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Washington found winning formula against Eagles


Brian Robinson Jr. was met by a wall of midnight green jerseys as the Philadelphia Eagles tried to keep him out of the end zone on Monday Night Football, but the Washington Commanders running back was not going to be denied. 

Robinson kept churning his legs, and as he inched closer to the goal line, Taylor Heinicke slowly raised his hands in the air. Then Robinson stretched the ball across the plane, and Heinicke did not need to wait for the call. Touchdown. He gave a fist pump to celebrate the Commanders going up 17-14 to take a lead it never relinquished in a 32-21 victory. 

In many ways, Washington (5-5) finally looked like the team it has strived to be all season. Its offense doubled and tripled down on its dedication to the ball; Terry McLaurin was targeted early and often in the first half; and the defense, which has been on an upward trend for weeks, made a statement that it can compete with the league's top playmakers. 

It took nine weeks to get in a consistent groove, but it looks like Washington has found a winning formula. 

"We felt if we could control the line of scrimmage and run the ball, we could slow things down," said coach Ron Rivera. "That's what we were able to do."

Check out the photos of the Washington Commanders taking on the Philadelphia Eagles for their night matchup against the Philadelphia Eagles. (Emilee Fails/Washington Commanders)

Washington knew all week that the plan to pull off an upset that many believe improbably relied on keeping Jalen Hurts, who had directed an offense that was third in total offense, off the field. After the sack-fumble to start the game, Washington executed this to near perfection by building four scoring drives, three of which where for 13, 12 and 16 plays.

This was done with heavy doses from Robinson and Antonio Gibson, which has steadily become the norm for Washington since Heinicke was named the starter. It was stressed even further against the Eagles, and once Washington got the ball back following an opening touchdown by Philadelphia, it got to work pounding at the Eagles' front.

Either Robinson or Gibson touched the ball on eight of the 13 plays needed for Washington to find the end zone, and they accounted for 31 of the 75 yards on the drive.

"That's what we want," Gibson said. "We didn't shy down from it. Coach told us that's what we were gonna do, and we showed up."

It was grinding work. An 11-yard run by Robinson -- two plays before his touchdown -- ended up being their longest of the day. Other than that, Robinson and Gibson chipped away at a Philadelphia front that was without rookie Jordan Davis, who has been one of its most stout run defenders.

That built confidence in everyone, from the running backs to the offensive line.

"We had the mindset that we were gonna have lower pad level than them, stay on our double teams and control that front," said tackle Sam Cosmi. "We were able to execute."

Washington ran 81 plays against the Eagles; the running game accounted for 49 of them, which is the most for a Washington team since 2001. And while the offense only put up six points in the second half, it helped the Commanders convert 57% of their third downs and eat up the time of possession.

"We knew what we was coming in here to do, and I feel like everybody was confident before we took the field," Robinson said.

The running game could not do it all, though, and luckily, Washington happens to have one of the best young receivers in the league to bail them out. McLaurin, who now ranks eighth among all receivers after his 128-yard performance on Monday night, had not been targeted much in the first half prior to Week 10.

That changed against the Eagles. Prior to the matchup, he had just 11 first half receptions in the previous nine games. He had six in the primetime game, and five of them resulted in third down conversions.

"Terry was terrific," Rivera said. "Really appreciated the way he did things and wanting the ball. It's like when we said it, when we agreed to the contract this summer, I told you, this was an organizational decision. A young man like that impacts who you are."

Heinicke has said it multiple times before; Washington invested millions of dollars to lock down McLaurin's services long-term, so he is going to get the wideout the ball every chance he can get.

"Whenever I see one on one with Terry, I get excited and I have full confidence in him to win because he continues to do so," Heinicke said.

McLaurin, however, passed the credit to his quarterback after the game.

"He is going to continue to give us chances to make plays down the field on the perimeter, he is going to extend plays with his legs and get the tough yards," McLaurin said. "He is going to get us in the right situations."

Putting Washington's offensive success, its defense still had to go against one of the units in the league. Fortunately, the progress that Washington had made over recent weeks, despite not having Cole Holcomb, its best tackler, and going through a shakeup in the second, came to a head against the Eagles in what was perhaps the unit's best performance.

The stats that Washington allowed -- less than 200 passing yards and less than 100 rushing yards -- are certainly noteworthy. However, it was turnovers, which eluded Washington for much of the season that ended up playing the biggest role in the outcome.

It is always a positive to force takeaways, especially against a team like the Eagles that had only given up three all year. But Washington was also able to turn those opportunities into 10 points. Those points came off a takeaway from Darrick Forrest, who came down with an interception off a pass intended for A.J. Brown and a fumble recovery caused by Benjamin St-Juste.

"It's always been something that's been emphasized throughout the season," Forrest said of the turnovers. "Sometimes, penalties will take though away. We always got the ball out, but now it was about getting it out and doing it the right way."

Combine that with the fact that Washington held the Eagles to their worst performance of the season (264 yards), and each turnover became more and more crippling for Hurts and his offense. So, not only did the Commanders keep Hurts off the field, but they also made sure he did little to dig the Eagles out of their hole they were in.

"I give credit to [Commanders Defensive Coordinator] Jack [Del Rio] and the defensive staff because it's one of the things they talked about," Rivera said.

There was nothing pretty about the way Washington won. It ran the ball, relied on its best playmaker for explosive moments and rode the wave created by turnovers from the defense. It was simple but efficient, and it led to the Commanders outclassing the team with the best record in the conference.

If Washington can replicate that plan over the last seven games, then their playoff chances will only grow from now until January. But as Rivera said after the win, the Commanders have not "arrived," and there is still much to prove.

"The biggest thing we have to do now, more so than anything else, is we've got to understand where we are, who we are and what we can do," Rivera said.

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