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Commanders fans want to see Sam Howell start some games this season

Poll Results!!

Washington Commanders v Baltimore Ravens Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images

The question isn’t new; it’s been with us since the final day of the 2022 draft, when the Commanders drafted QB Sam Howell out of UNC at the start of the 5th round — what would his role be and when would he play?

Ron Rivera stepped on the speculation early, saying that the 2022 season would be a developmental one for his new rookie quarterback, and making it clear that the team had traded for Carson Wentz with the intent of starting him, and that Taylor Heinicke, who had stepped up and done yeoman’s work by starting 15 games in the ‘21 season, was absolutely the backup, and it was to Heinicke that the team would turn if Wentz were to be injured.

Disappointing play from Carson Wentz through most of the first 6 weeks ignited discussion of whether he should be benched, and created a “lively” discussion among fans about which alternate quarterback — Heinicke or Howell — should play if head coach Ron Rivera were to sit Wentz down.

The question of benching Wentz for poor play has now been taken off the table — at least temporarily — due to a finger injury and subsequent surgery. Wentz broke his finger in the first half of the Thursday Night Football game against the Chicago Bears.

Estimates have been bandied about that Wentz will likely miss 4-6 weeks, though the team remains a bit vague on the question of how long he’ll be out. In fact, the team hasn’t even decided yet whether or not to put Carson on IR (which would require him to miss at least 4 games). In addition to the severity of his injury and length of his rehab, another consideration could be the fairly generous limit of 8 players per season who can return from IR. It could make sense to simply have Wentz inactive from week to week (as Sam Howell was for Weeks 1-6) if the team feels that they may potentially push up against that 8-player limit.

The injury, however, has renewed the spirited discussion among fans about whether the best move is to play Taylor Heinicke or Sam Howell now that it’s clear that Wentz won’t be on the field for a while.

Arguments revolve around the disappointment of the 2022 season, relative position in the 2023 draft, already knowing what we have in Taylor Heinicke, and the need to “figure out what we have” in Sam Howell before the end of the season.

In effect, the arguments broadly break down along the lines of fans who never want to give up on a season until they absolutely have to — in other words, they believe that you compete for the win with every ounce of effort every week. “Tanking” for draft position, for these fans, is a dirty word and a dishonorable concept. Count me as part of this group.

The contrasting argument comes from fans who see themselves as pragmatists, who believe that the 2022 season is already lost, and that coaches and fans should be worrying at this point about 2023. These fans would prefer to see the team lose every week for the sake of improved draft position. For many of these fans, a potential bonus would be that it could spell the end of Ron Rivera’s tenure in Washington. Many of them want a new coach and a fresh start. These fans want Sam Howell on the field — as early and as often as possible. They want to find out if Sam Howell can be an NFL starter, and they want as many games as possible to come to that determination. Part of their rationale is that, if Washington loses enough games, they will be in a position to draft one of the best QBs coming out of college in 2023.

Reader Comment

Nothing against TH but starting him is a move in the wrong direction. We know what he can do and we know he is not the answer to our future at QB. If we only leave ourselves a few games at the end of the season to look at Howell, will that be enough sample size to determine if we need to use our 1st rounder on a QB?

Think back to Haskins starting a handful of games at the end of 2019. He showed nothing promising but we made him the unconditional starter in 2020 without knowing if he could play. If we had seen more of Haskins in 2019, we might have selected Herbert in 2020. Let’s not repeat these mistakes again.

Some concerns cut across the division between those who still want to try to compete for a playoff spot in 2022 and those who want to ‘compete’ for the best draft position possible in 2023.

One concern is for Sam Howell’s development. Ron Rivera said this week that Sam Howell is still learning, and that he isn’t in a position where it is ideal to put him on an NFL field.

Interestingly, John Keim said something similar this week. Some fans have a fear of “ruining” Howell if he were to be put on the field behind an offensive line that can’t protect him. These fans see Heinicke as the better option — for now.

Reader Comment

I think the QB question is tough. I personally think you transition from Wentz to Heinicke first, since Heinicke is a mobile QB who excels at short passing, which is necessary to survive behind this OL. Only transition to Howell for a few games at the end of the season to see what we have in him and whether or not we need to prioritize QB in the draft. Don’t start Howell early behind this OL or you could ruin him.

Another issue is how different fans see Taylor Heinicke. Some see him as a backup quarterback with limited arm strength who only won 7 out of 15 starts a year ago, and who can’t get the team to the playoffs anyway. Other fans focus on his mobility and his knowledge of the Scott Turner offense. They look at the difference in offensive skill players this season vs last season and see an offense that would have put up more points and won more games with Taylor Heinicke a season ago. These fans see a gritty leader who has a lot of the intangibles that Carson Wentz either never had or seemed to lose along the way. They see Taylor Heinicke as the team’s best chance to salvage the current season.

All of this led us to ask this week: When should Sam Howell start games for the Commanders?

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A whopping 84% of fans who voted in this poll want to see Howell start games in 2022, but only 11% want that to happen this week.

Seventy-three percent of Hogs Haven readers who responded to this survey want to see Howell play only in the final 4 games (after the Week 14 bye) or whenever the Commanders are eliminated from playoff contention.

This is pretty overwhelming sentiment. We know that Taylor Heinicke is the starter against Green Bay. It appears that Carson Wentz will be out until the window of games between Week 11-13 (again, Week 14 is the bye week).

If Heinicke is doing what Wentz didn’t, and winning more games than he’s losing, and keeping playoff hopes alive, do you bench him when Wentz is healthy again? If the opposite happens, and the losing continues, should Ron Rivera turn to Howell early, or perhaps try to get Wentz back on the field as soon as possible?

More than one of the potential scenarios end with Carson Wentz not seeing the field again in 2022 — and maybe never ever again in a Commanders uniform.

We asked about this in our survey.

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The majority of those surveyed believe that Carson Wentz will see the field again for the Washington Commanders.

It all gets a bit problematic. Like it or not, Taylor Heinicke is starting against Green Bay, and Ron Rivera doesn’t sound inclined to go to the rookie any time soon. So, the fans understand that it’s Heinicke time right now; they want to see Sam Howell finish out the season, but also expect Wentz, whose window to return seems to be Games 11-13, to see the field for the team again.

Of course, those fans could be looking for a Wentz return in 2023, I guess. As is so often true in Washington, the quarterback situation is a bit of a muddle.

That leaves one piece of business from this week’s survey that seems relevant to the quarterback situation: with Wentz expected to be out for as many as 6-games, what do fans expect to happen with Heinicke under center?

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Eighty percent of fans surveyed expect the team to do no better than .500 over the next 6 games, with 56% projecting a losing record.

If the Commanders get to Week 13 with a 4-8 or 3-9 record, it’s hard to see Rivera sticking with Heinicke over a returning Wentz. If the team were to lose back-to-back games to the Giants in Weeks 13 & 15, then even Ron Rivera might be convinced to find out what the rookie Howell has to offer in the regular season.

If the head coach can’t find a way to put up at least 6 or 7 wins this season — his 3rd in DC — it’s easy to imagine metaphorical blood on the floor in Ashburn come January, and some of it could belong to Riverboat Ron himself.

Reader Comment

We will scuffle along to a few wins over the next several games and yet again find ourselves in no man’s land....not in true playoff contention, yet not eliminated. Middle of the pack, again.

And once we wind up there (~5 or 6 wins at the Bye), I fear Rivera could very well return to Wentz. Resulting in our collective heads exploding.

Reader comment

If there was an, - I hope so - option on the question as to whether Wentz has played his last game for us, I would have happily chosen that one. Knowing that Ron is a hard headed, dumb ass that will double down on his mistake, I chose that he will play again. Wish it wasn’t true, but Ron doesn’t give a shite about the second round pick that he hopefully won’t be around to use. It will be his last parting middle finger to the fanbase.

Reader Comment

If the team is as bad as most fear, we will not have to wait long to turn to Howell. Also just to be frank, I think it’s obvious most fans don’t need more than 2-3 games to form an unflappable, concrete opinion on a player. These coaches have been developing Howell behind the scenes for months and will have more than ample time to make a decision they’re paid millions to risk their careers on.

Regardless, QB is going to be a high priority in the 2023 draft. That I don’t believe you’ll have to worry about. Having a 1st or 2nd round Rookie compete with 5th round pick Sam Howell is a good conundrum.

Many things are true about this Commanders team. Coming off the TNF win over the Bears, the 2-4 Commanders are just one game out of wildcard contention with 11 games remaining. However, the quality of football they have been playing has been among the worst in the league so far this season.

The forced change at quarterback, in combination with a struggling Packers team that hasn’t won at FedEx Field in the regular season since 2004 (and which very easily could have lost to a WFT led by a dynamic Taylor Heinicke last season) opens up the possibilities. If the Washington offense can ‘throw the switch’ with #4 behind center and come out of this game 3-4 with a Week 8 game in Indianapolis up next, the Commanders could find themselves in the middle of the pack in the NFC and eyeing up the possibility of a 7th seed if they could string together 4 wins from Weeks 11-15.

That will sound like Fantasyland to a large portion of the fan base who see the 2022 season as already over and done with. That’s okay; I’m tossing out hypotheticals, not making predictions.

But that’s where the tension exists between two (or more) factions of fans whose outlooks are in many ways diametrically opposed. That tension and bickering will either come to an end very quickly with a string of losses in the next 4 games, or else it will stretch out for the rest of the season if the team can manage to get one or more wins for every loss as they crawl through the next two months.

Either way, barring 5 or 6 wins in the next 6 games, which could further enhance the legend of Taylor Heinicke in DC, the arguments over the relative merits and drawbacks of the healthy quarterbacks on the Commanders roster will continue with little change in reasoning and likely little movement in the entrenched opinions of fans.

It’s a phenomenon that dates back at least to the days of Sonny & Billy, this pastime of constantly being disappointed with the team’s signal caller and wanting a change — seemingly almost any change that offers the possibility of finally solving the issue that haunts the franchise that won three super bowls under one head coach, but three different quarterbacks. It feels like no quarterback is ever safe in a Washington uniform.

Plus les choses changent plus elles restent les mêmes.