Struggling defense, inconsistent offense and more Commanders’ takeaways


The Washington Commanders’ loss to the Kansas City Chiefs on Saturday was most notable for the first-team defense’s continued struggles on third down. After reviewing the game, and listening to Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes in the aftermath, the concerns grew.

But the loss also provided some hope, as two starters returned and running back Antonio Gibson looked impressive in a new role.

Defense was really trying

While some Commanders minimized the first-team defense’s struggles as normal growing pains of the preseason, the results, which included allowing two touchdowns, were concerning considering the effort.

Defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio game-planned for Mahomes, and Washington played all of its starters except for Chase Young (ACL). On Kansas City’s second drive, facing third and 6, Mahomes said the Commanders sent a “fire-zone blitz where they dropped the big guys and brought the little guys, which you don’t see a lot in the preseason, so it got me.”

But Mahomes still got off a pass short left to wide receiver Justin Watson, who ran for 14 yards.

After the second touchdown, middle linebacker Cole Holcomb went to the sideline, smacked his helmet on the ground and screamed in frustration. Later, when asked how to stop last year’s mistakes from bleeding into this season, he said: “I don’t know. Go back, study the film and learn from the mistakes. That’s all we can do.”

“We have to put it all together,” Holcomb added. “You can’t have a rush without coverage, and you can’t cover without a rush. We have to learn how to play off each other.”

Commanders’ issues on both sides of the ball exposed against Chiefs

Wentz’s uneventful preseason could be complete

After five full drives in two games, Carson Wentz’s preseason may be over. He’s 16 of 22 passing for 138 yards, no touchdowns and no interceptions over that stretch, and looked comfortable in the offense, though it scored only once. Wentz’s play ultimately went as expected, with impressive throws mixed in with bad mistakes, such as the third-down sack that pushed the offense out of field goal range.

For optimists, Wentz’s arm strength and ability to move the ball were encouraging. For pessimists, his inconsistency and inability to put field goal range above his instinct to extend the play — a recurring problem throughout his career — were dismaying.

“[The offense] was okay,” Wentz said after the game, though he could’ve been giving an overview of the whole preseason. “I definitely left some plays out there, definitely wish we could’ve sustained some drives a little bit more. … It wasn’t perfect, but there were some good things too.”

Plan for Gibson gets clearer

While the hierarchy of the backfield remains unclear, offensive coordinator Scott Turner’s plan made it obvious the team wants to find more ways to get Gibson the ball in space. Gibson ceded between-the-tackles runs mostly to rookie Brian Robinson Jr. and ran 17 routes in 19 snaps, according to TruMedia, which would’ve been by far the highest rate of his career.

In all, Gibson was targeted four times, made three catches and picked up 37 yards (32 after the catch). He looked more like the dynamic dual threat the team hoped he might be out of Memphis.

After Rivera benched Gibson for fumbling in the opener and played him on special teams last week at practice seemingly as a punishment, the coach said Gibson responded “very well” and came into the Chiefs game “focused.” Gibson returned the opening kickoff for 17 yards — “We have to block that better,” Rivera said — and Rivera hinted he could continue returning kicks during the regular season.

But more than anything else, Rivera liked what he saw when Gibson showed his receiver skill set.

“That’s something that is a strength for him,” Rivera said. “We have to get the ball in his hands in space to make those [explosive] things happen.”

After sitting out the opener with injuries, center Chase Roullier (fibula) and cornerback Benjamin St-Juste (hamstring) both played. Roullier, the only healthy first-team interior lineman, and St-Juste each played 19 snaps.

It was Roullier’s first game snapping to Wentz, and he said they got in sync quickly. Roullier said the game “built my confidence,” and “barring any setbacks” he should be ready for Week 1.

St-Juste was uneven. He had one quarterback hit on a blitz, but on the Chiefs’ first drive, on third and 10, St-Juste undercut a crossing route by a receiver that, if Mahomes had seen it, could’ve led to a huge play. Afterward, defensive backs coach Chris Harris called him over to explain what went wrong.

“He has to make sure he keeps himself in leverage position,” Rivera said.

Practicing the silent count

Arrowhead Stadium was almost full — the listed attendance was 72,396 — and Roullier said the crowd noise forced the Commanders to practice their silent snap count.

Making that task trickier was the absence of some of the team’s top linemen, including left tackle Charles Leno Jr. (medical), right guard Trai Turner (quad), guard/center Wes Schweitzer (hip) and left guard Andrew Norwell.

Instead, Washington started Cornelius Lucas at left tackle, Saahdiq Charles at left guard and Aaron Monteiro at right guard.

“That’s some of the toughest stuff we have to go through with the center and the quarterback,” Roullier said of the silent count. “Starting that off, right away, and handling it well, I think we did well.”

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