A week after pulling off the most improbable win of the season, the Commanders kept the momentum going by banking an expected win against the worst team in the league. Washington fans breathed a sigh of relief that their team successfully avoided the trap game.
Washington’s commanding defeat of the Texans brings their Win-Loss record into positive territory for the first time since the opening day victory over the Jaguars. It is also the first time that Washington has had a winning record past opening day in the three seasons under Head Coach Ron Rivera. The last time Washington had a winning record past Week 1 was Week 12 of the 2018 season. The last time Rivera has had a winning record as Head Coach past Week 1 was Week 10 of the 2019 season. It was short lived, as his Panthers eventually finished the season 5-11, resulting in his firing.
The Commanders’ 23-10 defeat of the Texans was their second victory by more than 10 points in two weeks. The last time Washington put together back-to-back wins by greater than 10 points was the 41-16 stomping of Dallas in Week 12 of the 2020 season, following the 20-9 win over the Bengals in Week 11.
Before anyone gets too carried away by the lopsided win in Houston, this was a game the Commanders were expected to win. At 1-7-1, the Houston Texans had the worst record in the NFL heading into the game. Their offense currently ranks 30th in the league in points scored, 32nd in total yardage, 30th in 1st downs, 26th in passing yardage and 29th in rushing yardage. On defense they are nearly close to middle of the pack in points allowed (18th) and better than average in passing yards allowed (14th), but rank 31st in yardage allowed, 29th in 1st downs, and 32nd in rushing yards allowed.
Houston QB Davis Mills is also not the best measure to judge the Commanders’ pass defense by. He has averaged 214 passing yards per game this season (only 8.2 yds better than Taylor Heinicke), with 11 TDs to 11 INTs, and has taken 28 sacks (7th most in the NFL). His 11 INTs lead the league, although Josh Allen is just behind him with 10. He ranks 3rd in interception percentage (3.4%), with Allen 8th at 2.7% (Heinicke 2.7%, tied with Allen; Wentz 2.6%, rank 11th). According to Pro Football Reference, he has the 7th highest percentage of bad throws at 18.8%, although he still trails NFL leader Carson Wentz (21.2%) by a long margin in this category. His 29.3 QBR ranks 30th of active QBs.
Thanks to interceptions by Kendall Fuller and Darrick Forrest, and no giveaways on offense, the Commanders’ +2 turnover differential matched their season high mark set against the Bears. They are 3-1 in games with a positive turnover differential this season, and 1-4 in games with a negative one. The defense has caused 12 turnovers in the last 6 games. They had one turnover in the first five games to start the season.
The Commanders’ defense held the Texans to 148 total net yards, with 21 rushing and 127 passing, all season best marks. The Commanders held Houston to 5 net yards in the first half, the lowest mark by any team this season. Houston running back Dameon Pierce was averaging 85.8 rushing yards per game and 4.7 yards per attempt through Week 10. On Sunday, the Commanders held him to 8 yards on 10 attempts.
The Commanders rushed for 153 yards. They have won all three games in which they rushed for over 150 yards this season.
After the game, Ron Rivera named Taylor Heinicke the Commanders’ starting quarterback of the moment. He is one of four QBs to start for Washington since the beginning of last season, and one of seven QBs to start at least one game in the three seasons under Rivera.
CARSON WENTZ SNAP COUNT TRACKER
Washington fans are keeping a close eye on the QBs’ snap counts, since the 2023 third round draft pick being shipped to the Colts in the trade for Wentz converts to a second round pick if he plays more than 70% of the offensive snaps this season.
As of Week 11, Wentz has played 422 of 772 total offensive snaps, which puts him at 54.7% of offensive snaps.
Season Projection: Rivera’s announcement that Heinicke is the starter going forward would seem to render the Commanders’ second round pick safe for now. However, this is the NFL where every QB is one missed block away from a season-ending injury. Or, perhaps Taylor Heinicke has a really bad game or two causing Riverboat Ron to have a sudden change of heart. For whatever reason, things can change in an instant, so it is still worth keeping an eye on the status of the second round pick.
The Commanders have averaged 70.2 offensive snaps per game this season. Let’s assume Rivera’s pronouncement that Heinicke is the starter is good for at least a week. The earliest that Wentz could return is game 13, against the Giants. If he takes 100% of offensive snaps for the remainder of the season at 70.4 snaps per game, he will reach 773 of 1193 offensive snaps, which equates to 64.8% of snaps. Even if the average number of offensive snaps per game goes up to 83 snaps per game, the highest this seasons, his snap percentage would top out at 65.9%.
It appears that Washington’s second round pick is safe, as any later return will result in an even lower snap percentage. Breathe a sigh of relief, Washington fans.
SNAP COUNTS - OFFENSE
Taylor Heinicke had an efficient, mistake-free, if unspectacular outing, throwing 15/27 for 191 yards, 0 TD, 0 INT and 0 sacks. He distributed the ball to 6 different receivers, with 13 of 27 targets directed to Logan Thomas (6) and Terry McLaurin (7).
Despite his reputation for being reckless with the ball, Heinicke is tied for 23rd out of 35 qualifying QBs in percentage of bad throws. His bad throw rate is only 60% that of NFL leader and teammate, Carson Wentz (21.2%). His on-target percentage of 57.4%, on the other hand, leaves a little to be desired and falls well short of Wentz at 70.8% (rank 15th).
The NFL official stats record Brian Robinson as the starting RB, which is kind of silly, considering that Gibson got more offensive snaps and had 18 carries to Robinson’s 15. Gibson was the Commanders’ leading runner with 72 yards and a long of 18, while Robinson finished with 57 yards. In case anyone thinks Robinson’s rushing average per attempt is low, in the 6 previous games 44.9% of his total yardage was gained after initial contact. Gibson is nearly identical, with 44.8% of his yards coming after contact. They would probably be averaging more if the offensive line did a better job of keeping them clean.
The Commanders failed to even activate FB Alex Armah for the second week in a row. They used TEs as lead blockers instead. I know what you’re thinking. What does it matter? A win is a win. All I can say is a win, without a fullback opening running lanes and bull rushing his way for a hard yard or two is a hollow victory. Don’t get me wrong. I liked the two TE sets a lot. But it’s not the same.
Terry McLaurin was the Commanders’ second-leading receiver this week, with 5 receptions on 7 targets for 55 yards. Cam Sims, Curtis Samuel and Jahan Dotson each had single receptions.
Logan Thomas was Washington’s leading receiver with 5 receptions for 65 yards on 6 targets. This was Logan’s biggest day catching the ball this season, and his biggest receiving total since the Seattle game in Week 15 of 2020, when he had 13 receptions for 101 yards. Cole Turner made an appearance, relieving the injured Armani Rogers, but failed to make an impression on the stat sheet.
No real change in the offensive front since last week, with Leno, Larsen, Norwell and Trai Turner all taking 100% of snaps. Cosmi and Cornelius Lucas continue to split time at RT. Despite what you may have heard, through Week 10, Lucas had the highest run block win rate in the NFL. None of the Commanders’ OL made the top 10 in pass blocking win rate at their respective positions, although former Redskin, Morgan Moses, had the 6th best grade amongst offensive tackles.
DEFENSE – SNAP COUNTS
The defensive line, as a unit, was the star of this game. Washington had 5 sacks with Montez Sweat and Jonathan Allen registering 2 apiece and Daron Payne chipping in another. If there was one standout, it was Allen, who added 7 QB pressures to his 2 sacks on 32 pass rushes for a total pressure rate of 21.9%. He also had 3 tackles for loss. Montez Sweat was close behind with 3 tackles, 2 sacks, 2 tackles for loss and 2 QB hits. Daron Payne also made an impact with 3 tackles, 1 sack, 1 tackle for loss, 1 pass deflected and 1 QB hit. Casey Toohill also had 2 tackles for loss and James Smith-Williams had one. That adds up to 9 tackles for loss and 5 sacks, which goes some way toward explaining why Houston had 5 net yards of offense in the first half.
Jamin Davis was third on the team with 5 combined tackles and 1 QB hit. In coverage, he was targeted three times with two completions, but only gave up 8 yards. Jon Bostic, filling in for an injured Cole Holcomb, had 3 combined tackles. Fortunately for Washington, the Texans only managed to isolate him in coverage against Brandin Cooks once. On that play, Cooks burned Bostic for 41 yards, the Texans’ longest play of the game, which accounted for 28% of their total yardage, and 32% of their passing production.
Kendall Fuller set the tone on defense early with a pick 6 on Houston’s second offensive play of the game. After that, he was targeted 8 more times and gave up 6 completions for 51 yards. Benjamin St-Juste was targeted 3 times in coverage with one pass tipped, setting up DeFoe’s diving interception, and no receptions allowed. He also managed to avoid getting called for any penalties for the first time in three games. Bobby McCain was listed as the starting slot corner for this this game. He recorded a QB knockdown/pressure on a blitz and added 6 combined tackles. He was targeted 5 times in coverage, allowing 4 completions for 20 yards. Danny Johnson added a tackle and gave up one reception for 6 yards on one target.
Curl and Forrest were listed as the two starting safeties this game, with McCain moved to slot corner. They both played 100% of defensive snaps. DeFoe had another big performance, recording a clutch interception and recovering the fumble that St-Juste punched out. Curl allowed 3 receptions on 4 targets but only gave up 15 yards.
Darrick Forrest’s 3 interceptions and 2 forced fumbles have accounted for 38.5% of the Commanders’ defensive turnovers this season. His snap counts steadily declined from 96% to 50% of defensive snaps through the first 5 games of the season. Starting with the Bears game, his defensive snaps steadily increased back up to 100% for the Philadelphia and Houston games. His increase in snap counts coincided with the resurgence of the defense and the sudden increase in defensive turnovers in the last 6 games.
Antonio Gibson had 2 kick returns for 48 yards. Dax Milne was kept busy enough, returning 4 punts for 22 yards. Joey Slye was once again the star on special teams, as he kept his run as Mr. Perfect alive, booting 3/3 field goals and 2/2 extra points. Tress Way had a poor day by his standards, only averaging 44.2 yards on 5 punts with a long of 52 and one downed behind the 20 yard line.
What is the biggest reason for the Commanders going 5-1 in the last 6 games?
Improvement on defense
Leaning on the run
More targets to Terry
The news that Dan Snyder is planning to sell the team
Ron Rivera realizing that the season was underway in Week 6