Lessons learned from the Commanders’ win over the Bengals in the pre-season finals

The Washington Commanders ended the preseason undefeated.

Their 21-19 win over the Cincinnati Bengals on Saturday night at FedEx Field was a last-ditch effort for players struggling to make the 53-man roster. Unlike previous years, Washington’s roster was largely prepared for training camp, leaving only a few spots left at wide receiver and tight end, and along the offensive and defensive lines.

“We had an idea of ​​about six or seven guys that we wanted to see,” said coach Ron Rivera. “We want to see what they can do. We knew they would get the opportunity to play many pieces and that will help us answer some questions.”

Saturday’s game could have made the difference for some of those players. The NFL now only has one preseason cut, giving all players on the training camp roster ample opportunity to prove their worth. Rivera will meet with his assistants and human resources staff on Sunday to decide who to keep and who to cut before Tuesday’s 4 p.m. deadline.

But the work will not stop there. Washington’s roster will see further changes ahead of the regular season opener on Sept. 10 against the visiting Arizona Cardinals. Players with waivers are free on Wednesday, so those who don’t make the top 53 could still end up in the Week 1 roster or practice squad.

Here are three takeaways from Washington’s win in the preseason finale:

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Most of Washington’s starters sat out Saturday, including top three wide receivers Terry McLaurin, Jahan Dotson and Curtis Samuel. (McLaurin is struggling with a turf-toe and his status for the opener is unclear, although the team remains hopeful.) Dyami Brown, Byron Pringle and Dax Milne started, with Milne likely among those in contention for a place in the roster battle.

Special teams will “definitely” factor into the decision, Rivera said.

“It’s something where we sit there and say, ‘If he can’t come out and do his part and be a four-phase guy, how can we have him up on Sunday?’ ” he added.

Finding a returnee is a must. After Saturday, commanders may not have a clear choice for the job.

Milne, a seventh-round draft pick in 2021, and undrafted rookie Kazmeir Allen are the frontrunners. But both had drops on Saturday — Milne bobbed a short pass in third and sixth, and Allen dropped back-to-back passes to stop a drive in the second quarter. Allen, who appeared to be the easy leader on the return, also blew a punt in the third.

Allen could have played himself out of the original roster, but if Washington decides to keep him or Milne in the mix, there’s a key question that needs to be answered: How valuable is the kickoff return? The NFL changed a rule for safety reasons. So this season, if a returner makes a fair catch inside the 25-yard line, it’s a touchback where the ball is spotted at the 25-yard line. The league is therefore forecasting a drop in kickoff returns. If Milne or Allen aren’t adding value – or worse – a liability on offense, will they be worth enough just from the contributions of special teams?

“I still have faith in him,” Rivera said of Allen after his weak punt. “…He looked away [the ball] at the last second just to see where he was. He knew it was secured and he wanted to take a quick look and he can’t. As soon as you focus on the ball you keep your eye on it and it brought you down a little too soon.”

Mitchell Tinsley, an undrafted wide receiver from Penn State, could be a wild card in the wide receiver group, and he increased his chances on Saturday. He caught a 39-yard touchdown pass from Jacoby Brissett in the second quarter and came close to scoring again in the third quarter, but his 38-yard touchdown catch was reversed on retest. (He was out at the 1-yard line.) Tinsley finished the game with a game-high 89 receiving yards on three catches.

Tinsley has the hands and route running but is not a contender for a returnee and may not be seen as a key contributor on special teams to change the decision. If he doesn’t make the 53-man roster, he’s likely a prime contender for the training squad.

Brycen Tremayne, another undrafted wideout vying for a spot, ended the drive with a one-yard touchdown catch from Jake Fromm in the third quarter and impressed in several bouts. But it doesn’t solve Washington’s return problem either.

The Commanders’ signature starters on the defensive line — Montez Sweat, Chase Young, Daron Payne and Jonathan Allen — were absent, as was defensive tackle Phidarian Mathis, who is struggling with a calf injury.

Young only played four snaps in the preseason after suffering a stinger in the opening game in Cleveland. Young has started to get back into practice and Rivera said he will have his final exam on Friday. When asked Saturday whether Young had been fully acquitted, Rivera declined an update and said he wanted to remain focused on the game.

The prospect of the frontline being healthy (for the most part) will matter for Washington: Young missed 22 games with his knee injury and had limited play late last season.

“When we play our game, we really feel like we can dominate this league,” said Allen, who suffers from plantar fasciitis, in the game broadcast on WRC (Ch. 4). “When you play with such great players, it’s a lot easier because someone gets a one-on-one [matchup].”

Which veterans will be behind it remains uncertain. During Young’s absence, James Smith-Williams was the main starter, although he alternated with Casey Toohill at times.

But for much of camp and preseason this year, Smith-Williams was fifth or sixth end, playing multiple snaps in tackle. On Saturday, Efe Obada started alongside Toohill, who had three quarterback hits, in the end. Smith-Williams was a backup along with Andre Jones Jr., who was selected in the seventh round and is now used as a pass rusher.

Will Smith-Williams make it? It could depend on the health of others in the squad.

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Wright: “We’re back”

Jason Wright, the Commanders president, said that “the fans are coming back” and that they are “bursting at the seams” for Week 1. The team anticipates a sold-out FedEx Field at the opener, a sight fans haven’t seen in years.

“We’re back. We’re back,” he said. “And my staff are having the time of their lives.”

Wright said fan interest was “night and day” compared to previous seasons.

“In business and what you see on the field and more importantly the fans,” he said, “they are back together and united.”

Wright said fans were returning quicker than expected following the $6.05 billion sale of Daniel Snyder’s team to the Josh Harris-led ownership group. Harris and his top partners Mitchell Rales and Mark Ein attended the first two preseason games. On Saturday, Rales was on the field before the game.

Washington will keep two quarterbacks on his roster, but Fromm had an impressive finale in his fight for a spot on the practice team. His most recent tally: 13 for 18 (72.2 percent) for 144 yards, two touchdowns and a 132.6 passer rating. …

The Bengals hit a 34-yard touchdown with 6:29 to go, cutting Washington’s lead to 21-19. Cincinnati tried to equalize with two hits – there was no overtime last season – but Reid Sinnett’s pass to tight end Tanner Hudson was blocked by cornerback Jace Whittaker, who finished the ball with an interception and two pass deflections. …

Linebacker Khaleke Hudson played two sets and had three tackles, losing two of them.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/sports/2023/08/26/commanders-bengals-preseason-takeaways/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=referral&utm_campaign=wp_homepage Lessons learned from the Commanders’ win over the Bengals in the pre-season finals

Ian Walker

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