Washington’s young quarterback has quietly emerged in his second season
This season, Howell has made “the leap.” Does that mean he’s been absolutely perfect or should be in the MVP race. No. But he’s clearly taken a sizable step forward and has routinely connected on throws the vast majority of young quarterbacks simply cannot make. Check how Howell stacks up in the Big-Time Throw (BTT) department with these, let’s say, rather well-known passers:
Attention-grabbing, isn’t it? And Jalen Hurts is the only other quarterback in that chart who wasn’t selected in the first round over the past 10 years.
Of course, quarterbacks shouldn’t only be measured by big-time throws and the rates in which they generate them. But, with increasing prevalence of easy, schemed open throws in every NFL offense, it’s becoming those BTTs that play a key role in separating the bad from the good, and the good from the great at the quarterback position.
In short, if my quarterback isn’t capable of ripping a few big-time throws per game, I’m probably going to need a nearly perfect outing from my offensive coordinator, offensive line, receivers, and running backs to win in most occasions and especially against the most challenging competition. That’s a big ask. From the quarterback’s perspective, if he can’t make those high-degree of difficulty throws, he’ll need to be surgical with his accuracy and process like a brand new Mac computer to succeed in the NFL. Another big ask.
Based on what he’s shown to date, I believe Howell can be the best Day 3 quarterback since Brady. His competition for that title is most notably Cousins and Prescott.
The Athletic (paywall)
“You’re never judged for the mistakes you make,” Howell continued. “You’re judged for how you respond to those mistakes.”
Several experts are open to discussing, if not making arguments in favor of, the idea that Howell is already a top-20 quarterback in the NFL.
Partly, that’s because the overall quality is weak. “I can easily find 12 QBs who are worse,” a personnel executive with another team said, before offering more than the backhanded compliment. “I like the competitor and toughness — all the physical tools.”
Gruden’s only caveat about where to rank Howell is that he lacks insight into various quarterbacks’ work habits and personalities. From what he has watched on the field? “I’ve seen Sam make every throw necessary to be a good quarterback in the National Football League,” he said.
According to Next Gen Stats, Howell has completed an NFL-best five passes with a probability under 20 percent.
DID YOU KNOW?— Next Gen Stats (@NextGenStats) November 7, 2023
Sam Howell is responsible for five completions with a completion probability under 20% this season, most in the NFL.
A look at Howell's four most improbable completions from the @Commanders' Week 9 win over the Patriots! pic.twitter.com/tayY19i8Za
By EPA per attempt this season, Howell ranks 17th, two behind the Denver Broncos’ Russell Wilson and two ahead of the New Orleans Saints’ Derek Carr, per TruMedia. Factor in the money — Wilson’s deal averages $49 million through 2028, Carr $37.5 million through 2026 and Howell a bit over $1 million through 2025 — and some would prefer Washington’s starter.
Just as the cause of Washington’s problems with pressure were not solely on one position, the same could be said about correcting the issues.
Up front, the Commanders made two changes following their 14-7 loss to the New York Giants, during which Howell was sacked six times. They switched out Nick Gates for Tyler Larsen at center, and with Saahdiq Charles being placed on Injured Reserve, Chris Paul stepped up to take his place.
It might sound hyperbolic, but the additions have resulted in an almost complete turnaround. Neither Paul, who was competing with Charles for the starting left guard position in training camp, nor Larsen have allowed a sack, and they add a much stouter presence in the interior.
But there are other factors that have contributed to the Commanders giving Howell better protection. They’ve seen strides from the tight end and the running backs in blocking in recent weeks, which has given Howell the extra time he needs to get rid of the ball.
There’s also the improvement of Howell himself and the changes in the game plan to consider. For the last two weeks, assistant head coach/offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy has emphasized getting the ball out of Howell’s hands at a quicker rate with shorter drops, quick passes and screens.
That’s accomplishing two things: for one, it allows Howell to get the ball to his playmakers more efficiently; and it gives opposing pass-rushers less time to put pressure on him.
Washington Commanders quarterback Sam Howell has shown good progression throughout the season, and offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy is happy with his attention to detail on offense.
Regarding what Bieniemy has liked regarding Howell’s development, it is all about understanding the finer details of the offense.
“You know what, Sam is right where he needs to be, just like I say, each and every week,” Bieniemy said. “Every week he’s growing with the offense. He’s doing a heck of a job as a leader. Obviously, it’s always been important to him because he takes work home, he studies. He’s a humble, hardworking kid that just wants to do it the right way. And so, as far as his pre-snap reads and everything, I think he’s just doing a great job of just having a complete understanding of what he’s looking at.”
After being a lamb to the slaughter, as in each of the first seven games, he was sacked at least four times in each. But over the last two games, things have changed to the point where Howell was only sacked once against the Philadelphia Eagles and three times against the Patriots.
“I attribute that to our coaching staff doing a great job getting these guys ready,” Bieniemy said. “[Offensive Line Coach] Travelle Wharton and [Run Game Coordinator] Juan Castillo are two pretty good O-line coaches. On top of that, just making sure that everybody’s on the same page. I think our players have done a heck of a job protecting the quarterback. And the quarterback has done a great job of getting rid of the football. So right now, I think we’re in a good place now. We just got to continue moving forward.”
Howell and the Commanders have shown progression this season, but against the Seahawks in hostile territory, the newfound confidence in the offensive line’s protection will be severely tested.
Burgundy & Gold Report
This season Crowder has set up the offense with good field position multiple times with some of his bigger punt returns. Through 9 games, Crowder has 20 punt returns for 190 yds (9.5 yds per return).
Crowder has seen his role expand on offense with Curtis Samuel missing time. He’s been targeted 15 times and recorded 13 rec 139 yards 1 TD with a 10.7 per reception average.
Crowder recorded 4 receptions for 23 yards in the win vs the Patriots and seems that even with Samuel’s return, his presence in the lineup and targets will continue.
Crowder’s ability in the return game and on offense have added to his value. He’s displayed he can be a reliable target, in a group that has been guilty of timely drops.
It’s safe to say that Crowder has made Dax Milne expendable (currently on IR) and should be brought back in 2024.
2. An inability to convert on third down.
It’s no doubt that in any game, and especially a close matchup, it is imperative for teams to convert third downs. Without them, any chance of scoring is tanked, and the rhythm a team needs to get into a scoring pattern is quickly halted. Lucky for Washington, it’s something Seattle needs help to get right.
In Seattle’s loss to Baltimore, they had an 8.33% third-down conversion rate, getting just one of 12 attempts in Week 9. But this wasn’t just a problem for them against the Ravens, as they rank 30th in the league on their ability to execute on the most important down in the game.
“We have to convert on third downs, which is everybody,” Seattle’s head coach Pete Carroll said. “We got rushed pretty good. They rushed us and mixed their stuff well. It was hard like they’ve been on everybody. We just have to find out ways to make first downs. I think we were 1-for-12 on third down. You can’t play offense like that and expect anything. It’s as hard as it gets.”
Despite the team’s winning record of 5-3, they know that without converting on third downs, they’re giving teams an opportunity to stay competitive. Two of Seattle’s wins fell within the range of six points or less.
This is a positive sign for Washington, which has struggled at times to get opposing offenses off the field.
“When they last met” is an ongoing series during the NFL season, recalling the preceding game between Washington and the next opponent on the Commanders’ schedule.
Washington 17, Seattle 15 – Week 12, November 29, 2021
Kendall Fuller intercepted Russell Wilson’s two-point pass attempt with 15 seconds remaining, sealing Washington’s 17-15 win over Seattle at FedEx Field.
Seahawks vs. Washington Week 12 Highlights | NFL 2021
Washington Post (paywall)
“To me, it’s all in front of us,” Rivera said this week. “I really do believe that.”
From where he sits — with a 4-5 team, a developing quarterback and a 9-3 record in November with Washington — it’s a reasonable way to think. But it says here there’s no realistic, reasonably attainable route for Rivera to keep his job. Certainly not as the czar of personnel and roster-building. But not as on-field head coach, either.
That’s not a bet against the Commanders this Sunday against the (equally middling) Seahawks. Nor is it to say that Washington couldn’t string a few wins together, because Rivera’s teams have done that around this time of year more than once.
Rather, it’s a sober assessment of the results Rivera has achieved across his career, an acknowledgment that the club is under new management, and an educated guess that said new management isn’t going to look at the on-field product and say, “We’re clearly headed in the right direction.”
Think about it. Josh Harris’s charge as the (still) new owner of his hometown NFL franchise: Fix the fan experience, sure. But fix the football, too.
As always, when it comes to assessing Rivera’s tenure, it’s worth noting the tumultuous times in which he took the job — with a pandemic and a national reckoning on race arriving before he coached his first game here, with Daniel Snyder’s troubles with the NFL and Congress a relentless black cloud over everything the team did. He has navigated so much with dignity.
Good on Rivera.
Now, back to the winning.
By now, we know who Rivera is as a coach. Any mid-level Rivera-ologist can recite the stats: In his 11 full NFL seasons — not counting this year’s 4-5 and the 5-7 he posted before being fired in Carolina in 2019 — Rivera was 6-10 twice, 7-8-1 once, 7-9 three times, 7-10 once, and 8-8-1 once. Yawn. In his three winning seasons, he is 28 games over .500. In all his other seasons, he is 21 games below .500.
That’s not a small sample size. That’s a pattern, a track record that is established.
Podcasts & videos
️All things Sam Howell and previewing Sunday's (must win?) game at Seattle. Guest: @Coach_JayGruden. Howell's unique/positive traits and how close before declaring he's the legit QB answer. Also, why Seahawks' RZ offense and both pass rushes are keys. https://t.co/TiSWyWaygs— Ben Standig (@BenStandig) November 9, 2023
Episode 696 - Eric Bieniemy's extreme pass-heavy approach has expedited the development of Sam Howell. I discuss this & much more off comments from Sam & Ron Rivera, including Ron's response to Chase Young & Ron on his audition for Josh Harris. #Commandershttps://t.co/08DnpfEDlF— Al Galdi (@AlGaldi) November 9, 2023
Locked on Commanders: Washington Commanders Secondary to be Tested by Seattle Seahawks Receivers in Week 10 | Sam Howell
After taking down the New England Patriots in Week 9, the Washington Commanders have begun preparing for their cross country matchup with the Seattle Seahawks.
NFC East links
The Athletic (paywall)
Sam Howell will be QB1 in 2024: Howell’s case grows seemingly every week. After back-to-back 300-yard passing games, he ranks second in the NFL in passing yards (behind only Tua Tagovailoa), is tied for seventh in touchdown passes and is 14th in completion percentage. He’s also tied for the league lead with nine interceptions, and nobody is close with 44 sacks, but he’s made progress in that area over the last two weeks. If Howell continues to progress, he will likely become the main attraction for a potential new head coach or GM if owner Josh Harris decides to clean house. — Ben Standig
Jalen Tolbert will solidify himself as the No. 3 receiver: Against the Rams in Week 8, Tolbert had nearly twice as many snaps on third downs as Michael Gallup. Against the Eagles, that number was basically equal and Gallup’s edge in usage in 11 personnel was similar to Tolbert, with Gallup taking 28 snaps in 11 personnel and Tolbert taking 23 snaps in the three-wide receiver set. If Tolbert’s playing time continues to rise at the same time that Gallup’s diminishes, the usage and production on the field will speak for itself. Tolbert is coming off of a career-high five targets against the Eagles. — Saad Yousuf
New York Giants
The Giants will finish with a top-two draft pick and things will get … interesting: The 2-7 Giants are currently slated to pick fourth in the 2024 draft. However, according to Austin Mock’s projection model, the Giants will end up securing the No. 1 pick. Given how disastrously the season has gone and with injuries mounting, it’s in the Giants’ best interest to tank. Ending up with the top pick is a huge asset for a team, either to trade back for a haul like the Bears did last year or to use the pick on a franchise-changing player. If the Giants choose door No. 2, that’s where things get interesting. First, they’d likely have to decide which of the top-tier quarterback prospects they prefer (likely USC’s Caleb Williams or North Carolina’s Drake Maye). Second, that decision would end Daniel Jones’ tenure as the team’s franchise QB — one year after he signed a $160 million extension. — Charlotte Carroll
A.J. Brown will break the franchise’s receptions and yardage records: Brown has 67 catches for 1,005 receiving yards through nine games. That puts him on pace to break the franchise’s single-season records in both categories, which includes the yardage mark he set himself last season (1,496). Brown could surpass 1,500 yards as soon as mid-December. If not for Tyreek Hill, who, at 1,076 yards, is on pace to become the NFL’s first-ever 2,000-yard receiver, Brown could secure the NFL’s single-season record, too. Calvin Johnson owns the top spot with 1,964 yards in 2012. Brown must average over six catches a game over the final eight to pass Zach Ertz’s franchise record of 116 receptions. Only four other players have more targets than Brown (92), and he has only caught fewer than six passes in a game once this season. — Brooks Kubena
NFL league links
#12 Sam Howell
2023 stats: 9 games | 66.6 pct | 2,471 pass yds | 7.0 ypa | 14 pass TD | 9 INT | 157 rush yds | 1 rush TD | 4 fumbles
Howell is steadily becoming more comfortable and confident in the pocket, and isn’t afraid to sling the rock around the yard to his cast of talented weapons. He threw a gorgeous touchdown pass down the middle of the field to Jahan Dotson and compiled a solid stat line in a win over the Patriots (29 of 45, 325 yards, one touchdown, one interception). He’s also good for a boneheaded mistake or two. On Sunday, it arrived in the form of a perplexing decision to toss a pass into a crowded end zone just before halftime instead of accepting defeat and living to play another down. Howell might eventually iron out those mistakes, but the Commanders will take them as part of the total Howell experience right now, because the good still outweighs the bad.
Promising trend: Chicago put an end to its two-game losing streak without a sack by taking down the Panthers’ Young three times on Thursday. The Bears entered Week 10 pressuring quarterbacks on a league-low 22% of dropbacks. In the first half, Young was pressured on 9 of his 17 dropbacks (53%), which was the Bears’ highest pressure percentage under Eberflus. That number leveled off in the second half (33%), but Chicago’s pass rush showed improvement in holding the Panthers to 3-of-15 on third down. Montez Sweat had a team-high five pressures, the first Bears defender with five pressures in a game since 2021. — Courtney Cronin
There’s Nothing More Pathetic Than The NFL Tweeting Out A Thread Of Roughing The Passer Rules To Justify The Dogshit Calls We’ve Seen This Year
You’re simply not allowed to play football anymore. My example:
All I know is every single Sunday we turn on our TVs and within 20 minutes we all scream about some bullshit roughing the passer call. Bodyweight, going low, whatever it might be. It’s a joke. It’s making it become flag football. Look, no one is arguing the players shouldn’t be safe, but it’s already damn near impossible to play defense. Any ball that’s underthrown on a deep route? Well, pass intereference pal. Make a good tackle on the quarterback? 15 yard backbreaking penalty.
From the @NFL Video Rulebook ⬇️— NFL Football Operations (@NFLFootballOps) November 9, 2023
ROUGHING THE PASSER
Because the act of passing often puts the quarterback (or any other player attempting a pass) in a position where he is particularly vulnerable to injury, special rules against roughing the passer apply. The Referee has… pic.twitter.com/OtAL4WpfTU
It’s shameful to tweet all this out now. I know why they did it. To try and protect the shield and prove they are right, but fuck outta here. All you’re gonna do is draw more eyes to people blasting your refs for another egregious call. I know everyone says these calls should be reviewable, but what’s the point? You think a ref is going to change the call and admit he’s wrong? Yeah, good luck with that one.
Here’s an idea. Let players make tackles. If it’s late, call it. Seems pretty simple.