Commanders Have a Quarterback
Anytime you can go into Foxborough, Massachusetts and beat Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots, you have to feel pretty good about where your team is at. I have to point out that this is probably the worst Patriots team of the Belichick era, but the defense was ranked in the top ten going into the game yesterday, and the Washington offense looked like they overmatched them for much of the contest. The young players, especially the rookies, played well enough to win 20-17, but all anyone could talk about after the game was Sam Howell. I have no doubt in my mind, the Commanders have a Quarterback.
Howell spent most of the first two months of the season under heavy pressure. 40 sacks lead the league by a wide margin and caused many Washington drives to stall out. Howell did his best to navigate through bad offensive line play, holding onto the ball too much, and a game plan that despite the QB hits, was pass first. The last two weeks they have looked like a different team with Howell throwing the ball 97!! times for 722 yards, 5 touchdowns, and 1 interception. Howell was still sacked four times during that span, but he wasn’t under the same pressure and got the ball out quick and efficiently.
The Commanders have always had strong pieces in place at the skill positions. Terry McLaurin is one of the most underrated wide receivers in football and gives Howell a reliable veteran to look to during every possession. Jahan Dotson missed time last year and didn’t have a great start to the year, but has seemingly turned his season around with touchdowns in back to back games after only one in the first seven. Add the safety valve in Logan Thomas, a decent running game, and the shifty Curtis Samuel and suddenly this Commanders team has weapons to compete with every team in the league. All they have been missing was the most important position in sports.
There have been so many Quarterbacks in Washington over my lifetime its hard to even remember all of them. Lately it felt like Washington took the chances that you want every team to take to find the leader of their franchise. RGIII was the savior before injuries and ego sent him packing. Kirk Cousins was the best QB to wear the burgundy and gold in years but front office turmoil allowed him to walk out the door with no compensation. They took a swing on Alex Smith and it actually looked like it was paying off until Smith suffered what was ultimately a career ending injury. (I know Smith came back and played in Washington again, but he was never the same.) Dwayne Haskins (RIP) was the latest, and luckily last, swing and miss from the Bruce Allen run organization that turned out more lackluster rosters than almost any team in the league. Rivera took a shot on Carson Wentz and that train wreck everyone saw coming from a mile away kept them from making the playoffs last season.
Enter the 5th round rookie in week 18 last year. Rivera, after blowing the season by benching Taylor Heinicke and playing Carson Wentz in a must win week 17 game (they lost) told the media he was going back to Heinicke in a meaningless week 18 game that baffled everyone. It was Heinicke we can all thank for telling Rivera he watched Howell in practice every day and knew he deserved a chance. Howell came in and played up and down but beat a good Dallas defense and secured his chance at the top job in 2023.
Howell has been everything Washington could have asked for and then some through 9 weeks of the season. His 2471 passing yards currently rank 2nd in NFL and his 10 touchdowns over the past 5 weeks are good for tops in the league. He has areas of his game he needs to improve on, no doubt, but Sunday he was the best QB on the field playing opposite a former 15th overall pick in Mac Jones. Washington has a shot at a wildcard and the fan in me hopes they can push for it and that Howell continues to grow in this offense. All that really matters though is his development, and putting him in the best place to win, not just this year, but for the next 3-5 years. They need to address the offensive line in the draft or in free agency, and not at bargains, but early picks and monster contracts. They will need to replace some of the veteran positions that will likely be vacant at the end of the year, TE, RB2, WR3 will all be needs. My hope is that the new ownership group will see this as an opportunity to win with some of what they already have, and not try to make the splash play by trading up for a rookie QB or trading for one of the young QBs likely to be available after the season. I would take the gamble on Howell because to me he has clearly shown that the Commanders have a Quarterback. Build on that, and see if Howell can finally be the answer Washington fans have been searching for all these years.