How Taylor Heinicke and the Commanders Defense Continued Their Season Turnaround in Week 11 vs. Texans

The Washington Commanders, led by Taylor Heinicke and their defense, beat the Houston Texans 23-10 in Week 11, moving to 6-5 on the season.

While expectations were low for Week 11’s matchup between the Houston Texans and Washington Commanders, we certainly didn’t expect it to be as non-competitive as it played out. The Commanders got enough from quarterback Taylor Heinicke, but it was their defense that dominated the Texans as they progressed to 6-5, while the Texans dropped to 1-8-1. Washington has won five of their last six games.

While the loss was more of the same for Houston, the Commanders are making their best effort to climb into the NFC playoff race. Let’s dive more into how they’ve turned their season around and what this win means for the rest of their future.

How Taylor Heinicke and the Commanders Defense Dominated the Texans

The common theme throughout the Commanders’ evisceration of Houston was their control on the defensive side of the ball and with Heinicke under center. It began on the first drive of the game when Texans quarterback Davis Mills threw an interception that Kendall Fuller easily returned for a touchdown. The game was never again in doubt after that mistake.

Mills was under constant duress throughout the game, being sacked five times and throwing two interceptions. Star running back Dameon Pierce hit a stunning wall, contributing only eight rushing yards on 10 carries. This was a more lopsided game than the 23-10 final score indicated.

MORE: NFL Playoff Race After Week 11

The Commanders were hoping to activate star edge-rusher Chase Young for this game, but it didn’t matter that he wasn’t ready. Defensive tackles Jonathan Allen and Daron Payne were phenomenal. Both created havoc for their blockers all game long, applying pressure to Mills and guarding any potential lanes for Pierce to dash through.

Allen was particularly impressive, making Texans’ first-round rookie Kenyon Green look completely out of his element. The power and speed from Allen were too much for the guard from Texas A&M to handle. The rest of the unit benefitted from their presence and set the tone for what the Texans would be dealing with.

Washington’s defensive line has been their main weapon throughout their winning streak, which was the plan when this group was assembled with early-round picks from 2017 through 2022. Despite not having a noteworthy defensive back besides Fuller, this passing defense has allowed no more than 194 yards in six of their last seven games. They also haven’t allowed more than 21 points in that same span.

Houston found some traction in the early third quarter after re-tooling their game plan, but it was never enough to overcome their limitations. They totaled six net yards in the first half and minus-one passing yards. Their lone touchdown came in garbage time. Their other red zone visit was ruined when Mills was sacked on third down.

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The defense didn’t need to be so effective to earn the win. While Commanders quarterback Taylor Heinicke was far from great, he also had little resistance in moving the ball downfield. The Texans had no way to stop Terry McLauren and Logan Thomas, who totaled 130 yards between them.

Washington found that running horizontally brought a challenge that Houston couldn’t answer. Running backs Antonio Gibson and Brian Robinson Jr. combined for 33 carries and 129 yards. But Curtis Samuel notched a 10-yard touchdown on an end-around where he went untouched. Post-game, Allen spoke about the impact of a cohesive unit creating a symbiotic relationship and crediting the rest of the defense for being able to make plays in the backfield.

There’s no question Allen is correct. Though their performance against a struggling Houston offense isn’t predictive of what’ll happen against better competition, this team knows what it’ll take to overcome an offense lacking the star power at quarterback some of their peers have. It’ll take a consistently good defense and timely playmaking.

Head coach Ron Rivera stressed the importance of the team’s ability to continue winning as a determining factor as to who would start at quarterback. This means it’s Heinicke who will be the starter moving forward and that Carson Wentz was understanding of the decision.

The decision to go with Heinicke is a damning statement of how the Commanders’ roster and coaching staff feel about Wentz. Both Rivera and Allen eluded to how players essentially choose the starting quarterback with how they respond to their presence. It’s notable both are choosing a lower-ceiling option in Heinicke over Wentz.

It’s hard to argue with their decision, even if Wentz is more physically gifted. Washington is content to rely on its rushing attack and defense to keep games within striking distance. Their strategy has been working, so there’s no reason to disrupt a roster finding continuity and getting healthier at the right time of the year.

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