Notebook: Who and what stood out re-watching Commanders-Texans originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington
Pete Hailey is not a current or former NFL player, nor is he a current or former NFL coach. He is a reporter. Therefore, this space won’t be used to closely analyze schemes or assign blame on coverage breakdowns or anything like that related to the Commanders, because those things are hard to discern without knowing the design of and plan for a given play.
That said, he does follow Washington on a day-to-day basis, meaning he can (hopefully) pass along helpful observations after re-watching each of the franchise’s games. So, here’s what stood out to him from the Week 11 win at the Texans:
- In Jonathan Allen, Daron Payne and Montez Sweat, Washington employs three menaces who are capable of completely embarrassing opposing linemen on any given play. That raw talent is clearly one reason why the defensive line is playing at such a high level in 2022. The more important reason, though, is that the three of them and the other rotational players are rushing in a united manner that makes it really damn hard for quarterbacks to escape. Davis Mills was the latest signal-caller to experience that; he was dropped five times on Sunday, and on the majority of those, there were no creases for him to sneak through because Allen, Payne, Sweat and Co. mixed dominance with discipline on their way to the backfield. Credit to that crew for turning a weakness from last year into a calling card for this year.
- As mentioned, though, there are a handful of snaps in each contest where one of the Commanders’ studs out-studs a blocker who’s attempting to out-stud him. Here’s an example of that, courtesy of Payne:
- Another note on the defense: Guys on all three levels are tackling exceedingly well. The back end in particular — which is made up of defensive backs such as Kam Curl, Bobby McCain, Darrick Forrest, Kendall Fuller and Benjamin St-Juste — is taking smart angles and gobbling up ball carries on a routine basis. Curl specifically doesn’t get enough credit for a lot of his skill set, and because he doesn’t necessarily lay others out with major hits, he’s probably underappreciated in this area, too. Versus Houston, Curl was sure-handed like always and came up clutch on at least one third down and down near the goal line.
- After tinkering at nickelback by using the likes of Rachad Wildgoose and Danny Johnson, Rivera told reporters last Friday that he intends to deploy McCain there because 1) he’s physical in run stopping and 2) it clears the way for him, Curl and Forrest to all contribute simultaneously. The latter point matters more, but the first one is illustrated in collisions like this:
- While Taylor Heinicke was better than the stats would say he was in Philadelphia, his output at NRG Stadium matches up with his performance pretty perfectly. In fact, he’s fortunate to have made it out of Houston without an interception on his ledger, seeing as his first throw of the afternoon inexplicably slipped right through a safety’s grasp. Heinicke was additionally lucky that he was facing such a deficient team and that his defense was suffocating because, in a more even affair, he’d be getting criticized for the inaccuracy issues that plagued him in Week 11. He is the starter moving forward, Rivera confirmed, and that’s the proper decision. However, Heinicke didn’t necessarily earn that distinction in Week 11. Instead, the upset of the Eagles and his previous victories did the heavy lifting in that regard.
- The red zone and goal line execution for Heinicke’s half of the squad wasn’t all that encouraging, as just one of four trips inside of the 20-yard line concluded with six points (the fourth, to be fair, came as the fourth quarter was wrapping up). Not counting that final foray, a first-and-goal at the 5 and a first-and-10 at the 12 were still wasted (no disrespect to you, Joey Slye). For a club desperate to secure a Wild Card berth, those opportunities must be converted more often.
- Fuller’s pick-six on the second snap of the tilt was just perfect — and it turns out the first snap might’ve prepared him for the turnover. Before his interception, Fuller was decisive in sprinting into the flat on a Mills toss and he logged a tackle for loss for his efforts. A few moments later, he did the same thing on the other side of the field and his excellent read was rewarded in the form of his first pro touchdown:
- That was the Logan Thomas Washington has been waiting for this season. The tall tight end paced the offense in both receptions (five) and yards (65) in what was by far his most productive action in 2022. When Thomas was one of the sport’s better players at the position in 2020, he was a massive target over the middle of the field as well as a dude who could come down with growerful (that’s a portmanteau of graceful and powerful) grabs that were worthy of multiple replays. Those facets of his game were on full display Sunday, and should he continue in that rhythm, Heinicke and the entire unit will benefit greatly.
- To close out this post, let’s chat about Brian Robinson Jr. The Alabama rookie is hovering at about 3.5 yards-per-carry thus far, which is a half-yard below a satisfactory average and a full yard below a standout one (Antonio Gibson, meanwhile, is at 3.7, so it’s not like he’s lighting it up, either). Robinson and his franchise, of course, would like to see that climb. However, Robinson has been fantastic at avoiding negative runs, which is a testament to his sheer strength and refusal to go down in one-on-one battles. For an offense that relies on staying in manageable down-and-distances, Robinson’s persistence is invaluable and is why he is featured so often. To put it simply, untangling a box of Christmas lights sounds more appealing than trying to get Robinson to the ground: