Why the Commanders could really use an Antonio Gibson breakout in Dallas

The Commanders could really use a Gibson breakout in Dallas originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington

In his first NFL trip to Dallas, which was for a Thanksgiving matchup with the Cowboys in 2020, Antonio Gibson turned 20 carries into 115 yards and three touchdowns. On Thursday, Gibson called that performance "one of the special moments" that he's had as a pro before adding that he's "wishing to capitalize on more games like that in the future."

The Commanders would be cool if Gibson went off in a similar fashion this Sunday, when he makes his third appearance for the franchise at AT&T Stadium.

For an offense that's been far too susceptible to opposing pass rushes in 2022, handoffs to Gibson might represent the best way to offset the likes of Micah Parsons and Demarcus Lawrence. Those two and the rest of the Cowboys' front can't rack up sacks if there are no sacks to rack up, after all.

And despite less-than-stellar stats — Gibson is currently averaging just 3.1-yards-per-carry and he hasn't exceeded 60 yards in a contest yet — his head coach is pleased with how he's contributing.

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"I think he's been aggressive," Ron Rivera, who was critical of Gibson's rushing style in the preseason, said Wednesday. "He's been downhill a couple times. A couple times when he hasn't had the crease on the front side, he's cut back to the backside."

In the club's recent loss to the Eagles, a minus-10 yard tote marred what would've been an overall solid afternoon for Gibson, especially considering that his squad was down 24-0 at halftime. On multiple occasions, Gibson displayed admirable vision to pick up five or six yards when his initial path was clogged up.

Like Rivera, coordinator Scott Turner believes Gibson is "doing pretty well." Based on comments that Turner made Thursday, Gibson may have more opportunities to get into a groove and eliminate the "pretty" from that assessment.

"We can run the ball more frequently," Turner told reporters.

Now, even if Gibson is more involved — he's logged 14, 14 and 12 attempts this year — Carson Wentz will obviously have to drop back and pass plenty in Week 4. In other words, it's not like increasing Gibson's workload will magically fix the issues that the offensive line is dealing with and cure Wentz's flaw of not making quicker reads.

Also, Gibson himself could stand to do more when Turner opts to feature him. His longest scamper in his three appearances is a mere 13 yards, and though Turner noted that Gibson's been deployed in short-yardage and goal-line situations where space is limited, the coordinator expressed a desire for No. 24 to better help the unit stay ahead of the chains when he's charged with first-down duties.

Having established those points, a Gibson-led attack on Sunday is an appealing proposition, since it'll keep the pressure off of Wentz and his battered blockers and hopefully allow Wentz and his top targets to flourish from there.

"If we're going to be a play-action team, we've gotta be a more effective running team because again, that slows things down," Rivera said. "When you can do that, that discourages some of these guys pinning their ears back and just going... If you don't, you're not having success. You do become one-dimensional, and we've seen it.  We've seen it for two weeks in a row that we've become one-dimensional because we haven't been successful."

Gibson isn't the most natural runner on the roster. That title belongs to Brian Robinson Jr., who seems to be on track to come off the Non-Football Injury list soon and immediately factor into the backfield's pecking order.

Still, Gibson is gifted, powerful (as Rivera said, he forces second-level defenders to make "business decisions" when he's initiating collisions with them) and, when he's not fumbling, capable of being a real four-quarter asset.

So much of the angst entering this showdown is focused on Washington's ability to shield Wentz from another round of sacks. That shield, however, doesn't necessarily have to come in the form of stout tackles and united interior linemen. This weekend, Gibson has the potential to be that answer, or at least a large part of it.