The Commanders fielded a team full of backups, third-stringers and rookies Sunday night against a heavily favored Dallas team, looking to clinch the number one seed in the NFC playoffs and a first round bye. Nobody gave Washington much of a chance. My season projection model, which has been hitting 70+ percent correct, predicted a Cowboys blowout. Even some of the more consistently optimistic writers for this site (names withheld to protect the innocent) were predicting an ugly loss.
Well, dear readers, funny things happen when teams with nothing to lose play teams that everyone expects to win. It seems that someone forgot to tell rookie QB Sam Howell, third-string DE Benning Potoa’e, special teamer/backup LB Khaleke Hudson and Kendall Fuller that they couldn’t win. Or maybe someone did, and it gave them the chip on their shoulder that they needed. Whatever it was, the Commanders came out on fire and completely overwhelmed the listless Cowboys in every phase of the game...well, except for the kicking.
For those of us who have been around long enough for the Redskins-Cowboys rivalry to mean something, this game was one for the ages. And, in a way, it might have been a fitting end to the Snyder era, if that’s what it was. When the celebrations subsided, the team headed into the offseason with a non-winning record and more questions than answers about its future direction. But there were plenty of reasons for hope in the way they ended it, and it is always satisfying to beat Dallas, even if it costs us a few positions in the draft.
With the unlikely win bringing the final record to 8-8-1, the Washington Commanders became the first team to end a 17-game season with an even record.
The Commanders held Dallas to 6 points on offense, their second-lowest score of the season. It was just one of two games in which Dallas has been held to single digits and one of three times they have been held to fewer than 20. The 20-point differential was Dallas’ largest losing margin of the season. It was Washington’s largest winning margin since the 41-16 Thanksgiving 2020 blowout win against the very same Dallas Cowboys.
The Commanders held the Cowboys to just 182 total yards on offense, their lowest total of the season by 62 yards.
Cowboys QB Dak Prescott had his worst game of the season against the Commanders in terms of passing yards (128), passing first downs (6), completion % (37.8, not a typo), passer rating (45.8), yards per attempt (3.46), uncatchable throws (11), and Total QBR (14.8, also not a typo).
Washington’s defense had 7 passes defended, a pick-6, 3 tackles for loss, 1 sack and 5 pressures, while the special teams coverage unit recovered a fumbled punt return and tackled Cowboys punter for a loss of 13 yards on a fumbled snap.
Dallas’s offense was so bad it made the Commanders’ defense look like the 1985 Bears with an awesome efficiency of -0.498 EPA/play to rank top of the league in Week 18, a full 0.135 EPA/play better than the second-ranked 49ers.
With 1 turnover to the Cowboys’ 2, Washington extended its record to 5-0 in games when it has won the turnover battle.
Washington rushed for 151 yards, averaging a modest 3.68 yards per attempt. In 2022, Washington was 5-1-1 in games when they rushed for more than 150 yards.
Sam Howell’s debut as an NFL passer could not have started any better, with his first pass connecting with Terry McLaurin for a 16-yard touchdown. Surprisingly, Howell become the 8th QB to throw a touchdown on his first passing attempt in the Super Bowl era. He joins Trey Lance 2021, David Blough 2019, Tim Tebow 2010, Matt Ryan 2008, Drew Stanton 2008, Michael Bishop 2000, and Kordell Stewart 1995 in that elite club. It would appear that throwing a TD on your first pass is not the best predictor of NFL career success.
Howell also became Washington’s first rookie QB to run and throw for TDs in the same game since RG3 in 2012.
Howell’s 83 passer rating was the 10th best by a Washington QB this season. His 44.5 Total QBR, which factors in rushing, field position and game situation adjusted for strength of opposing defense, ranked 17th in the NFL in Week 18. Howell had the 7th highest QBR by a Washington starting QB this season, bettering all but one of Carson Wentz’s performances and 4 of Taylor Heinicke’s 9 performances. Heinicke had the highest QBR by a Washington starter this season, registering 83.4 in the 49ers game in which he was benched.
Offensive Coordinator Scott Turner kept Howell on a short leash, calling 19 passing plays to 41 rushing plays, resulting in the lowest ratio of passing attempts to rushing attempts this season (0.463). The second lowest was 0.592 with Taylor Heinicke at QB in the win over Philadelphia.
SNAP COUNTS - OFFENSE
In his much-awaited debut performance Sam Howell completed 11 of 19 passing attempts (57.9%) for 169 yards, 1 TD and 1 INT, with 3 uncatchable throws (16.7%). He also rushed for 35 yards and 1 TD on 5 carries. Two of Howell’s passes were dropped by the receivers. Had they been caught, his passing stat line would instead read 13/19 (68.4%) for 214 yards at a minimum. If Jahan Dotson had been able to hang on to the 37-yard pass he dropped, there is a good chance he would have run for additional yards and possibly scored. Howell was pressured on 16% of his drop backs and sacked 3 times for 11 yards.
Among his 11 completions, Howell had 4 explosive plays: a 52-yard completion to Terry McLaurin (3.44 EPA), a 20-yard completion to Jahan Dotson on 2nd & 14 from the Dallas 41 (2.14 EPA), a 30-yard completion to Jahan Dotson from the Washington 33 (1.98 EPA), and a 22-yard completion to Jahn Dotson from the Washington 41 (1.46 EPA). He also had a brilliant 9-yard scramble for a score (1.86 EPA, decking Trevon Diggs at the goal line – priceless) and clutch scrambles of 8 (EPA 1.49) and 9 (EPA 1.54) yards, both on 3rd and 4 inside the Washington 25 yard line for first downs to keep drives going. Eight of Washington’s 10 biggest plays on offense were credited to Howell.
How did Howell’s first game in Burgundy and White compare to previous rookies’ first starts in the Snyder Era? By most metrics, Howell’s debut performance ranked 3rd to 4th amongst the 5 rookie QBs that started at least one game since 1999. He was behind RG3 and Kirk Cousins in all categories but scoring, where all three were tied at 2 TDs. He was behind Dwayne Haskins in completion % (57.9% vs 68.2%) and passer rating (83 vs 86.2) but ahead of Haskins is passing yards (169 vs 144) and scoring (2 TDs vs 0). Again, if Terry McLaurin and Jahan Dotson had held on to the two passes they dropped, Howell would be well ahead of Haskins’ rookie debut, but still trailing RG3 and Cousins who both threw for over 300 yards. Everyone had better rookie debuts than Patrick Ramsay who threw 4 interceptions.
Jonathan Williams was the designated starter, but Jaret Patterson got the most snaps and was Washington’s leading rusher. Patterson ran for 78 yards on 17 attempts (4.59-yard average), and averaged 2.4 yards before contact per rushing attempt. He did not catch the one pass thrown to him. Patterson’s biggest play on offense was a 14-yard run on 2nd and 12 from the Dallas 26 (1.62 EPA). Williams gained 32 yards on 14 carries (2.29 yard average) and caught 2 passes for 9 yards. He averaged 1.1 yard before contact per rushing attempt. Reggie Bonnafon rushed 3 times for 8 yards.
Terry McLaurin had 3 receptions on 6 targets for 74 yards, 1 TD and 3 1st downs. His long reception of 52 yards was Washington’s biggest play on offense (3.44 EPA). The 74 total receiving yards brought him to 1,191 yards for the season, which is pretty good when you consider that none of the 3 QBs throwing to him was above league average as a passer. He also had 1 dropped pass, which is rare event. McLaurin had not dropped a pass since Week 3 against Philadelphia, and has only dropped 3 passes out of 120 targets (2.5%) in 2022.
Commanders’ star rookie Jahan Dotson was second in receiving with 3 receptions on 4 targets for 72 yards. The 37-yard pass he dropped would have put him over 100 yards for the second time this season and possibly added a TD, if he could have held on. Dotson finished his rookie season with 35 receptions for 523 yards and 7 TDs in 12 games, equating to 1 score every 5 receptions (20%). If he had stayed healthy and maintained that level of production, he would have reached 741 yards in 17 games. Dotson’s dropped pass was his 6th of the year and gave him a season-average drop rate of 9.8%.
Curtis Samuel had 1 reception for -2 yards on 1 target. Cam Sims was targeted once but didn’t catch it. Brown and Milne were not targeted.
Logan Thomas had 2 receptions for 16 yards on three targets. For the 5th week in a row, none of the other tight ends were targeted with a pass. Armani Rogers had 1 rush for 2 yards.
The offensive line had a new look this week, with rookie Chris Paul replacing Andrew Norwell at left guard and Sam Cosmi playing 100% of snaps at right tackle in place of Cornelius Lucas.
The offensive line allowed pressures on 16% of passing drop backs, which was the 6th lowest pressure rate of the season and very close to last week (15.6%).
Center Wes Schweitzer was PFF’s highest rated Commander in Week 18, with a grade of 83.9, and made the PFF Team of the Week, along with teammate Kendall Fuller. Charles Leno was the 3rd highest rated Commander (grade 75.1). Chris Paul had a respectable performance in his first outing, earning a PFF grade of 55.6., but he was called for an ineligible man downfield penalty for 5 yards.
DEFENSE – SNAP COUNTS
Rookie defensive tackle John Ridgeway led the DL in tackles against his former team, despite playing the fewest snaps, with 5 combined stops. Daron Payne had 2 combined tackles and 2 QB knockdowns. Efe Obada had 1 sack, 1 tackle for loss and 1 QB hit. His sack for -10 yards on 3rd and 7 from the Dalls 28 killed a Cowboys’ drive (-2.01 EPA). In his second game playing for Washington, DE Benning Potoa’e had 4 combined tackles, including 1 tackle for loss. Casey Toohill had 3 tackles and 1 QB hurry. Starting DEs Chase Young and Montez Sweat had 2 tackles apiece and no pressures.
Khaleke Hudson was one of four Commanders with 7 combined tackles. He blitzed once and recorded a QB hit. He was targeted once in coverage and allowed a reception for 12 yards. David Mayo also had 7 tackles and added 1 QB hurry on 3 blitzes. Mayo made a critical stop of a Dak Prescott QB sneak on 4th and 1 to force a turnover on downs at the Washington 45 (-2.2 EPA). He was targeted 3 times in coverage and allowed 0 receptions for an opposing passer rating of 39.6.
Kendall Fuller had his best game of the season and, according to PFF, the best game of his career (coverage grade 93.2), allowing 0 receptions on 5 targets (PFF says 7) with a pick 6 and 2 passes defended. His 29 yard interception return for a TD in the 2nd quarter was Washington’s most impactful play of the game (-6.57 EPA). This standout performance followed his worst game of the season last week.
Danny Johnson had his 5th excellent performance in as many weeks. He had 7 combined tackles, and allowed 6 receptions on 10 targets for 45 yards with 2 passes defended. His 70.8 opposing passer rating was very good, if not quite as good as his 39.6 rating last week.
Christian Holmes did not allow a reception on 1 target in coverage.
Darrick Forrest was the fourth of the players tied as Washington’s leading tackler, with 7 combined stops. He allowed 2 receptions on 4 targets for 14 yards and 1 pass defended for a 58.3 opposing passer rating. Rookie Percy Butler had 4 solo tackles. He allowed 1 completion for 13 yards on 4 targets in coverage with 1 pass defended and an opposing passer rating of 40.6.
Bobby McCain had 1 solo tackle and 1 pass defended. In coverage he allowed 2 completions on 5 targets for 23 yards and a TD for an opposing passer rating of 94.2. 2023 Pro Bowler Jeremy Reaves had 1 tackle and allowed only 1 reception for 11 yards on 3 targets in coverage for a season-best opposing passing rating of 45.1.
SPECIAL TEAMS – SNAP COUNTS
The Commanders’ special teams units kept things exciting by contributing some of the best and worst plays of the game.
Highlights included Christian Holmes’ recovery of KaVontae Turpin’s fumbled fair catch at the Dallas 15-yard line (5.04 EPA) and Milo Eifler tackling Dallas punter Bryan Anger for a 13-yard loss on the fumbled snap at the Dallas 33 (-3.06 EPA).
At the other end of the spectrum, kicker Joey Slye had his worst day in Washington, missing field goal attempts from 31 (-2.91 EPA) and 52 (-2.79 EPA) yards, as well as an extra point (-1 EPA).
Jaret Patterson had 1 kick return for 27 yards. Dax Milne had 7 punt returns for 55 yards (7.86 yard average) and fumbled 1 punt, which he recovered.
Tress Way had 7 punts for 319 yards, with 13 return yards (40.9 net yards per punt), with 3 landing inside the Dallas 20.
Pro Bowl and NFLPA All Pro nominee Jeremy Reaves, as well as Cam Sims, Casey Toohill and Dyami Brown all made tackles in punt coverage. Troy Apke had 1 assist. Joey Slye and Shaka Toney combined for a tackle on a 29-yard kick return by KaVontae Turpin. Armani Rogers had a missed tackle in coverage.
Acknowledgement: Unless otherwise stated all stats are from Pro Football Reference. Thanks to James Dorsett for editorial assist and and Bill in Bangkok for providing some PFF data on special teams tackles.
What was the high point of your 2022 Commanders’ fan experience?
This poll is closed
Commanders’ backups and third stringers 26 - Cowboys’ starters 6
Beating the 8-0 Eagles
Sam Howell’s debut performance
Brian Robinson’s comeback/emergence as lead RB
Washington getting a 1st round WR draft pick right
The Taylor Heinicke experience
Darrick Forrest’s emergence solidifying the safety position
Jeremy Reaves’ Pro Bowl and NFLPA All Pro nominations
Four Commanders named Pro Bowlers
Breaking news that Dan Snyder is selling up
Scott Turner’s firing