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Stats & Snaps: Week 16 Commanders @ Jets

Commanders’ errors provide the key to a New York victory

Washington Commanders v New York Jets Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images

With three games left in the Ron Rivera era, the 4-10 Washington Commanders travelled to MetLife stadium in New Jersey to take on the 5-9 New York Jets, who were favored by 3 points. Both teams were out of playoff contention, so the main stakes were pride or draft position, depending on your outlook. It was a closely fought battle between two of the worst teams in football.

The game got off to a bad start for the Commanders when Sam Howell was intercepted on the second play from scrimmage. The Jets built a 20 point lead through most of three quarters of play when LB Cody Barton intercepted a Trevor Siemian pass. For the second week in a row, backup QB Jacoby Brissett came in for an ineffectual Sam Howell and began leading a rejuvenated Commanders’ offense on a comeback. While Brissett did his part, with three consecutive touchdown drives to give the Commanders a 1-point lead, the defense was unable to contain Jets’ backup QB Trevor Siemian on the final possession with 1:41 remaining, giving kicker Greg Zuerlein the opportunity to seal the victory with a 54-yard field goal with 5 seconds remaining.

The Jets can take pride in avoiding the ignominy of a five-win season, while the Commanders’ loss allowed them to move up to third place in the draft order instead of dropping out of the top-4. The loss drives another nail in the coffin of the failed coach-centric experiment. So it was a kind of a win-win outcome if you look at it from the right perspective.

The Commanders were very creative in finding ways to lose a game they could have won. For much of the season, their biggest weakness has been vulnerability to giving up explosive plays on defense. They had a few of those this week, but also added a healthy dose of miscues on offense, defense and special teams to keep the Jets in the lead.

Let’s take a look at how the whole team chipped in to deliver the 11th loss of Ron Rivera’s make-or-break season as head coach and head of football operations.

SOME STATISTICS

The Commanders’ biggest weakness all season has been vulnerability to explosive passing plays. Against Trevor Siemian and the Jets, they seemed to finally solve that problem, allowing a season low 1 pass over 15 yards, and it was just a 16-yard completion to Garrett Wilson. Well done.

Of course, they did give up another 32 yards on a passing play, via a defensive pass interference infraction by Benjamin St-Juste.

Just when they seem to have patched up the leaky pass defense – or maybe that was just a result of facing the league’s 29th ranked passing attack (by yardage, 32nd by TDs, 30th in net yards/attempt – the running defense sprung a new leak of its own. The Commanders gave up 77 yards on 4 runs of 12 or more yards, including a 36 yard rushing touchdown by Breece Hall.

Turnover differential is one of the better predictors of wins and losses. The Commanders lost the turnover battle to the Jets 3-2, ceding two Sam Howell interceptions and a lost fumble on a Jamison Crowder punt return, while only generating two takeaways on a Cody Barton interception and a fumbled Jets snap recovered by Casey Toohill.

The Jets were able to capitalize on two of Washington’s three turnovers, converting the first interception and the fumble to field goals.

The Jamison Crowder fumble was not the only Commanders’ special teams miscue that helped the Jets build an imposing lead. A blocked punt at the end of the Commanders’ first possession set the Jets up with 1st and goal from the Washington 9 yard line, leading to their first touchdown. Then, a Tariq Castro-Fields encroachment penalty on a punt play near the end of the second quarter kept a Jets drive alive, resulting in a touchdown to extend their lead from 7-20 to 7-27 heading into the half.

In summary, 4 of 6 Jets scoring drives, accounting for 20 of 30 points, were enabled by Washington miscues on offense and special teams (Howell’s first interception, blocked punt, Crowder punt return fumble, Castro-Fields’ encroachment penalty). The anemic Jets offense really couldn’t have pulled off the win on their own without the additional help from all three Commanders’ units pulling together to assist them.

As bad as the last few games have got, there have been a few bright spots, such as the performances of the RB Chris Rodriguez and LB Khaleke Hudson which you can read about in the Stats and Snaps section, below.

The brightest spot of all has been the performance of Washington’s offense when backup QB Jacoby Brissett has taken over from struggling starter Sam Howell. Over the past two weeks, in the fourth quarter, when Brissett has been the main QB, the Commanders have featured the most efficient offense in the NFL, with a staggering average of 0.445 EPA per play. Their offensive success rate in that span ranks 5th in the NFL at 52.6%.

If nothing else, the Commanders seem to have found a very good option as a high-end backup and bridge starter to help a young starter come up to speed if the next regime decides to keep him around. Of course, they’ll have to compete with every other team with a need for such a player.


Washington Commanders v New York Jets Photo by Rich Schultz/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

14:57, 2nd and 10 at WAS 25, Sam Howell pass short left intended for Logan Thomas intercepted by Tony Adams at WAS 29 and returned 5 yards, EPA -4.03

12:02, 4th and 25 at WAS 10, Tress Way punt blocked by Jermaine Johnson, ball out of bounds at WAS 9, EPA -2.65

11:29, 3rd and 8 at WAS 8, Trevor Siemian completion short left to Jason Brownlee for 8 yard touchdown, EPA 3.42

9:44, 2nd and 4 at WAS 36, Breece Hall run left tackle for 36 yard touchdown, EPA -3.95

0:49, 1st and 15 at NYJ 29, Trevor Siemian penalty for intentional grounding for 25 yards, EPA 3.84

Q2

12:14, 2nd and 18 at NYJ 25, Trevor Siemian pass incomplete short middle, Intentional grounding penalty on Trevor Siemian for 10 yards, EPA -2.64

11:55, 4th and 22 at NYJ 21, Thomas Morstead punt 51 yards, returned by Jamison Crowder for 24 yards, fumble recovered by Ashtyn Davis at NYJ 47, EPA -4.02

11:05, 2nd and 8 from NYJ 49, Trevor Siemian pass to Garrett Wilson incomplete, defensive pass interference on Benjamin St-Juste for 32 yards, EPA -2.52

6:51, 1st and 10 at NYJ 17, Trevor Siemian aborted snap recovered by Casey Toohill at the NYJ 12, EPA 4.72

Q3

8:07, 2nd and 10 from WAS 29, Sam Howell pass short right intended for Curtis Samuel is intercepted by Quincy Williams at WAS 33 and returned 11 yards, EPA -4.44

6:54, 2nd and 6 at WAS 6, Trevor Siemian pass short left intended for Jason Brownlee is intercepted by Cody Barton and returned 52 yards, EPA 8.59

3:31, 3rd and 12 at NYJ 15, Jacoby Brissett completions short left to Logan Thomas for 15 yard touchdown, EPA 3.97

Q4

12:05, 4th and 1 at WAS 32, Curtis Samuel run right end for 6 yards, EPA 2.71

9:47, 1st and 10 at NYJ 22, Jacoby Brissett pass to Jahan Dotson incomplete, defensive pass interference on D.J. Reed accepted for 21 yards, EPA 2.86


STATS AND SNAPS – OFFENSE

Quarterback

For the second week in a row, Sam Howell was benched following an interception in the second half. Like last week, the offense came alive when Jacoby Brissett took over.

Brissett completed 10/13 passes (76.9%) for 100 yards (7.69 Y/A) and 1 TD with 0 INT, while avoiding sacks (Passer Rating 123.9). He also had 1 run for 10 yards. One of his passes was dropped and he threw 1 uncatchable ball. He was not pressured by the Jets defense.

Brissett’s performance in relief of Howell earned a nearly perfect total QBR of 95.3 out of 100, improving on last week’s QBR value by 1.1 pts. In two games for the Commanders, Brissett has led five drives with passing play calls, not counting the final possession on Sunday with 5 seconds remaining. All five drives involving Brissett passes ended in touchdowns.

A few commenters on Hogs Haven have suggested that Howell should not have been benched, which I find perplexing. At the point when he was yanked in the third quarter, Howell had completed just 6 of 22 passes for a career-low completion rate of 27.3%. That was the lowest completion rate in a game this season by any QB with a minimum of 20 passing attempts. The third lowest mark this season, out of 464 total QB-games, was set by Howell last week against the Rams when he completed 42.3% of passes.

In addition to posting the lowest completion rate by any starting QB this season, Howell also threw 2 interception (8.7% INT rate) to 0 touchdowns and took 1 sack for 13 yards, while making no running attempts. According to Pro Football Reference, Howell was pressured 3 times including the sack (13% pressure rate). Three of his throws were dropped for a career-high drop rate of 15.8%. However, if those passes had been caught, his completion rate would only have risen to 40.9%, which would have been the 2nd lowest rate this season out of 464 QB-games.

Howell threw 4 uncatchable balls, for a bad throw rate of 21.1%. That marked the third highest bad throw rate of his career. The only higher marks were set last week against the Rams (28%) and two weeks ago against Miami (23.8%).

From a statistical standpoint, Howell’s performance has fallen off a cliff in the last three games.

Throughout the season, I have been benchmarking Howell’s weekly performances against three of the modern-era greats in their equivalent numbered starts, as well as selected other QBs. This was originally intended to give fans perspective to avoid expecting too much from the young QB in his first season starting. Due to Howell’s sharp regression in the last three games, I have recognized a need to change tack.

This week, I compared Howell’s average performance in his 13th to 15th starts to the three modern greats, to provide perspective on where he has got to after completing most of a full season starting. I also compared his performance over the last three games to his own average performance through the first 12 games of this season, and to that of the backup QB who has replaced him as the starter and to another player a lot of people have suggested as his pro comp.

Over the last three games, Howell’s performance has completely collapsed, and is well below any of the QBs I have chosen as comps. Of most concern, his numbers are well down in all passing categories relative to his own performance earlier in the season except for sacks taken, which has improved. Howell did have bad games earlier in the year against Buffalo and the first Giants’ game, but he followed them up with great games against Philadelphia. It is very worrying that he has not bounced back after the Dolphins and Rams games and seems to be getting worse.

What is most disappointing for Commanders’ fans is that Howell’s numbers through the first 12 games of 2023 do not look out of place next to those of three of the greatest QBs of the modern era after they had 12 starts under their belts. Howell showed great promise earlier in the season, but his more recent performances raise serious questions about whether whatever has gone wrong can be fixed.

In his present state, it is worth asking whether Howell’s long-term future might be closer to that of Baker Mayfield or Jacoby Brissett. After his 12th start, he is a lot closer to where Brissett was at the same stage of his career than Mayfield in most passing categories. In his first 12 starts, he was ahead of all the QBs on this board in completion rate, and led Brissett and Mayfield in TD/INT ratio and passer rating.

The Commanders’ next GM will have to ask whether Howell can be put back together and build on his early 2023-form, or whether it would be better to move in a new direction.

Offensive Line

As has happened so many times before during Ron Rivera’s tenure, injury proved to be the Commanders’ best general manager against the Jets. Backup OTs Cornelius Lucas and Trent Scott looked better than the injured starters they replaced.

Pass Protection

According to Pro Football Focus, which scores pressures more liberally than Pro Football Reference, Sam Howell was pressured 14 times (PFR: 3 pressures). Thirteen of those were attributed to the O-Line, with just under half credited to just one player (the same player who allowed half the line’s pressures last week):

  • Saahdiq Charles: 6 hurries (15% of pass blocks)
  • Andrew Wylie: 2 hurries (14% of pass blocks)
  • Trent Scott: 3 hurries (11% of pass blocks
  • Cornelius Lucas: 1 hurry (2.5% of pass blocks)
  • Sam Cosmi: 1 hurry (2.5% of pass blocks)
  • Nick Gates: 0 pressures

Run Blocking

According to PFF Cosmi, Trent Scott and recently returned C Nick Gates were the team’s best run blockers. Run blocking grades were as follows:

  • Sam Cosmi 84.4
  • Trent Scott 80.6
  • Nick Gates 71.4
  • Saahdiq Charles 60.2
  • Cornelius Lucas 50.5
  • Andrew Wylie 41.8

Penalties

Cornelius Lucas continued the tradition of the LT drawing penalties by drawing a 5 yard false start penalty.

Running Backs

In his second significant opportunity at RB, rookie Chris Rodriguez did not disappoint, leading the team in rushing yards with 10 carries for 58 yards (5.8 Y/A) and 1 TD. He also caught his only passing target for 7 yards. Rodriguez had to make a lot of his own opportunities, as he only averaged 1.9 yards before contact per rushing attempt (league average is around 2.5 YBC/att).

With 51 rushing attempts under his belt, Rodriguez is averaging a healthy 4.8 Y/A, which ranks 10th in the NFL among RBs with a minimum of 50 rushing attempts, an puts him ahead of Washington’s other two backs with more than 2 carries: Brian Robinson 4.2 Y/A (160 att), Antonio Gibson 4.0 Y/A (59 att). Rodriguez also leads the RB group in rushing success rate: Rodriguez 47.1%, Robinson 45.6%, Gibson 44.1%.

Antonio Gibson was second on the team with 9 carries for 30 yards (3.3 Y/A) and 1 TD. He caught 1/2 targets for 2 yards. Gibson was also flagged for a 5 yard false start penalty.

Neither of the Commanders’ other RBs touched the ball.

Wide Receivers

Terry McLaurin led the Commanders in receiving yards, catching 3/5 targets (60%) for 50 yards (10.0 Y/Tgt).

Jahan Dotson was the second place WR, catching 2/4 targets (50%) for 31 yards (7.75 Y/Tgt). Dotson was flagged for being offside, but the penalty was declined.

Normally a reliable target, Curtis Samuel had a season low reception rate, catching only 1/6 targets (16.7%) for 16 yards (2.67 Y/Tgt). He also contributed 4 net rushing yards on 2 attempts, including a crucial conversion of 6 yards on 4th and 1 in the 4th quarter.

Byron Pringle was targeted twice with no reception. Jamison Crowder was targeted once with no reception.

Tight Ends

Logan Thomas was Washington’s second leading receiver with 5 receptions out of 6 targets (83%) for 36 yards (6 Y/Tgt) and 1 TD. He did drop the 1 target he didn’t catch.

John Bates caught 3/5 targets (60%) for 14 yards (2.8 Y/Tgt). He dropped 2 targets for a drop rate of 40%.

Cole Turner was not targeted as a receiver. He was used as a run blocker on 3 of his 4 offensive snaps.


STATS AND SNAPS - DEFENSE

Defensive Line

DEs

The DEs had a restful afternoon at MetLife, leaving Trevor Siemian largely unmolested. Seriously, this is the sparsest set of production stats I have seen from DE unit since I’ve been doing this. The entire unit failed to produce a single QB pressure.

James Smith-Williams had 3 solo tackles with 1 tackle for loss. He produced 0 pressures.

K.J. Henry had 1 solo tackle and 2 assists.

Casey Toohill had no tackles, but did make the second biggest play of the game by recovering a Jets bad snap at the NYJ 12 yard line (EPA -4.72). He was targeted once in coverage and allowed 1 reception for 1 yards. Seems to be back to his old binary self.

Jalen Harris played 21 snaps without registering a defensive stat. Well done.

DTs

Daron Payne led the DL with 3 solo tackles and 2 assists. I don’t know how this is even possible, but he is credited with 1 target in coverage on which he gave up a reception for 6 yards.

Jonathan Allen had 2 solo tackles and 2 assists. He also had 3 QB knockdowns, which makes him one of only two players on the DL to pressure the quarterback.

Phidarian Mathis had 1 solo tackle and 1 QB knockdown.

John Ridgeway had 1 solo tackle and 2 assists.

Linebackers

The authors and commenters on Hogs Haven have been begging to see more of Khaleke Hudson all season and, wouldn’t you know it, they were right. Hudson has made the most of his opportunities with expanded playing time over the last two games.

On Sunday, he led the team in tackling with 8 solo tackles and 7 assists. In coverage, he was targeted 10 times and allowed 7 receptions for 50 yards (opposing passer rating 81.2).

Cody Barton made the biggest play of the game by intercepting a Trevor Siemian pass at the Washington 4 yard line and returning it 52 yards (EPA -8.59) to set up Jacoby Brissett’s first touchdown drive. On the day he had 7 solo tackles and 3 assists with 1 missed tackle. In coverage he allowed 7 receptions on 12 targets (58.3%) for 71 yards, with 1 interception and 1 pass defended (opposing passer rating 40.6).

David Mayo had 3 solo tackles with 5 assists and 1 tackle for loss. He was targeted once in coverage and allowed 1 reception for 10 yards.

Cornerbacks

Coverage Alignments

Kendall Fuller played 84 snaps at boundary corner, 3 in the slot and 2 in the box. Quan Martin played the second most snaps of the CBs, spending 54 snaps covering the slot, 6 at box safety and 2 lined up on the defensive line. Benjamin St-Juste played 51 snaps at boundary corner, 4 in the slot, 4 at box safety, and 1 on the DL. Emmanuel Forbes played 25 snaps at boundary corner and 4 in the slot.

Coverage Performance

Kendall Fuller had 3 tackles and 1 assist. In coverage, he was targeted 6 times and allowed 2 completions (33%) for 15 yards (2.5 Y/Tgt) and 1 TD, with 3 pass breakups (opposing passer rating 81.9).

Benjamin St-Juste had 2 tackles and 2 assists. In coverage, he allowed 2 receptions on 3 targets (66.7%) for 10 yards with 1 pass breakup (opposing passer rating 71.5).

Quan Martin had 4 solo tackles and 2 assists with 1 missed tackle. In coverage, he allowed receptions on 3 of 6 targets (50%) for 32 yards (opposing passer rating 66.0).

Emmanuel Forbes had 1 solo tackle and 1 assist. In coverage, he allowed 1 completion out of 4 targets (25%) for 3 yards (opposing passer rating 39.6).

Penalties

Benjamin St-Juste drew a 32 yard penalty for pass interference and 5 yard flag for holding. Those were his 10th and 11th penalties this season. All 11 were for one form of illegal contact with receivers or another (DPI x5, facemask x 2, defensive holding x 2, illegal contact/use of hands x 2).


STATS AND SNAPS – SPECIAL TEAMS

One of the biggest stories on special teams this week is the Commanders finally got right at long snapper, with 2022 UDFA and former Sam Houston Bearkat Tucker Addington replacing disgraced former snapper Cameron Cheeseman. The Commanders were rewarded for making the switch by 11 well targeted snaps, with no grounders. It would be reasonable to ask why they took so long to make the switch. Other questions that this raises are why did they draft a long snapper in the first place and why did they trade up to do so.

Tress Way punted 7 times for 294 yards with 9 return yards (42 Y/P, 40.7 net Y/P), landing 3 (42.9%) inside the Jets’ 20 yard line. He had one punt blocked to give the Jets a first down at the WAS 9 yard line in the first quarter. The Jets scored a touchdown on a 3-play red zone drive.

Joey Slye was a perfect 2/2 on field goals and 2/2 on extra points, thanks in part to improved snap placement.

Jamison Crowder returned 4 punts for 43 yards with 1 turnover on a lost fumble. It is frequently claimed that Washington’s return game has improved since he replaced injured return man, Dax Milne, in the lineup at the start of the season. With Sunday’s effort, he once again edged past Milne’s 2022 average of 7.8 yards per return by 0.32 yards per return (11.5”). However, he has also fumbled twice as many times as Milne did in 2022 (2 vs 1) on 6 fewer returns and is the only one of the two to have committed a turnover. Is that an improvement?

Byron Pringle returned 1 kickoff for 6 yards.

Terrell Burgess led the special teams coverage unit with 2 tackles, but earned the lowest PFF Special Teams grade of 29.7.

Jabril Cox and David Mayo each made 1 tackle in coverage.

Christian Holmes had 1 tackle assist and 1 missed tackle, while also committing 2 penalties, yet somehow gets a much higher PFF grade (51.7) than Burgess.

Penalties

Holmes was penalized 5 yards for a false start and 5 yards for an illegal touch on a kick.

Dyami Brown was assessed 6 yards for holding.

Tariq Castro-Fields drew a 5 yard penalty for encroachment on a Jets punt attempt from their 36 yard line to give the Jets a fourth down conversion (EPA 2.64).


Poll

What will be Jacoby Brissett’s role next season?

This poll is closed

  • 0%
    Commanders’ starter
    (0 votes)
  • 16%
    Commanders’ backup/bridge QB
    (4 votes)
  • 8%
    Starter for another team
    (2 votes)
  • 76%
    Backup/bridge QB on another team
    (19 votes)
25 votes total Vote Now