It’s difficult to dominate an opponent the second time around…especially dealing with line play. The Washington Commanders (4-5) were crushed by the Eagles the first time around. It shapes up to be a tougher test for the Eagles in this rematch game on Monday night.
The Commanders get another crack at Philadelphia, the NFL’s last undefeated team, this Monday at Lincoln Financial Field. And Scott Turner’s offense will look different from its poor effort in Week 3. The most obvious change in Washington’s offense is the player under center. Wentz’s first time back in Philadelphia as a visiting player will consist of him standing on the sideline due to a finger injury, as Taylor Heinicke is set to make his fourth straight start.
Statistically, Washington’s offense has been marginally more productive with Heinicke; the Commanders have averaged more points and total yards with No. 4 under center. Two of Heinicke’s three starts have resulted in victories, with the lone loss coming via a blown 10-point fourth-quarter lead last week versus Minnesota.
In each of Heinicke’s starts, the offense has experienced extended lulls, preventing the group from ever truly gaining momentum.
“This is kind of a weekly deal where we have good drives and we just stall out,” Heinicke said Wednesday. “We just got to either convert third downs or stop hurting ourselves. It’s one of those two things. So, I think if we just keep working on that, really honing on that and practice and get better at those things, we can put up some more points.”
All of these issues are ones that must get fixed in order to pull off the upset this week against the Eagle.
Although Philadelphia has yet to face Heinicke this season, he’s a familiar opponent for the Eagles defense. Led by defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon, the Eagles returned a lot of the same pieces from 2021; that mostly-same group went up against Heinicke in Week 17 of last year, a game Washington’s QB nearly won before throwing a late-game interception to seal an Eagles win.
“That [Week 17] game stuck with me throughout the whole offseason,” Heinicke said. “Everything that we went through last year and to have a chance to go to the playoffs there, we’re driving down the field, we’re moving the ball and that last throw was unfortunate. [John] Bates kind of tripped up on that dude’s foot. I think if he didn’t, he might’ve caught that thing and scored. You kind of just go back and think about that play. What if he caught that and scored might’ve made him the playoffs and who knows what it would’ve happened?”
Washington’s change at quarterback is not the only significant difference in the Commanders’ offense from Week 3 until now. Rookie running back Brian Robinson Jr. — who has handled a sizable chunk of the carries since making his NFL debut five weeks ago — was on the non-football injury list the last time these two teams met.
Last week, Philadelphia’s run defense had a tough time slowing Texans running back Damien Pierce, who finished the night with 139 yards on 27 carries. Perhaps Washington — a club that went on a four-game winning streak in 2021 by running the football effectively, controlling the time of possession and playing sound defense — can replicate that formula by leaning heavily on Robinson and Antonio Gibson.
This Monday, the Commanders will have a different look up front than they did in Week 3. Right tackle Sam Cosmi has not played since injuring his finger in Week 4 against Dallas. Wes Schweitzer, who started at center for Washington against Philadelphia earlier this season, is on IR. Current Commanders starter Tyler Larsen is dealing with a back injury, meaning veteran Nick Martin could be thrust back into the lineup if Larsen is unable to go.
“We’ve got to handle their front,” Turner said. “Obviously, we’ve got to block ’em, but we got to help those guys out with getting the ball out. Guys [have] get open quickly. We can give ’em some help with some of the other players, change schemes on ’em, all those types of things. But that’s the thing. We [have to] do a really good job upfront handling that group of guys up there and how well that they play.”
The Commanders could receive a boost on the outside this week, too, as Jahan Dotson was a full participant in practice on Friday for the first time since injuring his hamstring in Week 4. Dotson, who’s still the team’s receiving touchdowns leader (four) despite missing five of the team’s nine games, would obviously provide a major boost for Turner’s unit.
If Dotson is able to play on Monday, it’ll mark the first time Washington’s top three receivers — Dotson, Terry McLaurin and Curtis Samuel — are healthy with Heinicke at quarterback. That should only help an offense that has flashed at times but also struggled in bunches, too.
The Eagles will be missing their best slot cornerback, which further enhances the Washington passing game potential.
The Eagles ruled two players OUT: Avonte Maddox and Josh Jobe.
Maddox’s absence means Josiah Scott will start in the slot. Scott was limited on Thursday and Friday but he was full go on Saturday and listed without a game status. Jobe’s absence means the Eagles will be without a special teams contributor and extra depth corner. The recently promoted Andre Chachere is probably an upgrade on Jobe as a gunner on punt coverage, though.
The bad news for Washington is that they ruled out starting linebacker Cole Holcomb, backup linebacker David Mayo, and pass-catching running back J.D. McKissic (who ranks third on the team in targets).
Jeff McLane of the Inquirer thinks the Commanders have a shot at an upset:
“Overall, the Commanders have played a higher level of football in the last month, particularly on the defensive side. They’ve been stingy in the red zone over the last four games, with opposing offenses scoring touchdowns on only 4 of 11 possessions inside the 20. Something may have to give, with the Eagles the fifth-best at reaching the end zone (70%) in the NFL. Washington’s defense typically goes as its line goes. End Montez Sweat has 38 pressures this season, according to Pro Football Focus, but the Eagles’ blockers, with right tackle Lane Johnson leading the way, shut him out two months ago. Defensive tackle Jonathan Allen is probably a more difficult matchup for the interior O-line. If he and Daron Payne can collapse the pocket on quarterback Jalen Hurts, the Commanders might have a shot.”
The Heinicke-led Commanders are 2-1 in their last three games with a three-point loss to a good Minnesota Vikings team as their lone blemish.
Each of the three games was close and the two wins, against the Green Bay Packers and Indianapolis Colts, are somewhat suspect, but it’s enough to suggest the Eagles can’t overlook the Commanders. There’s also the volatility that often comes from second matchups against division opponents.
Outside of Chase Young, who probably won’t play, Washington has enough talent on its pass rush to affect Jalen Hurts without sending extra rushers. As we saw in the first matchup, the interior of the line featuring Allen and Payne is good enough to contain a run-heavy approach and keep the game from getting out of hand.
Eagles vs. Commanders Odds
- Moneyline: Eagles (-500), Commanders (+400)
- Spread: Eagles -11 (+107), Commanders +11 (-107)
- Total: Over/Under 44 (-110)