In the first game against a quality opponent since the change of ownership, the Commanders came crashing back down to earth, suffering a comprehensive beating at the hands of the Buffalo Bills. It was a good idea to check the tires and oil on the bandwagon after the 2-0 start. Now we can park it in the garage for at least a week.
There is no way to sugar coat the 3-37 loss. The Bills dominated the sons of Washington in just about every facet of the game. I have done my best, where I could, to highlight the positives and paint the Commanders’ performance in the best possible light. But I have to warn you, they didn’t give me much to work with.
The Commanders lost to the Buffalo Bills by 34 points. They did manage to score a field goal in garbage time to avoid a shutout. As much as that may hurt, it wasn’t even the largest blow-out on Sunday. The Broncos lost to the Dolphins by 50 points. The last time Washington lost by more than 34 points was the 14-56 drubbing by Dallas on Boxing Day (26 December), 2021. Washington has not been shut out since the Week 7 loss to the 49ers in 2019. Sunday’s game marked Washington’s lowest score since hitting that low point.
On a rainy day, impacted by Tropical Storm Ophelia, with a young quarterback making his fourth start, the Commanders ran 29 passing plays to just 13 rushing plays. They averaged a very impressive 8.1 yards per rushing attempt, with no turnovers, and a somewhat less impressive 5.86 yards per pass attempt with 9 sacks for 45 yards, and 5 turnovers.
Some have suggested that Bieniemy had to abandon the run early because his team fell behind by 10 points in the first quarter. The Commanders passing offense ranked dead last in the league in efficiency on Sunday, with an astounding -0.704 Expected Points Added (EPA) per drop back, the lowest mark any team has achieved this season. The Commanders’ rushing attack was the 9th best in the NFL in Week 3, with an EPA of -0.006 (essentially 0). Clearly Bieniemy’s 69% to 31% pass/rush balance was the wrong strategy.
The Commanders might not have faced such a large early deficit if they had not missed a scoring opportunity early in the second quarter. With 11:46 remaining in the half, trailing Buffalo by 10 points, Washington opted to pass on 4th down from the Buffalo 2 yard line instead of taking the easy chip shot field goal. The incompletion on 4th down was Washington’s 5th most impactful negative play of the game (EPA -2.87). Washington’s only other red zone excursion resulted in a Tra’Davious White interception in the end zone on a 15 yard pass intended for Curtis Samuel (EPA -3.77, 4th worst play). Washington’s 0% red zone conversion rate tied with Atlanta and Tennessee for worst in the league in Week 3. The Commanders are tied in 21st place at 50% red zone conversions for the season.
The Commanders offense tied with the Titans for fewest points scored in Week 3. The offense ranked 26th in total yardage (230 yds), 29th in net passing yards (125 yds), and 17th in net rushing yards.
On a positive note, the Commanders’ 8.1 yard per carry rushing average tied with the Dolphins for the highest in the league in Week 3. Their rushing total was only around league average because they had the second fewest rushing attempts (13).
As shocking as the 9 sack figure is, Commanders’ fans may be surprised to learn that QBs have been sacked even more than 9 times on 50 occasions since 1960 (the earliest that the Pro Football Reference database records them). Taking 9 sacks is not as uncommon as you might think. 57 other QBs have been sacked that many times in a game since 1960, including Steve Young, Roman Gabriel, Ben Roethlisberger, Matt Ryan, Fran Tarkenton (3-times), Randall Cunningham (3-times) and Joe Theismann.
In fact, 9-sacks is not even a Washington franchise record. That honor belongs to John Beck who was sacked 10 times in a 0-23 loss to none other than the Buffalo Bills on October 30, 2011 (the game that made me adopt the Ravens as my second team). Howell is now tied with Joe Theismann and Carson Wentz for the second most sacks in a Washington uniform.
On Sunday, Sam Howell became the only QB to be intercepted more than 3 times this season. Only 2 QBs reached 4 interceptions in a game last season: Joe Burrow in a Week 1 overtime loss to the Steelers; Trevor Lawrence in the Wild Card loss to the Jaguars.
Nevertheless, throwing 4 or more interceptions in a game is not that unusual in the grand scheme of things. The Super Bowl era record is 7 interceptions, jointly held by Steve DeBerg, Ty Detmer and Ken Stabler. Since 1966, NFL QBs have thrown 4 or more interceptions in 709 games. Sunday’s game was just the 555th time a QB has thrown 4 interceptions in the Super Bowl era. Sam Howell joins such luminaries as Peyton Manning (5-times), Terry Bradshaw (10-times), Joe Namath (7-times), Tom Brady (6-times) and even Joe Montana (once).
According to NFL Next Gen stats, the Bills pressured Sam Howell on 27 of 39 dropbacks (69.2%), the second-highest pressure rate in a game in the NGS era. All that pressure clearly got to Howell. In addition to the sacks and interceptions, he made bad throws on 20.7% of dropbacks, representing a massive increase over Weeks 2 (2.9%) and 1 (6.9%). Remarkably, Howell’s was only the 9th highest bad throw rate in Week 3.
The Commanders’ committed 5 turnovers to the Bills’ 1. The Commanders’ turnover total was the highest in the league, and beat the next placed teams (Broncos, Raiders) by 2. The last time Washington won a game in which they committed 5 or more turnovers was a 20-14 win over the Dallas Cowboys on December 29, 2002. Washington has not won a game with a turnover differential of -4 or worse since the 21-14 win over the Eagles on December 21, 1986.
The Commanders’ ranked 25th in defensive efficiency at 0.158 EPA/play. They ranked 25th in efficiency against the pass, at 0.239 EPA/play, and 25th against the run at 0.049 EPA/play. It is generally good to have a negative EPA/play on defense.
The Commanders allowed the 3rd most points in Week 3 (tie with Carolina and Jacksonville). However, the defense only allowed 30 of Buffalo’s 37 points.
The Commanders’ defense allowed the 11th most total yardage (386 yds) and the 10th most yardage per play (5.94 yds) in Week 3. Against the pass, they allowed the 6th most net yardage (168 yds) and 17th highest completion rate, but just 1 TD (11th most, tied with 15 teams). Against the run, they allowed the 6th most total yards (168), 7th most average yardage (5.1 yds/att) and the 2nd most TDs (2, 5-way tie).
The Commanders’ pass rush suffered a sharp drop off compared to the last two games. Washington was one of 7 teams to record no sacks, and ranked 31st in QB pressures, with only 2. If it gives you any solace, they were 1 place behind Dallas who only managed 5 QB pressures.
The Commanders lost the time of possession battle to Buffalo 25:21 to 34:39. Washington’s time of possession mark was the 6th lowest in the league. The Commanders won the battle of the clock in each of their two victories this season.
To end on a high note, it might have escaped your attention with everything else going on that Washington had the second fewest penalties in Week 3. The Commanders played a nearly infraction-free game against the Bills, drawing only two flags for 15 yards. Only the Ravens had fewer penalties (1) for fewer yards (5). Washington’s penalty yardage figure was the lowest they have recorded since the Week 17 loss to the Eagles in 2021 season, in which they had 1 penalty for 4 yards.
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).
13:41, 3rd and 10 at BUF 25, Josh Allen scramble for 13 yds, EPA -2.09
11:41, 3rd and 8 at BUF 40, Josh Allen completion to Stefon Diggs for 30 yds, EPA -3.08
0:47, 1st and 10 at WAS 35, Josh Allen 35 yd TD pass to Gabriel Davis, EPA -3.75
0:41, 1st and 10 at WAS 25, Sam Howell 37 yd completion to Curtis Samuel, EPA 2.44
11:46, 4th and 2 at BUF 2, Sam Howell pass intended for Cole Turner incomplete, EPA -2.87
8:29, 2nd and 12 at BUF 11, Josh Allen scramble for 23 yds, EPA -2.13
6:57, 3rd and 8 at BUF 36, Josh Allen completion to Stefon Diggs for 19 yds, EPA -2.36
2:00, 4th and 16, WAS 36Tyler Bass 54 yd field goal, EPA -2.12
1:19, 3rd and 2 at WAS 33, Sam Howell short pass intended for Antonio Gibson is intercepted by Micah Hyde at WAS 34 and returned 1 yd, EPA -3.81
9:17, 2nd and 8 at BUF 15, Sam Howell pass intended for Curtis Samuel is intercepted by Tre’Davious White in the end zone and returned for 2 yds, EPA -3.77
14:18, 4th and 1 at WAS 37, Josh Allen pass intended for Stefon Diggs batted down by Daron Payne, EPA 2.19
14:16, 1st and 10 at WAS 37, Sam Howell pass complete to Antonio Gibson for 2 yds, Gibson fumbles (forced by Taron Johnson), recovered by Terrel Bernard at WAS 30 and returned 1 yd, EPA -4.91
10:43, 2nd and 10 at WAS 10, Josh Allen scramble for 10 yd touchdown, EPA -2.81
10:12, 3rd and 5 at WAS 30, Sam Howell short pass intended for Jahan Dotson is intercepted by AJ Epenesa and returned 32 yds for a TD, EPA -7:04
4:38, 2nd and 4 at WAS 38, James Cook run left end for 34 yds, EPA -3.36
2:19, 3rd and 2 at WAS 2, Latavius Murray right guard for 2 yd TD, EPA -2.05
STATS AND SNAPS - OFFENSE
After experiencing steady improvement through his first three starts against inferior opponents (looking at you, Dallas), Sam Howell was finally brought down to earth by his game against a championship contender. It was so ugly, there is no point in trying to sugar coat it.
Howell’s threw 19/29 (65.5% completions) for 170 yds, 0 TDs and 4 INTs while taking 9 sacks. He also had one run for 18 yards, which is his highest rushing total this season, for anyone looking for a positive. That performance produced the lowest Passer Rating of his career to date (41.5) and an appalling low Total QBR of 19.0 (out of 100!). Surprisingly, that Total QBR was only the 4th lowest among NFL starters in Week 3, thanks to Justin Fields, Zach Wilson and Desmond Ridder.
The last Washington QB to throw 4 interceptions in a game was Kirk Cousins in a 14-45 loss to the Giants in 2014. The last time a Washington QB took 9 sacks was just last season in the Week 3 loss to Philadelphia. Sam Howell has now equalled Carson Wentz’s highest sack total in a Commanders’ uniform.
As mentioned above, Howell was pressured on 69.2% of dropbacks. Pro Football Focus only attributes 11 of 20 total defensive pressures to the offensive line, meaning the remaining 9 pressures were on Howell.
Before people panic, I feel the need to keep reminding everyone that Howell is a first year starting QB and they do tend to struggle, even the great ones. For the past two weeks, I have been comparing Sam Howell’s stat lines to those of three of the greats of the modern era in their first few games starting. This week I made a slight adjustment.
Like the last two weeks, I compared Howell’s fourth career start to those of Peyton Manning and Drew Brees. Tom Brady’s fourth career start was actually pretty good (16/20, 202 yds, 3 TD, 0 INT, 0 sacks). So, instead of showing that, and in the interest of comparing like to like, I chose his first game against Buffalo, just three weeks later. That game also featured a ton of sacks and a few QB turnovers.
While Howell does have the worst stat line of the four, he only had one more interception than Manning. He only took two more sacks than Tom Brady. And he threw for more yards than Brady or Drew Brees. The main point is, none of these modern-era greats was looking like a superstar early in their first seasons as starters. Even the great ones can take a little time to adjust to the pro game.
Through three games this season, Pro Football Focus ranks the Commanders’ offensive line 14th in pass blocking (grade 67.5) and 6th in run blocking (grade 67.9). ESPN ranks them 16th in Pass Block win rate (55%) and 19th in Run Block win rate (71%). Whichever of those ratings you believe, Sunday’s performance was probably bringing down the season average.
While the overall picture wasn’t great, it wasn’t all bad. According to Pro Football Focus, the offensive line gave up 10 QB pressures. But they weren’t evenly distributed. Here is how they broke down:
Andrew Wylie, Nick Gates, Saahdiq Charles: 5 sacks, 3 QB hits, 2 hurries
Charles Leno, Sam Cosmi: 0 sacks, 0 QB hits, 0 hurries
So, in reality, only 3 of the 5 OL played like turn styles.
Those more or less objective figures agree with PFF’s pass blocking grades: Leno 80.5, Cosmi 79.8, Wylie 55.8, Charles 52.0, Gates 41.1
Against the run, PFF graded the OL somewhat differently: Wylie 77.4, Cosmi 76.9, Gates 56.2, Leno 48.0, Charles 42.9.
In summary, based on PFF grades, only Sam Cosmi performed well in both phases of the blocking game. Leno did well in pass blocking but horribly in run blocking. Wylie was the reverse. Gates and Charles were just trash.
For a reality check on those figures, I consulted Sports Info Solutions Data Hub. They agree that Andrew Wylie had a rough day in pass protection, crediting him with 3 blown blocks and no blown run blocks. They also agree on Sam Cosmi, finding 0 blown blocks against Buffalo. They seem to differ on Leno, finding 1 blown block in pass pro, but no blown run blocks. And they didn’t credit Nick Gates or Saahdiq Charles with any blown blocks, despite PFF crediting those players with 2 allowed sacks apiece.
I leave it up to the reader to decide whose figures they believe.
Brian Robinson led the Commanders with 70 yards on just 10 carries (7 YPC), a long of 23, 3 runs of 10 or more yards, and 2 broken tackles. In sharp contrast to last week, 53 of his rushing yards were before contact. A lead back rushing for 7 yards per carry will win a lot of football games. In 2022, teams with a lead back averaging 7 or more yards/carry on 15 or more carries won 15/24 games played (71%). Perhaps they should give him the ball more against the Eagles.
Antonio Gibson was the only other Commander, aside from Sam Howell (1 rush, 18 yards), with any rushing production, carrying twice for 17 yards (8.5 YPC). He also caught 3 of 5 passing targets for 7yds. Unfortunately, he lost a fumble after catching a screen pass at the Washington 35 yard line in the 4th quarter, in what turned out to be the second biggest play of the game (EPA -4.91).
Curtis Samuel was Washington’s leading receiver, catching 2 of 4 targets for 54 yards. Terry McLaurin was second, catching all 6 of his targets for 41 yards. Jahan Dotson was 4th on the team with just 2 receptions for 21 yards on 4 targets. Dyami Brown was targeted once, but failed to make a catch.
After 3 games this season, Washington’s rank order of receivers by total receiving yards is Curtis Samuel (127 yds), Terry McLaurin (126 yds), Jahan Dotson (83 yds), Dyami Brown (25 yds), Byron Pringle (4 yds). The shuffling of the receiving order has prompted people to ask “What happened to Terry and Jahan?” The answer may have to do with who is getting open in the new offensive coordinator’s scheme.
Through 3 games, Curtis Samuel leads all NFL receivers (WR & TEs) with an average separation from coverage at the catch point of 4.9 yards. Terry McLaurin is 2nd on the Commanders and 54th in the NFL at 2.9 yards. Jahan Dotson ranks 83rd in the league and 3rd on the team with an average separation of 2.7 yards. When Sam Howell looks downfield, there is a good chance he’ll see Curtis Samuel running wide open.
But that doesn’t fully explain Samuel’s lead, because Howell has targeted Terry and Jahan the most, with 16 throws apiece vs just 12 to Curtis. The real answer is that Curtis also leads the team in catch rate, which is why he is well ahead of Jahan (83.3% vs 62.5%), and yards after the catch per reception, which is why he is keeping even with Terry (4.2 YAC/rec vs 1.5 YAC/rec).
Buffalo’s defense effectively neutralized the Commanders’ receivers. Curtis Samuel dropped off the NGS leaders board (top 100 receivers with minimum 5 targets), entirely. Terry McLaurin was the only ranked Washington receiver, with an average separation of 1.9 yards, well down from his season average.
Buffalo’s defense effectively neutralized the Commanders’ receivers. Curtis Samuel dropped off the NGS leaders board (top 100 receivers with minimum 5 targets) because he only had two receptions. Nevertheless, he continued to lead the Commanders’ receivers in YAC/rec at 4.0. Terry McLaurin was the only ranked Washington receiver, with an average separation of 1.9 yards, well down from his season average.
Cole Turner was the Commanders’ 3rd leading receiver with 4 receptions on 7 targets for 35 yards. John Bates caught both of his 2 targets for 12 yards.
PFF ranked Cole Turner 2nd on the team in run blocking, with a grade of 77.2 on 7 run blocks. John Bates ranked 5th on the team in run blocking among players with at least 10 run blocking snaps, with a pedestrian grade of 57.0. That put him one place behind QB Sam Howell who was graded 60.0 on 13 run blocks. At least Bates had a better run blocking grade than 60% of the offensive line. Sports Info Solutions doesn’t grade blocking by TEs, so you will have to take PFF’s word for it.
STATS AND SNAPS - DEFENSE
Washington’s much vaunted defensive line took a much needed break in Buffalo after playing lights out for two games to start the season. That might be a little unfair. Daron Payne showed up, registering 3 solo tackles, 1 tackle for loss and a pass batted down at the line on 4th and 1 one to force a change of possession on downs.
Chase Young made an appearance with 3 solo tackles and 1 tackle for loss. Jonathan Allan had a tackle assist and batted down a pass. John Ridgeway had 1 solo tackle.
Montez Sweat was the only Commander DL to pressure the QB, with 2 QB knock downs.
James Smith-Williams, Casey Toohill and Abdullah Anderson failed to register any defensive stats.
Cody Barton led all players on either team with 13 combined tackles. It would have been 14 if he hadn’t missed a tackle. He had the most solo tackles in Buffalo (7) and tied with Kendall Fuller for the most assists (6). Other than that, his stat sheet was fairly empty, with no TFL, pressures or forced fumbles. In coverage he was targeted 4 times and allowed 2 receptions for 14 yards and an opposing passer rating of 58.3.
Jamin Davis had 6 solo tackles and 5 assists with 1 missed tackle. He blitzed once, but didn’t record a pressure. In pass coverage, he was targeted 6 times, allowing 4 receptions for 29 yards with 1 pass breakup.
Benjamin St-Juste played 31 snaps covering the slot, 29 snaps at boundary corner and 8 at box safety. Kendall Fuller played 59 snaps out wide, 1 in the slot and 7 in the box. Emmanuel Forbes played 26 snaps at boundary corner, 1 in the slot and 1 in the box.
The best Commanders’ player on defense was Kendall Fuller, who played at an All-Pro level. In 38 coverage snaps his receiver was targeted 8 times. He allowed 4 receptions for just 38 yards, which equates to 4.75 yards per target. He also had 3 pass breakups and 1 interception. Against the Commanders, Josh Allen had a Passer Rating of 79.9. When he was throwing to Fuller’s receiver, that dropped to 24.2. That is about as good a day in coverage as a CB can have.
Fortunately for Allen, he had two other CBs to throw against. In the same number of coverage snaps as Fuller, Benjamin St-Juste was targeted 7 times and allowed 6 receptions (85.7%) for 74 yards. At least he managed to break up the 1 pass that wasn’t completed.
Washington’s first round pick, Emmanuel Forbes, allowed a perfect 2 receptions on 2 targets for 38 yards. Fortunately for Washington, he only played 16 coverage snaps. On a brighter note, he had a run stop on Deonte Harty for -3 yards.
Kamren Curl played 34 snaps at box safety, 16 at Buffalo Nickel in the slot, 12 snaps at deep safety, 3 at boundary corner and 3 lined up on the defensive line. Darrick Forrest played 46 snaps at free safety, 18 in the box and 4 covering the slot. Percy Butler played 28 snaps at free safety, 9 in the box, and 7 in the slot.
People will point to the 35 yard TD that Darrick Forrest allowed in coverage and say he had a bad game. Another way to look at it is he was only targeted twice and gave up 1 reception on 36 coverage snaps. A 50% reception rate in coverage is actually pretty good. He also had 3 missed tackles out of 10 attempts (30% missed tackles), which is not so good.
Kamren Curl had 6 combined tackles and a tackle for loss. In coverage, he allowed 4 receptions on 4 targets but only allowed 29 receiving yards. He did better than Forrest with only 1 missed tackle (14.3% missed tackles).
Percy Butler had 2 combined tackles and 1 pass breakup. In 28 coverage snaps, he was targeted twice and gave up 1 reception for 9 yards.
STATS AND SNAPS – SPECIAL TEAMS
Antonio Gibson saw the filed a lot on kickoff returns because the Bills scored 7 times. He returned two kicks for 28 yards and 17 yards, and the rest were touchbacks. Jamison Crowder got to take the afternoon off from punt return duties, because the Bills only punted once for 70 yards and a touchback.
Tress Way was Washington’s most active specialist, booting three punts for 150 yards and 41 net yards per punt. For the first time this season, he did not land any inside the opponent’s 20 yard line.
Joey Slye was a perfect 1 for 1 on field goals, kicking a 51 yarder through the uprights with 50 seconds remaining to spare Washington fans and new owners the embarrassment of the first home shutout since Week 7, 2019. He did not have the opportunity to attempt an extra point, because Washington failed to score a touchdown for the first time since Week 3 of the 2019 season in a 9-24 loss to… you guessed it, Buffalo.
Jeremy Reaves and Christian Holmes each had 1 tackle in special teams coverage. Reaves’ tackle ended a 23 yard punt return by Deonte Harty. Unfortunately, David Mayo was flagged for a 10 yard holding penalty on the play.
Quan Martin had 1 missed tackle in coverage.
Author’s Note: Happy AFL Grand Final Day – an official public holiday in the state of Victoria. Go the Lions! Go the Broncos! Two Brisbane football teams are playing for championships this weekend and Commanders fans would recognize the team colors.
What is the most important adjustment for the Commanders to make in Week 4?
This poll is closed
Player substitutions on the offensive line
Lean on the run
Throw more to Curtis Samuel
Other offensive scheme adjustments
Give Khaleke a chance
Fire one or more coaches
Stay the course, it’s just one game