The Seahawks are back home this weekend, hosting the Washington Commanders at Lumen Field in what will be the third meeting between the teams in the last four seasons. To get you ready for this week's game, Seahawks.com asked five questions to Commanders.com senior reporter Zach Selby to help you learn more about Seattle's Week 10 opponent:
Washington started 2-0, lost five of six, then responded with a nice road win last week. What's the midseason assessment of this team? Is it a group capable of getting on a second-half roll?
Selby: History would certainly say that it is. The Commanders have begun November with a losing record in each year of Ron Rivera's tenure. They are a combined 9-3 in the month, so a potential turnaround from their recent skid would be right on track. They still have problems, such as giving up too many explosive plays on defense and a history of failing to sustain drives on offense, but we're starting to see more consistency in both areas. The defense has kept opponents to less than 20 points in three of their last four matchups, while the offense converted 9-of-17 third downs. The game against the Seahawks should be a good test to see whether the Commanders' recent improvements are legitimate.
There seems to be a growing consensus in D.C. that Sam Howell could be the team's future at quarterback. What has the second-year signal caller done to win people's trust this season?
Selby: It's hard to pin down one thing that Howell has done to win over his teammates and earn the franchise's trust, but there are a few things that stand out. For one, when he has protection, he has poise in the pocket and can deliver accurate throws in areas where only his receiver can make the catch. We saw that last week against the Patriots when he laid out a 33-yard pass to Jahan Dotson in the end zone. Another throw came in Week 8 against the Eagles. Howell threaded a pass, also to Dotson, between three defenders for a first down. Of course, there are still some areas that Howell need to work on, like getting rid of the ball quicker and navigating around pressure, but his accuracy and his arm strength give hope that he can have a bright future.
Ranking in the top 10 in passing and near the bottom of the league in rushing doesn't seem like the norm for a Ron Rivera coached team. Is that just a reflection of the makeup of the team? The result of playing from behind in losses? Or just the way Eric Bieniemy has put his fingerprints on the offense?
Selby: Can I say yes to all three? Because there are shades of all of them in the Commanders' offense. Rivera has given Bieniemy full authority over several parts of the team, and even though Rivera's teams are generally more run dominant, he's said before that he's fine with the way the offense is run. The Commanders pass the ball more than any team in the league, and it doesn't look like Bieniemy is changing that any time soon. That might occasionally get them in trouble, but if anything, you can say that Washington has an identity.
And it helps that Washington does have the tools to run an offense with that philosophy. Terry McLaurin is one of the best receivers in the league; Dotson and Curtis Samuel are two exciting options with the ball in their hands; and players like Byron Pringle and Jamison Crowder have delivered quality snaps as depth pieces. What's more, Brian Robinson Jr. and Antonio Gibson are reliable pass-catchers out of the backfield. On top of it all is the staff putting enough trust in Howell to throw the ball 39 times per game.
Playing from behind might play a role in it, but I don't believe it's as much of a factor as the other two. While the Commanders lost to the Giants and both matchups with the Eagles, they were never completely out of those games and could have been more balanced if they wanted to be. Howell still surpassed 40 attempts in all three of those matchups. At this point, the results point to one conclusion: this is simply who the Commanders have become.
Aside from the obvious big names, what player or players could you see being a potential X-factor in this game?
Selby: I'll give you one for both sides of the ball. Veteran receiver Jamison Crowder has stepped up in a big way in the absence of Curtis Samuel, who has been dealing with a toe injury for the last two games. He has 11 receptions for 118 yards and a touchdown over the last two games. He's also been one of the team's biggest pickups because of his abilities as a return specialist. Through nine games, Crowder is sixth in punt return yards, which is partially a credit to his 61-yard return against the Falcons.
On defense, defensive end Casey Toohill has quietly put together one of the best seasons in his career. With Chase Young and Montez Sweat gone, he's now become the team's leader in sacks. He doesn't make the splashy plays like Young and Sweat, but does have solid technique and is faster than people think. Even if he doesn't get to the quarterback, he knows how to crash the pocket and allow the interior defenders to finish plays.
What matchup or matchups are you most looking forward to seeing play out in Sunday's game?
Selby: For me, it has to be Washington's secondary vs. the Seahawks' receivers. The Commanders allow more explosive plays than any other team in the league, and the Seahawks have dynamic playmakers like DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett on the other side of the field. The Commanders did limit some of the explosive plays against the Patriots, but Mac Jones and the New England offense rank near the bottom in yards per attempt. The Seahawks are around the middle of the league in that category, but Washington has a tendency of allowing No. 1 receivers to have big days. The unit has allowed a 100-yard receiver in six of their nine games.
Theoretically, the Commanders have the talent to hold their own against the Seahawks' receivers. I'm curious to see who they line up against Metcalf, although my guess is that St-Juste, who leads the NFC in pass breakups, would be the guy. However, until the secondary fixes the lapses in coverage, there will be opportunities for opponents to move down the field in chunks against them.
The Seahawks and Commanders face off on Sunday, Nov. 12, 2023. Kickoff is set for 1:25 p.m. PT. Take a look back through history at the Seahawks' matchups against the Commanders.