The Patriots return home to Gillette Stadium this week to face the Washington Commanders in their third game against NFC East foes. They’ll finish out the matchups against the NFC East later this month against the G-Men.
The Patriots (2-6) lost to Miami 31-17 last week and, in the process, lost their best offensive player this season, Kendrick Bourne, for the season after he tore an ACL. Washington (3-5) lost a close game to Philadelphia 38-31. The Commanders lost another close one to Philly earlier in the year, 34-31 in O.T. They can score some points offensively but also give up some defensively.
FOX will broadcast this week’s game, which can be seen locally in the Boston area on FOX 25. Kenny Albert will handle play-by-play duties with Jonathan Vilma as the color analyst. Shannon Spake will provide analysis from the sidelines. The game will also be aired on the Patriots flagship radio station, 98.5 The Sports Hub, with Bob Socci and Scott Zolak on the call, produced by Marc Capello.
We here at PatsFans.com are continuing our “Razor’s Edge” column in 2023 to analyze some of the game’s key matchups and what you can look for in how the game plays out.
So now we can look at some of the key matchups and who holds the Razor’s Edge. First up is the Patriots offense:
Patriots RBs vs. Commanders Front Seven — Edge New England
The Patriots’ running game didn’t break out in Miami as the team needed. Rhamondre Stevenson and Ezekiel Elliott combined for just 77 yards on 19 carries. And they gained much of that on their own, as the holes in Miami’s defense were few and far between. But this week (and pardon me if you’ve heard this before), the opposing defense is leaky against the run.
Washington allows opposing runners to average 4.2 yards per carry and 117 yards per game, both 21st in the league. And they just traded away two of their best defenders. Montez Sweat and Chase Young. The loss of those players will be felt twofold (more below). The Commanders’ bookend edge players have been dealt to Chicago and San Francisco, respectively. Jonathan Allen and Daron Payne inside are solid, but their linebacking core inside, David Mayo and Jamin Davis have not played well enough. Now, with the two terrific edge players gone, it will hurt the run defense even more.
I fully expect Stevenson, in particular, and Elliott to have productive days. I’d look for them to definitely test the edge on the defense with backups being forced into starting roles on both sides. Sunday would be a good day to have a speedy guy like Pierre Strong back…but they traded him away.
Patriots WRs vs. Commanders Secondary — Edge New England
The Patriots moribund passing game took a big, big hit on Sunday when Kendrick Bourne tore his ACL and was forced to leave the game. Bourne has been Mac Jones’ best and most reliable receiver this season. Once he was gone, the Dolphins double-teamed Demario Douglas, which is a rarity seeing a team doubling a rookie 6th-round draft pick, but it worked. DeVante Parker suffered a concussion and probably will miss this week’s game.
We should get to see Keyshon Boutte, Tyquan Thornton, Jaylen Reagor, and Douglas heavily involved in the passing game. Boutte has been a healthy scratch since Week 1, and Thornton was a healthy scratch last week. It is time to see what the young guys can do against a suspect group. Why is that?
Washington’s pass defense has been even leakier than the run defense. Opponents are averaging 256.8 yards per game (29th) and 7.5 yards per pass play (30th). Their one saving grace was their pass rush, which sacked opposing QBs 25 times this season. But with Sweat (6.5 sacks) and Young (5 sacks) playing elsewhere this week, that leaves a massive void in Washington’s pass rush, even with the issues the Patriots have had on the OL this year.
Look for Bill O’Brien to put some speed out there and use motion to get the receivers a free release to get the ball in space. But early on, look for Mac Jones to use his three tight ends, Hunter Henry, Mike Gesicki, and Pharaoh Brown, to get him in a rhythm. I would love to see them go with Douglas, Boutte, and Thornton with Henry and Gesicki. Will we actually see that? Hmm.
Next up, the Commanders offense:
Commanders RBs vs. NE Front Seven — Edge New England
The Washington running game is built around Brian Robinson, who has generated 385 yards on 95 carries (4.0-yard average) with four TDs, 13 catches for 133 yards, and two TDs on the season. After Robinson, QB Sam Howell is the next leading runner with 130 yards and a score. The Commanders’ running game has been hampered by the fact that they’re playing catchup so much. They’ve had some injury issues along the OL.
The Patriots’ run defense this season has been very good. The big guys up front are doing a fine job of slowing down the opponents and having the linebackers clean up. Davon Godchaux, Lawrence Guy, Christian Barmore, and Deatrich Wise have done a great job this season. Inside linebackers Ja’Whaun Bentley and Jahlani Tavai have both been terrific. Since Matt Judon went down, Anfernee Jennings has done a great job setting the edge.
The Patriots allow only 97.4 yards per game, which is good for 9th, and 3.4 yards per carry, which is 2nd in the league this season. I expect they’ll do a good job bottling up Robinson running the ball this week.
Commanders WRs vs. NE Secondary — Edge Washington
The Washington passing game has been productive all season. Sam Howell is completing more than 67 percent of his passes for 2,146 yards with 13 TDs this year, despite taking a boatload of sacks, 41 in just eight games.
Howell has a good complement of receivers with Terry McLaurin, Curtis Samuel, Jahan Dotson, and TE Logan Thomas. All have been more productive than any Patriot receiver currently on the team. The OL has given up 41 sacks but only one last week against Philly.
The Patriots’ secondary struggled badly with Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle last week in Miami. And while we’re not saying that Washington’s receivers are that good, as a whole, they’ve proven all season that they can be very productive.
Christian Barmore has really stood out in the past three weeks, and they’ll need him and rookie Keion White to bring some interior pressure. They’ll have to mix up some blitz packages to get some pressure on Howell this week.
Special Teams — Edge Washington
The Patriots’ special teams remain inconsistent. However, rookie punter Bryce Barringer has really been turning it up a notch. He’s tied for the league lead in punts inside the 20-yard line with 20 thus far this season. But Joe Cardona has been uncharacteristically struggling this year. He’s had several bad snaps on field goal attempts, and last week was flagged for a false start. Kicker Chad Ryland has made five FGs in a row after an uneven start to the year. The return game is inconsistent, as is their coverage.
Washington, however, has gotten solid performances from kicker Joey Slye and punter Tress Way, who has put 13 punts inside the 20 and has only one touchback this year. Jamison Crowder averages 10.5 yards per punt return with a long of 61. The Washington coverage units have struggled a bit
Keys to the Game from a Patriots Perspective:
Use Play-Action Passing To Scheme WRs Open — The Patriots should open up some lanes for the running backs in this week’s game, which should open play-action for Mac Jones. With so many younger WRs on the field, using play-action should give them a bit extra time to get open. This will also allow the tight ends to get free at the line and attack the seams.
Washington’s pass rush has lost nearly half of their sack production by trading off Sweat and Young. That should buy Jones some time to get through his progressions for a change. Can you see another 20+ yard chunk play from Pharaoh Brown this week? Absolutely; he’s turning into a very pleasant surprise as a pass catcher.
Play The Young Guys At WR — The Patriots lost Bourne for the season last week, and Parker sustained a concussion. I’d really like to see a trio of young WRs of Demario Douglas, Tyquan Thornton, and Kayshon Boutte get some run on Sunday. They’d still have Reagor and Smith-Schuster there if they struggle.
With the tight ends available, this would give Jones plenty of young speed and veteran presence on the field simultaneously. At this point of the season, let the young guys go out there and compete. They’ll make mistakes, but it will give the coaches a better look at what these guys can and can’t do.
Get After Sam Howell — The Patriots’ pass rush, minus Matthew Judon, this year has not been up to par. Josh Uche and Deatrich Wise have not been productive enough. Uche has only two sacks this year, while Wise has only one. Judon, despite missing four games, still leads the team with four. Barmore is next with 3 sacks.
Washington has allowed 41 sacks this season, which averages out to more than five sacks per game. At this rate, Howell will break David Carr’s record of being sacked 70 times in a season.
Washington has very good and productive receivers, so they can’t sell out and bring the house every down. But Belichick and Mayo need to scheme up some pressure packages to either sack Howell or force him into making mistakes.
The Patriots return home and face a team that should beat. They are actually favored in this one by 3.5 points. Go figure. One has to wonder, after selling off Sweat and Young, what kind of effect it will have on the Washington locker room. The Patriots decided to stand pat. They actually tried to bring Young in.
But the team has to rally this week, and it is a game at home where they should be able to control the tempo and the clock with the running game. I expect Jones and Co. to have a bounce-back week. Patriots 27-23
Posted Under: Patriots Commentary
Tags: Bill Belichick Chase Young Christian Barmore Curtis Samuel Demario Douglas Hunter Henry Jahan Dotson Kayshon Boutte Kendrick Bourne Mac Jones Matthew Judon Mike Gesicki New England Patriots Patriots Patriots edge rushers Sam Howell Terry McLaurin Tyquan Thornton