After watching film of the Washington Commanders’ victory at Atlanta that ended their three-game losing streak, coach Ron Rivera had one word to describe quarterback Sam Howell’s play: efficient.
Howell threw for 151 yards and three touchdowns and did not have any interceptions. On the other side of the ball, the defense forced three Falcons turnovers to get Washington back to .500 at 3-3.
Put those things together, and the Commanders may have found their winning recipe – for their next game this Sunday at the New York Giants and beyond.
“Every phase did what they were supposed to do, needed to do,” Rivera said Monday. “We have a little momentum … If you can maintain the momentum and keep the excitement going and energy levels up, the players really feed off of it.”
Washington might not be able to count on Daniel Jones or Tyrod Taylor throwing three picks like Atlanta’s Desmond Ridder did, but Howell not giving the ball away is crucial to stacking up wins as the midway point of the season approaches. The Commanders are 2-0 when committing fewer turnovers than they force.
Rivera lauded Howell for smart decision-making in his seventh NFL start.
“He protected the football, delivered some very catchable balls,” Rivera said. “Protecting the football and making the decisions that he did, I thought he handled (situations) very well.”
Washington opened as a 1 1/2-point favorite on FanDuel Sportsbook, coming off the Giants losing at Buffalo to drop to 1-5. This looks like another winnable game, if the Commanders can follow their Atlanta blueprint.
“We have an opportunity to go to 4-3 if we go out and play the football we’re capable of,” Rivera said. “It’s a good opportunity to build on the success we had, but we also got to be smart and understand that even though we went out and did our jobs, we got to pay attention and focus in on and continue to focus in on the details of our job, do those things better, do the little things better because we had a lot of mistakes, a lot of little things that can be corrected.”
Putting five defensive lineman on the field at the same time helped the Commanders contain Bijan Robinson, and they could deploy a similar look against Saquon Barkley. They’re deepest along the defensive line and not so much at linebacker, so expect to see plenty more where that came from.
“What it allows us to do is bring in another bigger body,” Rivera said. “When you got that extra big body up inside, it does impact their want and (the opponent’s) desire to try and run the football. And it frees up the linebackers a little bit more to run.”
WHAT NEEDS HELP
For all of Howell’s efficiency, he was still sacked five times by the Falcons, who were tied for the league’s lowest total coming in, with five all season. Starting left tackle Charles Leno was out for personal reasons, but some of the blame rests with Howell, who has been sacked a league-high 34 times.
“There was a couple of times, obviously, I’d like to see him get the ball out of his hands a little bit quicker and not take the hits or sacks that he did,” Rivera said.
Jamison Crowder is making the most of his return to Washington solely as the team’s punt returner. His 61-yard return at Atlanta was the longest the organization has had since Crowder’s 89-yard touchdown in 2016.
Rookie cornerback Emmanuel Forbes went from starting the first five games of the season to being completely benched, with no snaps in the Falcons game. Rivera hopes the move is a reset for the first-round draft pick and a learning experience for Forbes.
“I just explained to him that we feel right now a little time down would help you,” Rivera said. “A good chance to kind of take a step back and watch it and see how things are done, see a little different perspective.”
Defensive linemen Daron Payne dislocated a finger and edge rusher Montez Sweat injured a thumb Sunday. Rivera did not have any updates on either’s status on Monday.
119.7 – QB rating for Howell despite completing just 14 of his 23 pass attempts against the Falcons.
Don’t look past the Giants, with the defending NFC East champion Philadelphia Eagles up after that at home on Oct. 29. The Commanders should learn from losing at home to Chicago in Week 5 and not take New York lightly.
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