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3 reasons why the Washington Commanders look like a playoff team

Vincent Frank

The Washington Commanders had their way against a hapless Houston Texans team on the road Sunday.

How bad was it for Houston? Washington outgained it 246-5 en route to leading by the score of 20-0 at halftime. That span saw the Commanders put up 14 first downs compared to one for Houston.

More than anything, the Commanders controlled the trenches in this one. It has been a staple of Ron Rivera-led teams in the past, and showed up again on Sunday. For Rivera and Co., this blowout 23-10 win comes after they handed the division-rival Philadelphia Eagles their first loss of the season this past Sunday night.

Washington now sits at 6-5 on the season and in the midst of a stretch that has seen it win five of six. All of this has coincided with veteran journeyman Taylor Heinicke replacing an injured Carson Wentz while retaining the starting job despite the latter being 100% and ready to go. Washington looks like a legit playoff team. Here are three reasons why.

Related: Sportsnaut’s updated NFL power rankings

Washington Commanders pass rush is fierce

NFL: Washington Commanders at Houston Texans
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Despite still being without former NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year Chase Young, Washington continues to control the trenches on that side of the ball. Sunday’s game saw the Commanders hit Texans quarterback Davis Mills nine times while sacking him a total of five times.

Jonathan Allen (two sacks), Montez Sweat (two sacks) and Daron Payne (one sack) absolutely dominated in every way possible. In fact, Allen and Sweat combined for five quarterback hits.

With a questionable secondary, having this type of pass rush sets a defense up for a ton of success. Forcing a quarterback to make quick decisions under pressure leads to mistakes and errant passes. We saw that with Jalen Hurts in Week 10, and it was repeated again on Sunday.

Related: Sportsnaut’s NFL defense rankings

Washington Commanders running back rotation doing its thing

NFL: Washington Commanders at Houston Texans
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The feel-good story of rookie running back Brian Robinson returning after being shot twice in a carjacking attempt back in August has been replaced with the Alabama product performing at a high level in Washington’s offense.

Robinson tallied a career high 86 yards and a touchdown in last week’s win over Philadelphia. He was back at it on Sunday, going for 57 rushing yards on 15 attempts. Previously in the dog house due to his fumble issues, Antonio Gibson went for 72 yards of his own.

The overall rushing numbers were not great for Washington on Sunday. It averaged less than four yards per attempt. But being able to get the tough yardage has proven to be vital as the Commanders continue to control the time of possession battle.

Nine of Washington’s 20 first downs on Sunday came via the run. Being able to control things when it comes to manageable third-down opportunities while dominating the trenches on the other side if a recipe for success in today’s NFL.

Related: Washington Commanders schedule and game-by-game predictions

Taylor Heinicke is a better option than Carson Wentz

NFL: Washington Commanders at Houston Texans
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This is not necessarily a hot take. Wentz posted a 2-4 record before going down to injury six games in. Heinicke has now won four of his five starts. This is not a coincidence. It is not by accident. Simply put, Heinicke puts the Washington Commanders in a better position to win.

The idea is to avoid that dumb late-game mistake in close games. Too often, we’ve seen Wentz do just that since he started regressing as a starting quarterback with the Philadelphia Eagles back in 2020.

Despite less than stellar numbers, Heinicke avoids these mistakes and is able to come through when it counts the mist. For a Commanders team without much margain for error, ths can’t be seen as a small thing.