The opinions expressed in this article do not reflect those of the team.
The Washington Commanders will be back at FedExField to take on the Green Bay Packers for Week 7. Here are three keys to Washington securing a victory, presented by KIA.
1. How can Taylor Heinicke's skill set help the Commanders?
Logan: It is always sad when an athlete goes out with an injury, especially one who was supposed to solve the franchise's quarterback issues. However, a stagnant offense since Week 1 has many excited for Taylor Heinicke to get his first start of 2022.
I am excited to see if Heinicke can spark this offense. He has plenty of experience with this system, which gives him a better feel for how concepts are designed to beat certain coverages. To pull an example from last year, the Panthers were playing Cover 3 fire zone (a cover 3 structure with five rushers leaving three deep players and three underneath players at the second level of the defense). The Commander had three receivers to the right, and Terry McLaurin had a big out route from the No. 3 spot.
Carolina's blitzer got pressure on the back and was right in Heinicke's lap as he was about to throw the ball. If you were to pause the tape at this moment, it looked like McLaurin is covered on the out with three defenders standing around him. Instead of taking the sack, Taylor let the ball go, but why?
Heinicke knows that the called concept is designed to beat this cover 3 structure by pulling the cover 3 corner and hook player out of the window with a post and wheel. Heinicke throws the ball to the vacant window, and McLaurin runs to the ball for a completion. Heinicke would not make that throw if he was not experienced in the system. He knows that even though the window is cloudy, it will be open by the time the ball gets there.
The Washington Commanders wrapped up their third day of practice as they prepare to play the Green Bay Packers at home in Week 7. Check out the top photos from the afternoon. (Photos by Emilee Fails/Washington Commanders)
This is one of the struggles Wentz was having. He didn't always trust the concept and would get off routes too quickly or hang on things too long. These missed reads are understandable with a quarterback in a new offense. Look at Russel Wilson in Denver or Matt Ryan in Indianapolis; it takes time for quarterbacks to fully understand the timing of a concept especially with new personnel.
In addition to an understanding of the offense, Heinicke also brings a level of athleticism that could potentially help insulate a struggling offensive line. Some think that quarterbacks with more mobility lead to fewer sacks, but statistically, this isn't true. Mobile quarterbacks tend to hold the football longer and invite more pressure, and by extension tend to be sacked more.
However, Heinicke's athleticism does allow him to make plays. In the same Carolina game last year, he scrambled left on a fourth-and-3, cuts back and found John Bates for a first down.
Let's be clear: I have no illusions about Heinicke. I think he is a high end back up, but I do think his competitiveness, courage with the football, understanding of the offense and athleticism give this offense a chance to be more consistent.
Zach: I want to focus more on Heinicke's ability to scramble, because I think it will add a feature to the offense that it has not had with Wentz under center, particularly in the red zone.
Over the past three games, Washington has struggled in the red zone. In that span, it is 29th with a success rate of 33.3%. For one reason or another, opposing defenses have done a good job of bottling up Washington's options in this area of the field, leading the offense to settle for field goals or worse, turning the ball over.
Clearly, the Commanders need another way to extend plays, and Heinicke's scrambling does that. The play to Bates that Logan mentioned is a great example, but Heinicke's ability to maneuver in the backfield creates a chaos that receivers can use to get open, or Heinicke can tuck the ball and run himself.
And Logan is right; mobile quarterbacks tend to get sacked more. However, as he has shown since the 2020 playoffs, Heinicke has a knack for making people miss, and that can be useful, too.
2. What can Washington's defense do to be disruptive in the run game?
Logan: Stopping the run has been a theme for the last two games. Tennessee and Chicago both relied heavily on the run game to offset weak passing attacks. The Packers shouldn't be the same; they have one of the most prolific passers of his generation in Aaron Rodgers.
However, since head coach Matt LaFleur arrived in Green Bay, the team has placed an emphasis running the football. LaFleur comes from the Kyle Shanahan coaching tree, which functions by utilizing a balanced offense. The goal is to force the opposing defense to allocate more resources to stopping the run, which opens windows in the passing game.
Last year, they executed this to perfection, utilizing there two backs Aron Jones and A.J. Dillion to set up shot plays. When that was unsuccessful, they were able to rely on the Devante Adams connection to bail them out of third down situations.
That connection is no more, and Rodgers has been unable to find consistent chemistry with anyone outside of Allen Lazard and Randall Cobb, who will be out this week because of an ankle injury suffered last week.
As a result, the Packers have tried to lean into the rushing attack. To me, Dillon is still one of the best pure power backs in the NFL, and Jones is electric with the ball in his hands.
However, the duo has slowed in 2022, causing the offense to sputter. Packer fans have been vocal about the slowing of Dillion, who last year was one of the most efficient backs in the NFL. I think the ire of the Packers' fandom is misplaced and should be placed on the offensive line. Fourth-round pick Royce Newman was benched in favor of Jake Hanson. Hanson tore his biceps, forcing Newman back into the lineup. I think Newman has a lot of upside, but his inconsistent play has hurt the Packers in all facets.
It isn't just him, though. Elgton Jenkins, the 2021 starting right guard, is playing right tackle, and it has been obvious he is playing out of position. Combine this with subpar play by Jon Runyan at the left guard spot, and the struggles in the run game become all too clear.
Despite the Packers' struggles philosophically and from a personal standpoint. they need to run the football to have an effective offense. The Commanders know this, and based on the struggles along the interior, I would expect them to deploy a fair amount of "cinco" personnel, (five defensive linemen) with John Ridgeway at nose tackle.
Ridgeway is a massive man at 6-foot-5 inches and weighing 321 pounds, but it isn't mass that makes the "cinco" package effective. When Ridgeway plays nose guard, it allows Jon Allen and Daron Payne to play on the outside shoulders of the guards.
This limits the number of double teams and block variations Payne and Allen see and allows them to be extremely disruptive. Depending on the score, I expect the Commanders to be in "cinco" personnel about 17 times, allowing Payne and Allen will wreak havoc in the Packers' backfield, stopping the run and forcing Rodgers to throw to receivers he doesn't trust.
Zach: Washington's defensive line did a lot of this in the previous two games, but in order to contain the duo of Dillon and Jones, the group will need to play vertical and stick to their run fits.
Ron Rivera has noticed a change in the defensive front since the Titans game. They are setting themselves up for success by working as a unit, and it has resulted in the defense being fourth in sacks (19), and prior to last Thursday's game against the Bears, it was third in rushing yards allowed.
Some of this is a credit to how the defense runs its stunts. Not only are the players running them properly, but they're getting vertical and disrupting the backfield. Allen and Payne have benefitted from this, and Rivera called the two a "really good" tandem because of how they work in sync.
Dillon and Jones are great backs, but this plays into one of Washington's strengths. If Allen, Payne and Montez Sweat, who Pro Football Focus ranks as the best run defender among defensive ends, stick to their roles, the Packers should have a difficult time on the ground.
3. What are some key matchups for Sunday?
Logan: The Jets and Giants played more man coverage against the Packers. Traditionally, that is not something Jack Del Rio has done. Del Rio has stuck to playing a lot of cover 3 and cover 6 with heavy match principles. He does sprinkle in man coverage on third down, but that is dependent upon situations.
Teams are playing more man coverage against the Packers because it dictates a specific response. In press man situations, the Packers have traditionally been able throw fades to Adams. These usually are low percentage throws, but they were above the league average with Rodgers and Adams.
The Packers are still employing the same philosophy, but without Adams, the completion percentage on the low percentage throws had dropped. Essentially by playing man coverage, teams are dictating incompletions to Green Bay.
With this understanding, Del Rio might play more man coverage than usual to achieve a similar effect. If he does, I could see Benjamin St-Juste matching up with Lazard, who is a huge receiver at 6-foot-5 inches and 230 pounds.
He is not the most technical wide receiver, but because of his size is a walking mismatch against most corners. St-Juste is not most corners, though. At 6-foot-3 and 200 pounds, St-Juste is physically capable of handling the matchup. I would love to see these to go toe-to-toe. Hopefully, we get to see a little bit of it on Sunday.