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Five takeaways from Washington's Week 15 loss to the Rams


The Washington Commanders dropped their fifth consecutive game with a 28-20 loss to the Los Angeles Rams. Here are five takeaways from the defeat, presented by Maryland Lottery.

1. Sam Howell was pulled in the fourth quarter.

There is no quarterback controversy in Washington with three games left in the season. That much was made clear by Ron Rivera during his postgame press conference. The intent is for Sam Howell to close out the season as the starter, barring injury, to give him a full season of evaluation.

"Just really trying to take care of him a little bit," Rivera said. "He got into a situation and then the ears pinned back like that. Didn't want to see anything crazy."

Anyone watching Sunday's game could see that Howell was struggling against the Rams' defense. He had solid moments, like his touchdown to Curtis Samuel and four-down pass to Terry McLaurin. He also completed just 11-of-26 passes for 102 yards -- the worst total of his career -- and an ugly interception while throwing across his body to McLaurin.

Give credit where it's due; Jacoby Brissett gave the Commanders' offense, which had just 165 yards up to that point, a spark of life, going 8-of-10 for 124 yards and finding McLaurin for gains of 29 and 49 yards (if it's worth any consolation, McLaurin is now 165 yards away from being the first receiver in franchise history to hit four consecutive 1,000-yard seasons). If anything, Brissett proved that he can still play at a competent level.

But the 2023 season has always been about giving Howell every opportunity to prove that he could be the starting quarterback for years to come, and despite how rough Sunday was for him, there's enough of a resume to show that might be the case, assuming the team fixes its larger issues.

It isn't going to get any easier for Howell, but one way or the other, the Commanders will have a better idea of who he is and what he can do.

Check out the top photos of the Washington Commanders as they take on the Los Angeles Rams in Week 15. (Photos by Emilee Fails/Washington Commanders)

2. More explosive plays.

How many times has giving up explosive plays been brought up as a problem for the Commanders this year? No matter the number (the Commanders have given up more explosive pass plays than any other defense), the point remains that it's still a crippling issue for Washington that gets exposed on a weekly basis.

The obvious example is the wide-open 62-yard touchdown catch-and-run by Cooper Kupp. It's difficult to blame one person since fans and media members don't know the exact coverage and responsibility, but it's clear that there was some miscommunication for Kupp to be that open. In fact, he was so open that his 17 yards of separation was the second most on a completion of over 50 yards since at least 2016, according to Next Gen Stats.

But there were other, less impactful plays that showed how effortless the Rams moved down the field. On the Rams' opening drive, Matthew Stafford connected with Demarcus Robinson for a 21-yard gain to convert a third-and-9. On the next play, Kyren Williams broke loose for a 27-yard pickup. 

There are more moments, but it's easier just to present this stat: the Rams had seven plays of at least 15 yards, helping them put up 445 yards and convert 9-of-16 third downs. The frustrating part is that Washington's defense did play better in spots, but the failure to limit plays that flip the field cast a shadow over any improvement.

3. The offense wasted drives and opportunities.

Despite the game never really swinging out of the Rams' favor, it's not as if the Commanders lacked opportunities to make things more competitive. Even on their last offensive possession, which did end in a touchdown, Washington technically had a chance to make things interesting.

They didn't, however, and it was because Washington's offense did little to make it so. Four of the Commanders' six drives in the first half ended in a three-and-out (the fourth was still a turnover on downs because of a botched snap on a punt). There was a brief moment of consistency on their second drive, which saw the Commanders get to the Rams' 12-yard line, but that was a turnover on downs as well with Howell's pass to Logan Thomas being batted away.

By the end of the first half, with the score being 13-0, Washington had 87 net yards of offense compared to the Rams' 242.

It was much of the same in the second half, outside of the two scores with Brissett in at quarterback. Even then, however, problems arose near the goal line, when it took the offense nine tries to get in the end zone. There was just under five minutes left in the fourth quarter after McLaurin's 49-yard catch at the 1-yard line. There was just under two minutes left when Curtis Samuel finally got open for the score.

Had Washington been able to score earlier, things could have been more interesting. Instead, we were left with Kupp batting Washington's attempt at an onside kick out of bounds and the Rams bleeding the clock to secure a win.

4. The defense forced turnovers but couldn't capitalize.

Washington's defense struggled as it has for most of the season. The unit gave up at least 28 points for the 10th time this season and gave up 400 yards for the seventh time. Neither of those numbers are great, but there were some moments of progress, specifically in creating turnovers.

The Commanders were down two scores at halftime, but it could have been far worse. Washington's defense forced two fumbles from Williams, one of which was at the Commanders' 9-yard line. They were the first turnovers Washington had forced since Week 9 against the New England Patriots.

They were the kind of boosts Washington needed on the road against a playoff contending team, but the offense did nothing with those gifts. They followed the first up with a three-and-out that got just six yards, The second series was far more disastrous because of the poor snap by Camaron Cheeseman, who has since been released.

Even more frustrating is that the Rams scored on each of their ensuing drives after the Commanders failed to do so. Washington needed a few breaks to beat the Rams. It got them, but they didn't mean all that much in the end.

5. Officially eliminated.

It's tough to acknowledge after the season started so well, but the loss to the Rams officially knocked the Commanders out of postseason contention.

It's not really a shock for anyone who has been watching Washington's games for the last six weeks. The hopes of making the playoffs have been gradually slipping away since the team's 29-26 loss to the Seattle Seahawks in Week 10. Over the last few weeks, the Commanders have faced some of the best teams in the league, and each time they have fallen short for various reasons. 

So, what's there for Washington to play for now? Most of the reasons revolve around the future. Howell can still end things on a good note and prove he can be the quarterback of the future. Considering how long the franchise has searched for an answer at that position, getting an answer to that question would be a success.

Washington is set to have several free agents next offseason. Those players will need to have solid games to show that they can be part of whatever comes next for the team. Washington could also do with seeing what it has in its youth, and now that the team is officially eliminated, the first- and second-year players could get more snaps.

There's also the hope of just ending the 2023 season on a positive note. After all, wrapping things up with a few wins feels much better than doing so with a few losses.

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