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Confident Commanders head to Houston behind Taylor Heinicke

Nov 14, 2022; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA; Washington Commanders quarterback Taylor Heinicke (4) against the Philadelphia Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field. Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports
Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

In the aftermath of a Monday night win over the Eagles, the Washington Commanders had two pressing roster issues to address in Week 11.

The Commanders (5-5) travel to face the Houston Texans (1-7-1) on Sunday at NRG Stadium most likely without quarterback Carson Wentz (finger), who was cleared to start throwing but not designated to return to the active roster. Taylor Heinicke will make his fifth start of the season.

Washington has won three of the four games started by Heinicke, including the 32-21 victory that blemished the Eagles’ ledger. Replacing Heinicke with Wentz, who labored in his six starts, might have been an issue in a locker room that seems to have rallied around the former.

“We have time. That’s the really good thing that is on our side,” Commanders coach Ron Rivera said. “He’s done some good things and we’ll see how it happens this week. To me, it’s part of having to make a decision. You’ve got to be realistic, you’ve got to watch and you’ve got to see and that’s what we’ve been doing. We’ve been paying attention to it, not just an individual but as much as it affects a unit and a team.

“It’s a good problem to have.”

That answers the first question for Washington.

The other: discussion of Commanders defensive end Chase Young, the second overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft, playing against the Texans multiplied in recent days. Young, who last played on Nov. 14, 2021, prior to undergoing knee surgery, is nearing a return but the decision on when is still pending.

“I think we still have a little over a week to make that decision, but he is trending in the right direction,” Rivera said. “We’ll have to see how things unfold this week as well. But it is coming.”

The Commanders are 4-1 in their last five games with Washington’s only loss a 20-17 setback against the Vikings. All five were one-possession games in the fourth quarter.

Houston hasn’t had made close calls in 2022 but its past three losses in a current four-game losing streak were all decided by one possession — no more than eight points.

In an attempt to bolster an offense that ranks 28th in scoring and 29th in yards, the Texans executed two waiver claims this week, adding running back Eno Benjamin from the Arizona Cardinals on Tuesday and receiver Amari Rodgers from the Green Bay Packers on Wednesday.

Rodgers, a third-round selection (85th overall) out of Clemson in 2021, scuffled on special teams and logged only 201 offensive snaps over two seasons while amassing eight receptions for 95 yards. Rodgers had five fumbles this season, the most by any non-quarterback in the NFL, including one in Week 10 against the Dallas Cowboys that facilitated his release.

Benjamin, taken in the seventh round out of Arizona State in 2020, produced 70 carries for 299 yards and two touchdowns this season. The Texans are desirous to build depth behind rookie running back Dameon Pierce, who has 898 yards and four touchdowns from scrimmage, but there is uncertainty as to whether Benjamin will be available to play against the Commanders.

“No, he’ll be out there (Thursday),” Texans coach Lovie Smith said. “As far as improving our roster, whenever we have a chance, we’re constantly looking to improve our roster. When players become available that we think that can help us, and that’s the case with Eno.

“I’ll put it like this. We have to keep moving on like he’s not going to play. Since we’re bringing a new player into the mix, we played a lot of games when he wasn’t a part of the team, so we’re moving on like he is not and will not (play). We’re going to give him a little bit of time, at least get in the building and then we’ll see.”

–Field Level Media