It's Sam Howell, who also has the most attempts and completions as the Washington Commanders have made him the focal point of their season. The goal is to see if he's the franchise's long-term answer at the most important position in sports, and Howell keeps presenting evidence he can be that guy.
“He’s showing each and every week that he has what it takes to be successful in this league — to be a guy that you can depend on and can count on,” top receiver Terry McLaurin said.
Howell has completed 264 of 397 passes for 2,783 yards, 17 touchdowns and nine interceptions for the the Commanders (4-6) in his first season as a starter and with new offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy running the show. He has been sacked a league-high 47 times, though there has been marked improvement in that category the past three weeks after taking 40 of them in Washington's first seven games.
“You see him seeing the pressures better,” coach Ron Rivera said. “You see him see the rotation in the coverages better, which allows him to go through his progression quicker or get to where he needs to so he can release the ball in a timely fashion.”
Howell, a 2022 fifth-round pick out of North Carolina who slipped in the draft because of a rough final college season and concerns about being undersized at 6-foot-1, has gotten better at understanding opposing defenses and what they're trying to do to stop him.
“He’s shown that he can handle the situations that he’s been in,” Rivera said. “He’s learned from previous situations, he’s learned from his own mistakes, he self-corrects a lot of times. He knows almost instantly the things that he missed.”
The result is an offense that has come a long way from mustering just seven points in a loss at the New York Giants less than a month ago. Howell insists he's not thinking about his stats or more national attention on him as much as the sting of recent defeats.
With the struggling Giants in town this weekend, Sunday's game is a chance for Howell to show he can lead Washington to a much-needed victory.
“I really don’t look too much into what I’m doing on a personal level,” Howell said. "I look more into what we’re doing as a team and just how I can improve for this football team and how I can put this football team in better chances to win football games.”
The defense underachieving expectations deserves more blame for the Commanders' struggles this season than Howell, whom the coaching staff was banking on to simply provide solid QB play. Several weeks ago, the plan appeared to shift away from a balanced offense to a pass-heavy approach that features Howell, and they've averaged 420 yards and just under 26 points over the past three games.
“We’re just getting better and better,” second-year receiver Jahan Dotson said. “We’re having different guys step up. You don’t know whose week it’s going to be.”
The focal point is Howell, whose future — no matter how many yards he stacks up — will be up to the regime in charge beyond this season, the first under new ownership. The good news for whoever makes the decision on Washington's QB for 2024 and beyond is that Howell will keep throwing the ball a lot and putting plenty of video out there to assess and judge.
Inside the locker room, Dotson said teammates have believed in Howell all along.
“The entire season I feel like we all knew the talent he had,” Dotson said. “Now it’s for you guys to see on full display. And I feel like just week in and week out he’s getting more and more comfortable with the system, with the guys in here and just being a quarterback in the NFL and having success doing that.”
Pass rusher James Smith-Williams missed practice with a hamstring injury that knocked him out of the Seahawks game last weekend. Rivera said there was concern about Smith-Williams being out for some time.
Running back Antonio Gibson also did not practice because of a toe injury. Gibson dealt with turf toe late in the 2020 season.
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