The Washington Commanders [6-5] have another big game on the slate this weekend as the Atlanta Falcons [5-6] come to town in a game with potential NFC playoff implications.
Washington has won five of its last six games and is a half-game behind the Seattle Seahawks for the final NFC playoff spot. Atlanta is one game behind Washington, but more importantly, the Falcons are only a half-game behind the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for first place in the NFC South.
The Commanders need to be careful of overlooking the Falcons with back-to-back games against the New York Giants on the horizon. Based on how Washington played against Houston last week, you shouldn’t expect the Commanders to look past the Falcons.
How do the Commanders win?
We’ve identified four keys to victory for Washington.
Get Taylor Heinicke comfortable early
Washington Football Team quarterback Taylor Heinicke (4) scrambles against the Atlanta Falcons in the second half at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports
Heinicke had perhaps his best NFL game last season against the Falcons. He led Washington to a come-from-behind with a touchdown pass to J.D, McKissic in the final seconds. Last week, the strategy was to just run the ball because the Texans had trouble stopping the run. Heinicke only attempted five passes in the second half last week. Against the Falcons, offensive coordinator Scott Turner should do things to get Heinicke settled in early, such as play with tempo and get each of Washington’s wide receiver [Terry McLaurin, Curtis Samuel and Jahan Dotson] some touches.
Make Marcus Mariota beat you with his arm
Atlanta Falcons quarterback Marcus Mariota (1). Mandatory Credit: Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports
Marcus Mariota has had a solid first year with the Falcons as the starting quarterback. While Mariota hasn’t blown anyone away, he takes care of the football and is the perfect game manager for Atlanta’s run-first offense. Mariota’s legs remain a dangerous part of his game. The Commanders can’t allow Mariota to escape the pocket and pick up first downs with his legs. Keep him in the pocket and make him beat you with his arm.
Don't let Cordarrelle Patterson beat you
Atlanta Falcons running back Cordarrelle Patterson (84) runs for a touchdown past Washington Football Team safety Landon Collins (26). Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports
Washington remembers Atlanta running back Cordarrelle Patterson all too well from last season. Patterson accounted for over 100 yards from scrimmage and caught three touchdowns in Washington’s four-point win. This season, the Commanders know Atlanta’s offense is centered around one of the NFL’s most underrated players from the last decade.
In addition to being a dangerous running back, the former wideout is a terrific receiver and elite kick returner. However it must happen; the Commanders need to ensure that Patterson doesn’t singlehandedly keep the Falcons in the game. Atlanta beats you by staying the game late and making plays on offense.
Win on the inside
Houston Texans running back Dameon Pierce (31) is tackled for a loss by Washington Commanders defensive tackle Jonathan Allen (93). Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports
The matchup of the day should be Atlanta’s offensive line against Washington’s talented defensive line. Defensive end Montez Sweat is a threat on the outside, but this game will be determined on the interior. Washington defensive tackles Jonathan Allen and Daron Payne must continue to overpower Atlanta’s interior offensive line. Right guard Chris Lindstrom is a good one, but the Falcons are shaky at center and left guard. The Commanders should exploit the Falcons here, even if it means frustrating Mariota with extra blitzers.