The Patriots host the Commanders in Week 9 and take on a team that could be just as bad as them, but might not be as desperate for a win.
Washington made clear its direction earlier this week when it traded for Montez Sweat and Chase Young ahead of the deadline, with the new ownership group reportedly pushing for these moves. These trades hamper a Commanders team that has struggled as of late, losing five of its last six games and falling to 3-5.
Still, Washington has some notable players on its roster who can make a difference on Sunday. Here are five Commanders players to watch as they take on the Patriots.
Here’s an underrated storyline heading into Sunday’s game: The Patriots selected Bailey Zappe over Sam Howell in the 2022 NFL Draft.
So far, the Commanders have gotten more out of Howell than the Patriots have gotten out of Zappe, even though Zappe fever briefly took over New England last fall. In fact, Howell has put up some solid numbers at points during his first full season as a starter, completing 66.9 percent of his passes for 2,146 yards, 13 touchdowns and eight interceptions with a 90.1 passer rating. Howell actually ranks sixth in passing yards in Week 8, though he is among the group of six players who have thrown the second-most interceptions this season.
Last week was perhaps the highlight of the Howell experience for the commanders. The fifth-round pick completed 75 percent of his passes for 397 yards, four touchdowns and an interception with a 114 passer rating in the Commanders’ 38-31 loss to the Eagles.
While that game is certainly an outlier, Howell’s put up solid numbers more often than not, with a passer rating of at least 98 in five games. He had some pretty low lows, though he didn’t reach that threshold in two of the games. He threw four picks against the Bills in Week 3 and completed just 22 of 42 passes in a 14–7 loss to the Giants in Week 7.
Howell also has some ability to move the ball with his legs, rushing for 130 yards, nine first downs and a touchdown this season. But his willingness to rely on his legs also has a downside. He has been sacked a league-high 41 times this year, with evaluations placing some of the blame for that high number on Howell as he is on pace to become the most sacked quarterback in a single season in NFL history.
The Commanders’ second-year running back has put up some good numbers so far this season, but he has arguably not been used as much as he should be.
Washington ranks last in rushing attempts so far this season, with Robinson recording 95 of his 159 carries. Robinson’s averaged 4 yards per carry, which puts him in the middle of the pack among qualifying running backs as he has put up 384 rushing yards so far this season.
But one of the things Robinson has done consistently well this season is finding the end zone. He scored six touchdowns this season, scoring in five of the Commanders’ first eight games.
Robinson’s inability to create big plays could hurt him on Sunday. The Patriots are one of the top-performing defenses in the league, ranking ninth in rushing yards allowed (97.9 per game) and second in yards allowed per carry (3.4).
McLaurin, who has been one of the game’s steadiest and most consistent receivers since entering the league in 2019, is on pace for his fourth consecutive season with 1,000 receiving yards, recording 42 receptions for 495 yards through the first eight games .
However, the veteran wideout hasn’t really delivered a dominant performance this season. His season-high for receiving yards in a game is 90, which came in the 14-7 loss to the Giants. He also has two other games this season with over 80 yards. He also has just two receiving touchdowns this season, which is a great number for a top receiver.
The Patriots have largely kept their No. 1 opponent in check this season, even after Christian Gonzalez went down with a season-ending injury early in Week 4. Players like Tyreek Hill, AJ Brown, Garrett Wilson, CeeDee Lamb and Stefon Diggs , and Davante Adams have all failed to reach the 80 yard mark in receiving yards against the Patriots this year. However, Hill got some revenge for his relatively quiet performance earlier this season when he had eight receptions for 112 receiving yards last week.
So the big question is whether Hill’s performance in Week 8 is a sign of things to come for the Patriots this season as they rely more on JC Jackson and Jack Jones on the outside. If so, McLaurin might have his first big appearance of the 2023 season on Sunday.
There aren’t many standouts left on Washington’s defense after trading Sweat and Young earlier this week. But perhaps the Commanders’ best defensive player is still on their defensive line.
The seven-year pro has emerged as one of the best defensive tackles in the league over the past few seasons, earning Pro Bowl honors each of the last two years. He recorded nine sacks in 2021 and 7.5 sacks last year.
Allen is in the midst of another strong year, recording three sacks and 29 combined tackles with 28 pressures and 18 run stops. He’ll need to step up even more now that Sweat and Young are out of town, as these two edge rushers have combined for 11.5 of the Commanders’ 25 sacks this season.
Sunday gives Allen a chance to potentially do the heavy lifting that might be necessary for the Commanders to generate a solid pass rush. The Patriots offensive line has been one of the worst in pass protection so far this year. However, they have been better in the last two weeks with Michael Onwenu moving to the right. They’ve gotten mixed production from their interior offense, which has yielded a sack and 10 pressures over the past two games, according to Pro Football Focus.
The veteran corner may be the only thing standing between Commanders who have the worst pass defense in the NFL this season.
Washington enters Sunday’s game with the fourth-most passing yards allowed per game (374.1) and the most passing touchdowns allowed this year (18).
Fuller is largely exempt because there is a reason to do so. The eight-year corner has allowed 24 receptions on 36 targets for just 207 yards, allowing three touchdowns as he has recorded two interceptions this year, per Pro Football Focus.
Much of the production against Fuller came in Week 5, when Bears wide receiver DJ Moore had 230 receiving yards and three touchdowns. Fuller was credited with allowing three receptions for 70 yards and two touchdowns against Moore in that game.
Fuller’s performance has certainly been more than welcomed by the Commanders, especially considering Emmanuel Forbes’ struggles this year. The rookie corner, who was selected before the Patriots drafted Gonzalez, has allowed 22 receptions on 30 targets for 446 yards and three touchdowns this year, per PFF. Washington has demoted Forbes, playing him just five times in each of the last two games.
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