 1: What to Watch

Taylor Heinicke throwing a pass against the Carolina Panthers in Week 16 of the 2020 regular season. Heinicke will be suiting up for the Washington Commanders first preseason game against the Carolina Panthers.
Photo Credit: Brad Mills/USA TODAY Sports

WASHINGTON COMMANDERS VS. CAROLINA PANTHERS @1PM EST ON NBC/NBCSPORTS WASHINGTON

The first preseason game for the Washington Commanders is just around the corner! We’re going to get into a preview of the game and what you should be watching for Saturday afternoon. Their first preseason game will be at home against the Carolina Panthers, who are an intriguing watch themselves. This game and these teams are a little more interesting than they may appear at first glance. First, a little background on the two teams.

These teams have some history. Commanders head coach Ron Rivera got his head coaching start with Carolina, Commanders quarterback Taylor Heinicke made his first impression in Washington against the Panthers late in the 2020 season, and many Commander fans have nicknamed the team the Washington “Commanthers”, due to most of the current coaching staff being on Rivera’s staff in Carolina and many of Rivera’s free agent signings were also former Panthers. Now, there’s even some interesting parallels between the two teams.

Interesting Parallels

First off, the quarterback position. Each team has an incumbent that performed well at times last season, but ultimately it wasn’t enough for their respective team to win enough games to get to the postseason. Of course, I’m talking about the Commander’s Taylor Heinicke and the Panther’s Sam Darnold. Each team has traded for a quarterback that were once high-profile, first-round picks that have yet to live up to expectations. Of course, I’m talking about Carson Wentz on the Commanders and Baker Mayfield on the Panthers. Then finally, each team drafted a quarterback in this year’s draft. Both Sam Howell of the Commaders and Matt Corral of the Panthers were once considered to be first round picks during their time in college. Unfortunately, both dropped to the later rounds of the draft. However, Howell and Corral have high upside, strong arms, good mobility, but both are smaller in stature.

Then, there’s the parallels in the coaching situations for both teams. Panthers head coach Matt Rhule is entering his third season with the team, as is Ron Rivera with Washington. They are not necessarily on the hot seat, but both coaches have questions swirling around them. For Rhule, a big question is whether or not he can solidify himself as an NFL coach having only previously coached in college. For Rivera, a big question is whether or not he can take a leap forward with this Washington team that has had a revolving door at quarterback. This is his all important third year and he’s put a lot of resources into acquiring Caron Wentz.

Finally, there’s parallels on team expectations. Nationally, neither team is garnering any attention as far as Super Bowl contention goes, or even playoff contention. Within each fan base, both believe that if their newly acquired quarterbacks perform the way they can consistently over 17 games, then they have enough weapons to make some noise in their respective divisions and maybe sneak into the playoffs. Objectively speaking, I believe Washington has a better roster than Carolina, but both have talent and the ability to make a run. It all depends on the quality of quartback play. Now, let’s get into what to watch for their upcoming game.

What to Watch

Here are some players or positions that I believe you should be keeping a close eye on during Washington’s first preseason game against Carolina:

The Starting Offense

I feel like this is a “duh” moment but I think this will be an important game for the Commanders starting offense. Rivera stated earlier this week that the starters are going to get 15-20 snaps, which you can likely equate to two series or maybe even the entirety of the first quarter. Don’t expect anything flashy or special, just look for Wentz to get in sync with the receivers. Also take a look at who is where on the offensive line and how they perform as well.

Brian Robinson Jr.

The rookie running back out of Alabama has been pretty impressive in training camp. He’s a big, physical back that has surprised running backs coach Randy Jordan with his ability to catch the ball. If his success in training camp translates to on the field success, the Commanders could have a really solid trio of backs with Antonio Gibson, Robinson Jr., and J.D. McKissic.

The Back Seven

The front four of the Washington Commanders defense is pretty set. The back seven, however, is not. After Kendall Fuller and William Jackson III at corner and Kam Curl lining up somewhere on the field, everything else is up in the air. Benjamin St. Juste has manned the slot during camp, how does he look against other receivers? Can Danny Johnson beat him out? Can Corn Elder climb his way up the depth chart? What about at safety? Rookie Percy Butler and second year safety Darrick Forrest have been active in camp, can they show out during the preseason? What about that one position that I refuse to say because everyone insists that the fate of the universe relies on us finding one person to play it? There’s way too many questions and not nearly enough answers.

Armani Rodgers and Curtis Hodges

These two tight ends have taken their turns showing out during training camp. They’ve had an increased number of reps during camp since both Logan Thomas and John Bates have been sitting out recovering from injury. They are both big, long, and athletic tight ends that will be fighting for a roster spot. Don’t pay attention to their stat lines, pay attention to what they do when they’re asked to block and, more importantly, on kick offs and punts. If either of them want a chance at making the team, they have to perform on special teams.

Sam Howell

I feel like this is another “duh” moment. This will be the 5th round rookie’s first NFL action. As previously mentioned, Howell has a lot of talent and a lot of upside. He has a cannon for an arm and I think we all want to see it on display. At the same time, I want to see him operate with efficiency and take command (pun intended) of the offense. I was ecstatic when Washington drafted him. I’m even more ecstatic that we will get to see him in his first NFL game very, very soon.

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