By Adam Aniba
During Sunday's 23-21 win over the Green Bay Packers, the pre-game narrative was the return of QB Taylor Heinicke. Although it was a story of two halves for Heinicke, his supporting cast stepped up making timely receptions and big plays in key moments.
Running back Antonio Gibson provided a huge boost for the run game with 59 rushing yards on 10 attempts (5.9 YPR).
But it was Gibson's 2nd quarter 9 yard touchdown reception that started the momentum for Washington's offense. After trailing the Packers 14-3. Gibson got open on the a 3 and 8 play for impressive 9 yard catch.
On the drive prior to Gibson's touchdown reception, Heinicke threw a pick-6 and all seemed lost. As the graphic displayed above shows, Gibson lined up wide, not out of the backfield as a checkdown option.
Although he only finished with 18 yards on three receptions, his toe-tapping reception in the back of the end zone displayed just how valuable he is as a receiver.
Additionally, Rivera finally decided to utilize AG on special teams, leading to 78 yards on three kick returns with a long return of 32 yards. Getting Gibson on the field as much as possible and in multiple roles, makes this offense and special teams unit explosive. His fumbling issues in '21, should be cause for concern, but thus far it hasn't been an issue.
Mismatch at Receiver
As mentioned in a previous write up, during his time at the University of Memphis, Gibson morphed into a dynamic WR/RB hybrid weapon for the Tigers. Before transfering from East Central Community College to Memphis, Gibson was used sparingly in the run game (249 rushing yards in two seasons at ECCC). In fact, most of his rushing yards came on end-arounds/sweeps and with occasional runs while lined up in the backfield.
His blazing speed and ability to expose open holes in coverages, led to him ranking 8th in the nation during the '19 season with a 20.83 per reception average (2nd highest in school history).
Gibson finished his final season at Memphis with 369 yards rushing, which was more than his previous 3 seasons combined. It was his 735 yards receiving for 8 TDs that gained him national attention though.
Gibson was effective when running wheel/choice routes (primarily out of slot), but his ability to to be a deep threat on go-routes was undeniable. His 4.39 speed and ability to create YAC, led to frequent mismatches facing linebackers and safeties, who were often a step behind.
Gibson should open Scott Turner's eyes to how impactful he can be as a receiver, particularly in the red zone, while matched up vs linebackers/safeties.
It's clear with 20 carriers vs the Packers, Brian Robinson Jr is the lead back for the Commanders now, but Gibson can still be an effective changeup along with McKissic. The bottom line is, although Turner hasn't shown much innovation, pigeonholing Gibson to a limited role as a rotational back is hopefully an idea of the past.
Washington will have a tough time, winning many more close games in similar fashion, especially when facing better teams. Establishing an effective run game is key to opening up things for Heinicke and it showed in the 2nd half vs the Packers.
Although Terry McLaurin is the unquestioned top performer amongst the receivers, Gibson adds another weapon that defenses will have to account for when defending Heinicke going forward.
Although just a baby step, Gibson's performance should instill hope for fans, that the offense can put up points even with Heinicke under center. Gibson can be the wildcard defenses have to account for and keeping him on the field should be a priority for Washington going forward.
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