Breaking down Commanders QB Sam Howell's impressive preseason

2RGW4E7 Washington Commanders quarterback Sam Howell passes against the Cleveland Browns during the first half of a preseason NFL football game on Friday, Aug. 11, 2023, in Cleveland. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)

A dark cloud has been lifted from the Washington Commanders organization. In its place is an unusual sense of optimism, something fans haven’t felt in a long time. One reason for that is the growing belief that Sam Howell could end Washington’s long search for a franchise quarterback. That optimism only grew with his performance in training camp and the preseason.

Training camp reports should be taken with a grain of salt — because it’s just practice — and while fans can piece together some grainy videos, you just never really know how that will translate to live football.

The preseason is a different beast where grand statements are made about every single snap of every player. That’s taken to the next level when it comes to young quarterbacks, and Howell is no exception.

His numbers were impressive, he looked comfortable in a new offense and his coaches have been singing his praises.

Here are the numbers from both preseason games, in which he played a combined 63 snaps:

  • 28-of-37, 3 TD, 0 INTs
  • 1 big-time throw, 0 turnover-worthy plays
  • 73.5 overall grade
  • 84.7% adjusted completion percentage

A knock on Howell coming out of college was the offense he played in. There were very few progression-based reads that he had to go through, and it caused some to question whether he would be capable of handling that in the NFL. He began to answer some of those questions in the preseason, displaying a high-level processing ability.

The play below is a great representation of him working all the way to the backside of the play on time for a third-and-long conversion.

Some of his best plays, however, came when things seemed to break down.

Playmaking ability was never a question with Howell. It’s something he flashed throughout college and on limited NFL snaps last season.

His biggest area of concern in the preseason was pocket management and blitz recognition. This isn’t anything new for Howell. In his final season at North Carolina, his 31.2% pressure-to-sack percentage was the fifth highest in the FBS. He struggled at times with this in the preseason by taking some sacks that could have been avoided.

On the play below, Howell’s mistake was not recognizing where the blitz was coming from and not throwing to his hot route. With the defensive end dropping into coverage, Howell's next thought should have been that the blitz was coming from the other direction. He doesn’t have the protection necessary to pick the blitz up on that side, so he needs to hit the hot route — which is the running back in the flat — and live to fight another day.

Until he figures this out, defenses will test him time and time again with blitzes.

Regardless, the preseason was a step in the right direction for Howell. These sorts of developments are why Washington fans are excited about what he can do as Washington's starting quarterback this season.

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