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Washington's O-Line depth helping it perform among the NFL's best

Washington's offensive line prepares to run a play during the team's game against the Carolina Panthers. (Emilee Fails/Washington Football Team)
Washington's offensive line prepares to run a play during the team's game against the Carolina Panthers. (Emilee Fails/Washington Football Team)

There are plenty of reasons why the Washington Football Team's offense is starting to stack good performances together.

Taylor Heinicke is slinging the ball with more accuracy, Terry McLaurin continues to be one of the top receivers around and Antonio Gibson is steadily increasing his production. They're all pieces to why Washington has averaged 28 points per game since the bye week.

But while we're pointing fingers at players for Washington's success, make sure five of them are in the direction of the offensive line.

Despite being pitted against quality pass-rushing front sevens and dealing with injuries to consummate starters, the group has largely performed at a consistently high level. Heading into Week 12, it ranked first in run-block win rate and fourth in pass-block win rate by ESPN. There isn't anything special to that dominance, but it does speak to the group's depth and mindset to produce regardless of the circumstance.

"Well, I think a lot of it has to do with the way they work," said head coach Ron Rivera. "They've got tremendous work ethic. As a group, they're a very close-knit group."

Under normal circumstances, it might be detrimental to an offensive line for not one, not two but three starters to miss time. Rookie Sam Cosmi missed four games with an ankle injury; Pro Bowler and All-Pro guard Brandon Scherff also missed four games while nursing a knee injury; and Chase Roullier, who is still one of the top-graded centers by Pro Football Focus, is currently on Injured Reserve.

That has not been the case for Washington's group, though, as the replacements have performed almost as well as the starters. Cornelius Lucas, who has filled in for Cosmi, has the 10th-highest pass-blocking grade among all tackles by PFF and hasn't allowed a sack this year. Wes Schweitzer, who has played guard and center at times this season, is eighth-highest performing guard with a 79.7 overall grade.

To Rivera, it's a credit to the efforts Washington made in the offseason to shore up its personnel.

"It's a good group of guys. There's a lot of guys that are getting practice reps. A lot of guys that are getting reps on the side post practice right now. I know [Assistant Offensive Line Coach] Travelle Wharton has that young group of guys going through some little extra walkthrough stuff."

In all, Washington has five offensive linemen with Top 10 PFF grades for their respective positions in terms of overall grade, pass-blocking or run-blocking.

"They did an unbelievable job holding up all day," McLaurin said after Washington's Week 4 win over the Atlanta Falcons.. "Those guys are warriors, man."

The stats also show that Washington has dipped from second in terms of sacks allowed down to 18th. While the goal is always to protect the quarterback, that number doesn't quite tell the full story. Some of those sacks have come from Heinicke as he has attempted to scramble and keep plays alive. And Heinicke is quick to put some of the blame on himself.

"If you look at the stats, there might be some sacks in there that are definitely my fault," he said. "Whether that's trying to make a bigger play or just not getting the ball out in time. So, I don't think that stat really demonstrates how well they've been playing, but they've done a fantastic job."

The fact that Washington's depth has stepped up is certainly noteworthy, but it's also worth pointing out that the team's investments in the offseason have also played up to expectations. Charles Leno, one of Washington's later free agency signings to fortify the left tackle position, has the fifth-highest PFF pass-blocking grade. His 77.5 overall grade is the second-highest of his career, and it outperforms the 75.6 grade during the 2018 season.

"He's done a very, very good job," Rivera said. "He was very physical this past week. When you look at what happened and look at the way he played, it was pretty solid. It was very solid actually. He's been consistent like that all year. And like I said, there really hasn't been a lot of mention of him, so that's a good thing. That's a really good thing."

Washington, which is the winner of back-to-back games since the bye week, is trying to turn its streak into a playoff push. After the Seattle Seahawks, it will face the Las Vegas Raiders, who defeated the Dallas Cowboys on Thanksgiving, and five straight NFC East foes. It will need its offensive line to continue playing well.

It doesn't sound like Rivera has any hesitations about that.

"I really do appreciate the coaching that those guys get as well," Rivera said. "Not that all the other positions aren't being coached as well. It's just the offensive line is a completely different mentality. It's a different way of thinking."

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