The Washington Commanders completely overhauled their offensive line this season, and it showed in Week 1. Quarterback Sam Howell was sacked six times by a modest Cardinals pass rush. Fortunately, Washington heads to Denver to face a Broncos defense that was unable to record a single sack against the Raiders last week. Week 2 offers an opportunity to get things back on track.
Week 2: Offensive Line Has Opportunity for Redemption
The Sack Total is Explainable
The Commanders offensive line objectively allowed six sacks in Week 1 against the Arizona Cardinals. However, before panicking it is important to consult the tape to better understand the details of each individual circumstance. Upon further examination, only four of the six sacks should be attributed to the offensive line, and only two involved a lineman actually getting beaten on the play.
The first two sacks were a result of Howell making the decision to tuck the ball and run. One was a scramble to avoid internal pressure, and one was a miscommunication on a bubble screen. Regardless, he lost 1 yard on each play. Both of those “sacks” could have been avoided by throwing the ball away, but they did far more damage in the box score than on the field.
Dennis Gardeck beat Andrew Wylie and Logan Thomas for sacks on two separate plays. They were bad individual losses, but Howell also noticed them too late. Additionally, Thomas probably shouldn’t be left alone to block a defensive end in the first place. The final two sacks were mishaps in synchrony on the left side of the line. Left guard Sahhdiq Charles tried to pass off his man to center Nick Gates, but Gates did not get the memo. Then, Brian Robinson clipped Charles’ ankle on a play-action pass and knocked him off balance. Both mistakes were fluky and easily-correctable.
Left tackle Charles Leno Jr. and right guard Sam Cosmi are the only returning starters from last year’s O-line, and Cosmi is adjusting to a position change from tackle. Sahhdiq Charles was a backup last season, Gates was a New York Giant, and right tackle Andrew Wylie was a Kansas City Chief. The chemistry will take some time to develop.
Denver Broncos Meager Pass Rush
Denver’s defense recorded only 36 sacks over the course of last season, which was the ninth-fewest total in the NFL. For reference, the league-leading Eagles almost doubled them with 70 sacks. General manager George Paton made it a point to address this issue in the offseason. He signed former Cardinals defensive end Zach Allen and former Chiefs outside linebacker Frank Clark to add some punch to the pass rush. Both are good players, but Allen has never exceeded 5.5 sacks in a season and Clark hasn’t sacked more than eight since 2018. It should be noted, however, that Clark is the NFL’s third all-time playoff sack leader.
In Week 1 against Las Vegas, the Broncos defense managed zero sacks and only three quarterback hits on Jimmy Garoppolo. The Raiders offensive line ranks 19th in the NFL according to Pro Football Focus. Garoppolo had plenty of time to make decisions and only threw six incompletions all game. If given the same clean pocket, Sam Howell will be able to push the ball downfield in week 2 and open up the rest of the offense. The Commanders offensive line holds the keys to a win in Denver.
Sam Howell's passing chart vs Cardinals
— Mason Kinnahan (@Mason_Kinnahan) September 11, 2023
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