The Green Bay Packers head to our nation’s capital this Sunday to face the Washington Commanders in a battle between two teams off to disappointing starts this season. The Commanders are 2-4 but will be playing without starting quarterback Carson Wentz who is out with an injury. The team will turn to last year’s starter, Tyler Heinicke who will be making his first start of 2022.
The Packers are coming off a demoralizing 27-10 defeat by the New York Jets who outplayed the Packers in all three facets of the game. The loss dropped the Packers record to 3-3 on the season. The Commanders edged the Bears 12-7 in an ugly game a week ago Thursday and are coming off the mini bye.
The Packers lead the all-time series between these two teams 20-15-1. These two teams first met back in 1932 when the franchise was known as the Boston Braves. The Packers also lead the playoff series between the two franchises, going 2-1. Green Bay has won the last two meetings between these two teams including 24-10 win last year at Lambeau Field.
Here is a look at six key factors that will determine who wins Sunday’s game in Washington:
- Protect Aaron Rodgers
The Packers offensive line was dominated by the Jets in all phases of the game last week. They allowed four sacks and nine pressures of Aaron Rodgers and failed to open holes for the running game.
Head coach Matt LaFleur has said changes may be coming and the Packers need to fix a few things. They must do a better job of picking up stunts which the Jets used so effectively as week ago.
Right guard Royce Newman has been the weak link of the offensive line while Elgton Jenkins has struggled at right tackle. The Packers even benched Newman and replaced him with Jake Hanson but Hanson got hurt and Newman returned to the lineup. Changes could and should be made but the line needs to play better no matter who starts.
The Commanders have talented pass rushers including Daron Payne, Montez Sweat, Jamin Davis and Efe Obada. They are fourth in the league in sacks with 19. If the Packers don’t do a better job of protecting Rodgers this week, the offense will again be challenged to put points on the board.
- Scheme Receivers Open and Emphasize Quick Release Passes
Another way the Packers can limit the effectiveness of the potent Washington pass rush is to emphasize quicker release passes, something they have not done enough of in recent games.
Releasing the ball quicker on short passes helps the Packers minimize mistakes and reads by an inexperienced receiving corps and increases the chances that Rodgers and his wideouts will be on the same page.
LaFleur also needs to call more plays that help scheme his receivers open as they are having difficulty winning one-on-one battles against opposing defensive back on a consistent basis.
- Pressure Taylor Heinicke
Heinicke is not as effective under pressure as he is when he has time to throw. The Packers pass rush has gotten good pressure on opposing quarterbacks most of the season and the Commanders have allowed 23 sacks through five games.
Rashan Gary, Preston Smith and Kenny Clark are the team’s top three pass rushers. Smith has slowed down after a strong start and the Packers need him to regain his earlier season form. The Packers should have some favorable matchups against Washington’s mediocre offensive line.
Heinicke is a mobile quarterback and a threat to gain yards when scrambling away from pressure. The Packers should use a combination of De’Vondre Campbell and Quay Walker to shadow Heinicke and prevent him from gaining key yards when under pressure.
The defensive backs will also have to stay with their receivers when Heinicke extends plays while running away from pass rushers.
- Don’t Be Passive Against the Washington Receivers
The Commanders have some dangerous wide receivers led by Terry McLaurin and Jahan Dotson. The Packers need to use Jaire Alexander to take away one receiver on every play and cannot revert to the passive zone they played against the Giants.
Joe Barry’s defense did a better job of being more aggressive against the Jets, especially in the first half. The defense cannot give these dangerous receivers excessive cushions and must adjust throughout the game in the ongoing chess match between the offensive play caller and the defensive coordinator.
The team’s failure to make adjustments has hurt them throughout this season and that needs to change now.
- Win the Turnover Battle
The Packers defense has created only one interception and four total turnovers in six games and have caused none in the last two contests. That must change.
Heinicke threw 15 interceptions last season in 15 starts and had an interception percentage of 3.0 last season.
Being more aggressive and taking fewer penalties on defense would help as the Packers have had some fumbles and sacks wiped out by untimely penalties.
The Commanders have turned the ball over eight times in six games this season but have caused only three turnovers themselves.
The Packers have yet to win the turnover battle in any of their six games this season. That must change if they hope to go back to winning consistently and it should start with this game.
- Run the Ball and Run Some More
The Packers need to run the football to win. When they get away from the run, the defense can get more pressure on Rodgers because they know what’s coming.
Aaron Jones and A.J. Dillon are the Packers most reliable and consistent offensive weapons and balance on offense is a key to keeping the team out of third and long situations.
Washington’s run defense is vulnerable and they are presently ranked 25th in the league and allow opponents to gain 4.6-yards per rush. That means the Packers should be able to move the football on the ground.
Look for Jones to break a few long runs and to have a big game against Washington on Sunday.
This is shaping up to be a must-win game for the Packers who have stumbled badly over the past few weeks and have yet to play a complete game on both sides of the ball.
The offensive line must improve and the Packers need to get on the same page offensively. The defense needs to cause turnovers and play aggressively like they did in the first half against the Jets.
The only potentially good news is the Commanders are also struggling.
This game won’t be pretty, but if the Packers need to win ugly for a while, it’s better than losing to teams they should beat.
Packers 17, Commanders 13
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