Our friends at Hogs Haven helped us out this week to get more familiar with the Washington Commanders. San Francisco 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan explained how a team like Washington is scary at this point in the year:
“Oh, I think all teams are scary, but especially in that situation. When people have nothing to lose, first of all everyone always has things to lose because usually when people say there’s nothing to lose, there’s a lot of guys playing for their jobs too and those guys know that.
Even veterans who don’t think that they are they usually find out at the end of the season that they were. So you’ve always got guys who are playing hard. I know they’re playing a quarterback who’s won a lot of games in this league. I know they’ve got some players on their defense, so they have just a good of chance to win every week as any other team.”
Any team that can score like the Commanders can has the potential for an upset victory. And a quarterback change only enhances that probability with the way Jacoby Brissett has played this season in limited action.
1) What does the quarterback change mean for Washington moving forward, and do the fans want to see Sam Howell as the starter heading into the 2024 season?
This is the subject of heated debate among the fanbase at this point. Right now, Washington is slated to get the third overall pick in the draft. As you might imagine, there are multiple factions.
Some want to stick with Sam Howell and draft the top left tackle in the draft, hoping that if the line could be bolstered, he might play better next year.
Others, and I count myself among this group, are of the opinion that if you have a pick that high in the draft, and you aren’t absolutely certain your QB is “the guy,” you have to either draft a QB, or trade back, accumulate more capital, and pick one up a bit later in the draft.
I would have loved for Sam Howell to be the answer long-term - it makes team-building so much easier to have the QB role locked down - but he simply didn’t do enough this year to justify going into 2024 without competition. I wrote a bit about the topic recently here.
2) This will be an important off-season for a franchise in the middle of so much change, from the roster to coaching to the front office. Who are some of the cornerstone players that the team can build around after being sellers at this year’s trade deadline?
On offense, the key players to build around are fairly few and far between. Terry McLaurin is part of a wide receiver group that should be much better than it was this year, and which includes Jahan Dotson and Dyami Brown. Sam Cosmi, the team’s right guard, appears to be the only real bright spot on the offensive line. Running backs Brian Robinson and Chris Rodriguez were criminally underutilized this year, but may be part of a more creative offense at some point in the future.
The defensive situation is less bleak. Certainly, defensive tackles Jon Allen and Daron Payne are critical pieces going forward.
We’ll see what the organization does with safety Kam Curl, who will be a free agent this offseason, but he and Darrick Forrest looked like they could be a promising deep secondary for Washington for years to come before Forrest went down with injury earlier this year. There are other young, potential talents on defense, but thus far, none of them could be considered “cornerstones.”
3) Washington is far from competing for anything meaningful these last few weeks, so are there more rookies getting playing time to be evaluated and who are some of these young players fans should keep an eye on in this contest.
The number of 2023 draft picks and other young players who’ve missed this season with injury is pretty significant. That said, injury has arguably been Rivera’s best personnel manager in his time with the team.
In other words, younger, better players have frequently stepped up over the past several years when Rivera’s preferred vets have eventually gone down with injury. One recent example is linebacker Khaleke Hudson, who is a bit of a tweener, but who has played with a speed at the position that Washington has lacked most of the year.
The trades of Montez Sweat and Chase Young also opened up opportunities for rookies KJ Henry and Andre Jones, each of whom has shown flashes at times this season. On offense, sadly, running back Chris Rodriguez is the only guy who really comes to mind. Currently averaging about 5.8 yards per carry, Rodriguez is a bruiser who only got significant playing time after Brian Robinson and Jonathan Williams went down with injuries late in the year.
4) If there was one 49ers player that you could have on the Washington roster, who would it be and why?
Wow, this is a tough one. So much talent to choose from. Ironically, I think I would probably have to go with Trent Williams at this point. Washington’s offensive line has been a mess, and while Trent is getting up there in age, I think he still probably has a few good years in him.
Nick Bosa, Fred Warner, Deebo Samuel, and Brandon Aiyuk all got consideration from me as well, though. You all are incredibly loaded at this point. Would be nice to see Kyle Shanahan get to the promised land this year.
5) San Francisco is almost a two-touchdown favorite on DraftKings (-13). Do you think the Commanders will keep it close or find a way to spoil the start to the 49ers New Year?
Earlier in the year, I might have thought Washington had a chance to keep it close. Now, with the utter lack of energy displayed by the team throughout the second half of the season, I’m expecting a San Francisco route. Jacoby Brissett probably keeps the game closer than Sam Howell would have, but the 49ers are a more talented, better coached team at this point, and should win easily.