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Daily Slop - 14 Nov 23: Commanders offer no defense in pursuit of 2023 goals

A collection of articles, podcasts & tweets from around the web to keep you in touch with the Commanders, the NFC East and the NFL in general

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Washington Commanders v Philadelphia Eagles Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

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Washington Post (paywall)

The Commanders’ defense often rebounds by now. This year, it seems cooked.

After the field goal sailed through the uprights, sealing another brutal loss, Washington Commanders defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio turned away from the field and hurled his headset. It slammed into a bench, inches from cornerback Benjamin St-Juste, but St-Juste didn’t flinch. He had allowed several critical plays late in the game and blamed himself for the 29-26 loss to the Seattle Seahawks. Everyone ran off the sideline as St-Juste sat, alone and shocked, for nearly a minute.

The locker room was sullen. Three weeks ago, after a humiliating loss in New York, defensive tackle Jonathan Allen’s profane rant captured players’ exasperation that they weren’t, in fact, better than the terrible Giants.

But on Sunday night, the defense reiterated this is just what it is. It lacks attention to detail and has a knack for being lesser than the sum of its parts. Despite the fight the offense put up, the defense allowed three straight scores in the fourth quarter and pushed Allen’s frustration higher.

In each of the first three seasons under Del Rio, the defense started slowly but rebounded in time to help make a midseason playoff push. The slight uptick in recent weeks suggested this unit might follow suit. But after Sunday, there’s little reason to believe the defense can recover. Every relevant metric and eye test says it’s one of the worst in the NFL — and even if Coach Ron Rivera fired Del Rio, there’s no clear successor or path to improvement.

One Achilles’ heel is explosive plays. Washington has allowed 7.9 per game, the fifth-worst rate in the NFL. In past years, the defense has improved by greatly reducing its explosive plays allowed. But the Commanders gave up 11 on Sunday, their highest single-game total since 2021.

CBS Washington

Howell tries to be hero but Washington defense folds late in loss to Seahawks

Washington just couldn’t consistently get stops or move the ball enough, and came up short in a 29-26 loss to the Seahawks.

Defensively, the Commanders’ pass rush was largely non-existent in the first half, though much better in the second half. Seahawks QB Geno Smith finished over 300 yards passing and threw two touchdowns.

A particularly rough stretch for the Washington defense came late in the fourth quarter in a tied contest. Over the course of four plays, cornerback Benjamin St. Juste was flagged for two brutal penalties. The first—a questionable pass interference call—came on 4th down that would have sent the Seattle offense off the field.

The second, a no brainer facemask, gave the Seahawks possession at the Washington 4-yard line. Two plays later, Seattle wide receiver Tyler Lockett hauled in a touchdown pass. Who was in coverage? St. Juste.

Washington Post (paywall)

Hail or Fail: Sam Howell comes up clutch, but defense can’t finish the job

Fail: Jack Del Rio’s defense

Washington kept Seattle’s offense mostly in check, at least on the scoreboard, for three quarters before things completely unraveled in the final 15 minutes. The Seahawks, who snapped their streak of four consecutive games with multiple turnovers, moved the ball at will against the Commanders in the fourth quarter. Fox play-by-play man Kevin Kugler noted that Pete Carroll’s squad came into the game with nine drives of 10 plays or more all season, and had four such possessions against Washington. All of them resulted in points. Seattle demonstrated its quick-strike ability, too, with running back Kenneth Walker III’s 64-yard touchdown catch giving the Seahawks their first lead of the game in the third quarter. The Commanders were helpless in stopping a seven-play, 50-yard drive in the final minute that set up Jason Myers’s walk-off field goal. Washington allowed a season-high 489 total yards.

Hail: Brian Robinson Jr.

Despite big days from Seattle’s DK Metcalf (98 yards) and Tyler Lockett (92 yards), Robinson was the game’s unlikely leading receiver. The second-year pro finished with six catches for 119 yards, the most by a Washington running back since Chris Thompson had six receptions for 150 yards in a 2017 win over the Raiders. Robinson’s 51-yard first-quarter touchdown catch was the Commanders’ longest play from scrimmage this season. He added a 48-yard catch on virtually the same play to set up a Joey Slye field goal in the third quarter. Robinson, who nearly tripled his previous career-high of 42 receiving yards, finished with as many catches as Washington wide receivers McLaurin (4), Curtis Samuel (2) and Jahan Dotson (0) combined.

The Athletic (paywall)

Sam Howell impresses again, but Commanders lose. Is that enough, at least for now?

The deafening silence inside Lumen Field’s cramped visiting locker room offered a resounding counter.

Quarterback Sam Howell finished with a third consecutive 300-yard passing game and three touchdowns. His daring, 35-yard, game-tying strike to Dyami Brown with 52 seconds remaining capped a thrilling 10-play, 71-yard possession. Owner Josh Harris celebrated the play in his suite with high-fives and hugs.

Washington has scored at least 24 points five times this season, already its most in a single season since 2017. That was Kirk Cousins’ third and final season as the team’s starter. Twelve different quarterbacks have started games since.

Washington is 0-4 against teams with a winning record, including three losses by seven points or fewer.

Held to three field goals in the first half, Seattle scored on four of its final five possessions, including the last three. Those 52 seconds were enough for quarterback Geno Smith to complete four of five passes — two for 44 yards to the hulking DK Metcalf — before spiking the ball at Washington’s 25. Kicker Jason Myers’s field goal, his fifth of the day, from 43 yards, ended the game as regulation expired.

Maybe offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy will lean into the run game over the final eight weeks. Perhaps the pass rushers can fill that Sweat/Young hole, mistakes can be minimized and all will be right for the Commanders. But based on the first 10 weeks and a challenging upcoming schedule, don’t bet on it.

Five takeaways from Washington’s loss in Seattle

The road gets tougher for Washington from here.

Washington still has a chance to turn its season around. It’s happened the last two seasons, so it could happen again with seven games left.

However, time is running out, and the Commanders’ final slate of games is among the most daunting in the NFL. They still have to play the Cowboys twice along with the San Francisco 49ers, Miami Dolphins and the New York Jets, who may have Aaron Rodgers back as the starting quarterback by then.

Needless to say, that makes life much more difficult for the Commanders if they hope to push for the seventh seed in the playoffs.

Every game is a “must-win” in the NFL, but that point is going to be driven home more than normal in the leadup to Washington’s rematch with the New York Giants at home. Like the last time the two teams played in Week 7, Washington should have a chance to win if it plays up to expectations, especially if the offense continues to play the way it has in recent weeks.

Riggo’s Rag

5 dark horse candidates to replace Commanders DC Jack Del Rio in 2024

The writing is on the wall...

  • Commanders could hire Bobby Babich - Linebackers Coach | Buffalo Bills

Appointing coordinators sometimes involves finding those hidden gems that are highly motivated to take advantage of the opportunity in front of them. While this isn’t the most high-profile method, it would represent a nice change of pace for the Washington Commanders after spending big money on names that just couldn’t get the job done during the ill-fated era of Dan Snyder.

Jack Del Rio also falls into this category. His reputation played a significant role in getting the job, but the last two seasons have been extremely disappointing when one considers the investment made across all three levels of Washington’s unit via free agency and the draft.

A change of direction is needed - something that the new ownership regime also recognizes. He wouldn’t be the first name on any list, but Bobby Babich is a worthy candidate to monitor nonetheless.

Babich has drawn rave reviews from players and coaches alike for his fine work in recent years. He has proven credentials working with linebackers and safeties, gaining valuable experience under defensive-minded head coach Sean McDermott to further enhance his reputation.

Matt Milano famously declared Babich the NFL’s best coach, which is proof positive of the esteem in which he was held. This would be another trip into the unknown for the coach and the Commanders, but it might just provide the spark needed to inspire a talented yet underperforming group.

Bullock’s Film Room (subscription)

Evaluating Sam Howell’s performance against the Seahawks

Breaking down the play of QB Sam Howell in the Commanders loss to the Seahawks

The reason these losses continue to be so disappointing is that young quarterback Sam Howell continues to give the team a chance to win the game late on and the team still finds a way to lose. If there is a positive to take away for Washington, it’s that Howell continued to show positive steps forward towards becoming the franchise quarterback the team has lacked for so long.

While there were some ups and downs, the key takeaways from this game for Howell is the continued development in the right direction for areas he struggled with earlier in the season. The Seahawks began the game sending a lot of slot blitzes and simulated pressures to try and generate pressure and Howell for the most part was able to handle them.

These two plays are good examples of Howell seeing a blitz post-snap and throwing hot. Now obviously in an ideal situation, Howell is able to identify the blitzes pre-snap and adjust the protection to get them picked up so he doesn’t have to throw hot, but we don’t live in an ideal world and the defense can disguise things well sometimes.

The first play of the clip is a simulated pressure with the linebacker joining the rush on the left side of the line while the defensive end on the other side drops off into coverage. Howell identifies the linebacker rushing and quickly realizes that the protection isn’t sliding the right way so they will be overloaded. Instead of panicking or trying to scramble, Howell simply throws hot, hitting running back Antonio Gibson in the flat. On the second play of the clip, we see the same sim pressure from the Seahawks and again Howell reacts positively, understanding the line is overloaded and throwing hot to Gibson in the flat. On both plays, the Commanders end up with a positive gain, whereas earlier in the season, Howell may well have been sacked.

Here on third down, the Commanders look to run a sail concept to the left of the formation. The Seahawks show a big blitz but actually end up bailing out of it and just rushing four. As Howell hits the top of his drop, he looks to his left and doesn’t like what he sees. I can’t tell if he’s looking all the way outside to the clearing route by Jahan Dotson or if he’s looking to the hook route in the slot by Curtis Samuel, but both were well covered. However, the actual intent of the play is to go to Terry McLaurin on the sail route and that route is left uncovered. Despite that, Howell quickly works off his left side and for some reason takes off scrambling from a clean pocket.

So not only was the original play open, the pocket was still clean and yet Howell took off running. On top of that, he rolled out to his right, despite four of his five eligible receivers all working to the left side of the field. This gave him basically no option as he ran. Samuel spots Howell scrambling and does his best to run across the field to try and give him a target, but Howell’s attempted pass gets batted down by the defender in front of him. It may have been for the best too as there were multiple defenders close to Samuel that could have potentially made a play on the ball.

This type of play hasn’t been a common occurrence from Howell this year, which is a good thing, but if he is going to start being more open to scrambling and going off-script, he needs to ensure he’s doing so as a last resort. This could have been quite a bit play to McLaurin had he just taken the throw that was called for, but to pass up on an open receiver, scramble from a clean pocket away from all your targets and then attempt a throw back across his body to a well covered receiver is a very very risky play.

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NFC East links

Big Blue View

Giants-Commanders Week 11 odds: Another double-digit spread

Giants are massive underdogs despite their Week 7 win

With Daniel Jones out for the season and Taylor on injured reserve, undrafted rookie Tommy DeVito will presumably start again at quarterback. Devito had 86 passing yards with two touchdown passes and an interception against Dallas.

The Commanders are 4-6 overall and 5-4-1 against the spread. They’re coming off a a heartbreaking 29-26 loss to the Seattle Seahawks (-1)

that could have brought their record back to .500. Washington scored 14 points in the fourth quarter but still could not prevent a late Seahawks rally and a walk-off field goal.Regardless, quarterback Sam Howell was terrific for the Commanders with a 109.3 quarterback rating and 312 passing yards. It was his third game of the year with at least three touchdown passes.

The Seahawks beat the Giants 24-3 earlier in the year.

Bleeding Green Nation

Eagles open as underdogs to the Chiefs in Super Bowl LVII rematch

Interesting line.

The Birds opened as 2.5-point road underdogs in this matchup, according to DraftKings Sportsbook. That line has since shifted to the Chiefs being favored by three points.

For those unaware, the home team is usually favored by three points in a game between two evenly-matched sides. And so it’s a little interesting that the Chiefs were originally favored by slightly less than that amount.

The reigning Super Bowl champs are 7-2 so far this season.

The Chiefs are 12-1 straight up in their last 13 games as home favorites, which is the third-best winning percentage only behind the Dallas Cowboys (-11)

The Chiefs are 6-6-1 against the spread in those scenarios, which is tied for the 11th-best cover percentage. The Eagles have notably NEVER beaten Andy Reid since firing him after the 2012 season. Their four losses:

  • 10-point home loss in 2013
  • 7-point road loss in 2017
  • 12-point home loss in 2021
  • 3-point loss in Super Bowl LVII

Regarding that last one: sigh.

Blogging the Boys

Report: Cowboys Leighton Vander Esch unlikely to return in 2023, C.J. Goodwin out for season

It appears that Leighton Vander Esch may not return this season for the Cowboys.

According to Michael Gehlken of the Dallas Morning News, cornerback and core special teamer C.J. Goodwin is done for the season as he’ll need surgery to repair the pectoral injury suffered in week five at the 49ers. The team was also hopeful linebacker Leighton Vander Esch could rejoin the defense, but that is now highly unlikely as a second neck surgery may be in his future.

Gravity surrounds any neck-related injury for the 2018 first-round pick after a bulging disk ended his second NFL season, prompting a fusion procedure in early 2020. Vander Esch made a quick recovery and returned to play better football than when he left. But it was understood at the time that, if another neck surgery occurred, that second procedure would force Vander Esch to make a difficult decision about his football future. It has not been decided today whether a second surgery will be required to address the current matter, a person close to the situation said.

With John Fassel having a need for Goodwin, knowing the reliable veteran won’t suit up again this season is a significant loss to that unit.

Following a recent setback, Goodwin said he plans to undergo surgery Friday to repair a torn left pectoral muscle he suffered against the San Francisco 49ers. He’s out for the year. In a less concrete situation, Vander Esch continues to work through a neck injury that forced his exit from that same Oct. 8 game. A person familiar with the matter said Monday he “most likely” will miss the season’s remainder.

As for Leighton Vander Esch’s absence, the Cowboys have found something in the linebacking duo of Markquese Bell and Damone Clark. Having also lost promising rookie DeMarvion Overshown for the season, the Cowboys long-term outlook at this position appears strong regardless of Vander Esch’s status, but how this team can hold up physically against run-first power offenses is still a concern.

NFL league links


Washington Post (paywall)

In an NFL sea change, sacks are hurting offenses more than interceptions

While interceptions are undoubtedly still harmful, the negative consequences of a sack are often underestimated. And as pass rushing improves and quarterbacks often opt for safer throws, sacks — in aggregate — have been more damaging to NFL offenses this season than even dreaded interceptions. That’s because sacks have been three times as common as interceptions in 2023, the highest sack-to-interception ratio since at least 1963, the first year for which data is available. (Sacks didn’t become an official NFL statistic until 1982.)

You can thank both better pass rushing and a more conservative approach to the passing game for that. Teams are averaging 7.8 air yards per attempt this season, one of the lowest figures since 2006, the first year for which data is available from TruMedia. Fewer big throws downfield mean fewer opportunities for ball-hawking defenders to make big plays. Instead, it’s the guys up front getting to the quarterback in ever more ingenious ways who are causing the most disruption to offenses and, subsequently, siphoning potential points from the scoreboard.

An interception leads to a change in possession, but the field position after an interception is not always advantageous. The average starting field position for a drive immediately following an interception is a team’s own 47-yard line. Sacks result in a loss of yards, and more often than not these yards are not easily regained in a single play. Plus, sacks often result in fumbles — one out of every eight sacks this season has been a strip sack, per data from TruMedia, another high-risk scenario for an offense. These fumbles can be just as detrimental as interceptions, especially because they are recovered with an average field position just shy of the red zone at the 21-yard line.

An interception this season has cost an offense around four expected points after taking into account the down, distance and field position of each mistake. The average sack costs an offense around 1.5 expected points, but because they are more common, sacks actually do more damage in aggregate to an offense’s scoring potential. There have been 2.6 sacks per team per game, on average, in 2023, costing offenses 4.2 points per game. With less than one interception per team per game (0.8 through 10 weeks), the loss to the offense is approximately 3.3 points per game. As a result, 21 of 32 teams have lost more expected points per game because of sacks than interceptions in 2023, according to data from TruMedia.

2023 NFL season, Week 10: What We Learned from Sunday’s games

  1. Sam Howell gave his team a chance to win. Washington’s quarterback has been playing good football for the last three games. Sunday’s performance wasn’t the most aesthetically pleasing to observe at times (especially early), but Howell showed the same perseverance that has convinced his coach, Ron Rivera, that the Commanders have their answer at quarterback. Howell’s numbers were stellar: 29 of 44, 312 yards and three touchdowns, including two fourth-quarter scoring tosses that were both beautiful and thrilling. His last TD pass — a strike over the middle to Dyami Brown that seemed to shock everyone at Lumen Field — was precisely the type of play we’ve seen him make consistently, no matter the opponent. He’s truly learning how to play the position as if he’s an entrenched starter, while in reality, he’s still only in his first full NFL season as a QB1. While he’s still good for an ugly mistake or two each week (on Sunday, it was getting too aggressive on a scramble and fumbling away possession), Howell is elevating the offense. It’s just unfortunate for him that his team didn’t score last in a tight affair.
  2. Don’t judge a game based on how it starts. If you were watching Commanders-Seahawks live and turned it off around halftime, you likely were shocked to see the final score. There wasn’t much evidence early on that either club would figure out how to produce multiple TD drives before time expired, with the score tied at nine going into halftime. That’s the beauty of football, though. It’s a four-quarter sport worth watching from start to finish. The last five possessions between Washington and Seattle all ended with points being added to the scoreboard, with the sequence going field goal, touchdown, touchdown, touchdown, field goal. The game was tied at three different junctures in the second half and it wasn’t decided until the final play. And truthfully, it’s part of a trend I’m witnessing in games lately, where teams feel each other out for two quarters before finally hitting their stride midway through the second half. That’s when the magic happens, and it’s precisely when these two (surprisingly evenly matched) teams started to truly throw the haymakers. So, what did we learn, you ask? We learned to treasure all four quarters of a football game, for they can bring us gridiron beauty when we least expect it.

Next Gen stat of the game: Leonard Williams, who finished tied for the team-high in pressures (4), was 1 of 7 Seahawks defenders who recorded multiple pressures against Sam Howell. Williams has generated an 11.8% QB pressure rate since joining the Seahawks in Week 9 (Weeks 1-8 with the Giants: 9.6% pressure rate).

NFL Research: It was YAC City in Seattle on Sunday, where the Seahawks recorded 254 receiving yards after the catch — the most by any team in a game in 2023, per Pro Football Focus. Washington posted the third-highest YAC total with 226.