3 reasons why the Commanders failed QB Sam Howell in 2023

Sam Howell was destined to fail...

Sam Howell and Eric Bieniemy
Sam Howell and Eric Bieniemy / Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports
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Commanders wasted Sam Howell's mobility

Sam Howell was a running sensation at North Carolina. He rushed for 828 yards and 11 touchdowns during his final season with the Tar Heels in 2021. This came after he lost most of his dynamic playmakers to the NFL.

Those numbers should have encouraged Eric Bieniemy to include plenty of designed quarterback runs in the playbook. A rushing attack led by the man under center catches defenses cold and makes them obvious in coverage.

Units that stack the box against a running quarterback leave themselves vulnerable to big plays off play-action passes targeting undermanned coverage shells. It's why Robert Griffin III was named NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year in 2012.

The same approach is also how Lamar Jackson and Josh Allen remain among the elite signal-callers in the league. Letting Howell run would have given the Washington Commanders something different needed to catch a few opponents cold.

What's doubly frustrating is how effectively other teams used young quarterbacks on the ground. A notable example was provided by the Indianapolis Colts and rookie Anthony Richardson.

The success enjoyed by the No. 4 overall selection in the 2023 NFL Draft was outlined by "Locked on Colts" co-host Zach Hicks:

Richardson has one advantage as a runner. Notably, being 6-foot-4 and 244 pounds. But Howell is no wallflower at 6-foot-1 and 220 pounds.

Injury is the obvious drawback to letting a quarterback run. Richardson had his rookie year curtailed by a concussion and shoulder problems. Jackson and Allen have taken their lumps and survived, so the risk goes both ways.

Risk and reward is the balancing act an offensive coordinator has to get right with a rushing quarterback. Sadly, Bieniemy rarely tried, with most of Howell's 48 rushing attempts being scrambles on broken plays.

It wasn't the only way Howell was let down by his offensive coordinator.