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Commanders fans rally around Taylor Heinicke

Poll results!!!

Washington Commanders v Philadelphia Eagles Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

The Washington Commanders have won 4 out of their last 5 games and are relevant in the NFC playoff picture. With backup quarterback Taylor Heinicke having been under center for the 4 most recent games and winning 3 of them, fan confidence has been slowly building, but saw an upward spike this week in the wake of the dominating victory by the Commanders over the NFL’s last unbeaten team, division rival Philadelphia Eagles.

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The fan confidence number from the Reacts survey jumped by 20 percentage points this week, from 51% of fans to 71% who expressed confidence in the direction of the franchise.

Clearly, Washington’s big win against the Eagles had a lot to do with that spike.

Defensively, Washington held the the Eagles to 21 points; that’s the 6th consecutive team that has scored 21 points or less against the Commanders.

Washington’s defense, which was struggling at the start of the ‘22 season, is now ranked 10th in yards per game, and 15th in points per game. However, when you look at the last 3 games played, the Commanders rank 5th in yards and 9th in points given up to opposing offenses. When you realize that those numbers include games against the Eagles & Vikings (ranked 4th & 10th in yards and 3rd & 8th in scoring), it’s perhaps even more impressive.

Offensively, the Commanders are playing the kind of ball-control offense that they used successfully during a 4-game winning streak last season. It seems like the kind of game strategy that should work well against this week’s opponent, the Houston Texans, who gave up 191 yards on 47 rushing attempts to the Giants in Week 10.

While Taylor Heinicke isn’t a big-armed passer, he seems to have solid connections with most of his receivers and an innate trust of Terry McLaurin that means that Heinicke will put the ball in Terry’s vicinity anywhere on the field if #17 has a one-on-one matchup. So far, that’s paying dividends for the offense. McLaurin’s 737 yards through ten games put him on pace for over 1,250 yards over 17 games.

Meanwhile, Antonio Gibson has added 643 rushing & receiving yards of his own, while Brian Robinson is starting to show signs of being the workhorse back he was drafted to be. Still recovering from gunshot wounds he suffered in an attempted carjacking just prior to the season, Robinson has compiled over 300 rushing yards in 6 games, and seems to be developing as a runner despite not yet achieving gaudy yards-per-carry numbers. He rarely goes backwards, and is proving himself to be a consistent chain-mover, which is exactly what the offense needs him to be.

Like RB Gibson, receiver Curtis Samuel has compiled over 600 rushing & receiving yards, and provides the kind of flexible offensive skill player that Scott Turner and Ron Rivera seem to love.

Special Teams, of course, feature the team’s long-time MVP, punter Tress Way, who is among the league leaders in gross and net yards. This week, however, Way played second-fiddle to the NFC’s Special Teams Player of the Week, kicker Joey Slye, who booted the second longest field goal in franchise history on Monday night — just one of two kicks he made over 50 yards, and one of four total field goals that accounted for the Commanders’ margin of victory.

Of course, Carson Wentz has already missed 4 games with his finger injury, which he suffered in the Week 6 win over the Chicago Bears. Wentz is now eligible to be reactivated from Injured Reserve, although we already know that’s not happening this week.

Before the news was announced, however, we asked in this week’s Reacts survey which quarterback Commanders fans wanted to see as the starter on Sunday in Houston. The results were overwhelming.

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First of all, 92% of fans said that they want Taylor Heinicke to start, but it’s also interesting that more fans (5%) wanted rookie Sam Howell than those who voted for Carson Wentz (3%). Head coach Ron Rivera will face a strong tide of opposition if he decides anytime soon that he wants to get a return on his investment of cap space and draft picks by playing Wentz whenever the doctors clear him.

Of course, by keeping him sidelined for both the Texans and Falcons games, Rivera can minimize the investment of draft picks. If Carson Wentz takes less than 70% of the offensive snaps in the regular season, the Commanders send a 3rd round pick to the Colts in the ‘23 draft. If he exceeds the 70% threshold, that pick becomes a 2nd-rounder.

Ron Rivera won’t be popular in Washington if Chris Ballard gets our 2nd round pick given the current circumstances.

For the moment, fans seem more than happy to ride the Heinicke roller coaster, relying on an impressive defense and commitment to a clock-killing running game to put up winning scores.

We’ll see if the formula still works on Sunday at 1pm in Houston, where the Commanders are 3-point favorites and the over/under mark is 41 points according to DraftKings. For the season, Washington has averaged 19.1 points per game, though that number has been a bit higher (22.25) with Taylor Heinicke under center. The Texans, meanwhile, are averaging 16.5 points per game.

Bill-in-Bangkok prediction:

Commanders 23

Texans 19