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Stats & Snaps: Week 17 Commanders vs 49ers

Two more days to Black Monday

San Francisco 49ers v Washington Commanders Photo by G Fiume/Getty Images

Happy New Year, Commanders’ fans. I took a little beach holiday for much of the last week and didn’t have as much time as usual to pull together the Stats and Snaps. That will probably be OK with most of you, who would rather not be reminded of the 12th loss of the make or break year of the coach-centric experiment.

But for those hardcore fans who must know the truth, no matter how painful, the Stats and Snaps soldier on. For the rest of you, I’ll keep it brief.


The 27-10 score makes the Commanders’ loss look almost respectable. It wasn’t. The 49ers dominated time of possession 38:13 to 21:47. They used their clock advantage to gain 28 first downs to the Commanders’ 12 and 408 total yards to the Commanders’ 225. Their possession advantage was assisted by two Sam Howell interceptions, not matched by any turnovers of their own. The 49ers gained the lead with a field goal on their first possession and never trailed the Commanders for the remainder of the game.

The Commanders have struggled to contain big plays for most of the season. This week was not their worst performance at limiting explosive gains. They gave up 6 passes over 15 yards for 128 yards and 1 TD. They also allowed 4 rushing gains of more than 12 yards for 58 yards.

The Commanders bigger problems were on offense, where they committed 2 turnovers, unmatched by takeaways on defense, and only converted 3 of 9 third downs (33%, tie-19th worst in Week 17) and 0 of 1 fourth downs to keep drives alive.

Sunday’s loss brought Ron Rivera’s career regular season record as head coach to a perfectly even 102-102-2. The reason it is so close is his positive winning percentage in his previous job. With the Commanders, he is 26-39-1. The next and presumably last game will determine whether he finishes with a career winning, losing or tie record. When asked about it earlier in the week, he claimed not to know that:

If the franchise ever does decide to try another coach-centric rebuild, perhaps build it around a coach who knows what day of the week it is.

San Francisco 49ers v Washington Commanders Photo by G Fiume/Getty Images


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.

This game featured the lowest number of big plays for and against the Commanders this season.


No high impact plays


7:27, 3rd and 2 at WAS 20, Sam Howell pass complete deep right to Terry McLaurin for 42 yards, EPA 3.48


4:02, 2nd and 20 at WAS 26, Sam Howell pass completed deep left to Curtis Samuel for 25 yards, EPA 2.88


14:57, 3rd and 8 at SF 11, Sam Howell pass short right intended for Terry McLaurin is intercepted at SF 2 yard line by Charvarius Ward and returned 3 yards, EPA -3.07

11:25, 1st and 10 at SF 44, Brock Purdy pass complete deep right to Brandon Aiyuk for 38 yards, EPA -2.51

9:30, 3rd and 9 at WAS 17, Brock Purdy 17 yard TD pass to Brandon Aiyuk, EPA -3.83

8:56, 2nd and 4 at WAS 31, Sam Howell pass short middle intended for Byron Pringle is intercepted by Deommodore Lenoir at WAS 41, EPA -3.72

4:01, 4th and 1 at WAS 1, Elijah Mitchell left end, stuffed for -1 yards by David Mayo, EPA 3.17



Howell got the start this week, but not by design. Ron Rivera announced his intention to bench Howell, but the plan fell through due to backup Jacoby Brissett’s hamstring injury. At this point in the season, some coaches might use the opportunity to see what they have in third stringer Jake Fromm, who looked good in the pre-season. But not Ron.

Howell did nothing to demonstrate that Rivera’s initial impulse was wrong. He completed 60.7% of 28 passing attempts for 161 yards and 1 TD, but unfortunately also threw 2 interceptions. The good news for those still holding out hope is that his sack numbers remain low, also that might have something to do with the dramatic reduction in passing attempts since Week 12. Against San Francisco’s vaunted pass rush, Howell only took 1 sack for 6 yards.

Howell is credited with 7 uncatchable passes, which gave him the second highest bad throw rate (26.9%) of his career. According to Pro Football Reference, he was pressured on 20.7% of dropbacks. He had 1 pass dropped by a receiver.

Throughout the season, I have been benchmarking Howell’s weekly performances against three of the modern-era greats in their equivalent numbered starts, as well as selected other QBs. This week, I only compared his 17th start to that of one other QB, himself in his 9th career start in the Week 9 game against New England to show how far he has regressed.

Howell’s 17th career start against the 49ers continued his streak of 6 poor performances that started with the Week 11 game against the Giants. It pales in comparison to Tom Brady’s 17th career start and was even worse than Peyton Manning’s less than stellar 17th start. Drew Brees’ numbers provide a reminder that QBs who go on to achieve greatness often struggle when they are starting out. The stat line in his 17th start was pretty similar to Howell’s numbers on Sunday.

The most striking similarity in this table is between Brady’s 17th start and Howell’s numbers in his 9th start. Brady had a slightly lower completion rate and threw for a few more yards. The biggest difference between the two is that Brady took more sacks. Just two months ago, Howell was playing at a completely different level to where he has fallen through the last 6 games.

The two questions this raises for the Commanders’ new regime are whether they can fix him and whether it is worth taking the risk to find out.

Offensive Line

The Commanders’ OL lineup underwent further change this week with Trent Scott replacing an injured Andrew Wylie. Against the fearsome 49ers pass rush, the makeshift line gave up only 7 pressures according to Pro Football Focus, the fewest Sam Howell has faced all season.

Pass Protection

The offensive line did not give up any sacks this week and only three Commanders’ blockers gave up pressures. They were:

  • Trent Scott: 3 hurries, 1 QB hit
  • Saahdiq Charles: 1 hurry, 1 QB hit
  • Cornelius Lucas: 1 QB hit

Run Blocking

For the second week in a row, PFF graded Trent Scott and Sam Cosmi as the Commanders’ best run blockers. Run blocking grades were as follows:

  • Trent Scott 83.8
  • Sam Cosmi 74.0
  • Nick Gates 69.9
  • Saahdiq Charles 66.4
  • Cornelius Lucas 58.9


Trent Scott led the Commanders in penalties with 3 flags (false start x2, illegal use of hands) for 20 yards.

Running Backs

Sadly, after having an impressive showing against the Jets last week, Chris Rodriguez was placed on IR for the season. He was replaced by Brian Robinson coming back from injury.

Robinson led the Commanders in rushing yards and total yards from scrimmage, which is not saying much really, since he didn’t get close to 100 yards in either category. Robinson had 9 carries for 44 yards (4.89 Y/A) and caught 4/4 passing targets for 32 yards to finish with 76 yards from scrimmage.

Antonio Gibson had 4 carries for 19 yards and caught 2/4 targets for 17 yards with 1 dropped pass. Gibson didn’t get a lot of help from his blockers as he averaged -0.3 yards before contact per rushing attempt. He broke 1 tackle on a reception.

Wide Receivers

Terry McLaurin led the Commanders in receiving yards, catching 4/7 targets (57.1%) for 61 yards (8.71 Y/Tgt) and 1 TD.

Curtis Samuel bounced back from a terrible game against the Jets and was second on the team in receiving yards, catching 3/4 targets for 33 yards (8.25 Y/Tgt).

McLaurin and Samuel were the only two Commanders WRs to catch passes. Byron Pringle and Jahan Dotson were each targeted once but failed to haul them in. Jahan Dotson has only caught 5 of 11 targets (45.4%) for 66 yards in the last 4 games.

Tight Ends

Logan Thomas caught 3 of 4 targets for 20 yards. John Bates his sole target for 6 yards.


Defensive Line

Washington’s defensive line appears to have slept through most of the game. Their production, as a unit, was quite possibly the lowest we have seen in any recent season. Most notably, according to Pro Football Reference, whose numbers align most closely with the official NFL stats, the entire unit produced just 1 QB pressure and no sacks. Pro Football Focus is more generous with grading pressures and credits the DL with 11 total pressures. PFF agrees that there were no sacks.


James Smith-Williams had 2 solo tackles and 2 assists with 1 QB hit. Casey Toohill also had 2 solo tackles and 2 assists, but failed to get near the QB.

K.J. Henry had 3 solo tackles with 1 tackle for loss. Andre Jones failed to register a stat in 15 defensive snaps.

In his much anticipated return to FedEx, after 8 weeks away, Chase Young recorded just 1 solo tackle and 1 QB hit for the 49ers. It was almost like he never left.


Jonathan Allen has been fairly quiet, since the Commanders went into a nose-dive around Week 11. But on Sunday, he led the DT group with 2 solo tackles and 3 assists, with 1 missed tackle. He was also credited with allowing 1 reception for a 1 yard TD in coverage. It is never good when your opponents isolate a receiver on a DT.

Daron Payne mailed in 1 solo tackle in 54 defensive snaps. At least it was a tackle for loss. Phidarian Mathis had 2 tackle assists. John Ridgeway had 1.


Cody Barton played 62/70 snaps at ILB, 7/62 lined up on receivers, and one on the DL. He led the team in tackling with 9 solo stops and 3 assists, with 1 tackle for loss and 1 missed tackle. In coverage, he allowed 5 receptions out of 6 targets (83% completions) for 45 yards (97.9 opposing passer rating). Barton was also flagged for a 15 yard face mask penalty.

Khaleke Hudson played 44/69 snaps lined up in the box, 21/69 in the slot (20) or in wide coverage (1), and 4/69 on the DL. He was arguably second on the team with 4 solo tackles and 7 assists. He was targeted twice in coverage and allowed 1 reception for 6 yards.

David Mayo played all 47 snaps at ILB. He registered 6 solo tackles and 2 assists with 2 tackles for loss. In coverage, he allowed 2 receptions on 2 targets for 14 yards.


Coverage Alignments

Injuries and players going on season-ending IR caused a complete restructure of the CB group this week. Emmanuel Forbes stepped up to the role of CB1, taking 57 snaps at boundary corner, 8 lined up in the box, and 3 aligned on the DL. Tariq Castro-Fields got his first defensive snaps this season, starting opposite Forbes, but left the game early with an injury. While he was on the field, he played 20 snaps at boundary corner and 1 at slot CB. Castro-Fields was relieved by Christian Holmes who played 32 snaps at boundary corner and 1 snap at slot CB.

Nick Whiteside also made his first appearance on defense for the Commanders, taking 13 snaps at boundary corner and 2 lined up in the box.

If you are wondering who was covering the slot, it was primarily the safeties and linebackers.

Coverage Performance

Emmanuel Forbes had 4 solo tackles. He was targeted 6 times in coverage, allowing 5 receptions for 88 yards (opposing passer rating 118.7) with 1 pass breakup.

Christian Holmes had 1 solo tackle and 2 assists. He was only targeted twice, allowing 1 reception for 6 yards with 1 pass breakup.

In limited action before his injury, Tariq Castro-Fields registered 2 solo tackles and 1 assist with 1 missed tackle. He allowed 2 receptions on 2 targets for 22 yards. Nick Whiteside did not register any defensive stats.


Tariq Castro-Fields was flagged 5 yards for defensive holding.


Coverage Alignments

Kam Curl moved all over the defensive backfield, taking 28 snaps at box safety, 24 snaps at free safety, 6 snaps covering the slot, and 6 aligned on the DL.

Quan Martin was the primary nickelback, taking 34 snaps aligned at free safety, 18 snaps at slot corner, 9 snaps lined up at box safety, and 1 on the DL.

Terrell Burgess got his most playing time on defense to date, taking 18 snaps at box safety, 11 snaps at free safety and 6 snaps at slot CB.


Kam Curl recorded 6 solo tackles and 3 assists. He was targeted just once in coverage and allowed 1 reception for 22 yards.

Quan made 2 solo tackles with 2 assists. He was only targeted once in coverage with no completion.

Burgess contributed 1 solo tackle and 3 assists. He was targeted twice in coverage and allowed 2 receptions for 24 yards and 1 TD.


Tress Way punted 3 times for 156 yards with 17 return yards, for averages of 52 yards per punt and 46.3 net yards per punt. He landed 1 of 3 inside the 49ers’ 20 yard line.

Joey Slye was perfect 1/1 on both field goals and extra points. He has not missed a field goal or extra point since Tucker Addington replaced Camaron Cheeseman at long snapper last week. In the two weeks prior to Addington’s signing, he missed 1 extra point and 1 field goal.

Jamison Crowder continues to set fire to the Commanders’ return game. On Sunday, he returned 1 punt for 2 yards. But at least he didn’t fumble like last week. For the season averaging 7.94 yards per return, a full 0.14 yards per punt more than last season’s return man, Dax Milne who didn’t turn the ball over.

The Commanders did not return any kicks.

Byron Pringle, John Bates and Jabril Cox made 1 tackle apiece in special teams coverage. Dyami Brown, De’Jon Harris and Alex Armah each missed tackles in special teams coverage.


The Commanders avoided penalties on special teams this week.


Can Eric Bieniemy fix Sam Howell?

This poll is closed

  • 10%
    (5 votes)
  • 89%
    (41 votes)
46 votes total Vote Now


Should the new front office trust anyone on the current coaching staff with the team’s next QB, if it’s not Howell?

This poll is closed

  • 0%
    (0 votes)
  • 84%
    (42 votes)
  • 16%
    Is that a rhetorical question?
    (8 votes)
50 votes total Vote Now