Daily Press (Sunday)

Commanders try to fix O-line issues vs. Eagles

- By Stephen Whyno

Sam Howell knows he could name everyone along the Philadelph­ia Eagles’ defensive front after he and the Washington Commanders took plenty of punishment from them earlier this season.

“We’ll definitely have our hands full,” Howell said.

With Eagles quarterbac­k Jalen Hurts expected to play through a left knee injury, his teammates on the defensive side of the ball should be expected to ratchet up the pressure on Howell when the NFC East rivals meet Sunday at Washington. Philadelph­ia (6-1) has the second-most sacks in the NFL, and Howell is the most-sacked QB in the league. That combinatio­n could make it a long afternoon for the Commanders (3-4).

In this situation last year at FedEx Field, the Eagles sacked Carson Wentz nine times, forced two fumbles and recovered one of them. Washington’s offensive line is arguably worse, Howell is not as experience­d at picking up blitzes and Philadelph­ia comes in with the NFL’s top defense against the run.

“(We) talk about every week of, ‘You’ve got to earn the right to rush the passer,’ ” Eagles defensive coordinato­r Sean Desai said. “The way to earn the right is to knock the run out. That’s a core philosophy of what (other coaches) believe in, what I believe in, what we believe in as a defense.”

Washington used to believe in a balanced offense, an identity that protected Howell and used the running back combinatio­n of Brian Robinson Jr. and Antonio Gibson to keep opponents off balance. That changed last weekend at the New York Giants, when Howell dropped back to pass 52 times compared to 19 rushing attempts in a lackluster 14-7 loss.

Coach Ron Rivera, in his fourth season but his first under new owners who will decide who runs football operations beyond this year, said he was fine with what the offense was trying because it’s

Note: Philadelph­ia (6-1) at Washington (3-4)


WVBT all about developing Howell as a young quarterbac­k.

But there’s a delicate balance in that since Howell is taking so many hits and each one carries another risk of injury. He’s also trying to play the position without thinking too much about being sacked — even though that’s easier said than done after it happened six times against the Giants.

“The sack problem is definitely an issue and we want to try to avoid that and try to limit those numbers,” said Howell, who’s going into his eighth pro start. “But at the same time, I still want to go out there and play how I’m coached to play and still keep my eyes downfield and be able to locate those guys and not be too worried about the rush.”

The rush also isn’t the only threat the Eagles’ defense provides, and their stingy (but banged-up) secondary got even deeper this week after the trade with Tennessee for two-time All-Pro safety Kevin Byard.

Changes on the line

Rivera said he and his staff are considerin­g changes along the offensive line given the sack problem and aren’t ruling out changing the starting five.

“I don’t think I’m going to take anything off the table,” Rivera said.

Already a new left guard was expected after Saahdiq Charles aggravated a calf injury against the Giants. Veteran interior lineman Tyler Larsen could have a bigger role moving forward in an effort to keep Howell as upright as possible.

Hurts played the second half of Philadelph­ia’s victory over Miami with a brace on his left knee, and he hasn’t been himself all season. This week, he downplayed the injury by saying he’s “just taking it day by day.”

 ?? When: ?? 1 p.m. today
When: 1 p.m. today

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from United States