The Washington Commanders won their fifth game in six weeks in convincing fashion against the Houston Texans with a 23-10 victory. Here are five takeaways from the matchup, presented by the Inaugural Washington Commanders Fan Cruise.
1. Jonathan Allen and Daron Payne were dominant.
Rookie offensive lineman Kenyon Green got his share of snaps against Jonathan Allen and Daron Payne on Sunday. Based on how often both defensive tackles were getting in the backfield, it was clear that he did not enjoy the experience.
The defensive line as a whole was exceptional against the Texans, but Payne and Allen seemed nearly unstoppable at times against a Texans interior offensive line that has struggled all season. Allen recorded his sixth multi-sack game of his career, while Payne added to his career season with another sack of his own, bringing his total to 6.5.
Allen set the tone early in the matchup when he pushed Green into the lap of quarterback Davis Mills in the first quarter. Payne had to wait until the second quarter to get his shot on Mills, and he rocked the former Stanford quarterback on second-and-7 for a seven-yard loss.
In terms of being disruptive, there are no better interior defensive linemen than Allen and Payne. After combining for four tackles for loss, they are the top defensive tackle in the category with 14 TFLs for Allen and 11 for Payne.
2. The offense did enough to win.
Taylor Heinicke and the Commanders' offense were not pretty once again. It took the unit three drives to really get going, and during that time, it only managed to put up 41 yards.
Washington did manage to find its groove in spurts, though, and that was enough to ride the defensive momentum and keep things in its favor.
Against the Philadelphia Eagles, the Commanders ignited their offense with a strong running game. They got back to that in the second quarter, as Brian Robinson and Antonio Gibson with some splashes from Curtis Samuel accounted for 51 of the 85 yards needed to get down the field and put Washington up 14-0.
The other part of the Commanders' winning formula involved explosive plays from Terry McLaurin, and there were some of those as well, as Heinicke hit the wideout on back-to-back plays of 17 and nine yards, which helped tack on a field goal that gave Washington a 20-0 advantage.
As great as having a 20-0 lead was for Washington, it could have been much more. Washington got inside the 10-yard line twice after its first offensive touchdown and had to settle for field goals after the offensive momentum stalled.
There was also a large disparity in production between the first and second halves. Washington punted the ball twice on four possessions and put up less than 100 yards of total offense all while converting just three third downs.
Fortunately, the Texans could not do much with the ball, either. However, if Washington wants to continue this playoff push, it will need to be more consistent going forward.
3. Darrick Forrest is a playmaker.
The play came on second-and-10 with the Texans lined up at the Commanders' 48-yard line. Mills spotted Brandin Cooks, his primary deep threat, in a one-on-one matchup with St-Juste down the left sideline. Houston needed something to spark a comeback, so he let the ball fly.
But St-Juste, who has excelled against opponents' No. 1 receivers in recent weeks, was not about to allow Cooks to get an explosive play on him. He could not get the interception for himself, but he did get enough of the ball to knock it away from Cooks' grasp.
It looked like the ball was going to fall harmlessly to the turf, but Forrest had other plans. He dove for the ball and grabbed it before rolling out of bounds at the 3-yard line.
It was the fourth turnover of the season for Forrest, and after spending most of his time as a rookie on Injured Reserve and special teams, Forrest has become one of Washington's best defensive backs. It is quite the turnaround that has the defense finding its stride over the past two months.
4. Logan Thomas looked more like himself.
It has been a tough couple of years for Logan Thomas. One injury after the other has prevented him from replicating his 2020 success. While he still is not quite at that level yet, Thomas looked closer to form than he has.
Thomas led all Washington pass-catchers with five receptions on six targets for 65 yards, and his ability to come down with impressive grabs had a noticeable impact on the offense's momentum. He made a 16-yard snag on the Commanders' first touchdown drive that set up the Samuel touchdown run in the second quarter, and on second-and-5 at the Commanders' 44-yard line, he got his team into Houston territory with a 19-yard reception. That was replicated later in the second quarter with a 17-yard catch, which helped Washington score a field goal before halftime.
Washington has missed production from its tight ends after injuries to the entire position has left the team without multiple playmakers for weeks at a time. If Turner can keep putting together performances like this for the last six games, it should make the Commanders' playoff push even stronger.
5. Heinicke is the starter moving forward.
Like the offense, Heinicke has not been perfect for Washington as the team has climbed back to above .500 with just six games left to play. Still, the team has won games with him, and that is why Ron Rivera has decided to keep Heinicke as the starting quarterback regardless of Carson Wentz’s status.
In many ways, Heinicke embodies the spirit and determination that has directly led to Washington winning five of its last six games. He plays like every game is his last, and that has led to earning the respect of his teammates, who know that he will give everything he has each week.
And while Heinicke's performances have contributed to most of Washington's wins being closer than desired, his moxie and growth since last season has also helped the team pull out victories. His stats against the Texans do not stand out, but he did not put his team in difficult situation or commit a turnover. This week, that was enough to get a win.
Heinicke has proven that he can keep Washington competitive on offense, and with the defense playing like one of the best units in the NFL right now, that could be enough to earn a postseason berth.