The Commanders defeated the Browns 17-15 in their first preseason game. If Friday night offered a glimmer into Washington’s future with Howell, that glimmer was definitely encouraging
The preseason only offers so much, and Commanders fans should be wary of drawing conclusions from August action. Washington’s season won’t be made or broken based on the game in Cleveland.
Two things definitely stand out, however, and one is pretty much expected. Washington’s offensive line seemed like its weakest unit going into training camp, and through one preseason game, that certainly seems to be the case. And keep in mind Browns All Pro pass rusher Myles Garrett didn’t even play in this game.
The other area of concern would be the first-team defensive performance. Washington has four first-round picks on its starting defensive line, but that group could not contain the Browns’ rushing attack.
Put short, Washington’s starters lost the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball Friday night. Was that an anomaly? Ron Rivera better hope so.
The coaches planned to play the starters only in the first quarter, but Coach Ron Rivera said assistant head coach/offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy wanted to keep them on the field for a third series.
“He just wanted to get a little bit more rhythm,” Rivera said of Bieniemy after the Commanders’ 17-15 win, pointing out that their first drive was going well until a penalty killed it. “That [penalty] really kind of offset everything. I’m glad EB wanted to keep him out there, and we went with it.”
The offense finally started to click. After two runs, Howell delivered quick strikes — over the middle to Cole Turner for seven yards, on a rollout right to Terry McLaurin for seven more and then short right to Turner for four. A few plays later, Howell showed restraint by throwing the ball away rather than trying to force something. On fourth and three, he escaped pressure and threw a dart over the middle to Turner for a first down. On the next play, Howell hit Jahan Dotson for a highlight-reel 26-yard touchdown.
It remains an open question whether the offensive line can consistently protect him — it struggled to keep him comfortable and was flagged for two drive-killing penalties — but Friday night at least, Howell overcame the lapses with mobility and a quick release. There were few signs of his growing pains from training camp, and he finished 9 for 12 for 77 yards and a touchdown. He also scrambled once for eight yards to convert a third down.
Bullock’s Film Room
Breaking down how QB Sam Howell performed in the Commanders preseason opener.
What Washington was looking to see from Howell was a good grasp of the offense by showing an understanding of where to go with the football, how he processed things pre and post-snap and how quickly he was making decisions.
Overall I think it was a very encouraging performance from Howell. It wasn’t perfect by any means and there weren’t any spectacular deep shots down the field, but what stood out most was his mental processing. Being able to not only handle the information given to him by the system pre-snap, but also processing it efficiently post-snap and getting the ball out on time more often than not is impressive. While the deep shots down the field are fun and can lead to explosive plays, that type of processing is the glue that will hold the offense together and enable Bieniemy to get into situations where he can call those shots and look for more explosive plays. It’s a good start to the preseason for Howell and hopefully he can continue that momentum going forward.
Howell’s third drive was a beauty, with 10 plays and 80 yards for a touchdown. Howell found Cole Turner for 7 yards, Terry McLaurin for 7 yards, and Turner again for 4 yards.
Perhaps his most significant play of the night was a 4th & 3 at the Browns 39. Why punt when it is preseason? Give your quarterback and offensive unit the opportunity to convert, meaning more offensive plays. Howell rolled right and found Turner for 13 yards to the Browns’ 26.
Sam Howell extends the play and finds Cole Turner on 4th down pic.twitter.com/VLwF8SurY7— Billy M (@BillyM_91) August 12, 2023
Winner No. 1
Christian Holmes - Commanders CB
There was a level of ferocity across the Washington Commanders’ secondary that was hard to ignore. There seems to be more aggression and energy within the group than at any stage during the previous campaign, which could make Jack Del Rio’s defense a real force next season if everyone stays clear of injuries.
One player who caught the eye more than most on Friday evening was Christian Holmes. The gifted cornerback looked assured in coverage and came up with a couple of outstanding pass defenses to boost his roster chances considerably.
While there’s no guarantee Holmes secures a place on the 53 initially, those in power would have a hard time leaving him out if the same consistency emerges over the next two preseason encounters.
Loser No. 1
Andrew Wylie - Commanders OT
If there was one position group that could hold the Washington Commanders back in 2023, it’s once again the offensive line. Those in power feel like they’ve made improvements after tweaking some responsibilities and acquiring reinforcements, but it’s still a fine line between success and failure for this often suspect unit.
Unfortunately, the protection looked a little shaky during their first preseason game with the Cleveland Browns. Some individuals emerged with credit, but Andrew Wylie really struggled to get anything going during his time on the field.
The Commanders didn’t have much money to spend on free agents, so their investment in Wylie was significant. The right tackle is coming off a Super Bowl-winning campaign with the Kansas City Chiefs and has a previous connection to Eric Bieniemy, but this wasn’t the best start in a game-day setting.
Wylie looked shaky in pass protection despite the Browns sitting stud defensive end Myles Garrett, There were also some discipline issues in terms of penalties that the Commanders won’t want to become an ongoing issue.
DC Sports King
The Washington Commanders expect free-agent pickup Andrew Wylie to solidify the right tackle position. After five seasons with the Kansas City Chiefs, Wylie followed offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy to Washington on a three-year, $24 million deal.
His first in-game action showed Wylie playing right tackle may be a work in progress. Wylie got penalized for holding on to each of the Commanders’ first two offensive drives.
The first helped kill the Commanders’ opening drive that netted just 10 yards on seven plays. Wylie’s second holding penalty proved more costly, as it occurred in Washington’s end zone, resulting in a safety and two points for the Browns.
Washington Commanders running back Chris Rodriguez Jr., a sixth-round pick in April’s draft, had an impressive preseason debut as he fights for a roster spot
A sixth-round pick out of Kentucky, Rodriguez took his first NFL carry eight yards in the second quarter, followed by a 12-yard rush on the very next play. On just five carries, Rodriguez racked up a team-high 39 yards for the game.
In college, Rodriguez was a dynamic threat on the ground for Kentucky. His best season came in 2021, when he rushed for 1,378 yards and 10 touchdowns while averaging 6.1 yards per carry. He missed the first four games of 2022 due to suspension, but he still managed 904 yards and six touchdowns on 5.2 yards per carry in eight games.
A defensive stand sealed the 17-15 win for the Washington Commanders over the Cleveland Browns.
The Commanders’ defense has done more than its fair share of carrying the team in recent years, only for the offense to let them down. They continued to show that when they had a goalline stand in the first quarter and the stop on the two-point conversion late in the fourth quarter.
But Washington found themselves in that situation largely due to Browns’ quarterback Deshaun Watson’s ability to run through open lanes left by the defense. Watson ran for 20 yards on three carries in his only drive of the game. Those issues will prove problematic, especially against division rivals.
Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts, and New York Giants quarterback Daniel Jones are two of the better running quarterbacks in football. Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott can also run when necessary too.
It was only the first preseason game, and it’s an issue that can be resolved. But if it isn’t, it may be what sinks an otherwise strong Commanders’ defense.
DC Sports King
Friday, Young took the field in Washington’s preseason opener against the Cleveland Browns. His night had started well, as he provided pressure and nearly sacked Browns quarterback DeShaun Watson on Cleveland’s opening drive.
However, as the 12-play drive progressed, Young was stationed on the sidelines, getting attended to by the Commanders’ head trainer.
Following the Commanders’ 17-15 win, head coach Ron Rivera said Young “had a little bit of a stinger” at the end of the defense’s first drive, per Nicki Jhabvala of The Washington Post.
The Commanders made a goal-line stance at the one-yard line, highlighted by Emmanuel Forbes’ stuff on third down.
Neither Young nor the Commanders’ first-team defense played beyond that one drive. He was seen on the sideline engaging with his teammates. Hopefully, the situation is not lingering for the fourth-year pro.
Podcasts & videos
Special scheduled-emergency Saturday installment of the podcast— Al Galdi (@AlGaldi) August 12, 2023
Episode 632 - In-depth analysis of the #Commanders' preseason-opening win at Cleveland. Sam Howell & Jacoby Brissett played well. The offensive line is, uh, concerning. And much more.https://t.co/jY0ykOacIS
@LetMualTellit @DCSportsDre @AJ_ThompsonJr give their thoughts on Washington’s preseason debut at 11:30a ET today #HTTC— Trap or Dive Podcast (@TraporDive) August 12, 2023
Live on YouTube, join up & let the fellas know your biggest takeaways from the game! https://t.co/9O1wXdR8jI
Locked on Commanders: Washington Commanders Sam Howell Passing Effort Needs to Stay But Offensive Line Play Must Improve
NEW EPISODE!@ratedarmstrong chats with @SalaryCap101 about the RB situation in the NFL. Plus how the @Commanders are facing an upcoming contract logjam. #HTTC— BLEAV in Commanders (@BleavCommanders) August 11, 2023
Presented by: @betonline_ag @BleavNetwork | @BleavSports https://t.co/qV4ofsicsx
NFC East links
Bleeding Green Nation
The special teams leader had to be carted off the field with a right leg injury in Saturday’s game.
The Eagles special team made a great play mid-way through the third quarter, creating a turnover and a short field. Unfortunately, the celebration was short-lived, when it became apparent linebacker Shaun Bradley was injured on the play. The LB was unable to put any weight on his right leg and had to be carted to the locker room.
Blogging the Boys
The Cowboys lost their first preseason game to the Jaguars, but the play of guys like Deuce Vaughn and DeMarvion Overshown was impressive.
Eight carries for 50 yards and one touchdown. Three catches for six yards. One wicked spin move. Multiple times getting lost in the wash only to burst out the other side. Deuce Vaughn looks like he will be a legitimate weapon for the Cowboys.
The Cowboys looked determined to give the game away with their three turnovers. This might just be a blip in a preseason game, but you can bet Mike McCarthy and his coaches are going to make a big deal of it this week at camp. Once can be a fluke, but if the Cowboys are turning the ball over again next week, we have an issue.
Big Blue View
Cameras caught Daboll glaring at special teams coach Thomas McGaughey
New York Giants head coach Brian Daboll said his reaction to Friday’s 94-yard punt return touchdown surrendered to the Detroit Lions, staring angrily at special teams coordinator Thomas McGaughey, was a “non-issue.”
“Competitive guy. We’re all competitive and we’re in a competitive environment,” Daboll said. “I hold everybody, not just T-Mac, myself, and everybody else to a high standard.
If you haven’t seen it, here it is:
Brian Daboll’s at Giants special teams coordinator Thomas McGaughey after that 94-yard punt return for a TD by the Lions. pic.twitter.com/PWEo5Bk9yL— Ralph Vacchiano (@RalphVacchiano) August 12, 2023