clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Stats & Snaps: Week 18 Commanders vs Cowboys with notes on the 2023 Season

It’s over. Hit the reset button, but not before we debunk the myth that Terry McLaurin set a franchise receiving mark.

NFL: JAN 07 Cowboys at Commanders Photo by Mark Goldman/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

On Sunday, Ron Rivera’s tenure as head coach of the Washington Commanders reached its natural conclusion with a 38-10 home loss to the Dallas Cowboys. The next day, Rivera was fired as expected, in a move that signalled the real end of the Dan Snyder era in Washington and the promise of a fresh start with a new front office and coaching staff.

The Commanders’ blow-out was their 8th loss in a row and their 7th consecutive disappointing performance, starting with the Week 11 loss to the Giants. Following a Joey Slye field goal to give Washington the lead with 7 minutes remaining in the second quarter, the Cowboys took control of the game and scored 24 unanswered points. The final stat line was a display of total dominance in every facet of the game.

It wasn’t pretty, but for those Commanders with a morbid sense of curiosity, here is a statistical view of Riverboat Ron’s final act in Washington.

A FEW STATISTICS

Like last week, and really most of the last 7 games, this was a comprehensive loss in every facet of the game. The Cowboys dominated time of possession 33:55 to 26:05. They gained 31 first downs to the Commanders’ 12. They outgained the Commanders 440 total yards to 180. The Cowboys outgained Washington on the ground, rushing for 131 yards and 1 TD to the Commanders’ 50 yards. They outgained Washington in the air, throwing for 309 yards and 4 TDs to the Commanders’ 157 yards and 1 TD. They made three takeaways on defense, while only turning the ball over once on offense. The Cowboys were three times more efficient than Washington on third downs, with a 60% conversion rate to the Commanders’ 20%. They even committed fewer penalties with just 2 flags for 20 yds to the Commanders’ 4 for 39.

With this game in the books, the Commanders finished the regular season ranked last in the league in points allowed (518) and total yardage allowed (6,612). Those numbers represent a precipitous fall from last season when they ranked 7th in points allowed and 3rd in yardage allowed.

According to Pro Football Reference, the Commanders did not pressure Dak Prescott once in the game. This season, there have only been three games in which a QB who played more than 50% of offensive snaps was not pressured. There have only been 20 games in which a QB playing over 50% of snaps experienced a pressure rate lower than 5% of dropbacks. Washington’s defense was responsible for four of those games (@ Patriots 4.3%, vs Dolphins 4.2%, vs 49ers 3.4%, vs Cowboys 0%).

At the start of the season, Commanders fans looked forward to significant improvements on offense with Eric Bieniemy replace Scott Turner at offensive coordinator and Sam Howell replacing Carson Wentz and Taylor Heinicke at QB. At the conclusion of the season, the Commanders had improved on their 2022 scoring total by 8 points (329 vs 321) while dropping from 24th to 25th in the league in scoring. Their yardage total dropped by 298 yards, falling from 5,615 in 2022 to 5,317 in 2023, which corresponded to a drop in the league ranking from 20th to 24th place.

With no help from the defense, and Eric Bieniemy calling the most passing plays (636 attempts) and the highest proportion of passing plays (63.9%) in the NFL, the Commanders’ fortunes rose and fell with the performance of first year starting QB Sam Howell. Through the first 10 games, of the season, he delivered and averaged 278 passing yards per game, while throwing 17 TDs to 9 INTs. Then something happened to cause his play to crater. Through the final 8 games of the season, Howell averaged 166 passing yards per game, while throwing just 4 TDs to 12 INTs.

For any Commanders fans taking solace that their team is not the worst in the NFL, don’t be so sure of that. While it is conventional to measure a team’s season record in terms of wins and losses, another way to look at it is point differential. The 2023 Commanders were outscored by their opponents by 189 points. That point differential ranked dead last in the league, beating the only team with a worse W-L record by 9 points. The 4-13 Commanders can therefore make a legitimate claim to be the only team worse than the 2-15 Panthers. Unfortunately for them, draft position is awarded based on W-L record.

It has been widely claimed that Terry McLaurin set a new franchise record for consecutive season receiving totals. While technically true, his so-called record was only made possible by the addition of a 17th game to the regular season in 2021. See the Wide Receivers section if in doubt about who the real franchise leaders in consecutive season receiving totals are.

No NFL head coach has ever kept his job after overseeing such a precipitous collapse in performance in his fourth year with a team without a winning season. The numbers provide nowhere for Rivera or any other senior member of his coaching staff to hide. Washington’s long suffering football fans deserve better, and anyone who has just spent over $6 billion for an NFL franchise would be certain to expect more from their investment. Hopefully for Commanders fans, the purge of Snyder’s hires will be swift and comprehensive, allowing the new regime to reset the franchise onto a competitive footing for the first time in over two decades, starting this offseason.


Dallas Cowboys v Washington Commanders Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images

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). Criterion: EPA > +/-2.5; Positive EPA favors Washington.

Q1

12:53, 4th and 1 at WAS 49, Sam Howell pass complete short right to Brian Robinson for 11 yards, EPA 3.05

10:21, 4th and 1 at DAL 31, Sam Howell pass complete short left to Brian Robinson for -2 yards, stopped by Jayron Kearse and Donovan Wilson, EPA -2.55

6:26, 1st and 10 at WAS 25, Brian Robinson right guard for 5 yards, fumble forced by Jourdan Lewis and recovered by Dallas at WAS 31, EPA -4.12

5:13, 4th and 2 at WAS 23, Dak Prescott completion short middle to Jake Ferguson for 8 yards, EPA -2.53

3:33, 4th and 9 at WAS 14, Brandon Aubrey 32 yard field goal attempt is blocked by Joshua Pryor, recovered at the WAS 29 yard line by Jace Whittaker and returned 51 yards to the Dallas 20, EPA 6.75

Q2

15:00, 4th and 1 at DAL 1, Sam Howell completion short left to Brian Robinson for 1 yard TD, EPA 3.45

11:44, 2nd and 6 at WAS 39, Dak Prescott pass short middle is tipped by DE Jalen Harris and intercepted by Quan Martin at WAS 38, returned for 7 yards, EPA 4.65

10:16, 4th and 1 at DAL 46, Brian Robinson right guard for 2 yards, EPA 2.45

1:47, 3rd and 10 at DAL 47, Sam Howell pass short middle intended for Curtis Samuel is tipped by DeMarcus Lawrence and intercepted by Donovan Wilson at DAL 35, EPA -2.49

1:37, 2nd and 10 at DAL35, Dak Prescott completion sort left to Rico Dowdle for 32 yards, EPA -2.66

Q3

6:07, 4th and 12 at WAS 26, Tress Way punt blocked by Peyton Hendershot, EPA -3.51

4:11, 3rd and 5 at WAS 5, Dak Prescott completion short right to Brandin Cooks for 5 yard touchdown, EPA -2.74

Q4

9:00, 4th and 7 at WAS 18, Brandon Aubrey field goal no good, EPA -2.92


STATS AND SNAPS – OFFENSE

Quarterback

Howell’s final game of the season was similar to how he has played since Week 11, when his performance began a sharp decline.

Against Dallas, he completed 19/27 passes (70.4%) for 153 yards (5.7 Y/A), 1 TD, and 2 interceptions, while taking 4 sacks for 27 yards.

Howell’s interception rate (7.4% of dropbacks) was his fourth highest of the season. His high mark of 13.8% was set in Week 3 against Buffalo. The next 3 highest interception rates were in the final 3 games of the season (Jets 9.1%, 49ers 7.1%, Dallas 7.4%). Prior to the Week 11 collapse, aside from the Buffalo game, Howell’s highest interception rate was 3.2% of dropbacks.

According to Pro Football Reference (PFR), Howell was pressured on 18.8% of dropbacks, his 7th lowest pressure rate this season. He threw only 3 off-target passes, for a bad throw rate of 11.1%. That was the first time his bad throw rate has fallen below 20% since the Week 13 game against Miami. None of his passes were dropped by receivers.

Throughout the season, I have been tracking Howell’s weekly performances in his first year starting against three of the greatest QBs of the century at the same point in their careers. Through the first 10 games of the season, Howell frequently held his own. Then something happened around game 11 that caused his play to suddenly decline. For the season finale, I have chosen instead to compare Howell’s performance in the first 10 games to the final 8 games of the season, alongside the other QBs who have started games while he has been with the Commanders.

The fist two lines illustrate Howell’s sharp decline in performance following Week 10. His passing performance essentially fell off a cliff. The only areas where he improved in the second half of the season were avoiding sacks and fumbles and scoring TDs on the ground.

At the start of the season, most fans including myself took for granted that Howell would provide a boost to the Commanders offense which struggled in 2022 with Carson Wentz and Taylor Heinicke under center. Howell’s passing performance through Game 10 was an improvement in all categories except sacks. His performance through the final 8 games was a step down from the worst of his predecessors in all categories except sacks, where Wentz retained his lead.

The only areas where Howell could be seen as an improvement over Wentz and Heinicke by the end of the season were running and fumbles.

Brissett only played 23 passing downs in relief of Howell at the end of two games that were out of control. Nevertheless, his numbers leading the same supporting cast, stand in stark contrast to Howells.

In the opinion of this author, Howell’s numbers across the two parts of the season provide a compelling indictment of the men who were charged with developing him as a starting QB. Everyone involved in this feat of coaching malpractice should be fired, not just the head coach.

Offensive Line

The makeshift Commanders’ OL hobbled through the final game of the season down two original starters, who were hardly missed.

Pass Protection

One indication of how well the ragtag band did at pass blocking in their final game together is that PFF gave its highest 4 pass blocking grades to a running back, a tight end and two wide receivers, not counting OT Julian Good-Jones who only played 1 pass blocking snap. According to PFF, after a better than usual performance last week, they were back to their old tricks, giving up 17 QB pressures in 33 pass blocking snaps. Note: that 51.5% pressure rate is much higher than the 18.8% reported by PFR. PFF is more liberal in marking pressures. Unfortunately, PFR does not attribute pressures to individual players, so I have no choice but to use PFF’s stats here.

According to PFF, the O-Line’s pressures were distributed as follows:

  • Cornelius Lucas: 3 sacks, 2 hurries
  • Saahdiq Charles: 1 sack, 2 hurries
  • Trent Scott: 3 hurries
  • Sam Cosmi: 3 hurries
  • Nick Gates: 1 hurry, 1 QB hit

It has been suggested that Trent Scott has been an improvement over Andrew Wylie at RT. Since replacing Wylie, Scott has allowed 10 pressures on 89 pass blocking snaps. His pressure rate of 11.2% is an improvement over Wylie, who gave up pressures on 14.8% of pass blocking snaps (42 pressures/284 snaps). However, it is worth bearing in mind that good offensive tackles give up pressures on less than 4% of pass blocking snaps. The Commanders absolutely have to do better next season.

Run Blocking

Nick Gates (PFF Run Block Grade 64.8) was the only Commanders’ offensive lineman with a PFF run-blocking grade over 55. All of the wide receivers on the team graded higher than the other four. Also, lead back Brian Robinson averaged just 0.9 yards before contact on 9 rushing attempts. Enough said.

Penalties

Sam Cosmi drew just his third flag of the season with a false start for 5 yards.

Running Backs

Washington’s lead running back ran for 25 yards, averaging 2.8 yards per attempt. The statistical term for that kind of production is PATHETIC.

Said lead back, Brian Robinson had just 9 carries for 25 yards with 1 broken tackle and 1 fumble lost for a turnover. He also caught 3/3 passes for 10 yards with another broken tackle and 1 TD. Robinson’s rushing average was not helped by his offensive line. He averaged just 0.9 yards before contact per attempt. League average is around 2.5 yards.

Robinson was the only Commanders’ RB with more than 2 carries. Antonio Gibson was next with 2 rushing attempts for 8 yards. Gibson caught 3/4 passing targets for 28 yards. Derrick Gore had 1 carry for 3 yards. Alex Armah caught his only target for 10 yards.

Wide Receivers

Terry McLaurin led all Washington receivers with a measly 56 receiving yards, bringing is total for the season to 1,002 receiving yards. As a result, he supposedly set a franchise record, becoming the first receiver in franchise history to surpass 1,000 receiving yards in 4 consecutive seasons.

I regret being the one to have to break it to Terry fans, but that made up franchise record doesn’t really mean anything. The problem with this supposed record is that the receivers he is being compare to, including Art Monk, Santana Moss, Gary Clark and many others, played in 16 game seasons. For the past three seasons, McLaurin has had the benefit of an additional game to accumulate yardage. Subtracting the 17th game from each of his last three seasons, his 16-game season totals are:

2023: 946 yards

2022: 1,117 yards

2021: 960 yards

2020: 1,118 yards

If anyone is interested in making fair comparisons with players from the past, McLaurin has only actually exeeded 1,000 receiving yards in the first 16 games of a season twice in the past 4 years and has never done so in consecutive seasons.

For comparison, Gary Clark had three consecutive 16-game seasons with over 1,100 receiving yards from 1989 to 1991. He has a much better claim than McLaurin to be the Redskins’ actual franchise leader in consecutive-season receiving totals. In second place is Art monk with three consecutive seasons over 1,000 yards from 1984-1986, if we benchmark to a 16-game season.

Another Redskins player who can claim higher receiving production than McLaurin through three consecutive seasons, when adjusted for season length, is halfback/flanker Bobby Mitchell. In three 14-game seasons from 1962 to 1964, Mitchell recorded receiving totals of 1,384 yds (led NFL), 1,436 yds (led NFL), and 904 yds (equivalent to 1,003 yds in 16 games). Mitchell’s 1963 receiving total in 14 games would be equivalent to 1,744 receiving yards in today’s 17-game season. Two of his receiving totals in this period exceeded 1,300 yards in a 14-game season. McLaurin has never broken the 1,200 mark in a 17-game season. Furthermore, in addition to receiving, Mitchell was also a running back. In 6 consecutive seasons from 1959 through 1964, he recorded over 900 yards from scrimmage, equivalent to 1,000 yards in a 16 game season. If the Commanders are giving out awards for most consecutive seasons with high yardage totals, the award should go to Mitchell.

Terry McLaurin is a good receiver, but he has done nothing in his career to date even close to what those three Redskins’ greats accomplished wearing burgundy and gold.

To his credit, Terry was the best of a sorry lot against Dallas. Jahan Dotson was second amongst the wide receivers, catching 2/3 targets for an eye-popping 17 yards. Curtis Samuel caught 2/4 targets for 15 yards and ran once for 15 yards. Jamison Crowder had 1 reception for 8 yards.

Dyami Brown didn’t catch any passes, but he threw 1 for a 4 yard completion to QB Sam Howell.

Tight Ends

Logan Thomas caught 1 of 2 targets for 9 yards. John Bates did not catch his single target. Bates also contributed a 4 yard false start penalty on 3rd and 1 at the Dallas 16.


STATS AND SNAPS - DEFENSE

Defensive Line

According to Pro Football Reference, the Commanders’ entire defensive line failed to register a single QB pressure.

DEs

Starting DE James Smith-Williams played by the most snaps of anyone on the DL. He barely cracked the stat sheet with 1 assisted tackle. His counterpart K.J. Henry did slightly better with 1 solo tackle.

Backup DE Jalen Harris outplayed the starters with 2 solo tackles and 1 pass deflection which led to a Quan Martin interception.

DTs

Backup DT Adbullah Anderson had 2 solo tackles and 1 assist. His more highly paid teammate, Daron Payne had 1 solo tackle and 2 assists. Starter John Ridgeway had 1 solo tackle. Benning Potoa’e played 15 snaps at DT and 13 snaps at DE and recorded 1 tackle assist.

2022 2nd round pick Phidarian Mathis failed to record a defensive stat, despite occupying space on the field for the second most snaps of any DT.

Linebackers

Khaleke Hudson led the linebackers with 10 solo tackles, 3 assists and 3 tackles for loss. His coverage might have left a little to be desired. He allowed receptions on 6/6 targets for 87 yards (opposing passer rating).

Cody Barton had 4 solo tackles and 4 assists. He was targeted 4 times in coverage and allowed 4 receptions for 30 yards. He also tacked tacked on a 15 yard unneccessary roughness penalty.

David Mayo had 2 solo tackles and 2 assists. He was targeted twice in coverage, giving up 2 receptions for 12 yards and 1 TD.

Jabril Cox finally got his first defensive snap of the season. Neither he nor De’Jon “Scoota” Harris registered a defensive stat.

Cornerbacks

Coverage Alignments

Emmanuel Forbes played 68 snaps at boundary corner, 2 in the box and 1 in the slot. Benjamin St-Juste played 62 snaps on the boundary, 6 in the box and 3 in the slot. Quan Martin played 16 snaps at slot corner, 9 at box safety, 6 at free safety, and 2 on the boundary. Kyu Blu Kelly played 16 snaps at slot corner and 1 on the boundary.

Coverage Performance

It was a tale of three corners in the Commanders’ secondary. One of the starting CBs showed up to play and the other two should have been kept off the field.

Emmanuel Forbes made 5 solo tackles and missed an amazing 4 more. That is a 44.4% missed tackle rate. He allowed receptions on 7/7 targets for 66 yards and 1 TD (145.5 opposing passer rating). If that’s not great value from a mid-first round draft pick, I don’t know what is.

Benjamin St-Juste had 4 solo tackles and 1 missed tackle. In coverage, he allowed 5 receptions on 6 targets for 34 yards (opposing passer rating 90.3).

Quan Martin made 3 solo tackles with 1 assist and 1 missed tackle. In coverage, he allowed 2 receptions on 4 targets for 7 yards with 1 interception and 1 pass breakup (opposing passer rating 16.7).

Kyu Blu Kelly made 5 solo tackles with 1 tackle for loss. In coverage, he allowed completions on 3/3 targets for 7 yards and 1 TD (opposing passer rating 118.7). He had elements of Quan Martin and the other two losers to his game.

Penalties

As if his porous coverage were not enough, Forbes gave Dallas an additional 15 yards via an unnecessary roughness penalty. On a positive note, Benjamin St-Juste kept his hands where they are supposed to be, for once, and thereby failed to attract his 12th penalty of the season.

Safeties

Coverage Alignments

Terrell Burgess played 29 snaps at free safety, 28 in the box, 11 in the slot, 3 on the boundary and 1 on the DL. Sean Chandler played 50 snaps at free safety, 10 in the box and 3 in the slot.

Defense

Burgess made 8 solo tackles with 2 assists and 1 missed tackle. He was targeted 5 times in coverage and allowed 5 receptions for 62 yards (opposing passer rating 118.3).

Sean Chandler made 2 solo tackles with 1 assist. He was targeted twice in coverage and allowed 1 reception for 4 yards and 1 TD.


STATS AND SNAPS – SPECIAL TEAMS

Commanders DE Joshua Pryor and CB Jace Whittaker combined forces to make the biggest play of the game (EPA 6.75). Pryor blocker a Cowboys field goal attempt from the Washington 14 yard line. Whittaker recovered it at the Washington 29 and returned it 51 yards to the Dallas 20.

Joey Slye was a perfect 1/1 on field goals and 1/1 on extra points. He has not missed a kick since Tucker Addington replaced Camaron Cheeseman at long snapper in Game 15 against the Jets.

Tress Way had a punt blocked by Dallas TE Peyton Hendershot. His other punt went for 50 yards with 4 return yards. Overall, he had 23.0 net yards per punt.

Commanders DE Joshua Pryor returned the favor by blocking a Brandon Aubrey field goal attempt from the WAS 14 yard line.

Byron Pringle returned 3 kickoffs for 77 yards (25.7 yd/ret).

Long snapper Tucker Addington got on the stat sheet in a good way with a tackle in special teams coverage. Jabril Cox also had a coverage tackle. RB Derrick Gore missed a tackle in coverage.

Penalties

The Commanders avoided penalties on special teams once again this week.

NFL: JAN 07 Cowboys at Commanders Photo by Mark Goldman/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Poll

What was the best part about ending the season with a blowout loss to the Dallas Cowboys at FedEx?

This poll is closed

  • 41%
    Cementing our hold on the 2nd overall pick in the draft
    (43 votes)
  • 10%
    Gaining absolute certainty that Snyder’s clowns will be purged from the organization
    (11 votes)
  • 8%
    The promise of a bright new future, after the cleansing fire
    (9 votes)
  • 3%
    Knowing it will all end in tears for Dallas when they get to the divisional round, if not sooner
    (4 votes)
  • 6%
    What? We were eliminated?
    (7 votes)
  • 9%
    There is nothing good about losing to Dallas at home.
    (10 votes)
  • 18%
    It’s been 24 years. I don’t feel pleasure or pain anymore.
    (19 votes)
103 votes total Vote Now