Behind Enemy Lines: A must win for Packers v. Washington

Oct 2, 2022; Arlington, Texas, USA; Washington Commanders defensive end Montez Sweat (90) and defensive tackle Jonathan Allen (93) and defensive tackle John Ridgeway (91) in action during the game between the Dallas Cowboys and the Washington Commanders AT&T Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports
Oct 2, 2022; Arlington, Texas, USA; Washington Commanders defensive end Montez Sweat (90) and defensive tackle Jonathan Allen (93) and defensive tackle John Ridgeway (91) in action during the game between the Dallas Cowboys and the Washington Commanders AT&T Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports /

Is it a must-win game for the Green Bay Packers? Well, it sure feels like it.

After suffering back-to-back disappointing losses, the Packers find themselves 3-3 with three straight road games ahead of them. A loss to Washington could send this season spiraling out of control.

As we begin looking ahead to this week’s matchup, Jerry Trotta of Riggo’s Rag was kind enough to answer five of my questions about the Washington Commanders to provide us with some insight. I also provided my own thoughts along the way as well.

What has been the strength of this Washington team?

Jerry: The strength of this Washington team has been the defensive line. Jonathan Allen and Daron Payne are putting together Pro Bowl seasons, and Montez Sweat has been one of the league’s most prolific pass rushers after a slow start.

Entering Week 7, the Commanders flaunt an NFL-best 37.4% pressure win rate when rushing four or fewer players. A big reason for that? Allen Payne and Sweat rank in the top five in pressures at their respective positions.

Thoughts: There will be no break for a Packers offensive line that is coming off an abysmal performance against the New York Jets. In addition to the numbers Jerry provided, I’ll add that the Washington front ranks third in overall pressure rate and sixth in total sacks. The quick passing game, where Aaron Rodgers has been very efficient, is going to be vital to Green Bay’s success.

With that said, while this has been a very good pass-rushing unit, Washington is allowing 4.7 yards per rush this season and ranks 20th in ESPN’s run-block win rate metric. As should be the case every week, we need to see Aaron Jones be the focal point for this offense — both as a ball carrier and pass catcher — however, none of this much matters if the offensive line play doesn’t improve.

On the flip side, what is their major weakness through six games?

Jerry: The Commanders’ major weaknesses fluctuate from week to week. Their defense has allowed the fourth-most passing yards and the most passing touchdowns (12) and only forced one turnover before their Thursday night win over the Bears when they recovered a muffed punt and intercepted a pass that deflected off an offensive linemen’s helmet.

The offense, meanwhile, has been stagnant with Carson Wentz. The offensive line is a huge reason for that, as Wentz is tied with Justin Fields as the most-sacked quarterback. Still, he’s been far too inconsistent and is a big reason why Washington ranks 29th in points per game.

Thoughts: Again, not to sound like a broken record, but if Rodgers is going to take advantage of the Washington secondary, he needs time to do so. The quick passing game, as well as establishing the run, are two effective ways to help the Green Bay offensive line against the Washington pass rush.

Turnovers, meanwhile, have been an issue for the Packers as well  they currently sit just ahead of Washington in differential at minus-four, and are yet to win the turnover battle in a single game. These issues have magnified the overall inconsistencies that we’ve seen from Green Bay on both sides of the ball.

Defensively, I’m hoping we see the Packers put together a complete game. Washington’s offensive line has allowed the seventh-most pressures this season, and we saw the Green Bay secondary make some adjustments last week that included more dime personnel on third downs, Jaire Alexander in the slot more often, and less cushion at the line of scrimmage.

However, Washington has three talented backs in Brian Robinson, Antonio Gibson, and JD McKissic, all of whom bring a diverse skill-set to the position. And unlike Carson Wentz, the Packers will now have to contend with Taylor Heinicke’s mobility.

Carson Wentz is injured, and Taylor Heinicke is in. How does that change the Washington offense? Or does it?

Jerry: Speaking of Washington’s struggles in pass protection, Heinicke’s scrambling ability should help the offense. Heinicke has a great feel for pressure and is a savant when it comes to eluding pass rushers. With that said, his arm talent pales in comparison to Wentz. While the offense might have more consistency with Heinicke, explosive plays will be hard to come by.

Thoughts: The Green Bay Packers faced Heinicke last season as he completed 25 of 37 passes for 268 yards with a touchdown and an interception. He also rushed for 95 yards, but the Packers did win the game 24 to 10.

"“He is a great competitor,” said LaFleur of Heinicke on Wednesday. “He is a scrappy dude. It was evident last year when we played him. He had 99 yards rush, or whatever it was. He is scrappy, competitive, he can make all the throws, and then he can beat you with his legs. We are going to have to do a very, very, very good job of trying to contain him within the pocket.”"

As Jerry mentions, the deep ball has been an issue for Heinicke. He completed just 32% of passes of 20-plus yards last season at 9.9 yards per attempt with eight touchdowns but also eight interceptions, according to PFF ($$). I’m hoping we again see a more aggressive Green Bay defense.

Who is one player on offense and one of defense that Packers fans may not be as familiar with but could have an impact on Sunday’s game?

Jerry: I would definitely keep an eye on rookie receiver Jahan Dotson. He missed the last two games with a hamstring injury, but he’s back at practice and looks like he’s gonna play. The first-round pick isn’t necessarily a focal point of the offense, with Terry McLaurin and Curtis Samuel hogging targets, but Dotson has been Washington’s go-to red zone target. Despite being undersized at 5-11 and 184 pounds, Dotson feats on man coverage near the goal line with defenses so focused on stopping McLaurin, Samuel, and Washington’s running backs (he had four touchdowns in four games before the injury).

On defense, Darrick Forrest is someone to watch. In six games, Forrest ranks second on the team in tackles, and his 80.1 PFF player grade is third behind Kam Curl (another underrated player to watch) and Montez Sweat. Forrest is a huge reason Washington beat Jacksonville in Week 1, and he saved two touchdowns in the Week 6 win over Chicago. He overplays the run sometimes but packs a punch when he fills the right gaps and is only allowing an 84.1 passer rating when targeted in coverage.

Thoughts: Washington moved up to select Dotson in the first round of this past draft. Through four games, he has caught 12 of 20 passes at 12.7 yards per catch with four touchdowns while playing both from the slot and boundary. With Alexander hopefully spending a lot of time with Terry McLaurin, Dotson could be lined up frequently against Eric Stokes, who has had a rough season.

Forrest has lined up primarily as a free safety or in the box, but he has some slot snaps as well. He has also been a very reliable tackler. It will be interesting to see how Washington utilizes their safeties against Green Bay. In recent weeks, defenses have defended the Packers more aggressively by playing closer to the line of scrimmage because they do not fear the deep ball.

What is your prediction, and how do you see things playing out?

Jerry: I like the Packers to win this one 24-20. Aaron Rodgers hasn’t looked great, but the Commanders’ secondary, as I laid out earlier, is a get-right matchup. I think Washington keeps it close if they establish the run, but they needed a miracle to beat the lousy Bears, and Green Bay is still a good team even though they’re no longer in contention for the NFC’s No. 1 seed.

Thoughts: All of the pressure is on the Green Bay Packers in this one. Without question, the Packers are the more talented team, and in making my own prediction, that is what I’m going to lean on. Washington has the ability, between their pass rush, running backs, and Heinicke’s mobility, to make this a close game–which I think they will. For the Packers, it will come down to how the offensive line plays and getting Jones the ball.

Packers 20 – Commanders 13