Earlier this week, before the final injury status was known for the Commanders, we asked in our Reacts survey which player potentially returning from long-term injury would make the biggest positive impact if available.
The results were strong, and two players, one on offense and one on defense, were neck and neck as top vote-getters. Linebacker Cole Holcomb, who is also the defensive signal caller, narrowly edged out rookie wide receiver Johan Dotson in this poll.
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It probably speaks to the youth of Washington’s core roster that all four players listed in the survey are on their rookie contracts, and two of them are actually drafted rookies.
Unfortunately, the three top vote-getters, including defensive end Chase Young, will be out for the Week 9 game at home against Kirk Cousins and the Minnesota Vikings.
LB Cole Holcomb
Washington’s defense held up fairly well in Cole Holcomb’s absence last week against the Colts. Third-year safety Kam Curl wore the green dot on his helmet and called the defenses, while linebackers David Mayo and Jon Bostic split time on the field to fill in for the missing Holcomb, with Mayo & Bostic achieving season-high snap counts. Jamin Davis, Washington’s “other” starting linebacker also increased his defensive snap count, getting on the field more than he had in any game since the Week 1 opener. Davis gave up one big pass play, but overall played well, and had one of the plays of the game when he tackled Colts RB Jonathan Taylor for a loss on 3rd & goal from the 2 yard line. Mayo also had a big 3rd down play when he deflected a pass to end a Colts drive.
Expect many of the same adjustments against the Packers this week, though Jack Del Rio might also choose to deploy more 3-safety looks, or even some 5-man fronts against a Vikings offense that is averaging 345 yards per game, and is ranked 11th in passing and 21st in rushing on a yards-per-game basis.
The Vikings are also averaging 24.7 points per game, while the Commanders haven’t scored more than 25 points since Week 2.
Washington’s defense has allowed an average of 21.5 points per game on the season, but during the current 3-game winning streak, the unit has allowed just 14.7 points per game to the Bears, Packers and Colts. No team has scored more than 21 points against the Commanders defense since Dallas put up 25 points on October 3rd.
I voted for Cole Holcomb, as the dropoff is very steep between him and the next LBs available. The MIKE is also usually the QB of the defense and plays a very important role in coordinating them, although it seems that Kam Curl has been helping a lot in that regard as well from his Buffalo Nickel role.
However, I think a strong argument could also be made for Jahan Dotson in the upcoming Vikings game. The Vikings have Patrick Peterson, who is still playing well as a cover corner and will likely be draped on Terry this game. Having another boundary WR with speed to play opposite Terry will be important so Heinicke doesn’t have to keep throwing 50/50 balls that Terry has to fight to catch. The quickness of WRs like Terry, Curtis, and Jahan isn’t just important for stretching the field vertically, it’s also important for getting open quickly on short and intermediate routes, allowing the QB to get rid of the ball quickly to avoid pressure. Dotson has also proven himself a surprisingly effective redzone weapon due to his catch radius and strong hands, which this team desperately needs.
Rookie Jahan Dotson started his career off with a bang by being named Offensive Rookie of the Week for his opening week performance against the Jacksonville Jaguars, when he caught 3 passes for 40 yards and 2 touchdowns. Dotson caught 4 touchdowns in his first 4 career NFL games before getting injured in the second half against the Cowboys.
While he appeared to be on track to play two weeks ago against the Packers, Dotson suffered a setback in practice that week, and has continued to rehab.
Dotson has already been ruled out of this week’s game, which will be his 5th consecutive game missed because of the hamstring injury.
In Week 6, against the Tennessee Titans, receiver Dyami Brown stepped up as Dotson’s replacement and gave the Commanders fans the game they’d been looking for ever since he was selected by Washington in the third round of the 2021 draft, making two catches for 105 yards and 2 touchdowns.
Unfortunately, Brown only managed to stay healthy enough to play another 3 snaps in Week 6, and hasn’t played at all in the past three weeks, nor caught a pass since his breakout game against the Titans.
The good news is that Brown appears to be healthy again and will be active against the Vikings, helping create the deep threat that Minnesota may or may not honor with Taylor Heinicke, who is known for his inability to hit receivers deep after they get behind the safeties, starting at quarterback. Perhaps a look back at Heinicke’s 37-yard TD strike to Terry McLaurin will remind Vikings defenders that #4 can still surprise you with his arm.
He's Scary Good!!! Scary Terry scores a great #touchdown for the Washington Commanders against the Green Bay Packers. #The #OhioState #Buckeyes Football former wide receiver Terry McLaurin is one of the best in the #NFL! #Football #Catch #Amazing #Superman #OSU #Halloween pic.twitter.com/59LsfotD7Q— OSU Overload (@OSUOverload) October 24, 2022
DE Chase Young
It’s probably hard for non-Commanders fans to fathom, but only 19% of the people who voted in this week’s poll felt that former Defensive Rookie of the Year would have the biggest positive impact if he returned this week.
Young has missed nearly a year of football since tearing his ACL on the 14th of November last year. It’s been a long road back, and that road will last another week, with Young likely making his return to competitive NFL football against the undefeated Philadelphia Eagles on Monday Night Football in Week 10.
In his absence, the three other first-round draft picks — Jonathan Allen, Daron Payne and Montez Sweat have been playing really good football.
.@Commanders now have won 3W and credit the defense with playing great ball on all levels but it always starts up front. The front 4 is playing as well as they ever have in last 5 years #BaldysBreakdowns pic.twitter.com/QC0ij9Crxl— Brian Baldinger (@BaldyNFL) November 2, 2022
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But it’s been more than the three DL stars that has made the difference this season. Backups James Smith-Williams, Casey Toohill and Efe Obada, along with others like John Ridgeway have stepped up to play well for most of the season, allowing #99 to focus on simply getting healthy and getting ready on the timetable that he needs.
There’s probably no reason to fret about whether the DL will hold up against the Vikings, though Kirk Cousins is not a QB who has been taking a lot of sacks this year (tied at #19 with just 14 sacks taken in 7 games). He’s been releasing the ball quickly this season and has reduced the number of fumbles he’s put on the ground.
The result is that the Vikings have the best record in the NFC outside of the Eagles. This week’s game will be a challenging test that Ron Rivera characterized as a “measuring stick” for the Commanders’ progress.
TE Cole Turner
One place where Washington’s offense has been very different in 2022 compared to Scott Turner’s first two years as Offensive Coordinator has been TE production. I thought at first this was due to Logan Thomas coming back from a serious injury and Carson Wentz not running the offense the same way that Alex Smith and Taylor Heinicke used it. However, last week, a healthy Thomas played 34 snaps without being targeted by #4, who actually completed only two passes to tight ends for 19 yards against the Colts, and only 3 for 28 yards against the Packers.
Turner has only 2 catches on 7 targets this season, but the 4 non-catches have mostly been outside his enormous catch radius. It’s easy to get the feeling that Turner has a couple of red zone TD catches inside of him just waiting to burst out.
In the meantime, Logan Thomas leads all tight ends on the Washington roster with 13 catches for 106 yards and a TD, while Armani Rogers has 5 receptions for 64 yards.
An offense that seemed at times over the last two season to be built around tight ends and RB JD McKissic now seems to revolve around Antonio Gibson, Terry McLaurin and Curtis Samuel.
The Vikings will pose a challenge at FedEx Field this week (they are currently 3-point favorites), but it won’t get any easier in Week 10 when the Commanders will travel to Philadelphia to face off with the undefeated Eagles on Monday Night Football. It sure would be nice to get the win this week and go to Philly with a 5-4 record and a 4-game winning streak.