San Francisco 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan is set to face his former team, the Washington Commanders, on Saturday. Shanahan spent four seasons with the team as their offensive coordinator from 2010-13 under his father, Mike Shanahan. The Week 16 contest will be the fourth time Shanahan has matched up against Washington since he became head coach of the 49ers in 2017.
The head coach is preparing his unit to go up against a tough Commanders team that's fighting for a spot in the postseason. The Commanders are currently sitting in the seventh, and final, seed in the NFC playoff picture.
"They play good complementary football offense, defense and special teams," offensive line and run game coordinator Chris Foerster said. "This group defensively, you can see they're very sound in what they do schematically... It's a stout group. They bring it every single week and they present a great challenge for us up front on the offensive line."
Washington is coming off of a 28-22 Week 15 victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars and enter the matchup with a No. 4 ranked total defense. In the Commanders last 10 contests, the defense has only allowed 21 points or less, holding teams to an average of 16.4 points per game allowed since Week 6, which ranks third in the NFL.
A large part of Washington's success on defense is credited to their aggressive pass rush. Washington joins the Philadelphia Eagles in being the only two teams that have three-or-more players with 7.0-or-more sacks. Defensive tackle Daron Payne leads Washington in sacks, with 8.5 on the season. Defensive end Montez Sweat has recorded 7.0 sacks so far this season, notching 4.0 in the last five games. According to Next Gen Stats, the Commanders front seven thrives when they generate pressure on the interior. Payne and Jonathan Allen have recorded the most combined quarterback pressures (76) by a defensive tackle duo in the NFL. Washington is also looking to welcome defensive end Chase Young from an ACL injury to make his 2022 season debut against San Francisco in Week 16.
"They're a top five defense. When you have that and you're able to stop the run without always having to play the run, it makes them real tough to go against," Shanahan said. "They don't give up big plays, they make everyone work for everything."
Meanwhile, the 49ers will be looking for their eighth-consecutive victory with quarterback Brock Purdy under center for his third-career start. Purdy has earned 100+ quarterback ratings in each of his starts and will look to replicate that success in Week 16. To do so, he'll have the help of San Francisco's dynamic offensive weapons.
Dual-threat running back Christian McCaffrey has recorded 5.5 receptions per game since joining the San Francisco squad, and he'll likely see more targets against the Commanders with wide receiver Deebo Samuel being sidelined with ankle and knee injuries. McCaffrey's production on Saturday could be a key to success for the 49ers, as Washington's pass defense has allowed a 101.0 completion rating to opposing running backs.
On the other side of the ball, the Commanders offense dominates in time of possession. Rookie running back Brian Robinson Jr. owns the hot hand for Washington's run game, recording over 4.5 yards per carry and 89+ rushing yards in three-consecutive games. Robinson Jr. also leads the Commanders in rushing yards with 652 on the season.
Taylor Heinicke is expected to start at quarterback for Washington on Saturday. So far this season, he's registered 10 touchdowns, five interceptions and an average of 211.6 yards per game. When attacking through the air, Washington's top targets are wide receivers Terry McLaurin, Curtis Samuel and Jahan Dotson. The trio has notched a combined total of 1,953 receiving yards heading into the Week 16 matchup.
"They've done a really good job of running the football, controlling the game," defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans said. "They do a good job of just trying to stay on schedule that way, of protecting the football, running the football really well with two really good backs, a good offensive line... and Heinicke has done a really good job of just managing the game for them. In this last game, you've seen him take a few more shots down field, so I would anticipate them trying that on us. Taking some more shots down field. They have a really good receiving corps, I have a lot of respect for it. Those guys can go up and make plays on the ball, so we have our hands full, not only with the run game, but also with the receiving corps. They're a really talented group of guys."
However, the rich are getting richer when it comes to the 49ers defense. San Francisco ranks first in the NFL in total defense and defensive tackle Javon Kinlaw is expected to make his return from a knee injury against the Commanders on Saturday.
After a victory against the Seattle Seahawks in Week 15, the 49ers have allowed just 70 rushing yards and forced at least one takeaway for their sixth-consecutive game. The defense's goal this week is to stop Washington's dominant run game. Heading into the matchup, San Francisco's rush defense ranks first in allowed yards per carry (3.4) and first in allowed yards per game (74.7), in large part thanks to linebackers Dre Greenlaw and Fred Warner who lead the team in tackles (209 combined).
"It'll be a really good matchup for us when it comes to the run game," Ryans said. "Probably the best run game we've seen since Atlanta, so it'll be a really good matchup for us."