It seems like an age ago that Sam Howell had a breakout game in the Commanders’ second close loss to the division leading Philadelphia Eagles, but it was just a week. Since then, the new ownership group reportedly intervened in football operations for the first time, forcing trades of both starting defensive ends for draft picks and signaling the start of a total reboot for next season.
The next regime will have a lot of work to do to fix some glaring roster deficiencies on both sides of the ball. But they will have a lot of resources to work with and, if Sunday’s game was any indication, they might not have to blow their war chest trying to address the hardest position on the roster to fill.
After Sunday’s shootout with the Eagles, the Commanders’ offense has scored over 30 points 3 times this season and has only scored under 20 points 2 times. That is quite an improvement at the half way mark over 2022, when they only scored more than 30 points once in the entire season and scored fewer than 20 points 9 times. Interestingly, 3 of 4 times they scored over 30 points in both seasons were against the Eagles.
Unfortunately, the defense has allowed opponents to score 30 or more points 5 times in 8 games, which is already 3 more times than they did in the entire 2022 season.
The Commanders’ offense gained 472 total yards, improving on their previous season high by 84 yards to rank 3rd in the league in Week 8. Sam Howell had the most passing attempts (52) and led the league with 388 net passing yards and 4 passing TDs (4-way tie). The Commanders tied with the Chiefs for fewest rushing attempts (16), but ranked 18th in rushing yards (84) by virtue of having the 4th highest rushing average (5.3 yards per attempt).
In Week 8, the Commanders ranked 12th in the NFL in offensive efficiency at 0.048 EPA/play and 6th in offensive success rate at 50.0% of plays. They were 12th in passing efficiency at 0.088 EPA/play and 8th in passing success rate at 52.6% of dropbacks. They ranked 17th in rushing efficiency at -0.103 EPA/play and 16th in rushing success rate at 40.0%.
As well as the offense played, it was not good enough to make up for the defense allowing the 2nd most points (38, tied with the Colts), 12th most total yardage, most passing TDs (4-way tie), 4th most passing yards (315) and the 4th highest average gain per passing attempt (8.3 yds/att).
Sadly, the Commanders ranked 31st in defensive efficiency at 0.263 EPA/play and 16th in opponent success rate at 42.6%. The Commanders’ pass defense was the least efficient in the NFL at 0.721 EPA/play allowed and 24th in opponent success rate at 52.4%. The Commanders’ run defense, on the other hand, was the most efficient in the NFL at -0.748 EPA/play and ranked 4th in opponent success rate at only 21.1%. That just goes to show that pass defense is a lot more important than run defense. The Commanders are good at the wrong one.
One of Washington’s key weaknesses in 2023 has been susceptibility to giving up explosive passing plays. Against the Eagles, they gave up 10 completions of over 15 yards, including 3 TD passes, which was the second most explosive passing plays surrendered in Week 8.
One key factor to keeping the game close was that Washington’s offense led the league in explosive passing plays, with 11 completions of over 15 yards, including 3 TD passes of their own. They also had 1 explosive rushing play - a 29 yard run by Brian Robinson - while holding the Eagles to no runs for more than 9 yards.
BIGGEST PLAYS OF THE GAME
These plays had the biggest impact on the Commanders’ probability of scoring or being scored upon, as quantified by Expected Points Added (EPA). Criterion: EPA > +/-2.5; Positive EPA favors Washington.
7:19, 1st and 10 at PHI 26, Sam Howell 26 yard TD pass to Terry McLaurin, EPA 3.16
12:44, 2nd and 16 at PHI 21, Sam Howell 21 yard TD pass to Jahan Dotson, EPA 3.79
7:49, 3rd and 11 at WAS 23, Jalen Hurts pass complete short right to AJ Brown for 20 yards, EPA -3.77
7:01, 1st and 3 at WAS 3, Kenneth Gainwell run left end for -4 yards, fumble forced by Kamren Curl recovered by Phidarian Mathis, EPA 6.13
4:03, 3rd and 7 at WAS 33, Sam Howell pass complete short right to Jahan Dotson for 23 yards, EPA 2.55
10:23, 4th and 3 on WAS 32, Jalen Hurts pass incomplete intended for AJ Brown, pass interference on Benjamin St-Juste for 31 yards, EPA -5.68
10:16, 1st and goal at WAS 1, Jalen Hurts up the middle for no gain, fumble recovered by Kendall Fuller at WAS 1, EPA 6.59
5:38, 4th and 4 at WAS 45, Jalen Hurts completion to DeVonta Smith for 17 yards, EPA -3.44
4:23, 3rd and 7 at WAS 25, Jalen Hurts 25 yard TD pass to AJ Brown, illegal contact penalty on Emmanuel Forbes declined, EPA -4.13
12:06, 3rd and 7 at PHI 7, Sam Howell 7 yard TD pass to Logan Thomas, EPA 3.19
8:53, 2nd and 10 at WAS 38, Jalen Hurts 38 yard TD pass to DeVonta Smith, EPA -4.49
8:08, 2nd and 15 at WAS 20, Sam Howell pass intended for Terry McLaurin intercepted by Reed Blankenship and returned 17 yards, unnecessary roughness penalty on John Bates accepted for 8 yards, EPA -4.99
2:18, 4th and 5 at WAS 25, Sam Howell sacked by Haason Reddick for 9 yards, fumble recovered by Andrew Wylie at WAS 16, EPA -2.81
1:08, 1st and 10 at PHI 26, Sam Howell 26 yard TD pass to Jamison Crowder, EPA 3.16
STATS AND SNAPS – OFFENSE
Talk about resilience. One week after having his worst performance as a Commander, Howell came back with his best. Against the Eagle’s admittedly middle of the pack pass defense (15th in opponent passing EPA/play, 10th in opponent passing success rate, 26th in passing yards allowed), Howell completed 75% of passes for 397 yards, 4 TDs and 1 INT, while taking just 1 sack for 9 yards. For his efforts, his Total QBR of 70.0 ranked 12th in an exceptionally good week for starting QBs.
Most importantly of all, over the last two games, Howell has shown dramatic improvement in what had been his key weakness: holding onto the ball too long and drawing sacks. Through the first 6 weeks of the season, Sam Howell averaged 2.92 seconds to throw the ball on passing attempts (low: 2.82, high: 3.02). In Week 7 against the Giants his Time to Throw dropped to 2.6 seconds. He still took 6 sacks, but 4 of those were attributed to missed blocks.
In Week 8, Howell’s Time to Throw dropped even further to 2.48 seconds. To put that figure in perspective, if he could keep that up for a full season, he would have the 4th quickest release in the NFL (after Tua Tagovailoa 2.28 sec, Joe Burrow 2.41 sec, Mac Jones 2.42 sec and tied with Trevor Lawrence). It is probably not a coincidence that he only took one sack on a blown block by RT Andrew Wylie.
As good as Howell’s 75% completion rate was, it would have been even better (83%) if his receivers had not dropped a season high 4 passes. His accuracy was impressive, with 88.2% of passes on target (5th best in Week 8), according to Pro Football Reference, and only 7.8% of throws graded as uncatchable (9th lowest in Week 8).
How good was Howell’s performance for a QB making his 9th NFL start? Throughout the season I have been comparing Howell’s weekly stat lines to the same numbered starts of some of the best QBs in the modern era. This week I compare his 9th start to those by the usual 3 (Manning, Brady and Brees) as well as some other QBs who turned out OK.
Patrick Mahomes, Justin Herbert and Tom Brady had about as good stat lines as Howell in their 9th starts, except for all the sacks they took. Other than those guys, no one was particularly close.
In Week 8, LG Saahdiq Charles missed the game with a calf injury and was replaced by second year player Chris Paul. Center Nick Gates, who allowed 1 sack and 5 pressures in Week 7, was replaced by Tyler Larsen.
The new look OL allowed 1 fewer total pressures than the previous week, but at least the sack numbers were down
- Chris Paul: 3 QB hits, 1 hurry
- Charles Leno: 4 hurries
- Sam Cosmi: 2 hurries
- Tyler Larsen: 1 QB Hit, 1 hurry
- Andrew Wylie: 1 sack, 1 hurry
Wylie recovered a Sam Howell fumble on 4th and 5 at the WAS 25 with 2:18 remaining in the 4th quarter.
Based on a small sample of only 12 rushing attempts, the OL seems to have done a better job of creating running lanes. Brian Robinson’s yards before contact per running attempt jumped from 1.6 yards against the Giants to 3.9 yards against the Eagles.
The OL also got their penalties largely under control, dropping from a season high 7 against the Giants to just 1 false start penalty on Chris Paul for 5 yards.
Brian Robinson was Washington’s leading runner and third on the team in total yards from scrimmage with 10 rushing attempts for 59 yards (5.9 yds/att) with a long of 29 and 2 receptions for 20 yds. Antonio Gibson ran twice for 14 yards and caught 5 of 5 targets for 28 yards. Fullback Alex Armah touched the ball for the first time this season, catching 1 pass for 0 yards.
Robinson and Gibson each allowed 1 pressure in pass protection which might not seem like a lot, except that Robinson only had 4 pass blocking snaps and Gibson only had 3. Alex Armah played 3 run blocking snaps and achieved the third highest PFF run blocking grade on the team at 70.8.
Jahan Dotson set a new career high in receiving yards, becoming the team’s first receiver to eclipse the 100 yard mark this season, catching 8 of 10 targets for 108 yards and 1 TD with 1 dropped pass.
Jamison Crowder was second on the team with a perfect 7 receptions on 7 targets for 95 yards and 1 TD.
Terry McLaurin had an uncharacteristically bad day, catching only 5/12 targets (41.7%) for 63 yards and 1 TD and a career high 3 dropped passes. He has never dropped more than 1 pass in a game prior to last week.
Curtis Samuel was a perfect 4/4 for 22 yards. He is currently tied with Adam Thielen at 3rd in the NFL in catch rate (81.4%) among wide receivers with more than 20 targets.
Byron Pringle was targeted once for an incompletion and Dyami Brown had 1 rushing attempt for no gain.
Logan Thomas caught 6 of 8 targets for 44 yards and 1 TD. John Bates was a perfect 1/1 for 17 yards.
Bates was used as a run blocker 13 times and had the team’s 4th highest run blocking grade of 71.9 per PFF. He was also flagged for an 8 yard unnecessary roughness penalty which was tacked on to the end of Reed Blankenship’s 17 yard interception return in the 4th quarter.
STATS AND SNAPS - DEFENSE
Montez Sweat did enough to convince the Chicago Bears to part with what is likely to be a high second round pick, recording 3 solo tackles, 2 assists, 2 tackles for loss, 1 sack, and 1 hurry. Chase Young only earned an offer of a third round comp pick from Kyle Shanahan for his effort comprising 1 solo tackle.
Rotational DE Casey Toohill, playing just 25% as many snaps as Young, recorded 1 solo tackle, 1 tackle for loss and 1 sack. This season, Toohill has recorded just 1 fewer sack than Young. However, Toohill has played just 108 defensive snaps compared to Young’s 407. On a per snap basis, Toohill has been exactly 3 times more productive at sacking the quarterback. Perhaps trading Young to San Francisco was intended to boost the Commanders’ sack production.
James Smith-Williams had 1 solo tackle.
Jonathan Allen had a fairly quiet afternoon with just 1 tackle assist, 1 QB hurry and 2 QB knockdowns. Daron Payne was even more subdued with 1 solo tackle and 1 assist.
In his long awaited return from injury, Phidarian Mathis recorded his first NFL stat by recovering a fumble forced by Kam Curl at the Washington 7 yard line in the 2nd quarter. John Ridgeway failed to record a stat.
Filling in for injured starter Cody Barton, David Mayo led the Commanders in tackling with 6 solo tackles, 3 assists and 1 missed tackle. In pass coverage, he was his usual godawful self, allowing 5 receptions on 5 targets for 52 yards and an opposing passer rating of 110.0. He blitzed 4 times without any pressures.
Jamin Davis had 3 solo tackles and 1 assist with 1 missed tackle. In coverage he only allowed 1 reception out of 2 targets for 17 yards.
In just 10 defensive snaps, Khaleke Hudson produced 1 solo tackle and 3 assists. That equates to making a play on the ball on 40% of snaps. He was targeted twice in coverage and allowed 1 reception for 1 yard. How on earth is he not playing more?
As usual, Kendall Fuller aligned mainly at boundary corner with 58 snaps out wide, 2 in the slot, 2 in the box and 1 on the DL. Benjamin St-Juste moved around a little more, playing wide corner on 44 snaps, slot corner on 8 snaps, box safety on 6 snaps and lining up on the DL on 5 snaps. Danny Johnson played 36 snaps at slot CB, 2 on the DL and 1 in the box. Jartavius Martin played 5 snaps, split between free safety (2), slot corner (2) and box safety (1). Emmanuel Forbes played 5 snaps at wide corner and that was probably 5 too many.
In what is becoming a recurring theme, Benjamin St-Juste was picked on relentlessly, allowing receptions on 7 of 8 targets (87.5%), with 1 pass breakup, for 80 yards and 1 TD and an opposing passer rating of 147.9. His pass interference penalty for 31 yards in the 3rd quarter delivered Philadelphia their biggest play of the game (EPA 5.68).
Unlike last week, Kendall Fuller got to share the load, allowing Jalen Hurts to go 6/6 for 79 yards and 1 TD for a perfect passer rating of 158.3. His recovery of a Jalen Hurts fumble at the Washington 1 yard line was the highest impact play of the game.
Danny Johnson wasn’t too far behind the two starters, allowing catches on 5 of 6 targets for 38 yards and 1 TD and an opposing passer rating of 132.6.
As bad as the other corners were, Emmanuel Forbes managed to outdo them. Playing just 5 coverage snaps, Forbes allowed 2 receptions on 2 targets for 45 yards and 1 TD for a perfect opposing passer rating of 158.3, an astounding reception rate of 1 catch every 2.5 coverage snaps and a mind-numbing TD rate of 20% of coverage snaps. On a per snap basis, that could possibly be the worst stat line in NFL history. At those rates, if he had played 100% of defensive snaps in place of one of the starters, he would have allowed 25 receptions for 562.5 yards and 12 or 13 TDs.
In sharp contrast to his rookie classmate, Quan Martin managed to produce 2 solo tackles in 5 defensive snaps and was not targeted in coverage.
In keeping with his new pattern, Kam Curl played 34 snaps at free safety, 19 in the box, 5 at slot corner, 4 on the defensive line and 1 at wide corner. Percy Butler played 44 snaps at free safety, 11 in the box and 8 at slot corner.
Kamren Curl was back to form this week as Washington’s second most prolific tackler with 5 solo tackles, 2 assists, 1 forced fumble, 1 pass breakup, and 1 missed tackle. His forced fumble on Kenneth Gainwell, resulting in a turnover at the Washington 7 yard line was the second highest impact play of the game (EPA 6.13). In coverage, he allowed 1 catch on 2 targets for 4 yards.
Percy Butler made 4 solo tackles, 3 assists with 1 pass breakup and 1 missed tackle. In coverage, he allowed 1 reception on 2 targets for 3 yards.
STATS AND SNAPS – SPECIAL TEAMS
Joey Slye nailed his only field goal attempt from 61 yards and a was perfect 4/4 on extra points. Slye’s 61 yard field goal tied with one by his Philadelphia counterpart Jake Elliott as the second longest this season. As a side note, former Washington kicker Dustin Hopkins currently leads the league in field goals over 50 yards with a season record of 7/7.
Tress Way only punted twice for 96 yards with 25 return yards, yielding his second lowest net yardage per punt of the season at just 35.5 yards. His season low was 35.0 net yards/punt, set in the first Philadelphia game. One of the 2 punts landed inside the Eagles’ 20.
Antonio Gibson returned 1 kickoff for 27 yards. Jamison Crowder returned 1 punt for 11 yards, dropping his season average slightly to 10.53 yards per return.
Percy Butler and Quan Martin had 1 tackle apiece in special teams coverage.
What is the most important goal for the remainder of Washington’s season?
This poll is closed
Right the ship and make the playoffs
Develop Sam Howell
Evaluate younger players
Try out Eric Bieniemy as head coach
Give the new GM a top-5 draft pick
Clear out Snyder’s people