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Rams will host the most sacked QB in the NFL on Sunday

How many times will LA’s defense take down Sam Howell in Week 15?

Miami Dolphins v Washington Commanders Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images

The Los Angeles Rams are in the hunt in the NFC playoff picture and are making their final push to be one of the last seven teams standing in their conference. This weekend’s matchup against the Washington Commanders at SoFi Stadium is a must-win for Los Angeles in order to keep the team’s playoff hopes alive.

One of the factors working in the Rams’ favor is that Washington’s quarterback, Sam Howell, is by far the most sacked signal caller in the NFL this season. Coming off of a week where Aaron Donald, Kobie Turner, Byron Young, and Michael Hoecht were unable to affect Lamar Jackson on a consistent basis, the Los Angeles front has to be licking their chops in anticipation of this matchup.

Howell has been taken down an astonishing 58 times so far this season. The next closest QB is rookie Bryce Young with 48 sacks. LA’s Matthew Stafford is much further down the list at 22.

Why does Washington, Howell have a sack problem?

It’s too early to know what kind of career Howell can carve out for himself as a former fifth-round draft pick, and the young signal caller has yet to play for a full season.

Still, we’ve seen enough of Howell to have a somewhat firm idea of his strengths and weaknesses. One of those weaknesses, of course, is the frequency in which he takes sacks.

I know what you’re thinking. Why does the QB deserve blame for sacks instead of the offensive line? It’s a fair question, but generally I look at sacks as a mostly quarterback-driven stat while the quality of pass protection should be measured in pressures allowed.

Unfortunately for Howell, he’s also the most pressured passer in the NFL this year. However, when you dig deeper into the data you’ll find some underlying metrics that suggest the QB may be part of the issue here.

After applying a 50% drop back threshold (299) as part of the Pro Football Focus (PFF) tracking data, Howell ranks in the bottom-third of the league in time-to-throw (TTT) at 2.83 seconds (11th). In front of him are a batch of quarterbacks that have battled critiques surrounding their ability to read the field (Justin Fields, Josh Dobbs, Zach Wilson, and Bryce Young) along with some outliers in terms of creative playmakers (Jalen Hurts, Lamar Jackson, Patrick Mahomes, Josh Allen, Russell Wilson). Fields has the longest TTT of the crop at 3.30 seconds.

There’s also the ratio of pressures to sacks, which measures the quarterback’s ability to get risk of the ball in the face of pressure before taking a sack. This is something we’ve seen the Peyton Manning’s, Tom Brady’s, and Drew Brees’ of the world excel at, and even if you are able to get into the backfield and disrupt the play the QB is being decisive and getting rid of the ball before you can make contact with him. Howell (24.6%) ranks as the second-worst in the NFL behind only the Atlanta Falcons’ Desmond Ridder (25.0%) in PFF’s pressure to sack percentage. Just trailing Howell is the group of passers that may still be learning how to read the game at the professional level: Bryce Young (23.8%), Zack Wilson (23.6%), and Justin Fields (20.5%).

This is not good company for Howell to be in, and that’s why it’s not entirely fair to place the blame squarely on the shoulders of his offensive line.

How many times will the Rams sack Howell in Week 15?

There hasn’t been a single game this season where Washington’s OL has kept Howell off the ground, and he’s been sacked in every single outing so far.

Their season-high for sacks allowed came in a 3-37 rout against the Buffalo Bills with nine. The New York Giants and Arizona Cardinals took Howell down six times apiece. Washington’s better pass protection performances came against the Philadelphia Eagles with one and then three were allowed against each of the New England Patriots, Seattle Seahawks, and the Miami Dolphins.

The Rams have two games with four sacks—the second game versus the Cardinals and against the Green Bay Packers. They’ve only had two one-sack games against the San Francisco 49ers and Eagles, but they’ve at least sacked the opposing quarterback in every game this season.

Could the Rams break their high mark of four on the season against Howell and the Commanders, or will Howell show signs of improvement and find a way to get rid of the ball before the pass rush can hit home?