The opinions expressed in this article do not reflect those of the team.
When is it OK to ask for more? To rock the boat when the boat is on cruise control and the seas are perfect? After plowing through some turkey and the Falcons, I don't want to come off as not thankful, but, well, I also do want to see improvement. After all, nobody has "arrived" yet, right?
We can all agree the 6-1 run that turned a season around and now has real playoff possibilities is great. Not complaining. Really. Not. Complaining. But can we also all agree that there is room to grow and that whatever vinegar this staff and locker room has been chugging worked to this point, so it's no time to start trading it in for any celebratory toasts. Not yet.
New pairs of Jordans and very large hats are exempt and acceptable forms of celebration.
Taylor Heinicke: there is clearly no desire for him to be used in zone read or read option designs that do involve him running. And there is no need to change that. But his mobility is one of his key strengths. In the last couple of weeks, it appears to not be as instinctual as it had been. That may be one of the reasons why his passing numbers are down. His longest completion against Houston was 19 yards, and his best against Atlanta was 26. Eight teams are giving up over seven yards per attempt; three of the Commander's last four opponents fall in that category.
I'm not among the hot takers who twist their brains trying to explain the Heinicke effect. Those people just started paying attention and don't know what we know about grit, intensity, chemistry, etc. I'm also not joining the parade of people who seem to believe the Nike shopping sprees are about to come to an end. This guy wins.
But since we are asking nicely, what would help tick his passing numbers up? For me, it might be some creativity in getting Heinicke to get some natural movement back in his game. This is where Heinicke seems to make some of his best decisions and seems to stretch the defenses in ways they just can't account for or ultimately explain.
The Washington Commanders won their sixth game in seven weeks with a dramatic victory over the Atlanta Falcons. Here are the best photos from the 19-13 win. (Emilee Fails and Kourtney Carroll/Washington Commanders)
Jahan Doston: believe it or not, he still leads the team in touchdown receptions. And while it feels like eons ago that we spent the spring and summer shocked by his route running and slick catch ability, Dotson is seeing little opportunity to make plays since his return from a midseason hamstring injury.
I always knew we'd end up doing this: finding the one player deserving of the ball and wondering why they aren't getting the ball, despite a win. But Dotson hasn't gotten his chance to grab a plate from the buffet lately, so I'm nudging. He's been targeted four times in the three games since his return and only made two short catches. Life comes at you fast on this team, where if you are out of sight, it takes a few weeks to be back at the top of mind. But Dotson wasn't drafted in the first round to be a month-long decoy.
Chase Young: I want him back when he is ready. I want him back when he is confident. And I want him back carefully. This is an unusual return. The defense keeps climbing up the league rankings. The duo of Jon Allen and Daron Payne, who are having one of the best seasons any pair of interior linemen have had in the uniform. Montez Sweat was recently leading the league in quarterback hits. Young's insertion needs to be thoughtful. In theory he makes a great line better. For Jack Del Rio, he has to consider if the immense talent Young is can be plugged in without overly considering time and game circumstance.
Stay Surly: I don't think this is going to be much of an ask. Allen tells anyone with a microphone he does not care what anyone who isn't in the locker room thinks.
Hollywood actors could learn a thing or two about indignance by watching it. I do think it is important from here forward to keep that same attitude. What got this team here? In deference to Allen, I won't pretend to know the answer to that question. But here is what I do know: the external pressure on this team has been intense.
In the immortal words of Woody "Oh Goody" Sellers: "Those Haters Can't Stand us…" Allen also said earlier this year on a local radio appearance when the team was struggling to "keep that same energy," when things turn around. I'll get to the fan part of the late season asks in a minute, but for Allen and company, it's time to be careful of the worst affliction in all of sports: Being liked.
Having spent a quarter century in the media, here is how it goes in situations like this one, where Washington didn't come into the season as anyone's favorite and don't have a "new" (quarterback/coach) situation to attribute to the "surprising" (picked preseason by analysts to not have this record) success: The media starts to get chummy.
Their leading questions are about how great everything is, how the culture has changed, how "amazing" it all is. Don't fall for it. Keep finding a way to feel disrespected. My favorite line of the year came from Ron Rivera right after this team beat the Eagles to end their undefeated season: "You Haven't Arrived." Now, between you and me, I think you've arrived a little, but if you need a little reminder of how far you are from true arrival: this team hasn't won a playoff game in 17 years.
Fans: The building energy around what is happening on the field is palpable. I felt it in Week 1 with a more vibrant crowd against the Jaguars. We are all fully aware of the power of this fanbase. It's been a slumbering bear waiting to come out of hibernation for longer than I ever thought possible. As Allen instructed, "Keep that same energy." That doesn't mean blind faith. But some kind of faith doesn't hurt. Left Hand Up.