Commanders at .500 thanks to play-calling, forced turnovers
Running consistently, holding on to the ball offensively and taking it away defensively helped the Washington Commanders stun the previously unbeaten Philadelphia Eagles.
Washington rushed for 152 yards, forced three turnovers — not counting the last-second desperation lateral play — and controlled 40:24 of the clock to Philadelphia’s 19:36.
Taylor Heinicke, now 3-1 as the starting quarterback, called it “a recipe for winning.”
Creative offensive play-calling and turnover-generating defense were behind the 32-21 win at the Eagles on Monday night that helped the Commanders improve to .500 at 5-5 on the season. Thanks to that, they’re right in the thick of the NFC wild-card race.
“We made a commitment to the run,” coach Ron Rivera said Tuesday. “I like the play-calling. I thought we mixed it up very well offensively, and defensively, for that matter. But I really do think running being the focus, we showed ourselves how it can help, how it helps slow down a pass rush.”
Even in the jubilation of giving the Eagles their first loss this season at 8-1, Rivera cautioned his young team needs to move past that and get ready to visit the Houston Texans this weekend, citing coach Lovie Smith as a big reason.
Rivera worked under Smith for three years in Chicago. Now his own assistants are deserving of some credit for the Philly game.
Offensive coordinator Scott Turner balancing traditional running and short passing plays with misdirection and mixing in some deep shots down the field that Heinicke connected on. Defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio’s unit picked off Jalen Hurts once and recovered two fumbles before the final play ended up as a garbage time touchdown for Washington.
Everything was just a little bit better than in a close loss to the Minnesota Vikings the previous week.
“We did a lot better job finishing,” said top wide receiver Terry McLaurin, who made eight catches for 128 yards. “The defense did a great job getting them off the field, limiting their great run game. On offense, we ran the ball effectively; we made plays down the field. It just felt like a game that we really were physical, and we executed the game plan.”
Heinicke is controlling the offense and leading the Commanders as a popular teammate whose swashbuckling style and underdog attitude make him an easy player to rally around.
And yet, it’s still not clear if Heinicke or Carson Wentz — eligible to be activated off injured reserve from surgery to repair a broken finger — will start at Houston.
Rivera was noncommittal, saying, “We’re going to see what happens this week” and pointing out Wentz still needs to be cleared to practice and play. Super Bowl winner Joe Theismann thinks Washington should stick with Heinicke, and that’s clearly the sentiment coming off an emotional victory against the Eagles, but Rivera wouldn’t name a starter Tuesday.
“You have to look at the momentum,” Rivera said. “You have to look at what the mood of the team is, obviously. There’s a lot of factors that’ll go into it.”
WHAT NEEDS HELP
Not scoring a touchdown on every red zone trip disappointed Rivera, who said the Commanders were fortunate to beat the Eagles while settling for field goals. They have struggled in goal-to-go situations, especially, in recent weeks.
Kicker Joey Slye was a perfect 4 of 4 on field-goal attempts, connecting from 44, 58, 32 and 55 yards. The 58-yarder at the end of the first half was a career long and might have “Riverboat” Ron reconsidering going for it on fourth down in makeable situations the rest of the season.
Rachad Wildgoose went from the third cornerback on the depth chart after the injury, demotion and trade of William Jackson to inactive at Philadelphia. Danny Johnson has played well in the slot cornerback role since earning the promotion to Wildgoose’s old spot.
Chase Young could play Sunday for the first time in more than a year since tearing the ACL in his right knee, as long as this week of practice goes well. Rivera said Young is “trending in the right direction.”
The 2020 Defensive Rookie of the Year’s season debut can only bolster a defensive line and pass rush that have been one of Washington’s biggest strengths.
12 — Third down conversions for the Commanders against Philadelphia, more than they had against Green Bay, Indianapolis and Minnesota combined.
Rest up on a short week, then prepare for the 1-7-1- Texans. The Commanders opened as 3-point favorites on FanDuel Sportsbook.
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