The Washington Football Team has an opportunity to bounce back after a three-game skid as it heads to Colorado to take on the Denver Broncos this weekend. Here are three players who could have pivotal roles.
Taylor Heinicke looked like his playmaking, free-flowing self against the Green Bay Packers on Sunday. He wasn't overanalyzing. He wasn't trying to stay in the pocket too long. Sure, he made mistakes, but those didn't happen because he was forcing himself to play in a different style. Heinicke was playing to his fearless and athletic personality. And that's exactly what Ron Rivera and Scott Turner want to see from him. As Rivera said on Monday, when Heinicke is playing to his personality, he can make plays and move the offense.
Not to mention that with each NFL game he gets under his belt, Heinicke has figured out more and more how to maximize his strengths. Although his reversed touchdown against the Packers showed that he is still getting a feeling for when to be more aggressive, his 38-yard-run in the second quarter was a flash of the dual threat he can pose for defenses. Awareness like that will be key in this matchup and those to come.
The Broncos have been relatively stingy against the run, allowing just 99.3 yards per game. Antonio Gibson and J.D. McKissic will provide some versatility to Washington's run game, but adding Heinicke's skillset gives another wrinkle for the Broncos to account for.
Jonathan Allen, who is still just three months removed from signing an extension, is off to one of the best statistical starts of his career. The defensive tackle out of Alabama erupted against Green Bay, wrangling Aaron Rodgers to the ground twice in the first half. That's the threat he poses every time he steps on the field. Leading the team with five sacks not even halfway through the year, Allen is on track to set a new career-high.
The Broncos should be acutely aware of the challenge Allen will bring on Sunday. The Broncos offensive line is one of the worst at protecting the quarterback, as they are tied for 27th in the league with 21 sacks. That fact was on display in its last two outings, as Teddy Bridgewater was sacked seven times. Allen has the second-most sacks among defensive tackles this year, and even if Allen doesn't get to Bridgewater, crashing the pocket will create more opportunities for his teammates.
There aren't many linebackers who have been more efficient at bringing down opponents than Cole Holcomb. The third-year linebacker has had a standout season so far – he ranks sixth in the NFL with 64 tackles -- as a consistent and robust presence in Washington's defensive line, having led the team in tackles in four of its seven games.
Like Allen, Holcomb has got the talent and confidence right now to impress his will on a Broncos team that's lost four straight. To do so though, the linebacker will have to keep a concentrated eye on Denver's leading rusher, running back Melvin Gordon, who is averaging 4.5 yards per carry. Gordon has been contained for the most part during the Broncos' four-game skid, but performances like his 101 yard and a touchdown against the New York Giants in Week 1 show that he's still capable of being a dynamic threat.
If Gordon is contained, Washington will also need to contend with Javonte Williams, who is also having a strong season in his own right. He's not far behind Gordon with 320 yards and also leads the team in rushing touchdowns. Holcomb, as well as the rest of Washington's linebacker corps, will need to plug up any running lanes, forcing the Broncos to settle for minimal gains.
The Washington Football Team gets to work in preparation for a Week 8 matchup with the Denver Broncos. (Photos by Emilee Fails and Karlee Sell/Washington Football Team)