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Daily Slop - 7 Nov 23: Sam Howell handles the pressure, puts up the stats, and draws widespread praise

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

Washington Commanders v New England Patriots Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images

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Washington Post (paywall)

The offensive adjustment that helped the Commanders beat the Patriots

Late in the third quarter, when the Washington Commanders seemed ready to fall short again, quarterback Sam Howell changed the game with his mind. He saw the New England Patriots in an aggressive, man-to-man coverage look with zero safeties deep, which is known as cover-zero. The defense was about to blitz.

Earlier in Sunday’s game, Howell had countered zero by calling audibles to quick passes. This time, he barked out another “check,” and Patriots defenders crept closer to the line, readying to blow up another quick hitter. But then Howell dropped back, patted the ball and lofted a perfect throw into the outstretched arms of wideout Jahan Dotson, who had won a one-on-one matchup downfield. The touchdown tied the game and keyed the Commanders’ 20-17 victory.

Though there are many reasons Washington beat New England, offensive players stressed beating cover-zero was a significant one. Coming into Sunday, the Commanders had struggled against cover-zero, only succeeding five times in 20 plays. Several players said the embarrassing loss to the New York Giants had been on their minds all week as they emphasized beating cover-zero at practice

“Overpreparing for [cover-zero] obviously paid off for us,” right guard Sam Cosmi said.

The first four times he faced cover-zero Sunday, Howell had thrown the ball quickly, in 2.6 seconds or faster. But this time, because of his adjustment, Washington had seven blockers against seven rushers. Howell had a clean pocket in part because Larsen, who had replaced Nick Gates, has been stouter in pass protection. Howell, at 3.0 seconds, launched the ball downfield to Dotson for the pivotal touchdown.

For Howell, the difference between the Giants and Patriots was obvious.

“I was more prepared,” he said. “I did a better job.”

“That probably won’t be the last time we see [cover-zero],” McLaurin said.

Bullock’s Film Room (subscription)

Sam Howell continues positive development trend against Patriots pressure packages

Breaking down Howell’s performance against the Patriots and how he handled the various pressures that were thrown at him.

Howell showed no signs of panic in the Commanders 20-17 victory over the Patriots on Sunday. In fact, he continued to show positive signs of development as he completed 29 of 45 passes for 325 yards, one touchdown and one interception, in what was an interesting test.

Going into the game, the discussion was all about how Howell could handle a defense led by Patriots coach Bill Belichick, who has made many young quarterbacks suffer trying to decipher his disguised coverages, heavy blitzes and varied personnel groups. We knew it was likely that the Patriots would look to blitz Howell given how Howell has struggled with sacks this season and how the offensive line struggled to pick up blitzes a few weeks ago against the Giants. But instead of crumbling under the pressure, Howell showed great maturity and looked like a veteran in dealing with the different things the Patriots threw at him.

Here on third and 10, the Commanders have Pringle and Dotson stacked to the right of the formation. Dotson runs and out-and-up while Pringle releases inside of him before running a corner route. With it being third and 10, you might expect the Patriots to blitz, but instead they decide to keep two safeties deep with man coverage underneath, rushing just the front four. Despite that, center Tyler Larsen struggles to contain defensive tackle Christian Barmore. The Patriots run a stunt up front and with Barmore they manage to generate some pressure inside.

Howell feels that pressure but doesn’t panic. Instead he calmly starts rolling out to his right, breaking the pocket and buying his receivers time to get open down the field. As he rolls out, Pringle spots Howell needing some assistance and smartly breaks off his route. He peels away from his coverage and sneaks back inside, giving Howell an option to throw to. Howell spots him and hits him with a nice throw on the run, which Pringle secures and picks up the first down conversion.

Washington Post (paywall)

Hail or Fail: Sam Howell was at his best and worst in win over Patriots

Hail: Sam Howell’s dazzling run

Facing third and 23 at the Washington 44-yard line after taking his first sack late in the first half, Howell dropped back to pass. Finding no one open, he stepped up, tucked the ball as he reached the line of scrimmage and ran. Around the Patriots’ 43-yard line, Howell broke a pair of tackles by defensive backs Jalen Mills and Adrian Phillips, managed to stay on his feet and rumbled another 10 yards before barreling over defensive back Jack Jones as he stepped out of bounds past the first-down marker. It was the longest run of Howell’s career.

Fail: Howell’s baffling interception

Later in the same drive, on first and goal from the New England 5, Howell rolled to his right and lofted a pass into the end zone. Jahan Dotson and Logan Thomas were both in the area, but the ill-advised throw led to an easy interception by Patriots safety Kyle Dugger. At halftime, Rivera told Fox sideline reporter Shannon Spake that Howell got “a little greedy” on the play. “That’s probably one of the worst plays I’ve ever made in my football career,” said Howell, who has thrown at least one interception in each of the past three games. Howell played well outside of the pick, completing 29 of 45 passes for 325 yards and a perfectly thrown 33-yard touchdown strike to Jahan Dotson.

Commanders Wire

Commanders’ teammates praise rookie cornerback Emmanuel Forbes

Late last week, Forbes posted on Instagram that he was back, leading everyone to assume he’d be back on the field against the New England Patriots.

Forbes did play against the Patriots and, according to Pro Football Focus, was targeted four times but did not allow one catch. Even more, Forbes broke up three passes thrown in his direction.

It was the type of performance that encouraged coaches and fans. As for his teammates, they always had his back.

After the game, some of Forbes’ teammates took to Twitter — or X — to shower the rookie with praise.

Forbes should have had his second career interception, but the New England wide receiver made sure that didn’t happen.

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Washington Post (paywall)

Kyler Murray expected to start again after torn ACL, Cardinals coach says

Eleven months after suffering a torn ACL, Kyler Murray is set to start again for the Cardinals provided his upcoming week of practice “goes well,” Arizona Coach Jonathan Gannon told reporters Monday.

The two-time Pro Bowl quarterback, who injured his right knee in December of last year, started this season on the physically unable to perform list. He was designated to return on Oct. 18, which by league rules meant the Cardinals had 21 days to place Murray on their active roster, giving them a deadline of Wednesday.

“Pleased where he is at right now,” Gannon said Monday at a news conference. “We’ll see how the week goes.”

Murray has been practicing in full for the past two weeks, but he has been spending much of his time working with backups as Arizona readied Josh Dobbs (since traded to the Minnesota Vikings) and rookie Clayton Tune. In his first NFL start last week, Tune appeared overwhelmed against the Cleveland Browns’ top-ranked defense and led the Cardinals to an NFL season-low 58 total yards. The 27-0 loss dropped Arizona’s record to 1-8.

Gannon said Monday that Murray would spend the week practicing with the first team, and assuming the quarterback gets the start Sunday, it will come at home against the Atlanta Falcons. As fate would have it, Atlanta is coming off a 31-28 loss to the Vikings in which Dobbs came off the bench on short notice and submitted a stunningly effective performance for Minnesota.