Sam Howell continues to show promise, but taking sacks has been an issue

2T24BAX Atlanta, United States. 15th Oct, 2023. Washington Commanders quarterback Sam Howell (14) with the carry as middle linebacker Kaden Elliss (55) attempts to tackle during the Washington Commander vs Atlanta Falcons game at Mercedes Benz Stadium in Atlanta Georgia on October 15, 2023. The Commanders defeated the Falcons 24-16. (Alyssa Howell/Image of Sport) Photo via Credit: Newscom/Alamy Live News

Sam Howell is seven starts into his NFL career, and while that’s far from enough playing time to draw significant conclusions, a worrying trend has continued from his college career.

Howell is taking too many unnecessary sacks. He is on pace for 90-plus sacks, which would shatter the single-season NFL record of 76 set by former Houston Texans quarterback David Carr in 2002.

Sacks are a quarterback stat as much as they are an offensive line stat, and Howell is contributing to that number in a major way. Washington’s offensive line isn’t an elite unit, but it isn't the current problem. Outside of Week 6, Washington has started the same five offensive linemen each week, and not one has a pass-blocking grade lower than 60.0.

Here’s the breakdown of who has been responsible for the 34 sacks:

Sam Howell 15
Offensive Line 12
Other 7

Not only is Howell creating his own pressure, but he’s also turning offensive line-allowed pressure into sacks at an unsustainable rate. He currently leads the league with a 33.7% pressure-to-sack percentage. The league-high rate last season was 30.8%.

Arm talent has never been a question for Howell. He has the ability to make every throw, ranking fifth in the NFL in big-time-throws (11), and his 78.5% adjusted completion rate places eight — all while he has the most dropbacks in the league.

When Howell is able to get out of the pocket and use his legs, he’s a weapon. In his final college season, he forced 65 missed tackles — the most by a Power Five quarterback since 2014. That has carried over in the NFL. He has currently forced 12 missed tackles, the second most by a quarterback in 2023, behind Lamar Jackson’s 19 and ahead of Jalen Hurts and Justin Fields.

His problem is getting to the point where he needs to scramble. He’s done a much better job at working through his progressions and making the right decision, but if nobody is open, everything breaks down. He hesitates to either throw it away or scramble from the pocket. He has to make a decision, and it has to be quick.

The video below is a great example of him getting through his progressions and then panicking when it’s time to scramble from the pocket.

Howell is still young, and each repetition is a learning experience. The Commanders look as though they will give him every opportunity to show what he is capable of, and for the most part, that’s been really impressive. He makes high-level decisions and throws when everything is on time. When everything isn’t on time, disaster strikes, holding him back from taking that next step.

There’s a franchise quarterback in there somewhere, and Howell has made drastic improvements from his time in an RPO-heavy college offense. Still, his biggest issue in college remains his biggest issue in the NFL — creating his own pressure and turning it into sacks.


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