The Philadelphia Eagles are hosting the Washington Commanders at Lincoln Financial Field on Sunday. It’s a rare 1:00 PM start time for the Birds! In order to preview this Week 4 matchup between two NFC East teams, I reached out to our enemies over at Hogs Haven. “LASkin” kindly took the time to answer my questions about this upcoming battle. Let’s take a look at the answers. [For my answers to questions about the Eagles, stay tuned to HH.]
1 - The Commanders have allowed the most sacks in the NFL, six more than any other team. Who/what is to blame and how much of a concern is that against the Eagles’ defensive line?
No topic has received more discussion on Hogs Haven than this one. Is it the offensive line, the offensive scheme, or the quarterback? All three certainly get some blame.
The offensive line has gotten a lot of heat from the fans. In part, this reflects frustration with the lack of focus on building the line through the draft for many years, but especially during Ron Rivera’s tenure in Washington. Rivera could not hang onto two All Pros that he inherited, OT Trent Williams and G Brandon Scherff. Only one OL has been drafted by Washington in the first two rounds since Scherff was taken in 2015: second rounder OT Sam Cosmi, now the RG. However, the collection of second tier players up front has done better than most fans are willing to believe. Ratings from PFF, SIS, and ESPN are imperfect but suggest that the line is at worst about average in the NFL. In terms of time to throw, the line has a top 10 rating.
Eric Bieniemy had a bad day on Sunday (more on that below). The scheme needs to do more to help the young QB, including more running, shorter pass patterns, more rollouts, and so on.
But in my view, the primary problem has been Sam Howell. Howell doesn’t get the ball out fast enough. The general rule of thumb in the NFL is that you have 2.5 seconds to decide where to throw and start your motion. He seems to have a 3.5 second clock in his head and it’s not working, even though he has above average time to throw. He is still learning to read coverages in real time. He likes to go deep, and fans love him for that, but he seems reluctant to dump the ball off to his checkdown if the big play isn’t there. If he doesn’t ramp up his internal clock speed, this is going to be a long season and he will be beaten to a pulp.
2 - Sam Howell looked good in Week 2 but now he’s coming off a four interception game. What’s the confidence level in him bouncing back?
Sam Howell has started four games. Anyone who expected that he would have mastered the position at this point was ignorant or foolish. Very few QBs step in and succeed immediately in this league. Howell won’t have it mastered by this Sunday, either.
Yet, he is 3-1 after four games. Through four games, Sam Howell has completed 64% of his passes, thrown 4 TDs and 5 INTs (4 of them last week), averaged 7.1 Y/A, and has a QB Rating of 76. Comparison for Eagles fans: Jalen Hurts was 1-3 after four games (all in his rookie year), with 52% completed, 6 TDs and 4 INTs, 7.2 Y/A, and a QB Rating of 78. Overall, I’d say Howell has shown more progress than Hurts at the same point in his career. Hurts improved his second year but did not break through until last year, his third in the league. If Washington does not show patience with Howell, he won’t have a breakthrough year with them, ever.
All that said, am I expecting Howell to play as well as he did against Arizona or Denver when he faces the Eagles on Sunday? Uh, no. If I’m his OC or QB coach, my goal for him would be to get the ball out quickly, even if that means throwing 20 passes to guys in the flat. I’m not expecting him to win a game against an elite team just yet. Even if Washington loses big, the game will be a huge success for him if he has no more than two sacks and has no picks.
3 - To what extent has new offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy made a difference for the Commanders?
In case you were wondering whether Washington fans are fickle (I know that’s never an issue in Philadelphia . . . ), all you have to do is look at the reaction to Eric Bieniemy. The fans loved him through the undefeated preseason and first two games this year because the offense was up tempo, included some creative play calls, and featured some sweet long passes. Many were calling for Bieniemy to replace Rivera as Head Coach at the end of the year if not sooner. Fast forward a week, and fans are giving Bieniemy a lot of helpful suggestions about how to get the job done and there is no talk of his future as a Head Coach.
The sky hasn’t fallen after one bad week in which they lost to one of the best teams in the league. I’m expecting Bieniemy to bounce back and have a much better game plan and to call much better plays this week. Last week they averaged seven yards per run on only ten runs. They need to run more to take advantage of their RB talent and to help reduce the pressure on the QB. I’d expect a lot of shorter pass patterns this week as well.
4 - What is Washington’s biggest strength right now?
No doubt about it, it’s the defense, and the defensive line especially. They have four first round picks as DL starters and they are deep there. The DL can dominate a game, even though they had an off day against Buffalo (zero sacks). The secondary is a strength as well. Kam Curl is a premier safety and Kendall Fuller is one of the best CBs in the league. However, rookie CB Emmanuel Forbes is feast or famine. He has talent, but so far, he has been fooled badly by just about every double move he’s seen. That can be a big problem against the Eagles’ WRs.
5 - Who wins this game and why? With DraftKings Sportsbook listing the Eagles as 8.5-point home favorites, what’s your score prediction? And what are your expectations for the rest of this Commanders season?
I’d love to see the Commanders win, and as Arizona showed in beating Dallas last week, any team can win on any given Sunday. However, I will be coldly analytic on this one and say that I expect the Eagles to win and to beat the spread. The Eagles have too much talent and match up too well against the Commanders.
RELATED LISTENING: John Stolnis spoke with Hogs Haven for this week’s edition of BGN’s Eye On The Enemy podcast.