Since the bye week, the Washington Football Team has won three straight against former Super Bowl champions, Pro Bowlers and MVPs alike. In that same span, Washington has also averaged 145 rushing yards per game. That's not a coincidence.
Four games into the season, Washington was performing slightly below average on the ground with 104.3 yards per game. Fast forward to seven games later, and Washington has one of the best rushing attacks in the league, fueled by its strides taken since the bye week. In the past three weeks, only six teams have a better rushing average.
There is no secret formula to the sudden turnaround, but it is undeniable that with six games left and another postseason appearance a glimmering possibility, Washington is surging at the right time.
"They are doing a great job right now," said quarterback Taylor Heinicke, "so we have to keep rolling."
Any success Washington has had in the run game, Heinicke said after the team's 17-15 win over the Seattle Seahawks, starts with Washington's offensive line. The group has dealt with one key injury after the other; Washington placed right tackle Sam Cosmi on Injured Reserve on Monday, and it's currently working with its fourth center this season.
That has not stopped Washington from moving defenders to create running lanes. Despite several depth players getting snaps, it ranked first in run-block win rate by ESPN heading into Monday night. Week after week, the offensive line has earned that honor, putting 94 yards against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and their NFL-best rushing defense. It followed that up with 190 yards against the Carolina Panthers and 152 against the Seahawks.
"The offensive line doesn't get a lot of credit," Heinicke said, "but these last three weeks they've been phenomenal, not just running the ball but protecting me as well."
It's always a benefit to have an offensive line that can clear the lanes. It's just as important for running backs to take advantage of it, and that's what the duo of Antonio Gibson and J.D. Mckissic has done during the team's win streak. They have combined for 350 yards in November, making up 80% of Washington's rushing yards in the month.
Gibson was a consistent problem for the Buccaneers, Panthers and Seahawks defense, as his 270 yards in the past month are sixth in the NFL. He carried the ball 29 times for 111 yards against Seattle, which is impressive enough, but the way he amassed those yards is even more noteworthy. He pushed piles, slipped off tackles and attacked holes with ferocity.
Being more decisive has been Rivera's charge to the second-year pro for several weeks. Now, the team is seeing where his progress can take its offense.
"Lately, he's really been feeling good and he played a heck of a football game today," Rivera said after the Seahawks game. "He really did, very physical game. He played downhill."
McKissic has not been utilized as much on the ground, but the former Seahawk, who is starting to build a Pro Bow-caliber season, knows how to use his carries to his advantage. He scored both of Washington's touchdowns on Monday night, one of which was a 10-yard score with seconds remaining in the first half.
Adding even more evidence to his usefulness, McKissic has averaged five yards per carry during Washington's win streak.
"He means a lot to this team, not just on the field but in the locker room as well," Heinicke said. "He is one of those guys that you love to have around, and you see it in his play. He can run the ball out of the backfield, catch the ball, run routes and protect."
McKissic left the game in the fourth quarter with a neck injury, but his 56 total yards played an instrumental role in why Washington came away with the win. After the game, head coach Ron Rivera had some high praise for the six-year pro.
"I think he's one of the most versatile guys in the league," he said. "I mean, he's a threat first, second or third down. He's a guy that really you want to have there as much as possible. He's a resilient player."
Rivera would say the resiliency, growth and development of his team in recent weeks should be credited with the recent success. There's certainly enough evidence to support that claim; Washington is making fewer mistakes, and as a result, it's presented with more manageable situations.
Regardless of the cause, it's clear that Washington has figured something out in the run game. And with six games left, five of which are against division opponents, it couldn't come at a more opportune time.