Breaking down all 6 sack given up by the Commanders vs the Cardinals
Evaluating what went wrong for the Commanders on all 6 of the sacks that the Cardinals defense managed on Sam Howell
One of the main concerns most fans and media had regarding the Washington Commanders going into this season was the state of the offensive line. The offensive line has lost elite talents like Trent Williams and Brandon Scherff over the last few years and hasn’t replaced them. With a young quarterback in Sam Howell and a new offensive coordinator in Eric Bieniemy, the offensive line becomes crucial in both of their career paths.
In the opening game of the season, the Commanders surrendered six sacks to the Arizona Cardinals and on the face of it, that suggests the offensive line didn’t perform well. However, sacks can be a very misleading statistic. Yes the offensive line are there to protect the quarterback and keep him upright, but that doesn’t mean they are to blame for every sack that happens. Let’s take a closer look at these sacks and see what really happened.
This is the first sack of the game. The Cardinals bring a simulated pressure, something they did a fair bit of after the Browns and Ravens had some success confusing Sam Howell with them in preseason. Simulated pressures are four-man rushes, but made to look like bigger blitzes. Here, the Cardinals look like they’re blitzing with a linebacker, but actually the defensive end drops out to replace him in coverage.
The offensive line actually does a relatively good job picking it up. The edge rusher steps forward to get right tackle Andrew Wylie to commit to him before dropping back into coverage. Right guard Sam Cosmi looks to hold off the defensive tackle while Wylie attempts to shuffle back inside and take over the block, freeing up Cosmi to slide across and pick up the linebacker. Cosmi manages to pick up the linebacker but Wylie struggles to maintain the block on the defensive tackle.
However, they do a good enough job to provide Howell with ample time in the pocket. The coverage from the Cardinals is good and Howell gets to the top of his drop and has time to take a few small hitches forward. This should be timed up with his reads, but unfortunately he has nothing open. On his third hitch, the pressure arrives and Howell is able to roll out to his right to avoid the pressure. Unfortunately, there is still nobody available for him to, so he scrambles out of bounds but fails to get back to the line of scrimmage, resulting in a sack.
Verdict: This one isn’t on the offensive line. Sure, Wylie could have done better on the defensive tackle, but he and Cosmi managed the simulated pressure long enough for Howell to have plenty of time in the pocket to deliver a throw. The coverage prevented that and the offensive line can only be expected to maintain blocks for so long. They managed to pin the defenders inside and give Howell the opportunity to scramble. He should really have just thrown the ball away instead of stepping out of bounds for a loss. This one was more to do with good coverage and poor awareness from Howell at the end.
This time, the Commanders look to run an RPO (run-pass option) with an inside run to Brian Robinson paired with a bubble screen out to the right. Howell can read the defense and decide if he wants to hand the ball off or pull the ball and throw the bubble screen. On this occasion, he pulls the ball and looks to throw the bubble screen. However, as he begins his throwing motion, he notices the outside corner sprinting down to the line to blow up the screen and Jahan Dotson looking unlikely to pick up the block. So instead of making a risky throw, Howell decides to become the running back and carry the ball up the middle instead.
Of course, the run scheme was designed for the running back to take the ball immediately, not for Howell to start to throw, stop and then run up the middle. So the timing of all the blocks are thrown off completely and Howell fails to make it back to the line of scrimmage before being tackled, meaning he takes his second sack of the game.
Verdict: Another sack that clearly wasn’t the fault of the offensive line. Howell made a mistake with the RPO and probably should have just thrown the ball in the dirt before the receiver or well over his head if he didn’t like the look. I don’t hate the decision to try and run himself and at least recover something from the play, but obviously the timing of the run is completely ruined by Howell attempting to throw first, so unless the offensive line had made all their blocks perfectly for a longer period of time than typically asked, Howell was unlikely to salvage much from the run.
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