Do the Washington Commanders finally have the right formula for consistency on offense throughout the 2023 season?
No one is mistaking the Washington Commanders' current questionable collection up front for the legendary Hogs. But with an explosive set of playmakers surrounding Sam Howell, and new offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy calling the plays, their offensive attack looks poised to take some significant strides forward this season.
Despite displaying unwavering grit and resilience in overcoming deficits to win both of their first two contests, the Commanders have a lot to work on as the campaign continues to move forward into the fall.
With improvement on the offensive line, consistent growth from Howell, and continued creativity from Bieniemy, the Commanders offense has the potential to become one of the league's top units in 2023.
Commanders OL remains a major work in progress
After giving up a whopping six sacks in the season opener against the Arizona Cardinals, the Commanders' protection surrendered another four to a solid Denver Broncos defense during Week 2.
Most are quick to blame the re-tooled offensive line for any apparent missed assignments. It can also be easy for fans to admonish a young quarterback who seems to have a bad habit of holding the ball too long.
In reality, every sack is its own entity, with multiple variables in play on each snap. This makes determining the cause or fault for any particular sack a unique challenge in itself.
To achieve consistent protection, the play-caller, offensive line, and quarterback must work to form a special type of cohesion and comfortability in both their communication and the concepts being run.
With new starters all along the offensive front, continuity will only come with time and reps together.
New starting center Nick Gates has been a welcome sight in D.C., displaying toughness and a certain nasty disposition in finishing blocks and sticking up for his teammates. Washington's free agent stop gap at center has been generally solid through the first two weeks, but has let up two sacks while committing one penalty and could surely stand to improve his pass protection.
The Commanders' other big free agent acquisition this offseason, starting right tackle Andrew Wylie, has struggled with pass protection as well. He's given up two sacks and conceded one penalty.
Starting guards Sam Cosmi and Saahdiq Charles have been the strength of the unit, both routinely popping out on film by finishing blocks at the second level. This is immensely encouraging considering the questions surrounding the duo before 2023.
Charles, in particular, has shown up in a big way this season, pleasantly surprising by consistently abusing defenders and opening up big lanes in the run and screen game.
With veteran mainstay Charles Leno Jr. performing adequately manning the blind side, and slight adjustments to communications with protections across the front, the Commanders' unheralded offensive line may just have the makings of one of the league's toughest and most physical units.
Commanders QB Sam Howell consistently shows growth
The ten sacks Howell has taken put him tied with Daniel Jones and Justin Fields for the second-most so far this season. Houston Texans rookie quarterback C.J. Stroud leads the league with 11 taken through two weeks.
The biggest knock on Howell through a minuscule sample size of just three NFL starts is undoubtedly his propensity to hold onto the football too long.
Like most young quarterbacks looking to prove themselves, Howell is just trying to buy extra time to make a play. But when the former fifth-round pick is comfortable and confident in his protection, the kid has the traits to be legitimately surgical in carving up defenses with his arm and his legs.
After coughing up three turnovers over his first two games as the Commanders' starter under center, Howell played turnover-free football for the first time this past Sunday. He has also accounted for multiple touchdowns in each of his first three career starts.
If Howell continues to show growth while learning from and correcting his mistakes, the Commanders may have finally found their next franchise quarterback in the North Carolina product.
Commanders OC Eric Bieniemy must continue to be creative
Through two weeks of the young season, Commanders offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy has been exactly as advertised since coming over from the reigning Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs this summer.
Despite some early and expected growing pains with a young quarterback and an unproven offensive line group, the Commanders have surprisingly been one of the NFL's better offenses through the season's first two weeks. They currently rank seventh in the entire league at 27.5 points per game.
For reference, Washington averaged just 18.9 points per game in 2022 (24th) and 19.7 PPG in 2021 (24th). Bieniemy's presence has clearly made an instant impact on this suddenly exciting offense.
Using tempo, a variety of formations, personnel groupings, as well as an obvious mastery of situational playcalling, Bieniemy has quickly transformed the Commanders' offense into must-see TV.
Spearheaded by a talented gunslinger who seems to be improving immensely with each start, a bruising second-year running back in Brian Robinson Jr., and a deep, talented collection of pass-catchers, Washington's new-look offense is rapidly proving to be one to watch with Bieniemy calling the plays in 2023.