It's been eight years, two name changes and two coaching changes since the Washington football franchise, now known as the Commanders, has set foot on the NRG Stadium turf. The Texans won that day in the first game of the Bill O'Brien era (my first game on the sideline as sideline reporter too). Eight years later, this Washington team is a MUCH different animal, especially on the defensive side of the ball.
Making things that much more difficult, 2020 No. 2 overall pick Chase Young should return to the Washington lineup after missing the first ten games of this season with an ACL injury. He's the most dynamic defender on that side of the ball when fully healthy. I was hoping that he would wait another week, but he'll join Montez Sweat, DaRon Payne and Jonathan Allen on the four man defensive front. It's the best unit the Texans have faced all year and the Texans have seen three or four of the best already this season, including the Giants group led by Dexter Lawrence II last weekend. It's going to be a LONG day for the Texans interior, to say the least.
The offense will be led by QB Taylor Heinicke who led the Commanders to four wins in the last five games. Furthermore, he led the Commanders to a win on the road on MNF over the previously undefeated Philadelphia Eagles. The Commanders dominated the game on the ground and ate up 40+ minutes of time of possession and that kept the Eagles explosive offense on the sideline for much of the night.
But, they traveled to Philly for Monday night, have had one less day to prepare and then have to travel to Houston. That's a tough turnaround and the Texans have to exploit them with some haymakers early to force Heinicke to have to throw a ton to come back from behind. Either way, let's get to Know the Texans' Week 11 Foe - the Washington Commanders
The Commanders 2022 Schedule (5-5)
|Week 1||Jacksonville Jaguars (W, 28-22)|
|Week 2||@ Detroit Lions (L, 36-27)|
|Week 3||Philadelphia Eagles (L, 24-8)|
|Week 4||@ Dallas Cowboy (L, 25-10)|
|Week 5||Tennessee Titans (L, 21-17)|
|Week 6||@ Chicago Bears (W, 12-7)|
|Week 7||Green Bay Packers (W, 23-21)|
|Week 8||@ Indianapolis Colts (W, 17-16)|
|Week 9||Minnesota Vikings (L, 20-17)|
|Week 10||@ Philadelphia Eagles (W, 32-21)|
|Week 11||@ Houston Texans|
|Week 12||Atlanta Falcons|
|Week 13||@ New York Giants|
|Week 15||New York Giants|
|Week 16||@ San Francisco 49ers|
|Week 17||Cleveland Browns|
|Week 18||Dallas Cowboys|
Commanders OFFENSE (in 2022 Regular Season)
|Rushing Yards Per game||112.4 ypg (20th in the NFL)|
|Passing Yards Per game||211.7 ypg (22nd)|
|Total offense per game||324.1 ypg (25th)|
|Turnovers lost||13 (10 INT, 3 Fumbles lost)|
Expected Commanders starting offense for Week 11
|RB||BRIAN ROBINSON JR./Antonio Gibson|
|RT||Sam Cosmi/Cornelius Lucas (started last Monday at Philadelphia)|
Other key offensive pieces
|RB||J.D. McKissic (injured/Inactive at Philly on Monday night)|
ALL CAPS = New to team in 2022
Keys to winning v. the Commanders offense
1. Three Yards and a Cloud of Wins
The Commanders went to Philly on Monday night and won a game in which they maintained the ball for FORTY minutes of action. Thing was they didn't run for 300 yards. They didn't reel off long runs at all. The longest run of the night was 11 yards. They averaged just 3.1 yards per carry. But, BUT, they didn't make mistakes and they kept chipping away at first downs all night with three, four and five yard carries. Brian Robinson Jr. and Antonio Gibson combined for 130 rushing yards…on FORTY carries. But, that's the way that the Commanders have to win - maintain the ball, keep opposing offenses on the sideline and control the game up front on both sides of the ball. The Texans defense must get more stuffs on first and second down to force QB Heinicke into more sure passing situations early in the game. The Commanders can't dictate pace, tempo and the run game if the Texans hope to win this game.
2. Scary Terry
That is the Commanders star receiver's nickname, yet Terry McLaurin is anything but scary everywhere else but on a football field. He's a gem of a human and a tremendously hard working captain and teammate. But, on the field, he's a legit burner with 4.3 speed and a hard hat working mindset. He IS scary for the Texans because of his combination of skills on the field and Heinicke typically targets McLaurin three times more than any other receiver/pass catcher on the roster. What can't happen on Sunday is the Texans run defense finally slows down the Commanders running game then the defense yields a long one or two to McLaurin. Those big plays allow the Washington offensive machine to keep cooking when the run game is forced into neutral. The Texans secondary will have its hands full with McLaurin, so wherever he lines up, he'll demand some extra help, regardless of coverage or situation.
3. Gritty, Gutty and a Playmaker
When Taylor Heinicke was here in Houston in 2017, he didn't have much of an opportunity to show what he could do. When he finally got on the field due to another QB injury, he was only able to stay on the field for a few plays before getting knocked out due to a concussion against Pittsburgh on Christmas afternoon of 2017. At season's end, he then went on an odyssey that eventually brought him to Washington in the COVID season of 2020. He eventually started, and thrived, in the playoff loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, yet he was never named the face of the franchise starting QB. Two years later, though, that might be changing. Heinicke doesn't do pretty. He doesn't have a massive arm. He doesn't have 4.3 Lamar Jackson speed. But, put the game in his hands and his Commanders teammates trust him. It's also what head coach Ron Rivera has done. Heinicke won't wow anyone until he makes THAT play, the miracle scramble, the throw falling out of bounds for a huge gain, the deep ball DIME with :30 seconds remaining to steal a win on the road (see Indianapolis earlier this season). He's the proverbial gym rat/gamer and it seems, from afar, as if his teammates love him and play for him. Can the Texans put the game on his shoulders and then capitalize on one of his mistakes to take that game away from him? It won't be easy, but nothing has been easy for the Texans defense, especially against a guy that's done nothing but fight for his football life every snap he takes.
Commanders DEFENSE (in 2022 Regular Season)
|Rushing Yards Allowed Per game||111.3 ypg (12th in the NFL)|
|Passing Yards Allowed Per game||212.7 ypg (15th)|
|Total offense Allowed per game||324.0 ypg (10th)|
|Turnovers generated||11 (4 INT, 7 Fumble recoveries - Commanders are +2 in TO margin)|
Expected Commanders starting defense for Week 11
|DE||Chase Young (expected to be back for his first game in 2022)|
|LB||JON BOSTIC/Cole Holcomb (regular starter but injured/inactive last week)|
|CB||Benjamin St. Juste|
Other key defensive pieces
ALL CAPS = New to team in 2022
Keys to winning v. the Commanders defense
1. Chasing Young
The news came down late last week that former #2 overall draft pick Chase Young wasn't going to play in the Monday Night Football contest against the Eagles. "But, don't fear Commanders fans, all signs point to him being back next week at Houston!" Great (sarcasm font), just what we needed. Now, the Commanders don't need the extra help on the defensive line, which could make Young even more dangerous. I'd imagine that he could be on a bit of a pitch count in this game, being his first one back, but that could potentially mean that he'll be used only in true pass rush situations. Yikes. That's the last thing anyone on the Texans offensive line needs to see…well, minus one other thing. For that, it's time for the next key.
2. Roll Tide
The Texans interior offensive line has seen a gauntlet of top notch interior players and interior duos over the past few weeks. The Titans duo of Jeffery Simmons and Teair Tart took over the game and dominated. The Eagles duo of Javon Hargrave and Fletcher Cox were a handful. Last week, the Giants duo Dexter Lawrence…wait, he was so good, it felt like he was a duo. Either way, the Texans have yet to face the BEST duo…until Sunday. DaRon Payne and Jonathan Allen are monsters against both the pass and the run. Allen is so powerful, using Reggie White's hump move against 315+ lb. offensive linemen to throw grown men out of the club. Worst yet, he's lightning quick AND powerful, which is a deadly combination. He's been playing next to Payne for years, dating back to their days together at Alabama. Payne is quicker than he might appear, but moving him is nearly impossible. The Texans guard-center-guard trio has its hands full, especially when QB Davis Mills goes back to pass. How do they account for that duo in pass blocking such that they're not living in Mills' face like Lawrence was last weekend? Solve that riddle in a positive way and the Texans have a chance to win this game for sure.
3. Who Covers Nico?
I've felt like if teams could get the ball off cleanly against that Washington pass rush, they could have success in the passing game. It's much the same theory for the Texans because of emerging star WR Nico Collins. He's matured as a receiver, and playmaker, such that he's the guy that needs to see eight to ten targets per game. Why? Because at least one of those targets could break the game open or bring the Texans back as it did last week. Washington does have someone who can match up size wise and it's someone who knows Nico well. Washington CB Benjamin St. Juste was in the same 2017 recruiting class at Michigan before St. Juste transferred to Minnesota in 2018. So, similar to facing Fabian Moreau last week, Collins has faced St. Juste before in practice a ton of times so there's familiarity for sure. Moreau had trouble staying with Nico throughout the game, and hopefully, St. Juste will have the same struggles with the Texans pass catcher. That said, Nico is going to have to win that battle short, medium, long, backed up, in the red zone, on the sideline, in the middle…in short, EVERYWHERE. However, I'm putting my money on Nico to do just that this week.
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