Washington Post (paywall)
Several studies have shown quarterbacks mostly control their own sack rates. One of the most famous, from the Big Lead in 2018, found sack rate was “one of the most consistent things when a quarterback changes teams. It is one of the least consistent things when a team changes quarterbacks.”
Other studies have shown sack rate is one of the most stable metrics for quarterbacks from college to the NFL.
Though the blame for individual sacks can be shared, sack rate clearly captures a quarterback’s style and decision-making more than any other variable, including the quality of the line.
Sacks have been a glaring issue at least since he got to North Carolina, which is as far back as there’s reliable film and data. Howell’s lowest sack rate in college, 8.1 percent his freshman year, was still well above the FBS and NFL averages most years (roughly six percent). As a sophomore in 2020, when buzz built that he could be a No. 1 pick, his sack rate was 8.7 percent.
Key metrics underlying sack rate, including average time to throw and pressure-to-sack ratio, suggest Howell was responsible for a fair share of his pressures in college.
Before the 2022 draft, ESPN analytics writer Seth Walder called Howell’s penchant for taking sacks a red flag. Howell could still succeed, Walder said, but his sack rate heightened the importance of other aspects of his game, such as accuracy and scrambling.
In the first two games, Washington won despite the sacks, most notably the sack-fumble touchdown that gave Arizona the lead in Week 1. Howell has also taken two sacks negated by penalties. According to Washington Post analysis, Howell’s sacks are costing the Commanders approximately 10.4 offensive points per game.
How are defenses exploiting it?
By letting Howell sack himself. Defensive coordinators have blitzed Howell just 17 percent of the time this season, the fourth-lowest rate in the league. Coordinators seem to be betting the coverage will be good enough — due to a well disguised scheme, the sheer space occupied by seven defenders or both — that Howell will hesitate and hold the ball long enough for the pass-rushers to get to him.
The Athletic (paywall)
Here’s the skinny on the first time Emmanuel Forbes played against fellow thin man DeVonta Smith.
“He beat us pretty bad that game,” Forbes recalled.
Alabama’s frightening 41-0 romp on Halloween 2020 was led by its 6-foot, 175-pound receiver who dominated Mississippi State’s secondary with 203 yards and four touchdowns on 11 receptions.
Forbes, the Washington Commanders’ first-round selection in this past April’s draft, is ready for the rematch Sunday at Lincoln Financial Field against Smith’s Eagles.
“I always keep receipts of guys that maybe got the best of me in college or whenever,” said Forbes, seated in front of his locker following Wednesday’s practice. “It’s going to be a good challenge this weekend. I’m looking forward to it.”
Forbes spoke with the competitive confidence required to play such an exposed position. His comments also included ample respect for his fellow pre-draft measurables outlier who overcame the stigma of being undersized to thrive among NFL behemoths. Smith, now a dynamic threat on the pro level, has 2,318 receiving yards and 14 touchdowns on 174 receptions in 37 games.
“There’s no such thing about a certain weight at any position,” Forbes said. “If you can play ball, you can play ball. He’s a really good football player, and that’s why he got drafted where he did and started making plays in the NFL.”
There’s also no denying that Forbes is exceedingly slim, even if Washington, which fell to 2-1 with its 37-3 disaster against the Bills, now lists him at 173 pounds. That’s why teams’ medical staffs study beyond those standard measurables and training norms like the 40-yard dash and bench press.
“I don’t think people realize the different, non-public numbers that come out of the combine when it comes to size,” Brugler said. “Bone density, frame. They measure groin and hamstring flexibility. They measure the front shoulder and back shoulder. Wrist size is a big one. They measure the knees.”
Smith’s smaller dimensions, while notable, are not unfamiliar to the NFL landscape. Brugler said receivers like former Washington player DeSean Jackson “thrive on getting vertical and just using that speed” to escape collisions. Defenders must run toward the traffic and prepare to take on and bring down receivers, backs and tight ends.
Washington Commanders head coach Ron Rivera is high on Mississippi State rookie Emmanuel Forbes.
The Mississippi State product exploded this past season, racking up six interceptions and returning three for pick-sixes earning All-SEC Honors. He is now anchoring one side of the Commanders’ defense and while he’s still young, head coach Ron Rivera has seen his promise and spoke highly of him when discussing the youngster with the media recently.
“He’s got a tremendous skill set,” Rivera said. “He’s got great quicks, he’s got a great plant and drive. Sometimes his footwork, his body positions, he can be better at it. He really can. He’s such a young player and I just think it’s about him refining the technique that he’s going to use and he’s going to play with.”
Through Washington’s first three games, Forbes has fared quite well as a rookie. He has racked up nine total tackles, three pass deflections, and an interception.
Forbes will be tasked with covering elite pass catchers like DeVonta Smith and A.J. Brown who form one of the most dangerous receiver tandems in the league. The Eagles’ offense ranks No. 6 in yards per game, and while they do have elite receivers also have the No. 2 rushing attack in the league meaning Forbes will be needed for run support.
This is why the Commanders brought Eric Bieniemy into the mix.
The Commanders are still 2-1 in the standings and have some winnable upcoming games on their schedule, so writing them off after one subpar performance would be foolish.
This sort of big-picture mindset is something that was mentioned emphatically by Eric Bieniemy during his media availability on Thursday. The respected play-caller preached patience and highlighted the collective need to get better based on comments via Nicki Jhabvala from the Washington Post on X/Twitter.
“We have to play great as a unit. We can’t pick and choose our moments. And I’ll say this, it starts right here with me. I’m not about numbers. I’m all about our players and I’m all about finding ways to win. So when it comes to the individual performances, yeah, some guys stood out. But we didn’t stand out as a team. My job is to clean up the s—t and we continue moving forward. You’re going to have highs and lows. Championship teams find ways to work through those tough times.”
- Eric Bieniemy via X/Twitter
Bieniemy is renowned for a tough-love approach during the offseason - something that was a culture shock in no uncertain terms for Washington’s offensive players who were used to a more relaxed method of development. However, he’s also more than capable of adding perspective and putting an encouraging arm around those who need it in times of struggle.
This is one of many reasons why the Commanders went after Bieniemy once his Super Bowl quest with the Kansas City Chiefs reached a successful conclusion. His experience being around winning franchises throughout a glittering coaching career should also hold a lot of weight within a locker room that hasn’t exactly tasted much in the way of accomplishments.
Thomas caught six passes for 65 yards in the first two games but suffered the concussion when Denver safety Kareem Jackson hit him in the head while catching a touchdown pass in Week 2. The NFL later fined Jackson $19,669 for the hit.
“I feel good, ready to roll,” Thomas said Thursday. “It was a long week last week.”
Thomas has been Washington’s best tight end as a combination of blocker and pass-catcher. He’s adept at helping the tackles with chips, which could be a crucial element vs. the Eagles. But at 6-foot-6, 250 pounds, he’s also a big target in tight situations.
“It gives the quarterback a veteran target out there,” Washington coach Ron Rivera said. “They’ve had a good rapport through training camp, so it will be good to have him out there.”
Bullock’s Film Room (subscription)
Q: The secondary does appear to be struggling a little more than I thought, but the D line is bailing them out. Last week with a QB that can avoid the sack they were more exposed. Do we see the same against Hurts, and more worryingly Fields?
A: I actually thought the secondary has done a pretty nice job. I thought Forbes had his best game of the season to date vs Buffalo. I think Curl has been playing well all year, Fuller has had a solid start. St-Juste is doing better playing off coverage than he was this time a year ago, which is impressive given he’s shifting between playing outside and inside.
Percy Butler has been catching my eye a lot too. I wouldn’t be surprised if he took Forrest’s place as the starting FS before long, though both will play plenty given the team loves to use 3 safeties.
Eagles will be tough because that offense is stacked. They have a lot of different weapons with a lot of skill sets that can hurt you. They have to make sure they can match things well and hope Hurts has an off day. I’m not quite as concerned with Fields and the Bears. Fields is more mobile but that passing game is a mess from what I can tell. Fields hasn’t been developed properly and the passing game structure from the coaches seems off. So that game will be more about containing Fields as a runner than worrying about him as a passer.
DC Sports King
Indianapolis Colts running back Jonathan Taylor will be eligible to return off the physically unable-to-perform list after this Week’s slate of football games. Taylor, who requested a trade during the preseason, remains at odds with the Colts over a long-term contract.
Experts expect Taylor to be traded soon after his return. Previously it was revealed the Miami Dolphins and Green Bay Packers were teams interested in Taylor before the regular season started. A new report on Taylor’s situation has highlighted additional suitors for the All-Pro running back.
According to Colts insider Destin Adams, the Washington Commanders, Buffalo Bills, Pittsburgh Steelers, Los Angeles Rams, and Kansas City Chiefs have also checked with the Colts about Taylor at some point since the season started.
Moving Taylor in a trade is a strong possibility. Any trade may have to include giving Taylor an extension. Unless a team is willing to reach the Colts’ asking price for a one-year rental, and Taylor opts to step on the field without a long-term deal in place. It will be interesting to see if the Commanders’ name remains in the Taylor sweepstakes as the Oct. 31 trade deadline approaches.
Podcasts & videos
All-Pro Jeremy Reaves will NEVER Give Up | Next Man Up Podcast | Washington Commanders
Episode 667 - In-depth preview of #WASvsPHI, including key comments from Eric Bieniemy & Jack Del Rio & Rhyming Keys for a #Commanders win. Good stuff from EB on Sam Howell & JDR on Emmanuel Forbes.— Al Galdi (@AlGaldi) September 29, 2023
I also talk #Orioles winning AL East, #Terps & more.https://t.co/ZwzPgWI23W
Where the Commanders defense went wrong against the Bills | Film Session
Locked on Commanders: Washington Commanders Sam Howell, Eric Bieniemy and Run Defense Biggest Keys to Winning Week 4
Bleeding Green Nation’s Eye on the Enemy
The Washington Commanders were back on the field for their second day of prep for the Philadelphia Eagles. Check out the top photos from Thursday’s practice.
NFC East links
Bleeding Green Nation
In Week 4, it’s not just one player that the Eagles will need to concern themselves with, but four: Namely, defensive tackles Jonathan Allen and Daron Payne, and defensive ends Montez Sweat and Chase Young.
They are all first-round draft picks. They are all talented, and they will try to wreak havoc on the Eagles this Sunday when Washington visits Lincoln Financial Field at 1 p.m. in the Eagles’ first NFC East game this season.
In Week 10 last year, Washington wrecked the Eagles’ undefeated season with a 32-21 victory, when the Commanders entered the game as 11-point underdogs. In that game, Allen, Payne and Sweat were in on a combined six tackles (Young played in just three games in 2022, rehabbing from a torn ACL and ruptured patella tendon). This season, the quartet, with a healthy Young, has combined for 6.5 sacks.
When asked this week what he felt was the strength of the Commanders’ defense, which is currently ranked No. 14, two places behind the Eagles, Eagles’ offensive coordinator Brian Johnson said, “Obviously, that front four is as good as anybody in the NFL when you talk about [Commanders DT] Jonathan Allen and [Commanders DT Daron] Payne and [Commanders DE Montez] Sweat and [Commanders DE] Chase Young, all of those guys, they can wreak havoc. I think that’s something that obviously is going to be a huge focal point for us in the game is that matchup.
“We have to do a great job of trying to put our guys in the best possible. I know everybody is excited to get going on Sunday.”
Bleeding Green Nation
On BGN Radio episode 352, Brandon Lee Gowton talked about an area of concern when it comes to Jalen Hurts.
“It’s important that Jalen Hurts is making some quicker decisions. That’s one of the things that’s bothered me with his season so far, you look at the average time to throw among all NFL quarterbacks and Jalen Hurts ranks fourth slowest.”
Hurts is tied with Deshaun Watson at 3.14 seconds on average to throw. The only quarterbacks that are slower than him are Justin Fields, Bryce Young, and Zach Wilson. Compared to last season where Hurts had nine regular season turnovers, Hurts has already has four. We can’t expect things to get any easier going up against a strong unit that consists of Chase Young, Daron Payne, Jonathan Allen and Montez Sweat.
“I feel like it’s kind of been a feast or famine for him in that regard. This season I think there have been times where he has got it out really quick but it’s either really quick or very long and I think there’s kind of a happy medium to be found there. So, going up against this defensive line I would think I’m not say you have to be Tua [Tagovailoa] where he’s getting rid of the ball in 2.21 seconds on average ... but a little bit quicker in the processing there would make sure that the Washington defensive line doesn’t get a chance to sack you all day.”
Last season Hurts’ average time to throw was around 2.8 seconds so he’s more than capable of getting rid of the ball quickly. He just needs to get back to it.
Bleeding Green Nation
Week 4 preview.
What insane thing (or things) will Jalen Carter do against the Commanders?
The Washington Commanders offense has been plagued by sacks over the first three games of the season. Sam Howell has been sacked 19 times on 123 drop backs, which comes out to over 15% of Washington’s passing plays resulting in sacks. These are league-leading figures by quite a bit and things probably will not be easier against the Eagles defensive line.
Jalen Carter has been great through three weeks and he has had at least one or two plays a game so far that really make you stand up in your living room. It is very possible Carter really causes some problems for Washington this week so just keep an eye on #98 and be ready for something incredible.
Will Nolan Smith join in on the fun?
As mentioned above, the Washington offense is food for hungry pass rushers. The Commanders gave up nine sacks last week and what was most interesting is that production was split up between six different defenders. If the Eagles are going to have a party in the Commanders backfield on Sunday, it’s possible a lot of different players get a chance to fill up the box score.
Nolan Smith has had a quiet rookie season so far, with his one highlight coming on a QB hit against Tampa. His role has been much smaller than Jalen Carter’s, which mostly everyone expected. On Sunday, however, he could turn one of his few opportunities into that elusive First Career Sack.
Rookies in the secondary
The Eagles’ secondary has been snake-bitten by injuries this year. The Tampa Bay game saw Justin Evans and rookie safety Sydney Brown get hurt. The thinner the group gets, the more the team could depend on the first year players.
NFL league links
Washington Post (paywall)
The NFL altered its gambling policy for players, ratcheting its harshest punishment to a lifetime ban while reducing its penalties for betting on other sports at team facilities, which includes the immediate reinstatement of players currently serving six-game suspensions for doing so. Commissioner Roger Goodell announced the changes Friday in a memo to teams.
The updated policy came in response to feedback from the NFL Players Association and serves as an attempt to strengthen the league’s commitment to fans’ faith in the integrity of the competition while adapting to the shifting landscape of widely legalized sports betting.Under the revised policy, a player who bets on an NFL game will receive at minimum a one-year suspension — and at least a two-year suspension if the bet involves his own team. Any “actual or attempted match-fixing,” which includes a player betting against his own team, will result in a lifetime ban.
Any player found to have offered “inside information” or tips to bettors will be suspended at least one year. The penalties also apply to players who bet through a third party or proxy.
The NFL made its policy more lenient for players who legally bet on sports while at a team facility. First-time offenders will face two-game-suspensions as opposed to six. A second offense will result in a six-game suspension, and a third will lead to a one-year suspension.
The change applies to players currently suspended for betting on sports from a team facility. Most notably, Lions wide receiver Jameson Williams and Titans offensive tackle Nicholas Petit-Frere will be eligible to play in Week 5 rather than miss the next two games.