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Commanders instant analysis: Jack Del Rio's hot seat unlikely to cool after 36-point day by the Lions

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DETROIT - Set aside Carson Wentz and the offense for a minute, even though they produce more ups and downs than a Kings Dominion roller coaster.

No, the focus after Washington's 36-27 loss to the Detroit Lions will be on the defense, and understandably so.

Facing a key offseason, and with expectations understandably high entering coach Ron Rivera's third year, he opted to run back a unit that massively underachieved in 2021.

The decision wasn't without justification. Washington had played reasonably well under defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio in late 2020, and was rounding into form in 2021 before a late-season bout with COVID.

But there were also signs Del Rio's scheme, and the available personnel, weren't as potent as initially thought, and the pressure would be on the unit starting with Week 1.

Well, Washington hasn't delivered.

Add in a bizarre midweek episode where Del Rio called out linebacker Jamin Davis for poor play after a preseason seemingly designed to build his confidence, and, well, it's hard to find a bright side right now.

The Lions manhandled the Commanders at the line of scrimmage - supposedly the team's strength - and created mismatches in the secondary on the way to scoring 36 points.

Making a switch this early in the season would feel desperate. But maybe that's what the Commanders are.

Other observations:

--There will be lots of chatter around Washington's decision to go for a two-point conversion after cutting the Lions' lead to 8 points late. The analytics movement supports the decision. The logic is that if you would go for two to win the game on the final score, you should do it a possession earlier. That way if you don't convert, you have an opportunity to make up for it next time, instead of being saddled with a loss and no time remaining.

--But then Joey Slye missed the extra point that would have kept the game in reach. Ouch.

--Special teams did Washington no favors early in the game. First, an absolute beauty of a Tress Way punt lands at the 3-yard line with some backspin that kicks it the other way. But Christian Holmes' momentum carried him, and the ball, into the end zone for a touchback. Then Dax Milne twice inexplicably took the ball out of the end zone on a kickoff, losing yardage both times.

--Defensive tackle Daniel Wise left the game with an ankle injury and did not return, and defensive end Casey Toohill left in the first half with a concussion. The team used new defensive tackle Donovan Jeter in the rotation to help take some of the workload off of Jonathan Allen.

--Say what you will about Detroit and its football history, but coach Dan Campbell is doing an excellent job building an identity as a blue-collar team and selling the fan base on it. The crowd routinely applauded 3- and 4-yard runs by the Lions, something that would draw a shrug in most cities.

--Linebacker Jamin Davis didn't start the game (Washington went with just one linebacker). He was put in for third down, and emerged with a sack, then later looked better in coverage against D'Andre Swift. He's not close to there yet, but that'll at least give the coaches a couple positive talking points for the week.

--The Detroit Tigers were playing across the street at the same time on Sunday. The halftime score between visiting opponents: White Sox 7, Commanders 0.

--Lions rookie Aiden Hutchinson had three sacks in the first half. He celebrated the first one with a Michael Jackson moonwalk celebration (Hutchinson did a celebrated rendition of "Billie Jean" during this year's Hard Knocks series). But it looked like Hutchinson was playing injured in the second half, and his lack of pressure created more opportunities for the Washington offense, which also did some strong scheming to get Wentz more time.

​mphillips@timesdispatch.com    (804) 649-6546     

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