Hailey’s Notebook: What stood out re-watching Commanders’ Week 12 win vs. Falcons

Notebook: Who and what stood out re-watching Commanders-Falcons 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 12 win over the Falcons:

  • That was the Brian Robinson Jr. that was soaring through the preseason before the late-August shooting put everything football-related to the side. While Robinson had been making an impact on the offense leading up to Sunday, he was doing so more as a grind-it-out ball carrier than a piling-up-stats star. That changed versus Atlanta, where the rookie found positive yardage on all 18 of his attempts, averaged 5.8 yards-per-rush and chipped in with a thunderous receiving touchdown. He may not ever be as speedy or as threatening on the outside as Antonio Gibson, but he’s also more capable of ripping off runs than he had been showing since his early October return to action. Perhaps he’s feeling like his usual self again

  • It’s quite encouraging that, on an afternoon in which the Commanders defense ceded 332 net yards, held the Falcons to 4-of-10 on third downs, plus 0-for-1 on fourth downs, and surrendered just 13 points, players believe that they weren’t at their best. And after taking in the contest once more, they’re right. Atlanta definitely deserves credit for being creative with their looks on the ground and also for focusing much of the attention on Jonathan Allen and Daron Payne, but still, there were some uncharacteristically huge holes up front as well as a few missed tackles at each level. Jon Bostic explained in a postgame conversation that the unit strives for perfection and, though they understand getting there is impossible, what transpired in Week 12 wasn’t acceptable. However, that Payne tip and Kendall Fuller interception was close enough and will go down as one of the year’s most memorable sequences.
  • On the snap preceding Fuller’s pick, James Smith-Williams and Montez Sweat combined to drop Marcus Mariota for a two-yard loss on the kind of design that Mariota had been feasting on for most of the matchup. In doing so, the defensive linemen helped turn a first-and-goal at the two-yard line into a second-and-goal from the four, which might’ve contributed to the visitors’ choice to throw instead of run. The Fuller turnover will rightly garner love in the highlights, but Smith-Williams and Sweat’s effort before it was awfully key, too.
  • Had Ron Rivera‘s side lost, the calls for Taylor Heinicke to be benched would’ve been noisy. Fortunately for Heinicke, the result ended in his favor, meaning he’ll start this coming weekend in New York. Despite the underwhelming numbers, the quarterback did come out dealing on the team’s opening possession; he logged completions of 26, 17 and six yards and capped the march off with his 14-yard swing pass to Robinson. Scott Turner’s decision to go play-action to begin the tilt was clever and it led to the club’s longest toss of the victory. 
  • Now for Heinicke’s most regrettable error: his second-quarter interception. For a signal-caller who’s repeatedly reminded to take what’s there, he most certainly didn’t take what’s there… twice. As he drops back, Gibson and Curtis Samuel find open areas underneath; had Heinicke picked out either one, they would’ve undoubtedly bounded into field goal range. Instead, Heinicke misidentified the coverage (a concession he made at the podium) and thought he could hit Jahan Dotson over the middle. He ended up hitting an area filled with white uniforms. Yes, Heinicke has to compete on the edge in order to generate the moments that stick with fans and media alike, yet on this giveaway, he simply must be smarter. 
  • On the topic of Dotson, he might’ve completed an entire marathon and then some by way of all the pre-snap motion he was tasked with executing. As a whole, Turner mixed in motion constantly and Dotson was the guy handling it most often. Hopefully you had the first-rounder in your PPPM (points-per-pre-snap-motion) fantasy league for Week 12.
  • The things Tress Way can do when his foot meets a football are absurd. Absurdly absurd, even. The third-quarter punt he placed at the Falcons’ five-yard line — you know, the one where the leathery orb plopped onto the grass, lost all of its momentum and nearly came to a stop on its damn nose!!!!!!!! — was so good that the NFL might seek an avenue to ban whatever Way did to make that happen. His acting skills are laudable — the penalty he drew to seal the win was, uh, nicely sold — but his punting skills are legendary. 
  • Don’t be surprised if Jonathan Williams has a critical carry or touchdown, or a handful of them, as Washington continues its playoff push. Williams, who had four rushes for 22 yards Sunday, is a quality running back who just so happens to share a backfield with Robinson and Gibson. He was physical and looked fresh against Atlanta and could be quite useful in the coming weeks.
  • Now, to close out with the most important observation of all: Dyami Brown was wearing two mouthpieces on Sunday. Brown has a bevy of them in his locker at the organization’s practice facility and he apparently wanted to deploy a pair of them at FedEx Field. NBC Sports Washington intends to follow up with the wideout on this matter as soon as possible. 

This article was written by WTOP’s news partner, NBC Sports Washington. Sign up for NBC Sports Washington’s free email subscription today.

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