After seven games, Washington Commanders quarterback Sam Howell was on a historic pace to set a record that no signal-caller would want to own. Howell was on pace to break David Carr’s 21-year record as the most-sacked quarterback in a single season in NFL history.
Howell had been sacked 40 times in seven games, putting him on pace to be sacked over 90 times. Carr’s record is 76 sacks. In six of these seven games, Howell had been sacked five times or more.
However, over the last two weeks, Howell has been sacked a total of four times. And none of those four sacks were particularly harmful for Washington’s offense.
The most noticeable changes are at center and left guard. Veteran Tyler Larsen replaced Nick Gates in the starting lineup, while Chris Paul replaced the injured Saahdiq Charles at guard.
The difference has been clear, particularly at center. Larsen has proven to be an upgrade over Gates.
Head coach Ron Rivera explained the biggest change on the offensive line with Larsen playing center.
“I think the biggest change with him and Chris Paul is, first of all, there’s probably about 60 pounds,” Rivera said about them being bigger than the players they replaced.
“They’re both 330 [pounds]. There’s a lot of girth between our two guards and our center. I think that’s been a big part. They’re very stout. Then secondly, I think the big part of it, too, has really been how veteran Tyler is. His experience, his understanding, and feel for what we’re doing and how we’re doing it.”
Larsen’s size is an asset for Howell. Far too often, the pocket was collapsing in front of Howell, and that’s improved with Larsen in the lineup.
It’s also important to point out that Howell and offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy have improved, too. Bieniemy continues to cater the offense to Howell, while Howell is doing much better processing information and getting rid of the ball quicker.
Rivera praised Larsen’s work before the snap.
“There’s a couple of things that you can point to,” Rivera said of Larsen. “Some of it is helping to ID the direction that the protection’s going to go and the type of protection we’re going to use. Then you see them trying to pass a snap off guys, as far as trying to pass them from one blocker to the other. There was an instance, I can’t remember exactly the play specifically, but they had a three-man stunt, and one of our guards wasn’t coming off. So, Tyler came back and left Sam [Cosmi] where he was, and he picked up a crosser. That was a very veteran move. [I] was watching it today with the offensive coaches, and that was one of the things that stood out was just how savvy Tyler was when he saw that.”
The Commanders signed Gates to a three-year, $18 million deal. Imagine if Washington just rolled with Larsen, who signed a one-year contract and used the money spent on Gates elsewhere. Gates, of course, can also play guard, so, if needed, he could fill in at those positions, too.
It’s also worth noting that Larsen has finished the last two seasons on injured reserve, which is likely why Rivera never considered making the 32-year-old Larsen the primary center entering the 2023 season.