Commanders show improvements, but can’t close out Eagles in overtime

By all accounts, the Buffalo Bills and Philadelphia Eagles appear to be two of the top five teams in the league this season. Both franchises have aspirations of playing for championships with stacked rosters on both sides of the ball.

The Washington Commanders, of course, are nowhere near the NFL’s top five. They remain a work-in-progress with far more questions than answers but are at least trending in a positive direction. Top-tier opposition, like Buffalo and Philadelphia, provides a welcome measuring stick to see where the burgundy and gold stack up about a quarter of the way through the season.

During Week 3, the offense was woefully prepared for the onslaught of havoc the Bills wreaked in the backfield. Sam Howell was pressured on 69 percent of his drop backs and sacked nine times. The offense responded by turning the ball over five times and went just one for nine on third downs, neither of which is conducive to winning football games. 

One week later, the Commanders fared much better against the Eagles. Rather than abandoning the ground game early on, Washington adopted a much more balanced approach. And on passing downs, Eric Bieniemy smartly opted to get the ball out of his young quarterback’s hands much quicker — making Sam Howell less of a sitting target against a talented Eagles’ defensive front. Staying committed to the running game, as well as three-step drops and some occasional rollouts made it harder for Philadelphia to get their hands on the North Carolina product.

Howell is still on pace to be sacked 102 times this season, which would shatter the previous record of 76, but the offense found itself in a groove early and led 17-7 with less than two minutes to go before halftime. The Commanders’ problems in Week 4, came on the other side of the ball. 

Eagles receiver A.J. Brown finished the day with nine catches for 175 yards and two touchdowns, most of which came at the expense of Commanders rookie cornerback Emmanuel Forbes. For the most part, the rest of Philadelphia’s explosive weapons were held largely in check. But while it might be easy to chalk up the loss to a rookie’s struggles, that stance misses the larger picture.

Washington’s defense, which coming into the season was clearly viewed as the strength of the franchise, has given up 30 points or more in three straight contests, with opposing teams combining for 120 points through four games. That’s not nearly good enough.

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