Andrew Wylie made it clear in the locker room after the Washington Commanders' 37-3 loss to the Buffalo Bills that it's unacceptable for Sam Howell to get hit as many times as he did on Sunday, no matter how tough he may be.
"As an offensive lineman, that's on our unit," Wylie said. "We take that personally. We gotta do a better job of keeping him upright and getting him that extra tick."
Howell was sacked nine times by a Bills defensive front that had forced just three in the previous two games. That pushed the Commanders' total up to 19 through the first three games. Not only is that the league's worst this season, but it's also tied for the most by any team since the Houston Texans in 2005, per The Athletic's Ben Standig.
If Washington's offense has any hope of gaining some traction this season, it has to protect Howell as much as possible. It's on the entire unit to fix it, and they know it.
"It's a team effort.," Brian Robinson Jr. said. "It's a team effort. It's something we all gotta work on together, and I think we'll get better with that."
Check out the best shots from the Washington Commanders' Week 1 matchup against the Buffalo Bills. (Photos by Emilee Fails and Kourtney Carroll/Washington Commanders)
As much as was made about the offensive line during the offseason -- and the group is not blameless -- they are not the only ones at fault for the number of sacks given up.
Part of the responsibility rests with Howell himself. While the Commanders experienced the benefits of having a young, talented quarterback in the previous two games, they dealt with the growing pains of having a player who is still working on his development. He often held onto the ball when his first read wasn't available, and that was something the Bills took advantage of.
"This is a young quarterback," said Buffalo defensive tackle Jordan Phillips. "We gave him different looks, you know if he doesn't see something, most of the time he'll just hold the ball and he'll run. He had a couple of scrambles today. It's just growing pains. It happened to me in my first two games."
It was a tough reminder for Howell that he needs to get the ball out quicker. According to The Buffalo News sports writer Ryan O'Halloran, Howell had at least three seconds in the pocket on seven of his nine sacks. On one play, Howell had four seconds before the pressure got to him.
Coach Ron Rivera said that this is part of Howell's development.
"You gotta see what you need to see and then make your decision and move on to the next one or deliver the ball," Rivera said.
And Howell acknowledged after the Bills game that he needs to improve.
"It was tough, especially when you get in a situation where you're down a few touchdowns at the end of the game and they know we're in a passing situation. So...they have the advantage as far as the pass rush goes. But I've just got to do a better job."
To their credit, though, Howell's teammates are not going to let him take all the blame. Everyone on the offense, from the offensive line to the running backs and wide receivers, admitted they could have done something better, because they want to give Howell as many opportunities to succeed as possible.
"He's a true competitor, the definition," Wylie said. "Dude is a warrior out there. He took some hits and got right back up and continued to sling the ball."
There were also times when the running backs could have stayed in the backfield for a just bit longer to give Howell extra time.
"We've just got to find a way to protect the quarterback, keep him off the ground," Robinson said. "Make the extra efforts to protect him. We've just gotta max protect and just help him to stay up off the ground."
It could help Howell for the receivers to run quicker routes to get through their progressions and get open to provide Howell with more options earlier in the play.
"It was a tough day for all of us," said wideout Terry McLaurin. "It's not just on him, but I just want to let him know that we got his back."
Either way, Howell appreciates his teammates having his back.
"It starts with me, and I have a lot of stuff I can clean up and I'm sure there's some other people that feel like they can get better as well," Howell said. "So, we'll continue to work through those things, and we'll continue to have each other's back and continue to go through this together."
The Commanders won't have much time to rest, as they have another tough task in the Philadelphia Eagles' front up next. While they have only forced six sacks through three games, their defense is full of first-round talent that took Baker Mayfield down twice on Monday Night Football.
It'll be an opportunity for Washington to show that it can provide Howell with protection against one of the league's most potent defenses.
"We're going to keep battling for our guy number 14," Wylie said.