Updated: May 5
By Adam Aniba
Washington fans celebrated a bittersweet 26-6 victory vs Dallas on Sunday afternoon, on what will be the final Victory Monday of the 2022 season. Although the Commanders finished with their best win total under head coach Ron Rivera at 8-8-1, missing the playoffs after being so close, left a sour taste in the mouth of many fans.
The decision for Rivera to start rookie 5th round quarterback Sam Howell (FULL Feb '22 Howell Scouting Report) paid off against Dallas. One must wonder how the season would have ended, if Rivera turned to him earlier in the year.
The former Tar Heel signal caller went 11/19 for 169 yards passing with 2 touchdowns (1 rushing) and 1 interceptions, in addition to 5 rushing attempts for 35 yds with a 7.0 ypr average.
Howell dealt with a few mental hiccups during his first regular season start, primarily with his end zone interception thrown into triple coverage, while on the Cowboys 5-yard line. Despite the rookie miscues, he continued to be resilient and in command of the offense.
Howell's field processing, when he looked off the Dallas safeties, while holding the safety with his eyes was a thing of beauty to watch. This enabled his receivers the opportunity to win and led to more one-on-one coverage situations.
On the 52-yard reception by Terry McLaurin, the safety look off by Howell delayed the defensive back just enough for him to arrive late on the long reception.
Howell continued to put the ball in front of his receivers all night. This allowed his pass catchers to gain yards after the catch, unlike many of Heinicke/Wentz' passes this season, which frequently were thrown behind the receivers.
Although the rookie only threw the ball 19 times, the team had 41 rush attempts for 151 yards and a 36:12 to 23:48 time of possession advantage. Howell's timey scrambles that led to 1st-downs, set the tempo for the run game to succeed.
Howell understood the assignment, realizing that targeting McLaurin was the likeliest path to victory. In fact, #17 led all receivers (both teams) on the night with 3 rec 74 yards for 1 TD on 6 targets. McLaurin should have had 4 receptions, but had an uncharismatic drop on a short pass, which could have added another 10-15 yards to his total.
Has Howell done enough to be the unquestioned starter in '23? It's probably too early to come to that conclusion, but after his performance against Dallas in his first career start, the future in Washington is definitely looking bright for the former Tar Heel quarterback.
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