By Adam Aniba
Prior to the bye week, Ron Rivera was tasked with finding answers to why the '20 NFC East Champions were sitting at 2-6 and on a four game losing streak. Adding insult to injury, Montez Sweat was diagnosed with a broken jaw after the loss to Denver and Chase Young was lost for the season last week with a torn ACL.
Washington has been resilient despite the injuries, with back-to-back wins coming out of the bye. First, Washington limited Tom Brady and the TB offense to 273 total yds, forcing two Brady interceptions.
Then, this past Sunday the defense held Carolina to only 297 total yds and Cam Newton's return to Carolina was spoiled as the defense held him to 189 yds passing. The defense came to play, but the story during the 2-game win streak has been quarterback Taylor Heinicke.
Heinicke has thrown for 4 touchdowns and hasn't thrown an interception over the last two weeks, boasting a 130.3 passer rating during that span.
Although Heinicke has been known for his scrambling and backyard style improvisation, his ability to read the field and his pocket awareness have clearly improved since week #1. In fact, Heinicke and the Washington offense have put up 29 and 27 points in back-to back weeks against the league's 2nd and 9th ranked defenses.
Heinicke's favorite target has clearly been Terry McLaurin, who has risen to one of the league's premier receivers with clutch receptions week after week. In fact, #17 just recorded his 4th, 100+ receiving game on the season, which marked the 10th of his career. McLaurin only needs one more 100 yard game performance, to tie Redskins great Gary Clark (click for interview) for the most 100 yard games, through the first 3 seasons in franchise history.
Despite having his go-to-guy, Heinicke targeted 9 different pass catchers vs Tampa Bay (8 with at least 2 rec) and 7 different pass catchers vs Carolina. In the end, McLaurin is their most valuable weapon and Heinicke has targeted him more than any other Washington pass catcher and it's not even close. Heinicke's improved situational awareness to always look for his top target, can't be understated and is another example of the quarterback's maturation over the last 3 weeks.
The run game has been another key to Washington's success on offense over the last two weeks, despite fumbles in key moments by Gibson. The trio of Antonio Gibson, J.D. McKissic and Jaret Patterson should get even more opportunities against Seattle and Las Vegas, who are ranked 28th and 24th vs the run.
The offensive line has dealt with constant reshuffling due to various injuries, with Chase Roullier being the most recent blow. Despite the setbacks, OL Coach John Matsko has had his unit playing sound football and penalties/mental mistakes have decreased.
Washington sits at 4-6 with an opportunity to get to .500, before they face an unprecedented NFC East 5 game stretch that will potentially have playoff implications.
The defense will need to continue to be and opportunistic, despite the loss of Young and Sweat. On offense, Taylor Heinicke continues to defy the odds, despite taking snaps from his 4th Center vs Carolina. Rivera has this locker room believing, so fans should be in for another exciting December with a potential to make the playoffs in the always helter skelter NFC East.