Defense keeps forcing turnovers to get the Commanders off to a 2-0 start to the season
After giving up touchdown drives of 61, 75 and 90 yards, the Washington Commanders were down big and looked out of it against the Denver Broncos.
Then their defense came up with more game-changing plays.
Jamin Davis strip-sacked Russell Wilson and fellow linebacker Cody Barton recovered the fumble and sparked a rally that continued later with rookie cornerback Emmanuel Forbes ‘ first career interception. Despite allowing more than 30 points, the Commanders can thank their difference-making defense for another comeback victory, which has them off to a 2-0 start to the season.
“We are opportunistic,” coach Ron Rivera said about forcing two turnovers for a second consecutive week. “It’s one of those things that we gain momentum. Last week when we got some takeaways, we gained momentum, and we got the takeaways this week.”
Again, the pressure came from the star-studded defensive line that added edge rusher Chase Young for his season debut to augment the already dominant group led inside by Jonathan Allen and Daron Payne and on the other end by Montez Sweat. Young, Sweat and Payne each had at least one sack of Wilson.
Payne, coming off a career year that got him a $90 million, four-year contract, again was the driving force.
“He set the tone,” Rivera said. “That’s what he is. He’s an explosive, dynamic player who can make plays from that position. Just the fact that he sent that tone (and) tempo really helped us and gave us the jolt we needed.”
The offense, finally, after a rough start in the season opener against Arizona. Making just his third NFL start, quarterback Sam Howell threw for 299 yards and two touchdowns. Brian Robinson Jr. rushed for 87 yards and two TDs.
New offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy mixed things up to get Howell some easy completions and put the ball in the hands of playmakers like Terry McLaurin, Curtis Samuel and Antonio Gibson.
“We were kind of rolling on offense,” Howell said. “We were doing some good things on the ground and in the air. We opened up the screen game in the second half, and that was big for us. I think the screen game was one of the main things that won us this game.”
WHAT NEEDS HELP
Cutting down sacks is still an issue. Howell was sacked four times by the Broncos after six by the Cardinals.
The defense also would like to limit the number of long-yardage plays it allows. Throw out Wilson’s Hail Mary in the final seconds, and Denver still had gains of 53 and 60 yards.
After missing the opener with a neck injury, Young was in for more than 70% of the defensive snaps and created the kind of havoc the team hoped for when picking him second in the 2020 draft. The sack was his first since Oct. 10, 2021, a month before he tore the ACL in his right knee and missed 14 months.
“It’s been a long time coming for me,” Young said. “Just a blessing just to be running around on the field, being out there relying on the guys. I think that was the most exciting thing.”
Kicker Joey Slye missed two of his four field-goal attempts at Denver, going wide right from 49 and 59 yards. But part of the problem on special teams has been a rough start by long snapper Camaron Cheeseman, who soon may be out of a job. Washington this week is working out some potential replacements for the struggling 2021 sixth-round pick.
Tight end Logan Thomas is in concussion protocol after a helmet-to-helmet hit on his touchdown catch by Kareem Jackson, which got the Broncos safety ejected.
Rookie defensive back Quan Martin missed the game after being concussed against Arizona.
22 — Percent chance of completion on Howell’s 30-yard touchdown pass to McLaurin, according to NFL Next Gen Stats.
Brace for Buffalo. The Bills opened as 6.5-point favorites on FanDuel Sportsbook and will have thousands of fans at FedEx Field for their first visit since 2015.
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