ASHBURN, Va. -- The Washington Football Team received its first bit of good news regarding the reserve/COVID-19 list as it returned four defensive linemen, including Jonathan Allen and Montez Sweat, to the active roster, the team announced Saturday morning.
Sweat remains on injured reserve, though Washington designated him to return to practice. He is expected to be activated off the list in time for Tuesday's game at Philadelphia (6-7). Sweat hasn't played since fracturing his jaw in an Oct. 31 loss at Denver. But coach Ron Rivera said, when asked how much Sweat could play despite the long absence, "A lot."
Washington (6-7) also activated defensive ends James Smith-Williams and Casey Toohill off the COVID-19 list. Those two had been starting at end in place of Sweat and Chase Young, who tore his ACL in a Nov. 14 win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Neither Toohill nor Smith-Williams played in Sunday's loss to the Dallas Cowboys.
The NFL moved Washington's game vs. Philadelphia from Sunday to Tuesday because of its COVID-19 outbreak. It's a pivotal game for playoff positioning. Washington currently owns the seventh and final playoff spot in the NFC.
"That's a loaded question," Allen said, when asked his thoughts on the game change. "As a player in Washington, yeah I'm glad they did it. I'm sure Philly has a different opinion... It's what the league thinks is best. It's not up to us."
Rivera said his initial reaction was, "OK, cool. That's good. That helps us." He said the NFL was going to help teams if there were breakthrough cases with vaccinated players. Almost all of Washington's players who tested positive had been vaccinated; most remain asymptomatic.
Then he pointed to a situation his team faced last season, when a game at Pittsburgh was switched to a Monday. That left Washington with a short week before traveling to Phoenix, where the San Francisco 49ers were playing its home games. Washington won both games.
"It was what's good for the league," he said. "It was a little tough on us because we had to travel cross country to play San Francisco. But that was fine because, again, it came down to what needed to be done. And that's what we did.... "We did it last year, so it just made sense that we did it this year."
Washington still has 19 players on the COVID-19 list, including its top two quarterbacks in Taylor Heinicke and Kyle Allen. There is optimism that Allen will return in time for Tuesday's game. Rivera said Heinicke was trending in the right direction, based on his viral case load numbers. His number needs to be at 35 or higher to test out.
Though two of its other top seven linemen remain on the list -- tackles Matt Ioannidis and Tim Settle -- the return of the others will provide a boost. Allen has been having his best season and leads the team with 7.5 sacks, a half sack off his career best.
Allen said he felt he'd play in this game because he did not have any symptoms and because it happened Monday, giving him more time.
"[But] it was frustrating because it's the worst time of the season," Allen said. "We're getting into divisional play and knowing I might not be out there was the worst part of it."
Washington's defense has played well, led by the line. In the past six games, Washington ranks third in total yards allowed per game and eighth in points. The line has been a major reason, and it will be crucial against Philadelphia.
The Eagles average an NFL-high 210.5 rushing yards per game. But with a healthier front, Washington can counter using a five-man line, as it has done against other teams that like to run the ball.
According to Next Gen Stats, Washington has used that look 70 times on first-and-10 and 137 times overall. According to ESPN Stats & Information, Washington has used five linemen with one or two linebackers 50 times -- second only to Cincinnati's 55. And Washington has used five linemen, one linebacker on an NFL-high 24 occasions.
Though Sweat hasn't played in more than a month -- and had not practiced before Saturday -- the coaches have said they think he will be able to play, pointing to how he has stayed in shape. But it's uncertain how many snaps he would receive.