The Washington Football Team has a chance to claim back-to-back wins with its Week 11 game against the Carolina Panthers. Here are three players who could have pivotal roles.
With Logan Thomas on Injured Reserve and Ricky Seals-Jones out with a hip injury, that leaves rookie tight end John Bates to take on a heavier amount of responsibility against one of the NFL's top defenses.
Bates, who stepped in as Washington's top option at the position once Seals-Jones went down against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, played in a season-high 64 snaps. He finished the 29-19 victory with three catches for 25 yards. Bates hasn't had many opportunities as a pass-catcher, but he's caught all five of his targets for 36 yards.
Bates will likely be targeted more often going forward, but head coach Ron Rivera isn't troubled by the rookie's lack of experience. His work ethic and approach to his situation has earned Rivera's trust.
"John stepped up last week and it was really good to see," Rivera said. "He played very well, did a lot of good things for us. I mean, he was part of that 19 play drive and he was very instrumental in a lot of things that happened -- blocking, route running, catching the ball -- so we feel pretty good about that."
Jonathan Allen will see to that.
Allen has been one of the best interior pass rushers all season with six sacks. His Pro Football Focus grade has been on par with Aaron Donald, and his six sacks are second only to the Tennessee Titans' Jeffrey Simmons.
As to what makes Allen such a force in the middle of Washington's defense, Rivera credited it to his physicality at the point of attack.
"You get a lot of guys that stutter and float looking for an opportunity," Rivera said. "Jonathan just goes forward and it's the quickest route to the quarterback is straight ahead. And when he's doing that, he's having success."
And given that the Panthers are in the bottom half of the league in sacks allowed (23rd), there should be opportunities for Allen to put pressure on Newton.
The fact that the Panthers rank around the middle of the league in terms of rushing yards per game (15th) is slightly deceiving; Christian McCaffrey is back off Injured Reserve, and he brings another dimension to the Panthers' backfield.
Washington's sixth-ranked run defense will need to be up to the task, which is why it will rely on players like Cole Holcomb, its most productive tackler, to keep the Panthers' ground game in check.
Holcomb has finished with double-digit tackles in three of Washington's nine games, and after missing five games last season, he's on pace to surpass his career-high of 105 tackles.
That's not to say that Holcomb should be expected to carry the entire load of containing the Panthers' offense. However, Holcomb has been one of Washington's most reliable defenders all season. His quickness and willingness to be a downhill tackler should prove valuable once again.