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Daily Slop - 19 Nov 23: Talking about the Commanders right now means talking about Sam Howell

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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NFL: Washington Commanders at Seattle Seahawks Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

Commanders links


Washington Post (paywall)

The main reason to be optimistic about Sam Howell: His steady improvement

Bieniemy and Coach Ron Rivera have often used the words “growth” and “development” to describe their team — especially their second-year quarterback. In only 11 career starts, Howell has become the focal point of a franchise that for years has toiled in quarterback purgatory.

Since the turn of the century, Washington has started 27 quarterbacks. Howell is its eighth starter since Rivera took over in 2020, and so far he has inspired more optimism than any quarterback in years.

He leads all quarterbacks with 2,783 passing yards this season — in part because he also leads the league with 397 pass attempts and the Commanders average the fewest rushing attempts, 20.2 per game. But Howell is only the eighth player in NFL history to have four games of 300-plus passing yards in his first 11 career outings, and he’s the only one to top 2,900 passing yards and 200 rushing yards (he has 209) and complete at least 66.0 percent of his passes (66.1 percent) in that span.

More significant: Howell has improved all season, and for a franchise that has watched quarterbacks peter out or fail to fully launch, that may be the most encouraging sign.

The team’s optimism about Howell centers on three primary factors: his physical traits, mental acuity and willingness to be coached.

Much of Howell’s growth — knowing when to move up in the pocket, when to scramble, when he’ll need to make the off-schedule plays, when to take the safe bet instead of the big play — has come from experience.

“I just think my overall understanding of defensive football has gotten better throughout the year,” Howell said. “And obviously [it comes from] just having those in-game experiences and just learning more about what defenses are trying to do to stop us.”

Three keys to Washington getting a win over the Giants

1. Protection.

Eric Bieniemy put it best on Thursday; Giants defensive coordinator Wink Martindale is who he is, and he isn’t going to change his tendency to bring pressure at any opportunity.

“We need to make sure that the communication is in line,” Bieniemy said. “Then on top of that, when called upon to execute, do your job to the best of your ability. If we’re doing that, we’ll give ourselves a chance.”

The Commanders did not execute the last time they faced off against the Giants. Here are their stats from the first half of Week 7: two first downs, 0-for-7 on third down, 46 total net yards and seven punts.

Oh, and one more thing: Sam Howell was sacked five times.

That game was a turning point for the Commanders, who were on pace to give up an NFL record in sacks. Tyler Larsen and Chris Paul are now in the starting lineup, Howell is better at avoiding pressure and Bieniemy is putting the team in better position to avoid pressure.

But teams like the Philadelphia Eagles, New England Patriots and Seattle Seahawks don’t bring the same amount of pressure as the Giants do on every play. Back in Week 7, Howell was pressured on 28.6% of his dropbacks and was pressured 14 times. Pressure has been a problem for Washington’s offense all season, and teams took advantage of it in earlier weeks.

Sunday’s game will give Washington the chance to show how much it really has improved at protecting Howell. If they can do that, then Howell could be on his way to a solid day for the fourth consecutive week.

Commanders Wire

Remember how the Commanders knew they would beat the Giants?

“Of course, the Commanders will beat the Giants.”

Does that sound familiar?

It should, because less than a month ago, that is what nearly every Commanders fan and writer was thinking when Washington traveled to MetLife Stadium to face the Giants on Oct. 22.

Everyone supposedly knew the Commanders had turned around their season the previous week with a 24-16 road win in Atlanta. They had been awakened two weeks prior when they fell behind 27-3 to the Bears in the first half before losing 40-20. Virtually the entire NFL world believed the Commanders would beat New York, and thus they were made a three-point road favorite.

But when the game began, it was the Giants who were a step quicker and more intense. The Commanders were so bad they trailed 14-0 at the half.

It was actually embarrassing.

Riggo’s Rag

5 sneaky threats the Commanders should worry about vs. NY Giants in Week 11

A familiar wide receiver who thrives from the slot, along with two inside linebackers, are among the five sneaky threats...

Commanders need to control A’Shawn Robinson

He hasn’t been a dominant force this season, but A’Shawn Robinson is still the toughest run-stuffer for the New York Giants up front. The 6-foot-4, 330-pounder knows how to absorb double teams, split gaps, and make plays in the backfield if afforded enough space.

Robinson, who won a Super Bowl with the Los Angeles Rams to cap the 2021 season, has three tackles for loss during a trying first season with Big Blue. One of those plays came against the Washington Commanders in Week 7, per Nick Falato of SB Nation’s Big Blue View.

The play shows a fundamental flaw in Washington’s blocking schemes versus the Giants. Putting a tight end over a defensive lineman as powerful as Robinson is a recipe for disaster.

Eric Bieniemy must adjust by having beefy guard Chris Paul - all 6-foot-4 and 324 pounds of him - slide over to engulf Robinson. Putting some weight on No. 91 can help the Commanders isolate Micah McFadden and another undersized inside linebacker.

Sports Illustrated

New York Giants vs. Washington Commanders: 5 Questions Ahead of Week 11

We sat down with Giants Country ahead of the Washington Commanders vs. New York Giants Week 11 matchup.

Q: What’s changed the most since the last time Washington saw New York?

A: There have been more injuries on the offensive side of the ball, most notably the quarterback situation.

Quarterback Tyrod Taylor is on injured reserve, which means undrafted rookie Tommy DeVito is the starter.

And it’s painfully obvious that there are shortcomings to his game, starting with the fact that right now the speed is too fast.

He’s been breaking the pocket too quickly instead of showing patience, and his best throwing range has been in the short- to intermediate areas.

This in turn has prompted the coaches to lean more heavily on the run. Over the last three games, the Giants have 100 rushing attempts; in their prior seven games, they had 190.

So that right there is all you need to know about the domino effect the quarterback situation has had on this team.

Q: Given how the season has gone what is the temperature of the fan base? Would they rather get a divisional win or a better draft position?

A: Better draft position, and it’s not even close.

I think, even though the players won’t admit it, they’d just as soon get this season over and done with.

It’s been a long, draining, and disappointing year for everyone, especially given how promising things looked in the spring and summer.

Let’s hit the reset button and get some shiny new toys in here.

Podcasts & videos

Insight on Commanders’ next opponent: Chris Bisignano talks Giants with Kevin Sheehan

Locked on Commanders: Washington Commanders Sam Howell Performance Key to Beating New York Giants in Week 11 | Predictions

NFC East links

Pro Football Talk

Monday Night Football: Eagles rule out Justin Evans, Dallas Goedert

The Eagles ruled out safety Justin Evans (knee) and tight end Dallas Goedert (forearm) for Monday Night Football.

Goedert fractured his forearm in a Nov. 5 game against the Cowboys. The team did not place him on injured reserve, but he has not returned to practice yet.

Evans remains on injured reserve. He has not played since his injury in Week 5 against the Rams, but the Eagles designated him to return this week.

Pro Football Talk

Bernard Williams on Eagles cutting him at age 51: I had no idea I was still on the roster

Williams was a first-round draft pick of the Eagles in 1994 and had a good rookie year, but he was suspended before the 1995 season after testing positive for marijuana. He tested positive again during his suspension, and he ended up never being reinstated. He kept playing football, with stints in the XFL, the Canadian Football League, and Arena Football, but everyone seemed to assume his days of having anything to do with the NFL were long since expired.

So why did the Eagles just cut him this week? Williams says he assumes it has something to do with a benefit for former players he recently applied for.

“I was actually at work when a kid I coached in high school, Ventell Boulware — a scout for the Packers — called asked when was the last time I did anything with the NFL,” Williams told Andrew DiCecco of “I told him I had just applied for some benefits recently, and he said, ‘Well your name just came across the [transaction] wire.’ I’m like, ‘For what?’ And he was like, ‘The Eagles released you.’ I had some kind of idea, but they never released me. And I always wondered what happened with that. When I went to Canada, the Eagles kept my rights through all of that. They never released my rights. But I had no idea that I was still on the roster 29 years later.”

NFL league links


The Athletic (paywall)

Punishment is piling up fast for Bengals’ Joe Burrow. Is it too much?

Almost three years ago to the day, on Nov. 22, 2020, Burrow tore his ACL in Washington. Since then, he went through that rigorous recovery, recently admitting it took almost two years to feel fully back to his full pre-injury self. Then in 2021, he injured his throat, dislocated a pinkie, battled a knee injury in December and sprained the other knee in the Super Bowl. Then there was the appendectomy in the 2022 training camp where he lost 20 pounds. He fought an elbow issue in December.

Just as he grew excited for his first healthy training camp, he strained his calf on the second day of camp and after multiple frustrating tweaks didn’t return to his full self until 73 days later in Week 5 against the Arizona Cardinals.

Turns out his season would only consist of five games plus 24 minutes and 11 seconds on Thursday.

Now, another surgery, rehab and long offseason preparing for a return awaits.

Pro Football Talk

Caleb Williams snubs reporters in what might have been his last college game

For months, USC quarterback Caleb Williams has been presumed to be the first overall pick in the 2024 draft. And he might be. But the naysayers might have picked up a little ammunition on Saturday.

Beyond Williams’s Trojans losing to UCLA, 38-20, to fall to 7-5, Williams snubbed reporters.

Via Greg Beacham of the Associated Press, Williams refused to speak to reporters after USC’s fifth loss in sixth games — and possibly his last college game.

USC is bowl eligible. If Williams is leaving for the NFL, he has no reason to play in whatever mid-level teams that invite 7-5 teams.