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Breaking down the performance of QB Sam Howell
Despite the Washington Commanders ultimately losing in overtime to the Eagles, the performance of quarterback Sam Howell will be a big positive to take away from the game. After the worst start of his career against the Bills last week, this week was a big test to see not only how Howell would bounce back, but how he would respond against a second quality opponent in back to back weeks. Howell stepped up tremendously, completing 29 of 41 passes for 291 yards and a touchdown, leading his team on a last minute touchdown drive to tie the game and take last year’s Super Bowl runners up to overtime.
The loss was tough to take after that, but ultimately the long term view here is the most important aspect. Howell proved he could compete against one of the best defenses in the league and be very efficient in Eric Bieniemy’s system. There will undoubtedly still be bumps in the road for Howell’s development and he may never fully pan out, but this game was a proof of concept that the pairing of Howell and Bieniemy can work.
That decisiveness and rhythm of getting the ball out quickly and letting his receivers make plays for him is exactly what this offense needs to be built on and they showed they were capable of doing that consistently against a strong defense like the Eagles yesterday. That’s not to say, however, that Howell was only throwing checkdowns. In key situations, he was pushing the ball further down the field and picking up explosive plays too.
Here on third and four, the Commanders align in a bunch set to the right. Out of that bunch set, the Commanders have one receiver breaking inside on a basic cross, one breaking outside on a corner route and a third receiver faking a shallow cross before pivoting back outside. Howell only needs four yards to pick up the first down and keep the chains moving, but he doesn’t hyper focus on the shorter stuff underneath. He spots the opportunity to throw further down the field and doesn’t hesitate to take that shot. The Eagles play man coverage but fail to sort out the bunch set. Dyami Brown ends up breaking wide open on his corner route. Howell looks poised and confident in the pocket, probably a result from being in rhythm due to Bieniemy’s play-calling, as he takes his hitch steps to climb up in the pocket and deliver the throw to Brown. Brown brings in the pass and turns up the sideline on his way to a big 35-yard gain, putting them in field goal range just before the half.
Howell definitely has that clutch trait that enables him to stay calm in key situations and play his best football in those moments. To put together that scoring drive in the last 90 seconds of the game with just one time out against a defense as good as the Eagles was extremely impressive.
It was a very strong and encouraging performance overall from Howell and one that gives a glimpse of just how effective an offense led by Howell and Bieniemy could be going forward. They showed the blueprint in this game and proved the potential is there. We shouldn’t get carried away by one performance but it was a proof of concept that this is a quarterback and system that can be effective against one of the best teams in the league.
Washington Post (paywall)
[T]he game-tying drive — and the frustration in the locker room afterward — made one thing clear: The Commanders have confidence and high expectations for their offense.
This is not an argument for moral victories. This is not an excuse for letting a lead slip away. But the last time the Commanders were in Philadelphia, they celebrated scoring 32 points in a November 2022 upset as if they had just won the Super Bowl. On Sunday, the offense — which scored at least 30 points for the second time in four games — was clearly aggravated.
“It’s not good enough,” McLaurin said. “We got to figure out a way to finish the entire game.”
What happened Sunday is not normal for Washington. Under Rivera, the team had gotten the ball down one score with two minutes or less remaining in the fourth quarter six times. The offense had scored just twice — Houdini acts by Taylor Heinicke in 2021 — and yet, when the Commanders got the ball Sunday, a comeback felt possible.
“I just knew we were going to score,” left guard Saahdiq Charles said. “I knew it deep down. I really did. … I knew we were going to win ... even though we didn’t.”
Washington Post (paywall)
Hail: Sam Howell’s moxie
Howell scrambled when necessary, finishing with 40 yards on six carries, and displayed the poise of a veteran on Washington’s two fourth-quarter touchdown drives. He caught a few breaks, including when Eagles safety Terrell Edmunds dropped a wobbler in the end zone in the first half, but he finished without a turnover and made clutch plays with his arm and legs when his team needed him most.
Fail: Special teams
It was a disappointing day for Nate Kaczor’s special teams unit, which allowed a 20-yard punt return to Britain Covey before Philadelphia’s go-ahead touchdown drive in the fourth quarter. On the punt that began Washington’s previous possession, Jamison Crowder mistakenly called for a fair catch at his own 7, and the Commanders went yet another game without a punt return of more than 20 yards. In overtime, the normally reliable Tress Way shanked a punt 29 yards after the Commanders went three-and-out, giving the Eagles the ball at their own 41.
The Washington Commanders accomplished part of what they wanted. They recovered from an ugly loss at home last week and matched the Philadelphia Eagles for 60 minutes.
The Commanders still lost in overtime, 34-31. So a game that could lead to better things in the coming weeks only led to frustration Sunday. That’s why, at one point in his postgame news conference, Washington coach Ron Rivera pounded his fist on the podium during one answer. And the frustration was visible on his face.
“There’s no moral victories,” Rivera said. “When you put yourself in position you’ve got to capitalize on it.”
If the Commanders (2-2) play like that again Thursday vs. the Chicago Bears (8:15 p.m. ET, Prime Video) and the foreseeable future they can look back on this game as a building block. After playing the Bears (1-3), Washington plays at Atlanta (2-2) and the New York Giants (1-2).
Sunday, they had a quarterback in Sam Howell, making his fifth start, who led two fourth-quarter scoring drives to tie the game, including a 64-yard drive in the final one minute, 43 seconds that ended with a 10-yard strike to receiver Jahan Dotson on the final play of regulation. Howell rebounded from an ugly four-interception game against Buffalo last week to throw for 290 yards, one touchdown and no interceptions.
“That’s growth,” Rivera said. “That’s what we’re looking for, make some mistakes and come back and play your ass off.”
“He had a great game,” Washington running back Antonio Gibson said, “especially with all the critics last week. He acted like none of it fazed him and he showed what he was.”
It was a gut-wrencher for the Commanders...
Commanders defense’s lack of turnovers
Before the game, I did an analysis of how the Washington Commanders managed to upset the Philadelphia Eagles last season. They repeated two of the three big things that won that game. They committed to the run, and they managed to lure their opponents into a lot of bad penalties. The one thing they couldn’t do was force turnovers.
They were close on several occasions. On the first drive of the second half, Chase Young and Daron Payne converged on Jalen Hurts as he was beginning his throw, forcing the ball to squirt out of his hand. This was as close to a fumble as you can get, and safety Kamren Curl was there to pounce on the ball with nothing but open field in front of him.
But the play was ruled an incomplete pass. It was the right call, thanks to Hurts’ remarkable grip on the ball, but it was so close to being a game-changer.
That play was out of Washington’s hands, but the first play of the fourth quarter was not.
The Eagles ran a conservative sweep on 3rd-and-11 from inside the red zone. Washington’s defense smothered the play and Benjamin St-Juste stripped the ball from Kenneth Gainwell. Several Commanders had a shot at the recovery, but Cody Barton didn’t identify the fumble quickly enough, and Lane Johnson managed to beat Montez Sweat and the aforementioned cornerback to the ball.
On the next play, Jake Elliott kicked a short field goal to put Philadelphia up by a touchdown.
If the Commanders are able to secure one of those near misses, they probably win the game.
As expected, Del Rio and the Commanders saw the play in Sunday’s 34-31 overtime loss to the Eagles — and multiple times.
The final time came in overtime, with the Eagles facing a fourth-and-1 in overtime. Here’s the play:
The officials missed a clear false-start by the Left Guard on the 4th and 1 Tush Push.— Chad Ryan (@ChadwikoTWW) October 1, 2023
After McLaurin's catch ruled OOB, if the Eagles go on to win this game, remember this play. pic.twitter.com/CGVapuJVWk
If this was called a penalty, the Eagles would have faced a fourth-and-6, which would have dramatically changed their strategy.
But, was it actually a penalty? The Commanders could have also been called for a neutral zone infraction.
This play was a hot topic on social media after the game, with many seeing it in different ways. Ultimately, this didn’t cost Washington the game. The catch or non-catch for Terry McLaurin was more controversial than this version of the “tush push.”
The Washington Commanders and the rest of the NFL are making moves as they work their way through a season of ups and downs and news and views ...
The Chicago Bears will be without one of their receivers when they visit the Washington Commanders on Thursday.
Bears coach Matt Eberflus told ESPN1000 in Chicago that Chase Claypool would not return to the team this week after stepping away.
Claypool voluntarily left the facility last week and didn’t play Sunday against the Denver Broncos. His absence will continue Thursday when the Bears and Commanders play inside FedEx Field at 8:15 p.m.
To break the circle of mediocrity, Washington has to defeat teams it’s supposed to beat. Simple, right?
After beating two of the worst teams in the league to start 2-0, the Commies have lost their last pair of games, getting shellacked by the Bills as consolation for Super Bowl XXVI 31 years later, and Sunday’s effort to the Eagles. One was a toss out the tape and make sure it’s incinerated and never lay eyes on it again because you played so bad effort. The other clearly showed Washington either learned a bunch of lessons from that horrible showing and improved or last week’s drubbing was an aberration. And it really doesn’t matter, because the Commanders are the best 2-2 team in the league. Yes, better than the Rams, Packers, and all of the AFC South.
And here’s the weird part — Washington has a good chance of still being at two losses the next time they play Philadelphia on Oct. 29. Only a Thursday night clash with the winless Bears, as well as games against the Falcons, and Giants separate it from its next test against da Birds. Three winnable games, heck, three games the Commanders should be favored in. And the circle of mediocrity can be broken for a team that hasn’t won a playoff game since before I was Bar Mitzvah’ed. That’s 2005 for people not named Bruce.
This Commanders team is different, and you’ll have to excuse me for thinking highly of a team that rid itself of Daniel Snyder. What a weight off everyone’s shoulders that is. And looking at Washington’s roster, the only criticism I can see is that it’s not elite at any given thing. And that could cost the Commanders a football game in crunch time. At the opposite end of the spectrum (not that one Philly), where’s the hole? Howell has looked decent, the team’s backfield is good, the wide-receiving corps is underrated, and the offensive linemen don’t have two left feet. And Washington’s front seven is one of the best in the NFC. The secondary somehow is improving too. Here’s the Commanders’ chance on a silver platter to avoid purgatory and get the inside track to the postseason. If Sunday was how well they can play against one of the best, Thursday should be a breeze against one of the worst.
Podcasts & videos
Episode 668 - In-depth discussion & analysis of the #Commanders' wild overtime loss at the Eagles. Disappointed by the outcome. Extremely encouraged by Sam Howell.— Al Galdi (@AlGaldi) October 2, 2023
I also talk #Orioles, #Nats, @TerpsFootball, @HokiesFB, @UVAFootball, @NavyFB & more.https://t.co/7e7AvBJmfM
Ben Standig and Kevin Sheehan on Commanders loss in Philly, Sam Howell’s rebound performance
NFC East links
Bleeding Green Nation
Final thoughts from Philadelphia’s Week 4 win.
LOSERS - THE REFS
Pretty frustrating crew. The Eagles were negatively impacted by questionable calls in multiple high-leverage spots.
- 4th-and-6 at the 9-yard line got turned into 1st-and-goal at the 4-yard line with this very weak defensive holding penalty on Nicholas Morrow that was incorrectly attributed to Zach Cunningham. The Commanders started the game 7 to 0 instead of 3 to 0.
- Landon Dickerson was called offside on a Brotherly Shove attempt where Washington is also very offside and Daron Payne has his friggin hand under the ball. The Eagles punted from their own 45-yard line instead of having a first down at midfield.
- A weak pass interference penalty on James Bradberry turned another third down stop into 1st-and-goal at the 10-yard line. The Commanders ended up settling for a field goal anyway but the Eagles could’ve had a better chance at scoring a touchdown instead of a field goal on their final drive of the first half if they didn’t have to burn two timeouts and see 20 extra seconds go off the clock.
- A 3rd-and-10 getting turned into a first down with bogus defensive holding on Darius Slay. The flag was thrown very late. The Commanders ended up having to punt anyway. Ball don’t lie.
- Terrell Edmunds getting called for unnecessary roughness by trying to not let Sam Howell get to the marker along the sideline. What’s he supposed to do, just let him pick it up? 4th-and-short at the Commanders’ 49-yard line turned into 1st-and-10 at the Eagles’ 35-yard line to aid Washington’s game-tying drive to make it 24 to 24.
This crew just didn’t seem to totally know what they were doing? It took the Eagles coaching staff begging for a flag for them to call one on a play where D’Andre Swift basically got face masked twice. Hurts had his face mask grabbed (albeit lightly) in the open field and there was no call.
THE COMMANDERS’ GOOD LUCK AT THE LINC THE PAST TWO YEARS
As we discussed leading up to Week 5, the Commanders’ 2022 win over the Eagles was so fluky.
The Eagles uncharacteristically turned the ball over four times. There was a jump ball interception that was once right in A.J. Brown’s hands. There was a fumble that happened immediately after the Commanders gave up a deep catch to Quez Watkins. There was another fumble that was caused by Dallas Goedert nearly getting his head ripped off by a facemask penalty that inexplicably went uncalled.
It seems like it’d be hard for the Eagles to be so unusually unlucky again.
Welp. The Commanders’ uncanny good luck continued in the first half of this game.
We already touched on the ref stuff. Statistically, the Commanders have gotten more help from officiating against the Eagles than any other team:
Most 1st downs off penalties given up since start of last season (by the Eagles):— Brent Cohen (@EaglesRewind) October 1, 2023
Today - 5 (WAS)
Week 10 2022 - 4 (WAS)
Week 3 2022 - 4 (WAS)
Beyond that, the Commanders had a red zone pick that hung up in the air like a fly ball dropped by Edmunds. Then they managed to recover their own fumble in the end zone. Another fumble by Antonio Gibson somehow bounced right back up into his hands to result in an eight-yard gain instead of a loss of yards or a turnover.
Truth be told, I never felt too worried about the Eagles losing even when they were down because I felt like the Commanders couldn’t keep getting all the breaks. And things did start to even out a bit, such as Jahan Doston dropping a third down pass and McLaurin not being able to get his foot in along the sideline late in the game.
The Giants’ offense is a mess. Jones has regressed to his old turnover-prone form. The result is the Giants’ season has quickly slipped away only four ugly games into the season. Jones lost a fumble and threw two interceptions — one that was returned 97 yards for a touchdown when the game was still in reach. Not that he received much help. The offensive line was a disaster and allowed 11 sacks. The Giants’ special teams committed six penalties. This was bad. As the season slips away, the Giants will have to do something with road games in Miami and Buffalo on deck. It could get worse before it gets better.
QB breakdown: Jones completed 27 of 34 passes for 203 yards and 2 interceptions. This isn’t the quarterback everyone saw in the first season under coach Brian Daboll last season. Sure, Jones is under constant pressure, but he’s also not playing well. Both can be true. The three turnovers were all on Jones. He now has six through four games this season. Did the Giants make a mistake giving Jones that $160 million deal? This was the third time in four games that he has played poorly. New York needs much better or this season will spiral out of control.
Troubling trend: The Giants have been outscored 77-9 in first half of games this season. To say they’ve struggled in the first half would be an understatement. The Giants have yet to score a first-half touchdown through four games. They’ve managed only field goals of 44, 55 and 57 yards. Their minus-68 point differential in the first half of games is tied for the fourth worst for a team through four games in the Super Bowl era. This after the Giants talked all week about finding ways to start faster. It again didn’t work.
Eye-popping NFL Next Gen stat: Seahawks tight end Fant’s 19.8 expected yards after catch. That was what Fant was expected to get after being 15.34 yards from the nearest defender on his 51-yard catch late in the second quarter. But Fant got so much more, thanks to missed tackles along the sideline by inside linebacker Bobby Okereke and cornerback Adoree’ Jackson. Fant racked up 46 yards after the catch on the play, and eventually was ruled down at the 1-yard line. Seahawks RB Kenneth Walker III scored on the very next play. The Giants’ poor tackling came back to bite them again.
Giants still can’t finish the job. New York has now played a month’s worth of football, and has one half (the final two quarters of Week 2) of which it can be proud. The Giants have reverted to their old, pre-Brian Daboll ways, failing to convert in key moments and hurting themselves with mistakes too often. They’ve been outscored, 77-9, in first halves so far, and when they had opportunities to convert Monday night, they failed on a QB sneak in Seattle territory in the first half, then threw a pick-six on the goal line in the third quarter. We haven’t even mentioned their defense yet, either, which is quickly proving to be a fundamentally poor unit that misses far too many tackles. On Monday night, this reared its ugly head on Noah Fant’s 51-yard reception that probably shouldn’t have gone for more than a first down. The frustration is evident in their play, too, with Monday night becoming a chippy affair before halftime. And there aren’t any signs things are going to get better any time soon.
Big Blue View
Giants’ futility has been amazing, and they have no real answers for it
I think that right now the New York Giants are a very bad, awful, embarrassingly inept football team. And, honestly, I might be being kind.
I think I’m not even sure I can summarize all the ways in which the Giants embarrassed themselves on Monday night — and so far during a season in which they not been competitive in front of a national TV audience three times in four weeks. I will, though, try.
- Daniel Jones was sacked 10 times and harassed on almost every drop back. Parris Campbell was also sacked once.
- When he was upright, Jones wasn’t good. He threw two interceptions, including a 97-yard pick-six. He fumbled twice, losing one (a strip sack that gave Seattle the ball inside the Giants’ 10-yard line).
- Jones has now thrown six interceptions, tied with Jimmy Garappolo of the Las Vegas Raiders for most in the league.
- The special teams were pitiful. The Giants committed six accepted special teams penalties, Eric Gray muffed a punt, and the Giants gave up a 23-yard punt return.
- The Giants trailed at the half, 14-3. They have now been outscored in the first half of game by a 77-9 score.
- The tackling was better than in Week 3 vs. San Francisco, except on a 51-yard catch-and run by Noah Fant. Fant tiptoed down the sideline past multiple feeble tackle attempts before being stopped at the 1-yard line.
- In three nationally televised games (vs. the Dallas Cowboys, San Francisco 49ers and the Seahawks) the Giants have been outscored 94-15.
- In two games at home, the Giants have been outscored 64-3.
- There are two teams in the NFL, the Giants and New York Jets, who have not run an offensive play this season while leading in a game.
There was nothing good about Monday night. The most distressing thing about Monday’s blowout loss? The Seahawks weren’t even good. While sitting in the press box I mentioned several times to colleagues that it seemed like Seattle was trying to invite the Giants to stay in the game.
I think it is is flabbergasting how bad this Giants team looks. This is a team that won a playoff game a season ago and — on paper — fields a superior roster. It is a team whose head coach won Coach of the Year honors a year ago and whose overall coaching staff was lauded as being outstanding. It is a team that had resilience as a hallmark of its surprisingly successful season.
Yet, this team is playing like the 2017 Ben McAdoo or 2021 Joe Judge Giants. It is a coaching staff that has made a number of questionable decisions, both involving personnel and in-game. Being outscored 77-9 over the first halves of four games, and the atrocious, undisciplined why in which the Giants played with 11 days to prepare for Monday is something the coaching staff needs to answer for. The resilience of the 2022 team has, to this point, been nowhere to be found.
This team showed up like it was playing on 11 hours rest instead of 11 days rest. The Seahawks were BEGGING the Giants to make this a game and every time they had a chance to, they shit down their leg which somehow led to a Seattle touchdown. It would be impressive if it didn’t make me want to drink a gallon of bleach.
But the biggest takeaway from tonight is how this shit just isn’t going to change no matter how fun last year was. I’m done complaining about the O-Line not being able to block. I’m done defending Daniel Jones as he turns the ball over. I’m done spinzoning an offense that plays and calls plays scared. I’m done hoping the defense is going to force a big turnover or at least make a tackle. I’m done believing that the special teams anything but a tire fire. I’m done thinking anything but the most embarrassing shit is going to happen to this team, most likely in primetime so every other fanbase can laugh at us because Goodell is a fucking stooge. I know these problems all are connected by the lack of talent/explosiveness in certain positions. But that’s where coaching comes in and even that has been a big fat zero this year.
NFL league links
Pro Football Talk
Smith was pulled down along the sideline in the second quarter in an awkward way. Giants defender Isaiah Simmons dragged Smith to the turf with a hip-drop tackle. He missed the rest of the half with a knee injury that required X-rays.
After the game, Geno sounded off to Lisa Salters of ESPN.
What happened? she asked.
“A dirty play,” Smith said. “Dirty play. You guys could see it. It was a dirty play. There’s no place in this sport for that. And, you know, hopefully something happens. But other than that, the grace of God allowed me to come back into this game.”
He was upset after the hit and beyond, drawing an unsportsmanlike conduct foul after he returned to action. Why was he so mad?
“You know what?” Smith said. “I don’t respect that type of stuff, you know what I mean? There’s no need for that type of stuff. It’s a hard-fought game out there. We’re all battling. But no need to take shots at guys running out of bounds on the sideline.”
The hip-drop maneuver has created controversy. A push to outlaw it in the offseason was unsuccessful. The injury risk is very similar to the risk from the banned horse-caller tackle, as the body of the tackler comes down on the ball-carrier’s lower legs. (Former Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman has argued against making the hip-drop tackle illegal.)
Legal or not, this one happened when Smith was out of bounds.