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Practice report | Washington's offensive line has been 'fantastic' during Commanders' winning streak

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It was second-and-6 for the Washington Commanders' offense at its own 33-yard line, and the trio of Charles Leno Jr., Andrew Norwell and Tyler Larsen were bulldozing two of the Atlanta Falcons' defensive tackles off the ball. 

Such has been the life of the Commanders' offensive line, particularly in the past three games. The Commanders have averaged 42 rushing attempts per game in that span, which is the most in the league. That has helped Washington earn its second three-game winning streak of the season, and while it allows the running backs to flash their skills, it also involves plenty of dirty work up front. 

It is hard to blame offensive coordinator Scott Turner for being stubborn with the run game, because it keeps working. Robinson slipped through the crease made by Leno, Norwell and Larsen, kept his feet and plowed forward for the first down. 

Much has been made about the improvements from Robinson over the past two months, and rightfully so (he is the highest-graded rookie running back this season by Pro Football Focus). But he and the backs only make up part of the ground attack. The other pillar is the offensive line, which after struggling to find its footing to start the season, has made strides in all facets as of late. 

"They got movement from the first snap until the last snap, and they got stronger as the game continued to go on," Robinson said after Washington's 19-13 win over Atlanta.

Washington began shifting its offense to more of a running attack during Week 6, and that change is clear when looking at the box score. Since the Thursday Night Football game against the Chicago Bears, Washington has had at least 100 rushing yards in six of the past seven games (the Commanders had 96 against the Indianapolis Colts). They have averaged 160.3 yards per game over the last three weeks, which ranks fifth in the NFL.

The offensive line has been thrilled with the increased attention to the running game, and their teammates have noticed it.

"Every single call I'm playing, they smile and they are ready to get physical," said quarterback Taylor Heinicke. "Those guys are awesome."

It has not always been that way, though, and that can be traced to several factors.

For starters, Washington had two new starters at guard in Norwell and Trai Turner. Both were familiar with the scheme, but it took time to learn how to work alongside their new teammates. It also did not help that Turner was playing through a quad injury to start the season that made him a detriment to the offense.

That led to him being benched after Week 5 to let him heal, and the rest seems to have paid off. His run-blocking grades on PFF have hovered around 60 (they were below 50 in three of the first four games), and he has not allowed a sack since Week 4.

"He was himself again," Scott Turner said after Washington's win over the Colts. "[He] Did a really nice job on picking up some stunts, finished blocks, played with an edge that he's kind of known for, so it was good to see that."

Center was also a pain point at the beginning of the year after Chase Roullier went down with an injury in Week 2. That left the Commanders to settle for Nick Martin while Larsen recovered from his injury. Larsen got his first start of the year in Week 6, and while his PFF numbers do not stand out, he has provided stability to the group.

"And the biggest thing is just that he's a very smart headsy football player," Rivera said. "He is stout, he is physical and he's kind of had to work himself back into football shape. Because remember, he started the season on PUP."

Larsen's presence, along with Turner's return to form, has helped the line become more settled and string together more consistent games, and the backfield has appreciated it.

"They are doing great," Heinicke said. "Obviously, there were a couple of hiccups in the beginning of the year, but the last several weeks, they have been fantastic. There's very little holding penalties, very little false starts, the communication is there."

And that stability has allowed Washington to occasionally adjust the lineup late in the season. Sam Cosmi, who injured his hand earlier in the season, has been rotating in at right tackle with Cornelius Lucas. And with the increasing possibility that Turner could be out with knee and ankle injuries, Cosmi is slated to play guard for the first time in his professional career.

It makes sense to get Cosmi on the field. He has the fifth-highest run block grade among all tackles. His grade (83.8) would be the third-highest grade among guards.

"I'm excited about the opportunity to play guard," Cosmi said. "Never really done it before, other than one practice. I'm excited about it, just trying something new."

While the running backs, particularly Robinson, have started to get more national attention, it has been the offensive line that has provided the fuel for that surge. That should not change against the Giants, who does have a solid pair of defensive linemen in Dexter Lawrence and Leonard Williams, but the team is 26th against the run.

All signs point to Leno, Norwell and Larsen creating more gaping holes for Robinson to run through.

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