It is once again the time of the week that we go behind enemy lines to gather some intel on the Minnesota Vikings’ next opponent. This week, we go to Hogs Haven, home of the Washington Re. . .er, Football Te. . .er, Commanders, to talk with Kyle Smith about how he sees this weekend’s matchup.
You can see my answers to the questions that Kyle asked me right here, and here are the responses I had for the questions he sent my way.
1) Minnesota Vikings fans are familiar with Taylor Heinicke, as he got his start in the NFL in Minnesota. Why do the Commanders seem to be so much better with him under center than they are with Carson Wentz?
For all his physical limitations as an NFL quarterback, Taylor possesses a top end football IQ and desire to win games that very clearly infects his teammates when he’s on the field. Wentz, on the other hand, has a cannon arm and the prototypical size of an NFL quarterback, but no longer possesses the elusiveness, pocket awareness, or decision making ability to be an effective QB, something Eagles and Colts fans told us all offseason.
In his 17 games as a starter in DC, Heinicke’s now 9-8, and 7-3 over the last 10 games. Can he lead the team to a Wild Card berth? Who knows, but what’s beyond debate is that he’s a heck of a lot more fun to watch than a statuesque Wentz, with almost nothing left in the tank.
2) The Commanders come into this one riding a three-game winning streak (including two wins over NFC North teams. . .thanks) and have gotten themselves back to .500 in what’s suddenly a very competitive NFC East. Besides the change at quarterback, what can this winning streak be attributed to, in your opinion?
In addition to the QB change, I think the winning streak is due to a couple of things. First, Washington’s defense, which struggled seriously in the first couple games of the season seems to have tightened up considerably across the board. It’s finally forcing some turnovers, and has given up an average of 15 points per game over the last 3 games.
Additionally, Scott Turner has dialed up the run game more in the past few games, in part because of the return of running back Brian Robinson, but also likely in part because he was leaning on the passing game far too much. Another element that has helped the streak, of course, is that the opponents haven’t been particularly robust.
3) Washington made themselves a deal at the trade deadline, sending cornerback William Jackson III to the Pittsburgh Steelers. Is this trade going to have any measurable impact on what seems to be a pretty solid Washington defense?
No, this deal will have no impact on the defense, as Jackson had been effectively benched for the past few weeks. The primary benefit of the deal is that it opens a roster spot and the Commanders get to have the Steelers eat some of Jackson’s salary. Jackson had been replaced by second year corner Benjamin St-Juste, who has really stepped up his game this year, and has made a number of key plays, including a game winning stop against the Bears.
4) Give us one “under the radar” player on each side of the ball for the Commanders that you think will play a significant role in the outcome of this game.
On the defensive side of the ball, I’ll go with safety Darrick Forrest. The second year player is currently PFF’s 4th ranked safety - Washington’s Kam Curl is currently number 1 - and has turned into a hard-hitting thumper in the secondary. In the game against the Colts, he jarred a key fumble loose.
On the offense, I expect Washington is going to have to lean more heavily on its passing game than it has for the past few weeks. If rookie wide receiver Jahan Dotson returns from injury this week, I expect he could have a pretty good game against the Vikings. If not, look for Curtis Samuel to get touches in both the rushing and passing game and play a big role in the outcome.
5) Our friends at the DraftKings Sportsbook have a weekly special for this one, as they’ve put the combination of Dalvin Cook going over 100 yards rushing and Terry McLaurin going over 100 yards receiving at +425. Do you take that bet and, if not, which half of that equation do you believe falls short (or maybe they both do)?
At this point, I would not take that bet. Believe it or not, the Commanders have only given up one 100 yard rusher so far this season (Derrick Henry, 102 yards), and Washington’s rush defense has been one of the better ones in the league. McLaurin, meanwhile, has gone over 100 yards just twice this season, and Washington has been pretty good about spreading the ball around. If rookie Jahan Dotson returns from his hamstring injury this week, I’d say this is even less likely to happen.
Thank you to Kyle for taking the opportunity to sit down and answer our questions about this week’s game.