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Sam Howell should be Commanders’ 2023 quarterback; Film review
Jan 8, 2023; Landover, Maryland, USA; Washington Commanders quarterback Sam Howell (14) attempts a pass as Dallas Cowboys defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence (90) rushes during the first half at FedExField. (Photo: Brad Mills/USA TODAY Sports)

Sam Howell should be Commanders’ 2023 quarterback; Film review

WASHINGTON (BVM) – Rookie quarterback Sam Howell got his first NFL start on Sunday and gave the Washington Commanders’ brass plenty to think about this offseason. The regular season finale against Howell’s favorite childhood team, the Dallas Cowboys, resulted in a dominant 26-6 victory for Washington that prevented its divisional rival from a shot at the NFC East title.

On just his second NFL play (and first pass attempt), Howell delivered an accurate strike to Commanders star wide receiver Terry McLaurin who ran untouched into the end zone to give Washington an early 7-0 lead.

That was just the start of a special night for Howell and the Commanders.

After sputtering as an offense to end the half (including two missed field goals by Joey Slye and a Howell interception), the fifth-round rookie QB put together his best drive of the evening in the third quarter.

Howell converted a 2nd-and-14 by connecting with fellow rookie Jahan Dotson on a well-timed inside slant route. The 22-year-old QB’s anticipation and ball placement allowed Dotson to run after the catch and pick up a first down just outside of the red zone.

Howell flashed his dual-threat ability to cap off the drive by using his legs to break multiple tackles and score a nine-yard rushing touchdown. With three offensive linemen overloaded on the left side of the line of scrimmage and tight end Logan Thomas in the tackle position on the other side, Washington offensive coordinator Scott Turner dialed up a quarterback option out of a pistol look (Curtis Samuel aligned behind Howell in shotgun) to the weak side of the formation.

Despite the design creativity, the Cowboys’ defense (who played their starters and to win despite having a playoff spot locked up) is in position to tackle Howell (or Samuel) for a loss or short gain. Instead, Howell flashes his athleticism by weaving through traffic and breaking tackles to give Washington a 14-point lead.

With his first NFL rushing touchdown, Howell became Washington’s first rookie QB to throw and rush for a score in a single game since Robert Griffin III in 2012.

On Washington’s next drive, Howell showcased why he was in consideration to be the No. 1 overall pick in the 2022 NFL Draft a year ago before falling to the fifth round.

With the Cowboys in a Cover 3 look and McLaurin and Dotson both in one-on-one coverage on each side of the field, Howell holds the high safety in the middle of the field with his eyes before launching an absolute dime for a 52-yard completion. The pass to McLaurin traveled 60 air yards (the longest completion by a Washington QB since 2016) and had a completion probability of just 20.2%.

Howell has the most big-time throws in college football since 2019 with 82 and had the first of his NFL career on Sunday.

A final stat line of 11-for-19, 169 passing yards, 35 rushing yards, two total touchdowns and one interception for Howell doesn’t tell the full story of his impressive NFL debut. The rookie showed poise, playmaking, anticipation, accuracy and none of it went unnoticed by the face of the Commanders’ franchise.

“You could just see the confidence in him and you guys didn’t get to hear it, but the speech that he gave us in the locker room says a lot about his potential leadership,” McLaurin told reporters after Sunday’s win. “I think he’s going to continue to grow, get better and really compete for that starting spot next year.”

The Commanders are still in search of their franchise QB after Carson Wentz and Taylor Heinicke were both ineffective this season for different reasons, and they might have found him in Howell.