It's a true test for QB Sam Howell as Washington heads cross country to play in the second-loudest stadium in the NFL.
The Washington Commanders head west for their furthest road game of the season against the Seattle Seahawks, but the biggest challenge of the day may be the record-breaking sound at Lumen Field. But for them, their 23-year-old starting Quarterback Sam Howell has got a unique set of strengths that may just give Washington what they need to stay ahead.
The stadium, known for its unique design and astonishingly loud fan atmosphere, will force a Washington offense to communicate more efficiently, drown out a crowd and focus on executing critical plays.
Washington is 2-3 on road games, showing they have a good balance of adjusting to new stadiums but still have room to grow. But against Philadelphia, with a crowd packed with Kelly Green, they could come together and perform well despite the ultimate 34-31 loss in overtime.
Lumen Field is a unique NFL stadium built on a smaller surface of land and contains compacted seats to be closer to the players. The additional overhead coverage, meant to protect fans from rain, pushes sound back toward the field and is known for its condensed and intense sound.
The Washington Commanders have begun arriving at Lumen Field for their Week 10 matchup against the Seattle Seahawks.
"I think it's important for us to really listen in the huddle when he is talking and try to get as close as possible," said wide receiver Terry McLaurin. "And I always tell the other receivers to communicate. Usually, the slot receiver is a little closer to the ball. He may hear the snap count or may get a signal from Sam. And it's on us to relay it to the other receivers. So, we need to make sure we're in communication constantly. When we're blocking on the perimeter, make sure we're blocking what we have. So you know, there are little things you can do as a receiver to make sure your communication is on point, to make sure the play's successful. So that's our objective this week."
While it's technically second in noise to the Kansas City Chiefs Arrowhead Stadium, it has broken some notable records with its noise levels. In 2011, Seattle's Marshawn Lynch scored a playoff touchdown that led to such a large crowd celebration that it was enough to register on the Richter Scale.
But Washington, which last played at the stadium in 2017, haa its work cut out for it.
"The biggest thing is that things are going to be based on hand signals," head coach Ron Rivera said. "It's understanding what the play call is and what the alerts or checks are. We've played in some pretty noisy places this year, worked a lot in those huddles, and used all the hand signals and stuff."
Howell will be under pressure to continue getting the ball out fast and work harder and smarter to communicate with his teammates.
"I try to prepare like how I prepared for other road games, but most of the other road games are only ever loud on third down," Howell said. "And I really don't know how Seattle is, and I still gotta ask some more questions and talk to some people. It can be a problem checking out the line of scrimmage, and you have to have more signals than normal just because you can't verbally communicate. But you know we'll be ready for whatever we need."
But Howell's not alone in his questions, as several of his teammates have not been exposed to it, either. Together, the team worked to have a good week of practice and is doing all they can to set themselves off for a win.
"It's fun making plays in opposing stadiums, and for that to happen, we need another great week of practice," McLaurin said." That's why we had success last weekend: We had a really good week of practice, and when we had to execute, we did. And I think taking care of the football is going to help us stay ahead and making those plays as receivers, those 50-50 balls and those tough contested catches is really going to help us move things and score touchdowns. I think our details are getting a lot better through this offense, but our execution just has to continue to increase as well."
The huddles will ultimately make or break the Washington offense, and they must make each drive count. Luckily for the team, their leading QB has been known and celebrated for his level-headedness no matter what's going on in the field. This sense of calmness and grounding can bring together the offense and help them stay in the game, no matter the sound.
"The dude's tough as nails," TE Logan Thomas said earlier this season. "You can hit him as hard as you want or as many times as you want, and he still bounces up. He doesn't make excuses and doesn't point fingers. He goes about his business and respects that and appreciates that from him."
Howell says that a sense of calmness and the ability to compartmentalize from play to play or game to game are incredible skills. And although his communication abilities will be tested in this game, he has the mindset to make it work.
"For as long as I can remember, that's how I've always been," Howell said. "I guess you could say that's how my dad always taught me to be. My dad would always tell me it's not about what just happened. It's about what you're going to do after this. You're not judged for your mistakes but more how you respond to them."
And this week, Howell's will need to respond to a skilled Seattle defense and the Sunday football cheers that are enough to cause earthquakes.