Washington Commanders quarterback Taylor Heinicke has a golden opportunity on Monday night. If Heinicke can lead the Commanders to an upset win over the undefeated Philadelphia Eagles, it will be difficult for head coach Ron Rivera to turn back to Carson Wentz once he’s healthy — which will be soon.
Unfortunately for Heinicke, he’s playing the NFL’s top team on the road.
The Eagles are a balanced team. They have an elite offense that can beat you on the ground or through the air. Washington’s defense is good, too. The Commanders played well against Philadelphia in Week 3 outside of the second quarter.
Here are four keys to victory for the Commanders on Monday night.
Keep Hurts in the pocket
Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts (1) carries the ball as Washington Commanders safety Kamren Curl (31). Mandatory Credit: Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports
Easier said than done, for sure. However, if Washington can keep Philadelphia quarterback Jalen Hurts in the pocket, it limits Philadelphia’s running and passing game. Hurts is extremely dangerous on the move. If he’s breaking outside of the pocket, he has plenty of weapons to make an off-schedule play.
As for the running game, Hurts may not lead the Eagles in rushing, but he is Philly’s most dangerous runner. Washington should use one of its talented safeties to spy on Hurts.
Win with four, but don't be afraid to blitz
Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts, right, fumbles the ball as he is hit by Washington Football Team’s Montez Sweat. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)
Washington defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio has done a masterful job this season. Sure, no one wants to admit that, but it’s true. For one, Del Rio is counting on his defensive line to win up front. More often than not, the Commanders’ D-line wins. Del Rio also has simplified things for the secondary, and there are fewer coverage breakdowns.
Finally, Del Rio is smart about sending additional pressure. Washington isn’t a huge blitzing team, but Del Rio is opportunistic on when to send extra pressure. Hurts has been terrific against pressure this season, but he has been sacked 22 times. If Washington is getting pressure with its front four, great. But, even if they are winning, Del Rio must stay unpredictable on when to send pressure.
No one said beating the Eagles was going to be easy, but you are going to have to take some risks.
Use multiple tight ends, establish running game
Armani Rogers #88 of the Washington Commanders celebrates a first down. (Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images)
The Commanders have four talented tight ends. Rookie Armani Rogers and Cole Turner aren’t known for their blocking skills, but they give the offense an added dimension behind Logan Thomas and John Bates.
The Houston Texans had success running the ball against the Eagles. Washington hasn’t run blocked well this season. So why not add extra blockers who can also catch the football? Tight ends are easy, safe targets for quarterbacks. And in Rogers and Turner, Washington has two that can run after the catch.
Having multiple tight ends on the field can not only help the running game by sealing the edges but also create unpredictability. Offensive coordinator Scott Turner needs to help Heinicke in every way he can.
Make Gibson, McLaurin the focal points
Washington Commanders wide receiver Terry McLaurin (17) runs with the ball as Philadelphia Eagles cornerback Darius Slay (2) chases during the fourth quarter at FedExField. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports
A lot has been made about how Eagles’ cornerbacks Darius Slay and James Bradberry are shutting down opposing passing games. Sure, that is true. Washington had no success in Week 3. However, Carson Wentz was sacked nine times. Terry McLaurin has succeeded against Slay and Bradberry, regardless of what you’ve heard. Heinicke does an excellent job of finding McLaurin. However, he can’t throw hero balls against the Eagles. They will make him pay. But Turner should create opportunities for McLaurin.
Running back Antonio Gibson should get 20 touches in this game between running the football and the passing game. Gibson can break a big play. He’s also dangerous on the edges and in space. There are so many ways the Commanders can use Gibson, and they need to be more creative in doing so. Now is the time. The more McLaurin and Gibson touch the ball, that’s better for Washington’s offense.
The return of rookie wide receiver Jahan Dotson will also help the offense.