The second-year quarterback started and played a little more than quarter in Washington’s 17-15 win over the Cleveland Browns on Friday, showing everything his coaches had hoped for and more while the team’s new owner watched from the first row of the stands.
Howell played with a poise and confidence that bely his game experience. He made quick and sound decisions and used his feet to escape pressure but not as a crutch to avoid moving through his progressions. And when the play wasn’t there, he didn’t hesitate to throw it away.
“Very encouraged. A lot of good things,” Rivera said. “I thought, again, he threw some really good balls. I thought the decision-making was what you want. He looked to have command of things, and it was good to see him get into a rhythm.”
His finest sequence came in the early second quarter. On a fourth and three from Cleveland’s 39-yard line, Howell moved right to evade pressure, then hit tight end Cole Turner with a 13-yard dart on the right side. He followed with a 26-yard touchdown pass to receiver Jahan Dotson to cap a 10-play, 80-yard scoring drive.
“We got man-to-man [coverage],” Dotson explained on the game broadcast. “That’s what we wanted. Two receivers, I had a safety lined up over me and that’s never a good thing for safeties. We took advantage of the matchup, I was able to beat my man and get in the end zone.”
Howell’s final line: 9-for-12 passing for 77 yards with one touchdown and zero interceptions for a 119.1 passer rating. He also rushed for those eight yards and took one sack.
Washington’s Sam Howell, who is trying to hold onto his starting job, threw a 26-yard touchdown pass to Jahan Dotson and had a few other nice moments in his two series. He finished 9 of 12 for 77 yards.
Howell was replaced by Brissett, who went 4-7 in 11 starts for Cleveland in 2022 while Watson was out. The 30-year-old scampered 12 yards for a score in the second quarter to put the Commanders (1-0) ahead 14-2.
When he came in, Brissett received a loud ovation from Cleveland fans.
“That was awesome,” he said. “Did not expect that. I really enjoyed my time here. A lot of the people, the players, the coaches, and the staff there I have a lot of respect and love for that organization.”
It’s important to note that Cleveland stripped all starters from its defense after Washington’s second possession. The next possession ended with a holding penalty on right tackle Andrew Wylie in the end zone, meaning the Browns scored the first points with a safety, even without All-Pro lineman Myles Garrett ever stepping onto the field.
Despite those hiccups — and waiting through a 76-minute weather delay for kickoff — the kid QB played grown-up football as members of the new ownership group, including managing partner Josh Harris, watched the progress in person.
“I thought it was solid,” Howell said after completing 9 of 12 passes for 77 yards, one touchdown and a 119.1 QB rating. “I got off to a little slow start with those first two drives, but the third drive was really good.”
Howell rarely looked like one might expect from an inexperienced 2022 fifth-round pick. His three incompletions were a drop and a pair of throwaways with no receivers open. There were no signs of him feeling any pressure in the short stint. Well, except when the offensive line struggled, which happened initially. Even then, Howell effectively used his legs to avoid defenders on an 8-yard run on third-and-6.
Dotson wasn’t the only receiver to make an improbable catch on Friday. On the ensuing Commanders drive, Dyami Brown hauled in an impressive sideline throw from Jacoby Brissett for a 14-yard gain. Two plays later, Byron Pringle somehow made a catch over a defender while falling down for a 32-yard pickup, putting the offense at the Browns’ 12-yard line.
Washington fans know that the team has a strong group of wideouts, but they got a reminder Friday night of just how deep the group has become.
Next, we’ll move over to Christian Holmes, who perhaps had one of the strongest performances by any defensive player. The former seventh-round pick had two pass breakups, one of which would have led to a first down by Cedric Tillman. Holmes’ physicality played a role in preventing Tillman from securing the pass, as he laid a hit on the wideout from behind.
It’s not a surprise that Harris and some of his partners were in town. Harris, flanked by his son, was seen on Washington’s sidelines speaking with team executive Marty Hurney.
Once the game began — after a weather delay of over an hour — you’d expect Harris to take his seat in the press box.
After a strong set of drives for Washington Commanders sophomores Sam Howell and Jahan Dotson the duo took to the sidelines and voiced their pleasure with what transpired against the Cleveland Browns.
“I can move everywhere, I can run every route on the route tree,” Dotson said to Commanders.com’s Logan Paulsen on the sideline after his night was finished. “Coach Bieniemy is letting me do that. He’s giving me the freedom to do that and put my own sauce on things. That’s what you want in a coach. Someone who trusts you and believes in you to get open.”
Dotson was the recipient of Howell’s touchdown pass Friday night and laughed as he recalled the play where he was matched in man coverage against a safety saying, “That’s never a good thing for a safety.”
What’s bad for safeties is usually good for quarterbacks.
“It’s awesome, man,” Howell told Paulsen when asked about having a talent like Dotson on his side. “Jahan is so special. He’s so polished...I was a huge fan of his when he was in college and I’m so excited to play with him.”
Logan Paulsen tells Grant & Danny that Chase Young ‘is in a different space physically and mentally’ this year
“I’ve wanted to see some maturation from Chase Young since he arrived, because I had such a high evaluation of him, so I was waiting for him to ascend to the elite level – and since camp began, he has shown that he is in a different space physically and mentally than he has been in quite some time,” Logan said.
According to the former tight end, Young has been giving left tackle Charles Leno Jr. ‘fits’ in practice, and ‘putting those deposits in the bank’ all camp.
“That is what I wanted to see: a guy using power and inside counters, understanding when to rush the edge, and developing a plan that looks like an NFL rusher,” Logan said.
“There’s a better timing and understanding of when to use the tools in his toolbox. He doesn’t have the spin moves of a Maxx Crosby or the crazy ghost rush of Von Miller, but he’s 6-foot-5 and 270 pounds,” Logan said. “He’s big and physical, and I want to see him be big and physical – run the edge, rip into the tackle and compress the pocket, and when it’s time to use finesse, use the stutter-step and inside wipers when its time. He just has to know when to use his moves; elite rushers don’t have a ton of moves, but they know what they have and when and how to apply them.”
Fans held their breath when Young went to the sidelines and did not return. It never appeared serious, but with injuries, you just never know.
Trainer Al Bellamy looking at Chase Young pic.twitter.com/SL3bbZ3zm8— Matthew Paras (@Matthew_Paras) August 12, 2023
After the game, Young’s healthy was a primary topic, and head coach Ron Rivera provided an update: “He had a little bit of a stinger”.
That’s good news. “A little bit of a stinger” is much better than the alternative. While it remains to be seen what Young’s status will be for next week’s joint practices with the Baltimore Ravens, there are no long-term concerns with Young.
Young was only on the field for around four plays, but he made an impact.
Podcasts & videos
NBC Sports: ‘It’s the city’s team, not my team’: New Commanders owner celebrates first preseason win
Hear from Coach Rivera, players and more on Postgame Live after tonight's win https://t.co/7MAo5l4GhV— Washington Commanders (@Commanders) August 12, 2023
Episode 631 - Guest: @DanPizzuta. Wrote #Commanders chapter in @ASchatzNFL's FTN Football Almanac 2023. Believes Sam Howell can be top-10 QB in rushing production. Lots on the defense, including Daron Payne's greatness & why more takeaways should be coming.https://t.co/aOVvckhw5o— Al Galdi (@AlGaldi) August 11, 2023
Kevin recaps the #Commanders preseason win over the Browns. At 26:28, Commanders' WR Jahan Dotson called in from the locker room in Cleveland.— The Kevin Sheehan Show (@SheehanPodcast) August 12, 2023
Find it on all podcast platforms or:https://t.co/kiU3hxTv6O
Locked on Commanders: Washington Commanders Win Preseason Week 1: Sam Howell and Jahan Dotson Score, Defense Stands Up
Check out the top photos from the Washington Commanders’ season opener against the Cleveland Browns.
With @Sam4TR: Commanders on-air analyst and former NFL CB Fred Smoot was arrested in Loudoun County on Thursday on a misdemeanor charge of failure to comply with support obligation.https://t.co/ZeHUwU9Ev8— Nicki Jhabvala (@NickiJhabvala) August 11, 2023
NFC East links
Big Blue View
What can we take away from the Giants’ first preseason game?
The Jason Pinnock show
The start of the game was, frankly, the Jason Pinnock show. Pinnock wasn’t just around the ball on every play for the Giants’ defense, he was making plays on the ball (or ball carrier) on just about every play. He started off the game by picking off an ill-advised throw from Sudfeld, giving the Giants’ offense the ball on a short field. He followed that up with a great run stuff to put the Lions behind the chains on their second drive, which set up a turnover on downs to end their second drive. And, of course, it was Pinnock who got the stop on fourth down.
Pinnock was largely overlooked at the start of camp and it was a surprise when he played next to Xavier McKinney with the starters. But it would be a surprise if Pinnock wasn’t a starter after tonight.
Third down was a problem
The Giants’ offense wasn’t great a year ago, but they were remarkably efficient. They generally stayed ahead of the chains and were at least able to put Graham Gano in position to end drives with points.
The Giants struggled mightily to convert third downs in this game, and were just 2 of 13 (15.4%) overall.
NFL league links
Andre Wylie, the team’s new right tackle, was flagged twice for holding, including once in the end zone for a safety. The Commanders’ third drive was progress. Howell’s ball placement wasn’t perfect, but he completed 5 of 7 passes on the series for 57 yards, keeping the possession alive with a nice fourth-down improv throw. Howell was replaced by Jacoby Brissett, who was impressive prior to an interception right before the half where he got a little greedy. Some Browns starters were on the field when Brissett completed 3 of 4 passes for 53 yards, capping the 88-yard drive with a TD run. Did this tilt the QB race back in Brissett’s favor? Not necessarily, because the OL concerns aren’t going away, but it certainly gives Howell a reminder that he has a pretty talented 48-game starter breathing down his neck.