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Stats & Snaps: Week 1 Commanders vs Cardinals

An auspicious start to a new era of Washington football 

Arizona Cardinals v Washington Commanders Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images

The Commanders’ home opener against the Cardinals was the 127th meeting of the two franchises whose history together dates back to 1932. With Sunday’s victory added to the win total, Washington leads the series 78-47-2 against their historic adversary.

This was also the first game Washington played under new ownership since September 12, 1999. The Harris era got off to an auspicious start with a 20-16 win in a sold-out FedEx stadium. The team is already ahead of where they started under previous ownership, with an overtime loss to the Dallas Cowboys.

The re-energized fanbase clearly hoped to see more than a win that didn’t cover the spread against a Cardinal’s team that appears to be heading into an offseason restructure. Close observers may have noticed they did two things well, which we haven’t always seen in the recent past. They overcame a first half deficit and they found a way to win by capitalizing on their opponent’s mistakes. Some might even say the best players for Washington wore Cardinals’ uniforms. Those things can be hard to quantify. I will do my best.


On Sunday, Sam Howell became the 7th different quarterback to start a season opener for Washington in 7 consecutive seasons. He is the 12th QB to start at least one game for Washington over that period.

The Commanders held the Cardinals to just 210 total yards and 0 touchdowns on offense. That marks the lowest total yardage allowed by Washington in a season opener since 2005 against the Chicago Bears (166 yards allowed).

After one game the Commanders are in a three-way tie for the NFC East Division lead. Washington is just 1 point behind Philadelphia in point differential, but trails Dallas by 36 points.

In Week 1, the Commanders’ offense ranked 15th in points scored (20 pts, 5-way tie). They placed 25th in total yardage (248 yds), 21st in passing yards (156 yds), 18th in rushing yards (92, 3-way tie), and 13th in total touchdowns (2, 10-way tie).

The Commanders’ offense tied for second most turnovers committed (3) with 5 other teams. However, they were the only team to escape a 3-turnover performance with a win. The offense also gave up the second most sacks (6), and committed the 9th most penalties (8) in the NFL. The sack problem actually might not be as bad as the gross numbers make it appear. Washington only ranked third highest in sacks as a percentage of drop backs (16.2%), behind both the Giants and the Falcons. That’s much better than second worst.

Overall, the Commanders ranked 25th in the league in offensive efficiency, with a paltry -0.222 Expected Points Added per play. At least they weren’t as bad as the Giants, who ranked dead last with an alarming -0.427 EPA/play.

In a pattern that should be familiar to Washington fans, the defense kept the Commanders in the game. Jack Del Rio’s unit ranked 3rd in the league in defensive efficiency, behind only Dallas and Cleveland, at a stingy -0.348 EPA/play.

The Commanders’ defense allowed the 8th fewest points (16), the 4th fewest total yards (210), the 3rd fewest yards per play (3.6 yds, tie with Minnesota), 2nd fewest 1st downs (13, 4-way tie), 8th lowest third down conversion rate (28.6%, tie with Bengals), 5th fewest passing yards (114 yds), and had the 8th most takeaways (2, 9-way tie). The defense allowed no touchdowns on two red zone appearances, which tied them for the best red zone record with the Saints, Cowboys and Ravens.

The defense was a bit more ordinary in some categories, ranking 11th in sacks (3, 7-way tie), 17th in rushing yards allowed (96 yds), 22nd in pass breakups (3, 3-way tie), and 25th in pass completion percentage allowed (70%). They had the 14th most missed tackles (5, 3-way tie) and the 5th most penalties (9, 4-way tie). The Commanders were also one of 14 teams that failed to record an interception, despite investing a first round pick in a ball hawking CB.

The two statistical services I use rated the Commanders’ pass rush differently. Pro Football Reference only credits Washington with 5 QB pressures and a pressure percentage of 15.2%, which ranks 21st in the league. Pro Football Focus credits them with 11 pressures and ranks their pass rush 10th overall.

NFL-Arizona Cardinals at Washington Commanders Photo by Jonathan Newton/The Washington Post via Getty Images


These plays had the biggest impact on the Commanders’ scoring potential or potential to be scored upon, as quantified by Expected Points Added (EPA). EPA uses a statistical model, based on over a decade of NFL play-by-play data to quantify a team’s scoring potential (Expected Points) before and after each play. The arbitrary criterion for a “big play” is EPA absolute value greater than 2 points.

Positive Plays

Q4 4:38, Cardinals’ ball, 1st and 15 from ARZ 40: Unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on Paris Johnson, 15 yards. EPA 5.71

Q3 0.09, Cardinals’ ball, 3rd and 15 from ARZ 35: Josh Dobbs sacked by Montez Sweat for -6 yards, fumble recovered by Daron Payne at Arizona 29. EPA 3.94

Q1 5:08, Commanders’ ball, 2nd and 12 from ARZ 50: Sam Howell pass intended for Terry McLaurin, pass interference penalty on Marco Wilson for 37 yards. EPA 3.13

Q4 11:54, Commanders’ ball, 3rd and 6 from ARZ 6: Sam Howell scramble left for a touchdown. EPA 2.96

Q2 0:14, Commanders’ ball, 2nd and 10 from ARZ 44: Sam Howell pass deep left to Curtis Samuel for 32 yards. EPA 2.67

Q2 15:00, Commanders’ ball, 2nd and 21 from WAS 14: Sam Howell incomplete pass to Logan Thomas, roughing the passer penalty on Jonathan Ledbetter for 15 yds. EPA 2.41

Q4 1:15, Cardinals’ ball, 4th and 10 from ARZ 37: Josh Dobbs pass to Michael Wilson broken up by Emmanuel Forbes. EPA 2.27

Negative Plays

Q2 13:31, Cardinals’ ball, 4th and 9 from WAS 36: Matt Prater field goal from 54 yards. EPA -2.12

Q1 3:45, Cardinals’ ball, 2nd and 6 from ARZ 29: Marquise Brown rush right end for 29 yards. EPA -2.19

Q1 2:16, Cardinals’ ball, 2nd and 11 from WAS 43: Josh Dobbs completion short right to Rondale Moore for 31 yards, Washington illegal contact penalty declined. EPA -2.67

Q2 14:54, Commanders’ ball, 1st and 10 from WAS 29: Sam Howell pass to Jahan Dotson intercepted by Zaven Collins at Washington 38, returned 1 yard. EPA -3.99

Q2 8:55, Commanders’ ball, 1st and 10 from ARZ 19: Antonio Gibson 3 yard rush, fumble forced by Victor Dimukeje, recovered by Zaven Collins. EPA -4.17

Q2 1:02, Commmanders’ ball, 3rd and 10 from WAS 26: Sam Howell sacked by Dennis Gardeck for -24 yards, fumble forced by Dennis Gardeck, recovered by Cameron Thomas, 2 yard return for touchdown. EPA -6.44



In his second pro start, Sam Howell completed 19 of 31 pass attempts (61.3%) for 202 yards, 1 TD and 1 interception. He added 11 yards and a TD on 2 rushing attempts. He also took 6 sacks for 46 yards with one ending in a fumble returned by the Cardinals for a TD.

Howell’s effort on Sunday was good for a total QBR of 45.4, which ranked 18th among starting QBs, and placed him well ahead of every QB drafted in the first round in 2023 (Anthony Richardson 23.4, 23rd place; CJ Stroud 21.2, 27th place; Bryce Young 14.5, 29th place), as well as the first two QBs drafted in his class (Desmond Ridder 28.8, 21st place; Kenny Pickett 23.8, 22nd place). He did trail far behind his other draft classmate, Brock Purdy (91.3, 1st place), but so did every other QB in the league.

Howell ranked 16th in passing yardage in Week 1, 10th in passing TDs (14-way tie) and 3rd it total TDs (1-way tie). He ranked 23rd in completion percentage (61.3%), and had the 10th highest interception percentage (3.2%), the 2nd most sacks (behind Daniel Jones), and 3rd highest sack rate (16.2% of drop backs). On a positive note, he was credited with 0 bad throws, and led a fourth quarter comeback, albeit with a lot of help from the defense and the Cardinals.

In just his second start, Howell led his first fourth quarter comeback as a pro. Joe Montana, one of the great clutch QBs of the Super Bowl era, took 6 starts to achieve the same milestone. Peyton Manning and Tom Brady did not achieve their first fourth quarter comebacks until their 10th starts. Howell is already ahead of the pace of three of the all-time greats.

Despite what you may have read in the Hogs Haven comments sections, that was not a bad game for a QB making his second start. To put Howell’s performance in perspective, here are the stat lines from some QBs near the top of the MattInBrisVegas all time leaders board, and some others with less illustrious careers:

Howell’s second start was actually better than the second games started by three of the greatest QBs of the Super Bowl era. On the other hand, it wasn’t close to the level of three QBs who didn’t catch on as long-term starters. The moral of this story is that two games is far too early to have any idea how a QB is going to turn out.

Running Backs

Brian Robinson had 19 rushing attempts for 59 yards (3.1 yds/att) and 0 TDs or fumbles, as well as 1 reception on 2 targets for a 7 yard TD. He tied with Josh Jacobs for 4th most rushing attempts but was only 15th in rushing yards and 42nd in yards per attempt and 38th in rushing success rate (42.1%). He averaged 2.8 yards before contact per rushing attempt (rank 23rd) and 0.3 yards after contact (rank 66th) with one broken tackle.

Antonio Gibson had only 3 rushing attempts for 9 yards and 1 lost fumble. He also caught his only passing target for 10 yards. There has been a lot of angst generated by the fumble, which was punched out by a defender as he was being tackled, reviving concerns from the 2021 season that he has ball security issues.

Are these concerns valid? Gibson has 9 career fumbles in 705 offensive touches, which equates to fumbling on 1.28% of touches. However, 6 of his 9 career fumbles were in 2021. In 2020 and 2022, he fumbled on just 0.5% of touches. Gibson’s career fumble rate of 1.28% would have ranked 29th among 101 running backs who played more than 100 offensive snaps in 2022. That places him above average, but not particularly high. His actual fumble rate of 0.51% in 2022 ranked 49th out of 101 RBs, right around the league median. Regardless of whether you go with his career average, or throw out the numbers from 2021 as anomalous, there is nothing particularly remarkable about Gibson’s fumble rate. It is well within the normal range for running backs.

Rookie Chris Rodgriguez barely got a taste with 3 rushing attempts for 7 yards and a 1st down and a rushing success rate of 33.3%. Commanders’ fans will have to wait another week for his much anticipated breakout.

None of the RBs had enough blocking snaps to evaluate their performance.

Wide Receivers

Starters Terry McLaurin and Jahan Dotson played the most snaps, but Curtis Samuel led Washington receivers in catch rate and receiving yards.

Samuel was perfect with 5 receptions on 5 targets (100% catch rate) for 54 yards (10.8 yards/reception) and a long of 32. He also had a run for 6 yards. Dotson was second in total yards with 5 receptions for 40 yards, and catch rate of 71% and no drops. McLaurin was third in receiving yardage (31 yds) and catch rate (50%), but led the WRs in yards per reception at 15.5, with a long of 19. Dyami Brown was not targeted as a receiver.

Tight Ends

Logan Thomas was Washington’s second leading receiver in total yardage, with 4 catches on 8 targets for 43 yards, with one dropped pass. If he can keep that up that rate of production, he is on pace for a career year with 731 receiving yards. Cole Turner was 5th on the team with 1 reception on 2 targets for 17 yards. Bates was not targeted as a receiver.

This year I will be using Pro Football Focus grades as the best available tool to measure blocking performance. According to PFF John Bates was the better blocker, overall, among Washington’s starters with a run blocking grade of 61.8 (ranked 19th among TEs with a minimum 8 blocking snaps), and a pass blocking grade of 69.4 (ranked 30th). Logan Thomas excelled at run blocking (grade 69.5, rank 8th), but was not great at pass blocking (grade 37.5, rank 47th). Cole Turner only had 6 blocking snaps, but graded well at run blocking (grade 73.3, equivalent to 9th rank) and reasonably well at pass blocking (grade 58.5, equiv. rank 28th).

Offensive Line

The offensive line took the brunt of criticism from fans for the less than stellar offensive performance immediately after the game. Film review, after the fact, seems to be telling a somewhat different story.

PFF ranked the Commanders’ OL 8th in the league in pass blocking, with a grade of 78.3, and 10th in run blocking, with a grade of 63.9.

The Commanders’ offensive linemen were ranked against other players at their positions with at least 16 blocking snaps. Sam Cosmi was the highest rated blocker overall, with a pass blocking grade of 88.4 (ranked 1st among guards) and a run blocking grade of 61.1 (rank 29). Next best overall was Charles Leno, with a pass block grade of 70.9 (37th among OTs, one spot behind Trent Williams) and a run block grade of 74.8 (9th among OTs). Saahdiq Charles graded well in pass blocking (grade 84.6, rank 8) but not in run blocking (grade 43.0, rank 56). Andrew Wylie graded better than I expected, with a 65.6 grade in pass blocking (rank 44) and a 70.4 grade in run blocking (rank 15). Nick Gates was middle of the pack among centers, with a pass blocking grade of 68.6 (rank 15) and a run blocking grade of 56.8 (rank 21, remember there are only 32 starting centers vs 64 tackles and guards).

A more objective measure of pass blocking is pressures allowed. In this case, a high rank, indicating most pressures allowed, is bad. Rankings were among those with a minimum of 41 blocking snaps to prevent overrating players who played a small number of snaps. Sam Cosmi was again Washington’s best pass protector, allowing no pressures on 44 pass block snaps. Fellow guard Saahdiq Charles only allowed 1 pressure, which put him in 14-way tie for 36th fewest (35 guards allowed more pressures). Charles Leno and Nick Gates each allowed 2 pressures, to rank 24th (14-way tie) and 11th (7-way tie) at their respective positions. Andrew Wylie allowed 3 pressures, which was the highest on the team, but was still better than 18 other OTs around the league.


Defensive Line

The defensive line was the strongest unit on the team on Sunday and proved pivotal to Washington’s victory. In three plays at the end of the 3rd quarter, with Arizona leading 16-10, they reversed the momentum of the game, setting the stage for Washington’s 4th quarter comeback. These were: 1. Daron Payne tackle for loss of 1 yard on Arizona’s 1st and 10 from their own 40 yd line (EPA -0.68); 2. Jonathan Allen tackle for loss for -4 yards on 2nd and 11 (EPA -1.22); Montez Sweat sack on 3rd and 15, forcing a fumble recovered by Daron Payne at the Arizona 29 (EPA -3.94). Seven plays later, Sam Howell scored the tying TD on a 6 yard scramble on 3rd down (EPA 2.96).

Montez Sweat was the standout player on a dominant front. According to Pro Football Reference, he led the unit with the most tackles (4 solo, 1 assist), sacks (1.5), pressures (2, tie w Jon Allen), forced fumbles (2) and tackles for loss (2, tie w Jon Allen & Daron Payne). He was also responsible for Washington’s biggest play of the game, other than via an Arizona penalty. He did have one missed tackle.

Jonathan Allen was also highly disruptive with 3 solo tackles, 1 assist, 2 tackles for loss, 1 sack, and 5 pressures. Daron Payne had 2 solo tackles, 2 tackles for loss, and the critical fumble recovery at the end of the third quarter. James Smith-Williams held his own on the end opposite Sweat with 1 solo tackle, 2 assists, and one QB knockdown, with one missed tackle.

Abdullah Anderson had 1 solo tackle and 1 assist, 1 tackle for loss, 0.5 sack, 1.5 pressures on just 10 defensive snaps. Casey Toohill had 2 solo tackles and 1 assist and 1 tackle for loss. John Ridgeway had just 1 tackle assist, and Andre Jones did not record any defensive stats in 4 snaps.


Somewhat surprisingly, newcomer Cody Barton was the Commanders’ every down linebacker and Jamin Davis left the field in dime packages.

Despite playing 22 fewer defensive snaps, Davis was more productive, with 4 solo tackles and 2 assists, and 1 tackle for loss. He was credited with 1 missed tackle. Davis was not targeted in coverage.

Barton had 3 solo tackles and 2 assists. He was targeted twice in coverage and allowed two receptions for only 9 yards.


Kendall Fuller mainly lined up at outside CB, splitting time almost equally at left CB (32 snaps) and right CB (28 snaps). Benjamin St-Juste covered the slot on the majority of snaps (36), but also spent time at box safety (15 snaps) and boundary CB (9 snaps). Rookie first round pick Emmanuel Forbes played exclusively at boundary CB, splitting time on the right (23 snaps) and left (17 snaps) sides.

Washington’s CBs did a great job of containing big plays, only giving up 80 yards on 13 targets (6.15 yds/tgt). Kendall Fuller was one of the better shutdown corners in the league, only allowing one reception every 17.0 coverage snaps, which ranked 18th among CBs with a minimum of 12 coverage snaps (4-way tie with James Bradberry, Trevon Diggs & Cam Taylor-Britt). Emmanuel Forbes had a respectable 12.0 coverage snaps per reception, to rank 41st (tie with DaRon Bland). He ranked 5th best among 15 rookie CBs who played in Week 1. Benjamin St-Juste allowed receptions at more than twice the rate of Fuller (8.3 coverage snaps per reception) and ranked 65th in the league at shutting down receivers.

Fuller had 3 solo tackles and 3 assists. He allowed 3 completions on 4 targets for only 14 yards (4.7 yds/completion, 3.5 yds/target). Forbes had 3 solo tackles and 1 tackle for loss. He allowed 2 receptions on 4 targets for 39 yards (19.5 yds/completion, 9.8 yds/target). His 1 pass breakup was one of Washington’s biggest plays on defense (EPA -2.27), as it ended Arizona’s final offensive drive and sealed the Commanders’ victory. St-Juste had 3 solo tackles and an assist. He allowed 3 receptions on 5 targets for only 27 yards (9.0 yds/completion, 5.4 yds/target).


Kamren Curl split time between box safety (29 snaps), slot corner/Buffalo Nickel (16 snaps) and free safety (13 snaps). Darrick Forrest aligned at free safety on the majority of snaps (34), and split the rest of his time between box safety (15 snaps) and slot corner (11 snaps). Percy Butler mainly lined up at free safety (24 snaps) with a 7 snaps in the box and one in the slot.

Washington’s safeties were even better in some aspects of coverage than the corners. According to PFF, Kamren Curl was the 5th best coverage safety in Week 1 (Coverage grade 83.4). Percy Butler ranked 22nd (coverage grade 71.4) and Darrick Forrest was 53rd (Coverage grade 58.4). Coverage snaps per target is not as reliable an indicator of coverage ability for safeties as it is for CBs, due to differences in coverage responsibilities.

Kamren Curl led Washington defenders with 6 solo tackles, 4 assists and 1 tackle for loss. He allowed 6 completions on 7 targets, but only gave up 26 yards (4.3 yds/completion, 3.7 yds/target). He had one pass breakup and one missed tackle. Darrick Forrest had 2 solo tackles and 1 assist. He allowed 2 receptions on 4 targets for just 10 yards (5 yds/completion, 2.5 yds/target). Percy Butler had 1 solo tackle and 2 assists. He allowed 1 completion on 2 targets for 10 yards (10 yds/completion, 5 yds/target), with 1 pass breakup that should have been an interception.


Tress Way had 6 punts for 266 yards (44.3 yds/punt, 40.3 net yds/punt) with a long punt of 59 yards and 3 landed within the opponent’s 20 yd line. He ranked 24th in the league in yards per attempt, 19th in net yards per attempt, and landed the second most punts inside the 20 (7-way tie). He also salvaged a few bad snaps from Camaron Cheeseman.

After a shaky preseason, place kicker Joe Slye opened the season with a perfect performance, booting 2 field goals on 2 attempts and 2 extra points on 2 attempts. Yet for some reason PFF gave him a grade of 64.3, which ranked 16th in the league. I’m not sure how he could have done any better. He also had 4 kickoffs for touchbacks.

Making his return appearance in Washington, after a 4 year absence, Jamison Crowder returned 3 punts for 9 yards and made one fair catch. His 3 yards per return average was less than half that of last year’s return man, Dax Milne. His return average ranked second to last of any of the 30 players who returned attempted a punt return in Week 1. Antonio Gibson had 1 kickoff return for 21 yards and no fair catches or muffs. His return average ranked 10th in the NFL. Neither of Washington’s return specialists muffed a catch, but neither did any other return man in Week 1.

Washington’s reigning All Pro special teams ace, Jeremy Reaves, led the coverage units with 2 tackles and 1 assist. Casey Toohill and David Mayo each recorded a tackle as well. Dyami Brown had one assist.

Quan Martin and Christian Holmes were both called for a 10 yard illegal block penalties in kick coverage.

Long snapper Camaron Cheeseman’s struggles with ground balls continued from the preseason into opening week. He had a bad snap on a field goal attempt, which was just rescued by Tress Way’s quick handiwork. Scouring far and wide, the only stats I was able to find on long snappers were PFF grades. Cheeseman’s performance on Sunday received a grade of 26.7, which ranked dead last among 1065 players on special teams.


Which player will take their game to another level against Denver?

  • 4%
    RB Chris Rodriguez
    (8 votes)
  • 13%
    WR Dyami Brown
    (26 votes)
  • 26%
    TE Cole Turner
    (50 votes)
  • 5%
    RT Andrew Wylie
    (10 votes)
  • 1%
    DT Abdullah Anderson
    (3 votes)
  • 3%
    LB Khaleke Hudson
    (7 votes)
  • 36%
    CB Emmanuel Forbes
    (70 votes)
  • 2%
    S Percy Butler
    (4 votes)
  • 6%
    LS Camaron Cheeseman
    (13 votes)
191 votes total Vote Now