Washington Commanders (1-0) at Broncos (0-1)
When: 2:25 p.m. MT, Sunday
Where: Empower Field at Mile High
Radio/TV: 850 AM, 94.1 FM/CBS (KCNC-4)
Broncos-Commanders series: The Broncos are 8-6 against Washington in 14 regular-season games dating back to 1970; Denver won 17-10 in the last meeting, on Oct. 31, 2021, and has won two of the last three matchups.
In the spotlight
Athletes are required to avoid dwelling on the past. But when Broncos second-year cornerback Damarri Mathis sat at his locker on Wednesday, it was evident by his dull expression that Sunday’s results still weighed on him.
Denver’s Week 1 loss to the Las Vegas Raiders started and ended with Jakobi Meyers touchdown catches against Mathis in coverage. In the first quarter, Meyers beat Mathis one-on-one on a fade route, catching the ball near the corner of the end zone to take a 7-0 lead. In the fourth, Meyers slipped past Mathis on a slant for a 6-yard touchdown catch to give Las Vegas a 17-16 advantage with 6:34 left in regulation.
While Broncos starting cornerback Pat Surtain II put the clamps on Raiders wideout Davante Adams, quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo targeted Mathis in coverage, and the former Pittsburgh Panther failed to disrupt the Raiders’ game plan.
“I played poorly,” Mathis said bluntly.
Mathis holds himself to a high standard. When playing alongside Surtain and safeties Kareem Jackson and Justin Simmons, he wants to match their level of performance. Against the Raiders, Mathis looked more like the inexperienced corner who committed four defensive pass interference penalties in his first career start against the Los Angeles Chargers in Week 6 of last season.
According to Pro Football Focus, Mathis was targeted nine times, allowing 95 receiving yards (63 to Meyers). He was also penalized for pass interference with 3:07 left in the third.
Mathis was determined to build on his rookie season, when he recorded 65 tackles and seven pass deflections in 16 games (11 starts). Sunday was not how he expected Year 2 to begin.
“I can change a lot of things I did last week,” Mathis said. “Playing with leverage, my eyes and being poised.”
This week against the Commanders presents a new challenge and opportunity to bounce back.
With Surtain likely to match up against No. 1 receiver Terry McLaurin, Mathis will find himself opposite Jahan Dotson often. A first-round pick in the 2022 NFL draft, the young wideout can burn defenders with his speed. Dotson averaged 14.9 yards per reception last season.
Sunday will be Mathis’ second time facing Dotson. The two squared off when Pittsburgh played Penn State in 2019. Even though the Nittany Lions won, 17-10, Mathis and the Panthers’ secondary held Dotson to two catches for 21 yards.
Mathis said he is more motivated for this game because he wants to prove that last week’s effort was a fluke.
“I look at it as another opportunity to show what I can do,” Mathis said.
Who has the edge?
When Broncos run
Denver’s 1-2 running back punch of Javonte Williams and Samaje Perine showed promise in Week 1. They outgained the Raiders 94-61 on the ground, as Williams looked fully recovered from last season’s ACL tear. The Broncos will rely heavily on the run game since they lack game-changing pass catchers. The Commanders ranked 11th in rushing yards allowed last season. On Sunday, they held the Arizona Cardinals to 3.8 yards per carry. Edge: Broncos
When Broncos pass
Good news: The Broncos’ offensive line looked like a more competent pass-blocking unit on Sunday. Denver ranked fourth in the league in pass block win rate, according to ESPN Analytics. Bad news: Quarterback Russell Wilson is short on playmakers to work with. The Broncos didn’t have a single receiver reach 50-plus receiving yards against the Raiders. If wide receiver Jerry Jeudy, who was a full participant at Thursday’s practice, plays on Sunday, that should help. Denver’s biggest concern will be Washington’s Daron Payne and Jonathan Allen, who recorded a sack and had the best pass-rush win rate among defensive tackles in Week 1. Edge: Commanders
When Commanders run
In 2022, Washington ranked 12th in rushing (126.1 yards per game). Second-year running back Brian Robinson Jr. has a ton of upside, as he rushed for 797 yards as a rookie. Don’t sleep on quarterback Sam Howell, either. The North Carolina product can make plays with his legs when necessary. He scrambled six yards for the go-ahead touchdown in the fourth quarter against the Cardinals. Denver’s run defense was one of the bright spots in Week 1, holding Raiders star running back Josh Jacobs to 2.5 yards per carry on 19 attempts. Edge: Broncos
When Commanders pass
Howell threw for 202 yards, a touchdown and a pick in his second career start. He was sacked six times, but there were times when he held onto the ball for too long. Pat Surtain II will match up well against wide receiver Terry McLaurin. The All-Pro cornerback limited the Raiders’ Davante Adams to two receptions for 11 yards, according to Next Gen Stats, last week. The Commanders will most likely target Damarri Mathis more often after he struggled in Week 1. Denver’s pass rush was nonexistent in the season opener, generating no sacks and three quarterback hits. Edge: Even
Denver’s special teams got off on the wrong foot. The unit committed two penalties and kicker Wil Lutz missed an extra point and a 55-yard field goal attempt in the loss to the Raiders. Commanders punter Tress Way, a two-time Pro Bowler, saw 44.6% of his punt attempts land inside the opponents’ 20-yard line last season, fifth-best in the NFL. Washington’s kick return unit, led by running back Antonio Gibson, recorded the seventh-most yards (902). Edge: Commanders
The Broncos’ offense looked better with Payton calling the shots. Yet even with a Super Bowl-winning coach, the Denver was plagued by last year’s issues in the loss to the Raiders. The pass rush struggled, special teams were uninspiring, and there were too many penalties. Washington coach Ron Rivera has yet to have an above-.500 record during his tenure in Washington, even though his defenses have been formidable. Edge: Broncos
Tale of the tape
|Broncos (rank)||Raiders (rank)|
|Total offense||260 (23rd)||248 (25th)|
|Rush offense||94 (17th)||92 (20th)|
|Pass offense||166 (20th)||156 (21st)|
|Points per game||16 (23rd)||20 (19th)|
|Run defense||61 (3rd)||96 (17th)|
|Pass defense||200 (20th)||114 (5th)|
|Points allowed||17 (12th)||16 (11th)|
*Stats from Week 1
By the numbers
29: Snaps Samaje Perine and Javonte Williams each played in Week 1, a clear indication of how Denver plans to use both running backs this season.
12: Players who have started at quarterback for the Broncos since 2016. The Commanders, who have had 13 different starters during that stretch, are not the only ones that go through QBs like Defense Against the Dark Arts professors at Hogwarts.
28: Consecutive games outside linebacker Randy Gregory has gone without recording two or more sacks. The last time Gregory recorded two sacks in a game was Oct. 17, 2021, as a member of the Cowboys. He’s also missed 15 games due to injury since then.
91.5: Wilson’s passer rating in four career regular-season games against Washington.
Bet on it
Line: Broncos -3.5
Denver’s matchup against the Commanders will have similar vibes as Week 1. Expect the Broncos to bounce back with a win, but it’s hard to imagine this team running up the scoreboard.
Prop bet: Over/under 38
It’s safe to bet the under. Defense will be the theme of Sunday’s matchup, as the winner will be decided by who wins the battle in the trenches.
Parker Gabriel, beat writer: Broncos 24, Commanders 21
Denver lost a game it shouldn’t have in Week 1 and faces a stout test this weekend, particularly from the Commanders defensive front. An 0-2 start for the Broncos would spell real trouble given the rugged schedule ahead. They stave it off. Barely.
Ryan McFadden, beat writer: Broncos 20, Commanders 17
If they lose two in a row to the Raiders and Commanders, Broncos fans might riot. But that’s not going to happen. Denver will bounce back, but it won’t be pretty.
Mark Kiszla, columnist: Broncos 24, Commanders 14
If Russell Wilson can’t outplay and beat Sam Howell, we can turn our discussion to: How many games could Shedeur Sanders win as rookie starter for the Broncos in 2024?
Sean Keeler, columnist: Broncos 18, Commanders 17
A second-year QB visiting Empower Field for the first time? This one should be a layup. But Sean Payton talks a better game than he coaches, and the lack of home-run threats keeps forcing Russell Wilson to dink, dunk and be darn-near perfect. Nothing on Bryant Street comes easy anymore. Except the ennui.
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