Team Capsules: Washington Commanders

July 27, 2023

A look at every NFL franchise heading into the 2023 season

© Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

Whether you’re bullish or bearish on the Washington Commanders this season generally comes down to one name.

Sam Howell.

If you’re not too familiar with the name, you’re not alone. After all, Howell only appeared in one game last season with the Commanders. In that game, the final game of the regular season, Howell was decent. In fact, the 144th pick of the 2022 draft beat the Dallas Cowboys that day, tossing one touchdown, one interception and 169 yards at a 58% completion rate. His rating was a serviceable 83.0. Considering that Washington handed the playoff-bound Cowboys just their fifth lost on the season, it was a respectable first appearance for Howell.

The Commanders certainly thought so, as it appears Howell will head into the season as the guy under center – a role that has eluded the Commanders of late.

Perhaps Howell is the missing piece in Washington. Perhaps this is the year the franchise can find their guy and stick with him. If they can, there’s a decent foundation from which to build. If they can’t, some luck will be required to truly compete within the NFC East.

What to like about the Commanders…

  • By far, the foundation of the former Football Team, is its defense. In 2022, despite finishing the season at 8-8-1, the Commanders had an excellent defense. Allowing only 20.1 points per game – good for seventh and tied with the Eagles – Washington only gave up more than 25 points twice. If the defense keeps that pace, and with any help from the offense, eight wins could easily become 10.
  • The offense was dreadful last season, but credit the Commanders for not standing pat. They went out and hired Eric Bieniemy, who will take over offensive coordinator duties from Scott Turner, who only mustered 18.9 points per game last season. It’s a great opportunity for Bieniemy, who can now show the world it was more than just Andy Reid making magic in Kansas City.
  • Even though the Commanders didn’t score much, they did have some success running the football. In fact, they ranked 12th in rushing yards per game. With Brian Robinson Jr and Antonio Gibson both returning, along with a new look offensive line, a solid ground game could be a young quarterback’s best friend.

What not to like about the Commanders…

  • When a team finishes last in the division, and its most notable offseason acquisition is a coordinator, there’s little reason to believe it will be notably “better.” In essence, that’s the Commanders in a nutshell. There’s a reason Washington is still the odds-on favorite to finish last in the NFC East at +1250.
  • Perhaps is unfair to “not like” Sam Howell, but it’s equally unreasonable to be overly confident in the second-year signal caller. Howell’s lone game last year did result in a nice win over a solid Dallas team; then again, it took place in Week 18 when the then 12-4 Cowboys couldn’t drastically improve their playoff position with a win. Howell could be just what the doctor ordered, or he could easily be mediocre at best. And if he’s anything less than good, the Commanders could take another step back.
  • While there’s a lot to like about the Commanders first draft pick, cornerback Emmanuel Forbes, there’s also some concern about his ability to defend the run. Forbes is 6-1 and fast but weighs in at just 166 pounds. Cornerback was a position in need, but the selection of Forbes was not unanimously applauded in D.C.

Steve Quinne’s Pick: Commanders under 6.5 wins (-140)

The Commanders aren’t wining the NFC East and certainly not the NFC. That leaves only their win total to truly consider. Though 6.5 wins is enticing considering that a team that was largely a mess last season still somehow won eight games, it’s also a number that screams concern. Playing quarterback in the NFL is not easy assignment, and Sam Howell – a fifth round selection – will take his lumps early and often. The Commanders are putting more faith in their young quarterback than you should.