The Commanders scored just 20 points against the New England Patriots, but even with Washington’s self-inflicted mistakes, their offense piled up 432 yards on the day. For Eric Bieniemy’s offense, it was always about becoming a consistent unit, and while they are not there yet, two games in a row is a good start.
Emptying the notebook from Washington’s performance against the New England Patriots, here are some observations throughout the game.
Antonio Gibson’s most impactful game of the season
It was not a huge day for Gibson, who had just 76 yards from scrimmage on 11 touches, but he converted five of them for first downs. Gibson’s 11 touches are also a season-high, and it coincides with a day that the offense was missing receiver Curtis Samuel. He was limited in Wednesday’s practice, and his status for the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday isn’t clear. Gibson was used all over the offense, seeing snaps from the backfield, wideout, slot, and a tight split.
Sam Howell processing pressure at a quicker rate
Sam Howell went 8-13 for 108 yards on 17 pressures and was sacked three times. Howell’s production in these situations was a good sign of progress, as much his offensive line has improved their protection over the past two weeks, his being decisive under pressure and keeping eyes downfield was just as important. Howell showed several instances where he threw well with trust and anticipation, bought time for his receivers using his legs, and knew where his checkdowns were on his hot routes. (In this video I included two overthrows, but his processing is there.)
On Jahan Dotson’s touchdown, the New England Patriots showed a six-man pressure, causing Howell to check his protection, moving tight end Logan Thomas tight to the formation, countering with a max-protection call. The protection call defeats the pressure, and with one-on-one coverage in the secondary, Howell used good ball placement allowing for Dotson to accelerate and track over the shoulder for a touchdown. Dotson showed good concentration and ball security in traffic for his most explosive play of the season.
Howell’s arm strength was on display firing tight window passes during moments throughout the game. Early in the game, Dyami Brown caught a pass up the seam from Howell, who used good mental processing with his eyes, manipulating the Patriots linebacker and moving him off his zone landmark. As a result, Howell fit a pass into the first window behind the linebacker.
Howell later in the game was able to connect with Dotson in the zone void of a cover-two defense. Bieneimy calls a double curl concept which places both Dotson and McLaurin on opposite hashmarks. The Patriots successfully take away Howell’s initial read, so he works his progressions finding Dotson on the backside of the play, delivering a very accurate pass leading Dotson toward the sideline and the natural void of the cover-two zone. Dotson also did a good job working with Howell after he completed his curl route, and naturally working himself toward the sideline.
When the downfield routes weren’t there, Howell did a solid job exploiting soft zones, and Bieniemy did a good job using his tight ends and running backs as delayed check-downs. The delayed routes after chips on pass rushers, created natural separation for the Commanders receivers because of how deep the second level will drop in their zones. Howell showed good mental processing in this two-minute situation, in plus territory. At the snap, Washington’s offensive line simulates a full slide left before pulling guard Chris Paul to the edge, replacing Logan Thomas after his release up the seam. Howell didn’t force anything downfield, and understanding the moment allowed Thomas to pick up the first down with his legs.
Howell and Terry McLaurin did an excellent job on back-to-back plays winning in their respective areas. On the first big gain, the Patriots ran a three-nam line game on the left side of the offensive line. With Paul being late on help for center Tyler Larsen, Christian Barmore was able to successfully penetrate the a-gap and pressure Howell almost instantly. Alternatively, on the right side, Cosmi showed very good processing and vision being able to ID the looping linebacker and picking him up. However, Howell stood tall in the face of the pressure and showed very good ball placement and physical toughness under pressure to McLaurin. McLaurin showed good processing at the breakpoint using good head manipulation to win the leverage battle before accelerating to the corner to finish the play and get feet inbounds.
In the second play, Howell showed very good velocity to fit a ball in the first window of the zone void to McLaurin. It’s impressive because the second window was going to be available to Howell as well if he waited a split second, and would have been a less difficult throw and catch to deliver at that moment, but it worked out for Washington as McLaurin gained over 20 yards after the catch for a trip to the red zone.