Commanders

Turner, Del Rio acknowledge disappointing end, optimistic on future

Commanders
JDR and Scott Turner

ASHBURN, Va. -- After blowing a prime opportunity against the Cleveland Browns this past Sunday, the Washington Commanders will miss the postseason for a second straight year. And, barring a win over the Dallas Cowboys this upcoming weekend, all three seasons under Ron Rivera will end with exactly seven wins and a losing record.

It's unknown if major changes will come within the Commanders' organization once the season officially ends. Co-owners Dan and Tanya Snyder are currently exploring a sale of the franchise, which obviously impacts every decision throughout the club. Rivera's job appears safe, too, but could coordinators Jack Del Rio or Scott Turner be in trouble?

For the final time this season, Del Rio met with the media on Thursday. He expressed his desire to remain in his current role as defensive coordinator and did not seem a tad worried about his future with the franchise going forward.

"As long as I'm enjoying myself and I'm good at what I do, which I am doing both right now, I feel like I love what I do," Del Rio said. "I do it because I love it."

Del Rio was one of Rivera's first hires back in 2020 and has remained Washington's defensive coordinator since. Despite his years of experience as a head coach -- Del Rio was in charge of the Jaguars from 2003-2011 and Raiders from 2015-2017 -- he insisted he's not looking for a different coaching opportunity at this time.

 

"I'm not doing it because I'm trying to rise to some position," Del Rio said. "I have a wealth of experience as a head coach. If that opportunity comes, that'd be great. But if it doesn't, I'm happy doing what I'm doing. I've enjoyed my entire time in the league. I enjoyed being an assistant strength coach. My entire time in the league has been a blessing and it has been a great honor to do what I do. ... I love it, and that's why I do it."

Del Rio didn't enter the 2022 season on the best of terms. In 2020, Washington's defense was among the NFL's best, but the group took a major step backward last season. During OTAs, Del Rio was fined $100K after calling the Jan. 6th insurrection a "dust-up." Another rough performance in 2022 could've been the final straw for Del Rio in Washington.

After a slow start to the season, Washington's defense significantly improved its play. Defensive tackles Jonathan Allen and Daron Payne have played at an All-Pro level. Linebacker Jamin Davis has made significant strides in Year 2. Third-year safety Kam Curl has emerged as one of Wahington's most important defenders, while second-year defensive backs Darrick Forrest and Benjamin St-Juste have demonstrated major growth as well.

With one week remaining in the regular season, Del Rio's defense is allowing the fourth fewest yards per game (312.3) in the NFL. The group has allowed 21.1 points per outing, the 14th fewest in the league, which was a 4.4-point improvement from the 2021 season. It's hard to imagine Del Rio losing his job after the season.

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Offensively, things didn't go nearly as well. Despite a wide collection of talent at the skill positions, the Commanders' offense was unable to consistently put up points and significantly struggled in the red zone. Washington has averaged just 18.4 points per game this year, the 25th-most in the NFL.

Regardless of Washington's inconsistency on offense throughout the year, Turner believes the group made positive strides in 2022 and that he'll be back for his fourth season as offensive coordinator in 2023.

"I'm prepared to coach this game [against Dallas] and then get this team ready to go be successful down the road," Turner said.

Turner, who's also been on Rivera's staff since 2020, admitted that questions about job security will also come with working in the NFL. He's focused on controlling what he can and said "whatever happens after this week, you go with it after that."

 

Washington's offensive struggles were certainly a disappointment for the franchise, especially after the efforts the team made this past spring to improve the unit.

The Commanders traded for Carson Wentz in March, hoping he'd be a noticeable upgrade over Taylor Heinicke. Weeks later, Washington used its first-round pick on Penn State wideout Jahan Dotson, hoping to add another talented pass-catcher to its receiver room. Another top-100 pick was used on Alabama running back Brian Robinson Jr. to help elevate the rushing attack.

The Wentz experiment, obviously, didn't work out. His play was up and down throughout the first six weeks of the season before he fractured a finger on his throwing hand. Heinicke stepped in admirably in his place and helped Washington back into the playoff picture, but he, too, struggled down the stretch. Wentz was named the starter again for the Commanders' must-win Week 17 game against Cleveland and turned in his worst outing of the year in the loss.

On the bright side, Dotson and Robinson have each been key contributors to Washington's offense; both players appear to be building blocks for the future. Star receiver Terry McLaurin is one yard away from setting his career high despite seeing slightly fewer targets. Curtis Samuel stayed healthy the entire year and was plenty productive when given the chance. Antonio Gibson did a little bit of everything for the group, too.

Ultimately, Turner's unit failed to meet expectations. There are plenty of reasons as to why, but Turner took responsibility for the unit's less-than-satisfactory performance.

"There's been some moments where we've really looked like we're going to turn a corner," he said. "We didn't do the things that we wanted to do this year. I mean, no one's going to sit here and say that. I'm accountable for that as much as anybody."

Despite the Commanders' offensive shortcomings, Turner feels the group has the potential to be a lot better in 2023 and beyond.

"You look at the guys that we have, I think that there's a lot of room to grow," Turner said. "I look forward to working with these guys and continue to get better and keep improving and get this team where we want it to be."