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Stats & Snaps: Week 15 Commanders @ Rams

Three more weeks to go

Washington Commanders v Los Angeles Rams Photo by Harry How/Getty Images

Quite frankly, this is getting tedious. The Washington Commanders are a bad football team. They are even worse than the 6-win predictions by the national media which seemed laughable at the start of the season. The head coach and face of the franchise is a dead man walking. His team keeps suffering from the same flaws, week in and week out. In a few short weeks, those responsible for this dumpster fire will be let go and Josh Harris will finally begin the fresh start we have all been waiting for since Dan Snyder sold the team. For the remainder of the season, all the Commanders are really playing for is draft position, whether they know it or not, and whether the few remaining holdouts in the fanbase are willing to admit it or not.

Last season, I agreed to write a weekly snap counts summary, which is a requirement of all NFL fan sites on SB nation. For the benefit of those diehard fans and committed masochists, who simply must know, and to fulfill Hogs Haven’s obligation to the mothership, I will continue writing them for each remaining game. Just know, it gives me no pleasure to analyze the many ways that players and coaches fail to execute on a weekly basis.

This week the Commanders played the Los Angeles Rams. It went about how you might have expected. But some players we aren’t used to seeing got playing time. So there’s that.

SOME STATISTICS

The final score of 20-28 belies the lopsided nature of the Commanders’ loss to the Rams on Sunday. The Rams outgained Washington 445 to 297 total yards. They gained 196 rushing yards to the Commanders’ 79, 23 first downs to the Commanders’ 14, converted 56.25% of 3rd downs to the Commanders’ 21.4%, and dominated time of possession 35:53 to 24:07.

Somewhat ironically, given how Washington’s season has played out, what kept the final score somewhat close was explosive passing plays by the Commanders’ offense, particularly in the final 9 minutes, after Jacoby Brissett replaced Sam Howell at QB. At the point when Howell threw the interception that got him benched, the score was 7-28. From the start of Washington’s next possession, with 9:05 remaining, the Commanders gained 124 of their 226 total passing yards (54.9%), with 93 yards and 1 touchdown coming on 3 passes of 16, 29 and 48 yards. Howell contributed three more explosive passes for a total of 60 yards and 1 TD in the first and third quarters.

The Commanders’ defense remained vulnerable to big passing plays, giving up 140 yards and 2 TDs on 5 passes over 15 yards. They also gave up 87 yards on 5 rushing plays of 12 yards or more.

The real story of this game was the transformation of Washington’s passing offense after Brissett replaced Howell. With Howell under center, they averaged 42.3% completions and 6.52 yards per passing attempt with one interception. With Brissett throwing the ball, the completion rate increased to 80% and the passing productivity nearly doubled, increasing to 12.4 yards per attempt. Interestingly, given how Howell’s struggles have been attributed to weak offensive line play, Howell put up those stats while facing pressures on just 6.7% of dropbacks. Contrary to claims that Brissett put up big numbers in garbage time, he achieved greater efficiency while facing pressures on 18.2% of dropbacks, nearly three times the pressure rate that Howell faced.

Speaking of pressures, early in the season, Sam Howell was on pace to break David Carr’s single season QB record of 76 sacks taken. In Week 8, Howell started taking fewer sacks and is no longer on pace to break the record. A few commenters on Hogs Haven are still stuck on the idea that Howell is taking sacks at record pace, so let’s clear that up.

Carr’s record, set in a 16-game season, equates to 4.75 sacks per game. From Weeks 1 through 7, Howell took 40 sacks, for an average of 5.71 sacks per game, almost 1 sack per game higher than Carr’s record pace. From Week 8 through Week 15, he took just 19 sacks, for an average of 2.71 sacks per game, well off record pace. For the season, he has taken sacks at a rate of 9.93% of dropbacks. His sack rate ranks 7th among QBs who have started at least 6 games, and is well below current leader Daniel Jones at 15.79%. He is still leading the league in total sacks taken, because of the total put up in the first 7 games. On current pace, he will fall 9 sacks short of Carr’s record total, even without adjusting for the extra game.

It is 18 days until Black Monday, for those who are keeping track.


Washington Commanders v Los Angeles Rams Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

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.

Q1

12:57, 3rd and 9 at LAR 20, Matthew Stafford pass complete deep middle to Demarcus Robinson for 21 yards, EPA -2.60

2:54, 4th and 2 at LAR 45, Sam Howell pass completed deep right to Terry McLaurin for 24 yards, EPA 3.90

Q2

9:18, 1st and 10 at WAS 21, Kyren Williams left tackle for 11 yards, fumble forced by Percy Butler, recovered by Kendall Fuller at WAS 9 and returned 1 yard, EPA 3.79

3:30, 3rd and 4 at WAS 11, Matthew Stafford pass complete short middle to Cooper Kupp for 9 yards, EPA -2.64

1:18, 2nd and 4 at WAS 45, Matthew Stafford pass complete short right to Kyren Williams, fumble recovered by Kamren Curl at WAS 39, EPA 3.99

0:39, 4th and 18 at WAS 31, Camaron Cheeseman botched snap recovered by Tress Way at WAS 17, EPA -3.27

0:27, 3rd and 10 at WAS 15, Matthew Stafford incomplete pass, Rough the passer penalty on Daron Payne accepted for 8 yards, EPA -2.50

Q3

14:16, 1st and 10 at LAR 38, Matthew Stafford 62 yard touchdown pass to Cooper Kupp, EPA -5.53

8:01, 4th and 3 at LAR 41, Sam Howell pass complete short right to Terry McLaurin for 17 yards, EPA 3.44

6:30: 3rd and 5 at LAR 19, Sam Howell pass complete deep left to Curtis Samuel for 19 yard touchdown, EPA 3.59

Q4

13:31 3rd and 9 at WAS 23, Matthew Stafford 23 yard touchdown pass to Demarcus Robinson, EPA -4.65

13:25, 1st and 10 at WAS 25, Sam Howell pass short middle intended for Terry McLaurin is intercepted by John Johnson at WAS 40 and returned 2 yards, EPA -3.66

9:10, 4th and 6 at WAS 25, Lucas Havrisik 43 yard field goal attempt no good, EPA 2.97

7:24, 2nd and 1 at LAR 29, Jacoby Brissett 29 yard touchdown pass to Terry McLaurin, EPA 3.28

4:47, 1st and 10 at LAR 49, Jacoby Brissett completion deep right to Terry McLaurin for 48 yards, EPA 4.65

2:31, 4th and 7 at LAR7, Jacoby Brissett pass short left intended for Terry McLaurin, incomplete, defensive pass interference on Derion Kendrick accepted for 6 yards, accepted, EPA 4.00

1:50, 4th and 3 at LAR 3, Jacoby Brissett 3 yard touchdown pass to Curtis Samuel, EPA 3.96


STATS AND SNAPS – OFFENSE

Quarterback

The biggest development in the 20-28 road loss to the Rams was that Sam Howell was benched in the fourth quarter following an interception, capping three quarters of lackluster play. Backup QB Jacoby Brissett came off the bench with 9:05 remaining in the game and seemed to light a fire in the Commanders’ offense for the 16 remaining plays. In that span, Brissett completed 8/10 passes (80%) for 124 yards (12.4 yds/att) with 2 touchdowns and 0 interceptions (passer rating 157.9).

In his short stint Brissett’s effort was good for a total QBR of 94.1, which is even higher than Brock Purdy’s league-leading mark of 93.1 in his 4-TD destruction of the Cardinals. Of course, Purdy played a full game and Brissett played less than a quarter.

Sam Howell was benched because, through 50 minutes and 48 seconds of playing time he had completed just 11/26 passes (42.3%, career low) for 102 yards (3.92 yds/att, career low) with 1 TD to 1 INT, while leaving a lot of yardage on the field through bad reads. On a positive note, he tied a career low by taking just 1 sack and set a new career low of 8 sack yards.

Interestingly, Howell’s average time to throw was back up to fairly high levels at 3.08 seconds, but short of his career high of 3.27 sec set in his last game. Perhaps the sacks he was taking at record pace earlier in the season were not simply related to time to throw.

According to Pro Football Reference, Howell was only pressured twice and experienced a career low pressure rate of 6.7%. Only 3 of 34 QBs with a minimum of 10 passing attempts had a lower pressure rate. Interestingly, Brissett, who performed much better in the same offense, was pressured on 18.2% of passing attempts. Howell was credited with 7 uncatchable throws, resulting in a career high bad throw rate of 28%.

Howell’s fourth-quarter benching, culminating a series of sub-par performances, seems to have sparked one of the most rapid re-sets of fan opinion ever witnessed on Hogs Haven. In the span of just one week, the main discussion topic has shifted from building around Sam to whether or not the Commanders should use a top-5 pick on a QB.

To acknowledge the difficult decision facing the new GM, this edition of the Sam Howell’s First Season in Perspective update compares his 15th career start to those of the usual suspects, as well as a few QBs that teams either gave up on too early or may have stuck with for too long. Usual suspect Drew Brees is also a QB a team gave up on too early.

Howell’s 15th start was around the 4th worst of his short career. The only QB chosen for comparison who even comes close is Hall of Famer and 2x MVP Steve Young, whom the Tampa Bay Buccaneers gave up on after just 19 starts at the end of his second season. But before you jump to any conclusions based on that comp, the next closest 15th start on the board was turned in by Daniel Jones, whose 4-year, $160,000,000 contract extension signed this year is starting to look like it might be headed to an all-time list of its own.

The next GM will have a very challenging decision to make regarding Sam’s future in Washington.

Offensive Line

For the second game in a row, everyone got some playing time.

Pass Protection

According to Pro Football Focus, which scores pressures more liberally than Pro Football Reference, Sam Howell was pressured 10 times (PFR: 2 pressures). Nine of those were attributed to the O-Line, with over half credited to just one player:

  • Saahdiq Charles: 5 hurries
  • Chris Paul: 2 hurries
  • Cornelius Lucas: 1 hurry
  • Andrew Wylie: 1 QB hit
  • Charles Leno: 0 pressures
  • Tyler Larsen: 0 pressures
  • Sam Cosmi: 0 pressures

Run Blocking

Yards before contact by running backs provides a measure of how well the OL is clearing running lanes. The league average is around 2.5 yards before contact per rushing attempt. Like last week, Washington’s backs were well below league average in this department. This week’s lead back Chris Rodriguez averaged 1.8 yards before contact per attempt. Antonio Gibson had just 4 attempts and averaged 2.0 yards before contact. Jonathan Williams had just 1 attempt and got stuffed behind the line for -2 yards.

Penalties

Charles Leno Jr kept up this run as Mr. Consistent of the O-Line by chalking up his 9th penalty in 13 games this season with a 10 yard holding call. He was the only offensive lineman to draw a penalty.

Running Backs

Antonio Gibson was designated the starter for this game and was on the field for more total snaps, but Chris Rodriguez got 1 more touch and 6 more rushing attempts than he did. Not surprisingly, Rodriguez let Commanders’ ball carriers with 10 rushing attempts for 35 yards (3.5 yd/att). Gibson ended up with as many total yards from scrimmage, distributed as 4 rushing attempts for 15 yards (3.75 yards per carry) and 5/5 receptions for 20 yards.

Jonathan Williams had 1 rushing attempt and was caught behind the line for a 2-yard loss. He had 1 passing target, but did not make the reception.

Blocking

FB Alex Armah served as a blocker on 6 of 8 offensive snaps (5 run, 1 pass), earning the second highest PFF run blocking grade on the team (72.7, highest: Sam Cosmi 92.0) in limited action. Antonio Gibson was pass blocker on 5 of 27 offensive snaps and was credited by PFF with the team’s only sack allowed to go with the team’s third lowest PFF pass blocking grade (29.9). Worryingly, the two pass blockers graded worse than Gibson were the two left guards: Saahdiq Charles 26.3, Chris Paul 15.3.

Wide Receivers

The WR group got off to a slow start with Sam Howell under center, but sprang to life in the fourth quarter when Brissett took over with the Rams leading 28-7.

McLaurin ended the game with a stat line of 6/12 receptions for 141 yards and 1 TD, with a long of 48. That is a great day for any WR if you overlook the 50% reception rate. In the 9+ minutes when he was catching passes from Brissett, it looks a lot better: 3/4 for 93 yards and 1 TD.

As usual, Curtis Samuel was second among the WRs (as well as second on the team, this game) in receiving yards, catching 5/9 targets for 41 yards and 2 TDs. Jahan Dotson caught his lone target from Jacoby Brissett for a 12 yard reception. Byron Pringle was 1/1 for 5 yards. Dyami Brown was targeted once, but failed to make a reception.

Tight Ends

The Commanders designated John Bates as the “starter”, but Logan Thomas got twice as much playing time and 3 times as many targets. That is not to say that Thomas made much of an appearance on offense. He was targeted 3 times and caught 1 pass for 7 yards. Bates was targeted once and failed to make a reception. Put Tight End on the offseason shopping list.

Logan Thomas was penalized 10 yards for offensive pass interference.


STATS AND SNAPS - DEFENSE

Defensive Line

DEs

While some of his teammates failed to show up, Rookie K.J. Henry made his presence felt. He logged 4 solo tackles and 1 assist with 1 tackle for loss, but didn’t manage to pressure the QB. On the other side of the line, Casey Toohill logged 3 solo tackles, 1 assist with 1 missed tackle. He also failed to impact the passer.

Payne had the Commanders’ only penalty on defense, an 8 yard roughing the passer flag near the end of the second quarter.

Andre Jones had 1 assisted tackle, 1 missed tackle and 1 pass breakup. The latter was his third PD of the season. Like his colleagues, he left Matt Stafford unmolested.

Jalen Harris had 1 solo tackle and 1 assist. Despite playing the least, he was the only DE to register a pressure with a 1 QB knockdown.

DTs

Daron Payne flashed his former self with 2 solo tackles, 1 assist, 2 sacks, 2 tackles for loss, and 1 QB knockdown. Jonathan Allen registered 1 solo tackle, 3 assists, 1 tackle for loss, and 1 QB knockdown.

John Ridgeway had 1 solo tackle and 2 assists. Phidarian Mathis had 2 tackle assists.

Linebackers

In answer to Commanders fans’ prayers, Khaleke Hudson finally got extended playing time, and he did not disappoint. Hudson’s 64 defensive snaps more than doubled his previous season high of 28, set last game. He was all over the place, recording 8 solo tackles and 5 assists with 1 tackle for loss. In pass coverage, he was targeted 8 times, allowing 6 receptions for 32 yards (opposing passer rating 81.2).

Cody Barton made 5 solo tackles with 8 assists. He was targeted once in coverage and allowed 1 reception for 18 yards.

Cornerbacks

Coverage Alignments

As usual, Kendall Fuller played predominantly on the boundary. He played 74 snaps at wide corner and 1 in the box. Benjamin St-Juste played 62 snaps at boundary corner and 7 in the slot, with 5 in the box and 1 lined up on the defensive line. Quan Martin took 51 snaps covering the slot, 19 in the box, 3 at free safety, and 1 on the defensive line. Emmanuel Forbes played 6 snaps at wide corner.

Coverage Performance

Kendall Fuller had 5 solo tackles and 6 assists and 1 fumble recovery. In coverage, he was targeted 5 times, allowing 3 receptions for just 12 yards (2.4 yards per target – season low), and an opposing passer rating of 64.6.

Benjamin St-Juste had 1 solo tackle with 2 assists with 1 missed tackle. In coverage, he was targeted 9 times and allowed 6 receptions for 51 yds (5.7 yards per target) with 1 pass defended. That was good for an opposing passer rating of 81.2.

Quan Martin had his biggest day as a Commander with 7 solo tackles and 3 assists with 1 sack. In coverage, he was targeted 5 times and allowed 4 receptions for 43 yards (8.6 yards/target) and an opposing passer rating of 102.5.

Emmanuel Forbes was invisible. Maybe he was just standing sideways.

Safeties

Coverage Alignments

Kam Curl played 34 snaps at box safety, 32 at free safety, 7 in the slot and 2 lined up on the DL. Percy Butler played 32 snaps at free safety, 23 in the slot and 20 at box safety.

Defense

Kam Curl made 1 solo tackle and 4 assists with 1 fumble recovery. In coverage, he was targeted 2 times and allowed 2 receptions for 76 yards and 1 TD (opposing passer rating 158.3). Percy Butler had 1 solo tackle and 8 assists with 1 forced fumble. In coverage, he was targeted 2 times and allowed 2 receptions for 30 yards and 1 TD (opposing passer rating 158.3).


STATS AND SNAPS – SPECIAL TEAMS

Week 15 saw the overdue end of Camaron Cheeseman’s tenuous hold on the long snapper job, after ground-ball snaps led to a missed extra point and loss of yardage on a punt that could have ended even worse with an injury to punter Tress Way. Cheeseman’s NFL epitaph will read, “He forgot how to snap”.

Slye was 2/3 on extra points with an asterisk next to the one he missed due to the ground ball from Cheeseman. Rivera didn’t give him any opportunities to kick field goals. At the end of the first quarter, he opted to call a short pass on fourth down from the Rams’ 12 yard line which fell incomplete leaving the score 0-3 Rams. That might have been a good time.

Tress Way punted 5 times for 203 yards (40.6 yd/p) with only 4 return yards. He landed 2/5 inside the Rams’ 20. He is also credited with 1 fumble recovery and 1 rushing attempt for 0 yards on the botched Cheeseman snap.

Byron Pringle returned 2 kicks for 53 yards. Jamison Crowder returned 1 punt for 15 yards. That long return brought his season average up to 7.77 yards per return. He is now just 0.01 yd/return behind Dax Milne’s 2022 season average of 7.78 yds per return. With one more good return he should be able to catch up.

Dyami Brown had Washington’s only tackle in special teams coverage. There were no assists, missed tackles, or penalties.


Poll

Who do you think will start the most games at QB for Washington in 2024?

This poll is closed

  • 49%
    Sam Howell
    (25 votes)
  • 3%
    Jacoby Brissett
    (2 votes)
  • 15%
    Caleb Williams or Drake Maye
    (8 votes)
  • 25%
    Jayden Daniels, Michael Penix, Bo Nix, Sheduer Sanders or J.J. McCarthy
    (13 votes)
  • 0%
    A vet acquired as a free agent
    (0 votes)
  • 1%
    A vet acquired through a trade
    (1 vote)
  • 3%
    Someone else
    (2 votes)
51 votes total Vote Now