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The State of the Commanders - Turnaround in Washington

The Washington Commanders are HOT.


On October 23, quarterback Taylor Heinicke replaced the injured Carson Wentz as the team’s starter. Since then, Washington is 5-1 and is one of the hottest teams in the NFL.

When we last checked in on the Commanders, the team was 2-4 and Carson Wentz had just gotten injured in a disgusting 12-7 win over Chicago on Thursday Night Football.


This has looked like an entirely different team since then.


The Commanders have beaten Green Bay, Indianapolis, Houston, Atlanta and the previously undefeated Eagles. The only loss Washington has suffered was a 20-17 defeat to Minnesota, who currently has the second best record in the NFC.


The season’s headlines at the ⅓ mark are vastly different than they are now. There is legitimate optimism that Washington can make a run at the postseason.


Five games to go…let’s see what they can do.

 

In Heinicke We Trust?


This team loves Taylor Heinicke.


Since the fourth year quarterback out of Old Dominion took over as the starter for Carson Wentz in Week 7, Washington is 5-1 and has catapulted out of nowhere into the playoff picture after a 1-4 start to the season.

“It’s a special moment. It’s something I’ve worked for my whole life,” Heinicke said after head coach Ron Rivera named him the starter on November 20. “I just want to keep this thing rolling.”


It’s not going to be easy down the stretch for the Commanders.


Washington has five games remaining and has its bye after this weekend’s game against the Giants. Of its final five opponents, four currently have a winning record and three are in the NFC East. The only team that sits below .500 is Cleveland, who welcomes quarterback Deshaun Watson to the field for the first time this weekend.


The bye is sandwiched by games against the Giants, followed by a trip to San Francisco and two at home against Cleveland and Dallas.


There’s a good chance the whole season is going to come down to the Dallas game…how much do you trust Heinicke in a win-or-go-home scenario?

 

The Return of Chase Young


On November 14, 2021, Commanders defensive end Chase Young tore his ACL. He has not played football since.


He’s been on injured reserve for the majority of the season so far, but has been limited in practice over the past few weeks.

He may make his return this Sunday against the New York Giants.


It might also make sense to keep him sidelined until after the bye in order to allow him two extra final weeks to get healthy before the final four game push.


Washington has won six of its last seven and the defense has kept the opponent to under 23 or less in all of those games.


The Commanders also sit 12th in team sacks this season. Adding Young to the fold for the final four games at minimum could be the difference that carries the team into the postseason.

 

Other Mid/Late Season Headlines:

  • Rookie running back Brian Robinson is emerging as the clear number one option in the backfield for Washington. He’s coming off his first 100 yard rushing performance against Atlanta and is the clear focal point for the Commanders rushing attack.

  • Star linebacker Cole Holcomb was placed on injured reserve on November 25, meaning he’s out for at least one month. He can return for the final couple of games, but his absence is significant, especially with matchups against Saquon Barkeley 2x and Christian McCaffery coming up.

  • Head coach Ron Rivera was on the hot seat and now he is not. Following a 1-4 start, the Commanders have won six of their last seven and are in the hunt for a playoff spot out of nowhere. An extension for the head man could be coming if he drives the team to the postseason.

  • Kicker Joey Slye was named NFC Special Teams Player of the Month for the month of November

 

A Look Ahead:


Things were so bleak a month-and-a-half ago. Now, five wins later, the Commanders are in the thick of the NFC wildcard picture and are likely three wins away from solidifying a spot in the knockout stage.


Between two games against the Giants, a road game at San Francisco and then back-to-back home games to close the year against Cleveland and Dallas, there are no obvious wins.


The Commanders have been winning ugly, with balanced offense, stable special teams and great defense. It’s been a dream run, but can they really keep this up.


Five to go. Let’s see what happens.


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