The Washington Commanders do not have the luxury of underestimating the Arizona Cardinals. Or anyone else, for that matter. Especially in the first two months of a Ron Rivera-led season. Arizona might have its mind on Caleb Williams’ highlights, but Washington needs to focus on what’s right in front of them.
Washington Commanders Should Not Underestimate Arizona Cardinals
The Cardinals, having lost their starting quarterback (Kyler Murray) to an ACL tear and their backup (Colt McCoy) to the chopping block, are destined for a difficult season. They are the early favorites for the 2024 first-overall pick.
Thus, it is a good first game to get Sam Howell’s feet wet. Arizona head coach Jonathan Gannon has refused to name a replacement starter, citing a competitive advantage, but newly-acquired Joshua Dobbs is expected to get the nod.
Two weeks ago, Dobbs was fighting for the Cleveland Browns backup quarterback job. And he was losing. Fifth-round rookie Dorian Thompson-Robinson leapfrogged Dobbs on the depth chart and won over the hearts of the organization.
Now, Dobbs finds himself in a new battle with another fifth-round rookie: former Houston quarterback Clayton Tune. Neither option is particularly daunting. But regardless of who gets the start, there should be no excuses for Washington.
Sources: The #AZCardinals are expected have Josh Dobbs as their starting QB this week, with rookie Clayton Tune getting backup reps. They’ll evaluate the situation each week, but this is how it begins. pic.twitter.com/eXqXUFj7qv
— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) September 6, 2023
Ron Rivera’s Early Season Struggles
Ron Rivera sports a storied track record of turning seasons around and galvanizing the troops for late-season pushes. It is admirable. Unfortunately, the reason he is in that position in the first place is because his teams tend to start poorly.
Over the course of his career, Rivera’s teams have a 44.9% win-rate in September and October (40-48-1). That is followed by a 57.9% win-rate in November and December (55-39-1).
This tendency has become even more exaggerated during his time in Washington. In 2020, the Redskins started the season 2-7 before finishing 7-9. In 2021, The Football Team began 2-6 and finished 7-10.
Last season, the Commanders stumbled to a 1-4 record only to roar back and narrowly miss the playoffs at 8-8-1. Two of those first four losses, at Detroit and versus Tennessee, were games that Washington were expected to win. Ultimately, however, there are no guarantees in this league.
— Matthew Paras (@Matthew_Paras) September 6, 2023
Beyond the obvious value from an ‘every game is worth the same’ standpoint, Week 1 is as close to a ‘can’t-lose’ situation as there is. Following the Arizona game, the Commanders travel to oxygen-deficient Denver, host Josh Allen’s dangerous Bills the next week, and then play a road game against the team that was one properly manicured field away from winning the Super Bowl. Those could easily be three losses.
It is cliché, but every team in the NFL is composed of highly incentivized professional football players. Cardinals coaches and players want to win more than the front office wants to lose.
Rivera took a gamble in hiring Eric Bienemy as a qualified head coach in waiting, but it is a good sign that he is self-aware enough to realize that something had to change.
Rivera is already on the hot seat. An early loss to the worst team in the league could expedite those discussions. Consequently, the Commanders cannot afford to underestimate the Cardinals, no matter the pre-game narrative.
Ron Rivera on the Cardinals: "We're not taking this team lightly."
— Ben Standig (@BenStandig) September 8, 2023
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