The Commanders are not alone when it comes to surviving a long season that is bound to have injuries. Other potential playoff teams like the 49ers, now on QB3, won't be wanting to hear about the attrition of this season in Washington. The Giants have survived with a string of injuries to the receiving core, offensive line and corner position also aren't going to hear any excuses from anyone else.
With that said, Washington will be playing in mid January if they can overcome a test of depth at positions we thought might be vulnerable when the season began.
Washington has become a run-first offense, and in weeks prior to the first matchup with New York, a near run-exclusive team. This past week was different then the majority of the previous games where the Commanders had to be able to make plays through the air. Regardless of desired identity or game conditions dictating play calls, the ability to be productive will come down to an offensive line that continues to be tested.
Washington has used two right tackles: Sam Cosmi and Cornelius Lucas. In recent games, they've rotated both. Cosmi shifted to right guard this past week due to an injury to reinstalled starter Trai Turner. Turner, who missed most of camp, started the season but was eventually replaced by Wes Schweitzer and Saahdiq Charles. But the team turned back to Turner as starter, which would then only last a few weeks when he got injured against Atlanta.Schweitzer spent the offseason working as a backup center as Chase Roullier recovered from a serious leg injury. Roullier and Schweitzer both got injured early in the season, which led to the signing of free agent Nick Martin until Tyler Larsen returned from an achilles injury. Larsen solidified the middle of the line until he suffered a knee injury against the Giants threatening his season, forcing another depth chart shake up.
Protection and cohesion feel like they will ultimately be the key to consistency and productivity.
At the linebacker position, the team spoke often in the offseason of finding some depth. It will definitely be a topic for next offseason as well. Even as the team deploys only two true linebackers in most of their defensive formations, the loss of Cole Holcomb figured to cause a massive void. Until the last couple of weeks, where the Falcons and Giants have found some success on the ground, the defense seemed to have figured out a way to mask being without their leading tackler. Obviously the team hoped Holcomb would return from a midseason foot injury but that's unfortunately not going to happen. The growth of Jamin Davis has been one of the major bright spots of a defense that for two months running was metrically one of the best in the NFL. But once again, the depth at the position could be tested.
At corner, the trade of William Jackson III thinned out a very inexperienced unit. Benjamin St-Juste’s shift from the slot to the outside midseason has been revelatory for the back end of the defense. But an ankle injury causing him to miss the last two games has left the secondary exposed. Currently, three of the last four games are against team's in the NFC playoffs. Can this team join (or in the case of the Giants-leapfrog) them if they have to rely on very young players to make critical play after critical play?
Ultimately, this is not a story with a bleak outlook. And here is why. This team is playing with the quarterback that started the season as the backup and has won six of their last eight. The offensive line issues aren't anything new; go check the weekly starting unit and you'll be hard pressed to find a three-week stretch that was the same unit across the board. The aforementioned Jackson trade shook up the secondary and yet the team is plus-7 in turnovers over the past eight games.
Check out the top photos of the Washington Commanders taking on the New York Giants at MetLife Stadium in Week 13. (Photos by Emilee Fails and Kourtney Carroll/Washington Commanders)
Chase Young has yet to play a game, and as Ron Rivera put it in his Monday's press conference with the media, there is no rush to get him back until he is 100% ready because the defensive line is playing well without him. And that may be the understatement of the year. The trio of Montez Sweat, Daron Payne and Jon Allen are all among the top 10 leaders in tackles for losses by defensive linemen. Payne has already set a season high in sacks and Allen frankly is playing at an all pro level.
As for relying on inexperienced players, as Logan Thomas worked his way back to looking and playing like himself, the team has asked an undrafted free agent, Armani Rogers to play a key role on the offense.
And then there is the example of what happened in New York. When the team needed to go 90 yards to score late against the Giants, the third string center, backup guard (neither who had played for weeks) were part of a pass protection unit that faced the defense that blitzes more than anyone else in the NFL, and it ended in a touchdown. The defense allowed less than 100 second half/overtime yards and made multiple stops in the fourth quarter and beyond.
Here is a team that is stretched thin but to this point hasn't allowed it to tear apart. If it stays that way, I expect to be traveling somewhere for a playoff game in mid-January.