The Athletic (paywall)
“I’ve done everything (the) coaches ask me to do, no matter what. Even things people think I can’t do,” Robinson said. “They’re going to say I can’t catch the ball. But I’m going to continue to show that I’m a football player. I can do anything that a running back is supposed to do in the backfield. I’ll continue to show that.”
His words weren’t aimed at the Washington staff that selected him 98th in the 2022 NFL Draft and cast him as lead back, but rather at those who doubted his ability as a dual threat. NFL.com’s pre-draft analysis included, “Hands are likely to disappoint as a pass-catcher.”
Such takes require a rewrite.
Robinson has 20 receptions — on 24 targets — more than doubling the total (nine) from his rookie season, which was interrupted when he was carjacked and shot twice. He ranks high in numerous categories among running backs, including yards per catch (12.8), receiving touchdowns (three) and receiving yards (256).
Robinson deftly fielded all six of his targets from Sam Howell against Seattle, including a 51-yard catch-and-run touchdown on Washington’s opening possession. For the encore, a scrambling Howell fed Robinson for a nearly identical 48-yard reception in the third quarter. The two gains were the Commanders’ longest of the season.
On both big gains, Howell’s initial targets were unavailable. With the pass rush closing in, his eyes turned toward the left flat and found Robinson staring back.
“I knew once he put his eyes on me,” Robinson said, “he would find a way to get me the ball.”
Both plays had a streetball vibe, yet there was choreography — or at least a vibe between the two.
“That wasn’t a play call. That was me and Sam being on the same page and making a play happen,” Robinson said. “You don’t know when those situations will come in the game. You (have) to continue to work and prepare for them. … I felt like we were rewarded for it.”
Washington Post (paywall)
As a redshirt senior at Alabama in 2021, Robinson was a bell cow who also caught 35 passes for 296 yards and two touchdowns. But he didn’t have elite speed or quickness, so receiving didn’t seem as of it would be a big part of his game in the pros. NFL.com, one of the only outlets to mention pass-catching in Robinson’s scouting report, made a glancing reference in the section on his weaknesses: “Hands are likely to disappoint.”
Two years later, Robinson is one of the most productive receiving backs in the NFL. Of those with at least 15 targets, he ranks in the top 10 in a slew of receiving categories, including first in yards per reception (12.8), receptions for 20 or more yards (six) and total expected points added per reception (13.9). Robinson more than complements teammate Antonio Gibson, who played wide receiver in college, and he had a career day last week against the Seattle Seahawks with six catches for 119 yards, including a 48-yarder and a 51-yard touchdown.
“Probably so,” Robinson said when asked if teams overlooked his pass-catching ability. “But how could you overlook it when I caught for  yards in one season? [People] evaluate what [they] want to evaluate. I’m going to continue to show that I can catch the ball and I can catch the ball very well.”
This production was expected of Gibson, not of Robinson. One of the keys with Robinson is his ability to produce within the structure of the offense. Bieniemy doesn’t treat the second-year back like a star, rarely designing pass plays for him like the San Francisco 49ers might for do-it-all back Christian McCaffrey. But when Howell needs a check down, Robinson gets open. He has shown dependability, feel and explosiveness as a receiver, excelling at turning those plays into first downs. He has earned Howell’s trust.
This year in training camp, Bieniemy installed his pass-heavy West Coast scheme, and Robinson flashed better hands and route-running than even teammates expected. He had several toe-tap grabs, and running backs coach Randy Jordan said he wasn’t surprised; he had seen the potential on tape at Alabama.
Last week in Seattle seemed like the culmination of Robinson’s progress. On second and medium, Howell rolled left, looking for a check down, and Robinson slipped behind the defenders for a 51-yard score. Later, on an oddly similar play, he escaped up the left sideline for 48 more. And in the fourth quarter, Robinson shook a linebacker on an option route and turned second and 10 into a fresh set of downs.
Bullock’s Film Room
Highlighting the positive performance from running back Brian Robinson
While a lot of his production in the passing game has come on screens, he’s also shown he’s a capable receiver out of the backfield. He has some good hands that can make adjustments to off target throws, which we saw in this game.
Here we see another play where Robinson is not the primary option, but simply a checkdown option as he swings out to the flat. The idea here is to use the condensed formation with two tight ends aligned inline to bunch up the Seahawks defense before spreading them out with the passing concept. Logan Thomas runs a post route while John Bates releases behind him and runs a wheel route down the sideline. Unfortunately, the Seahawks do a good job picking up both of those two routes, but to do so, they leave Robinson uncovered in the flat.
The Seahawks get a little bit of pressure and Howell drifts backwards away from it a little bit before deciding to make his throw to Robinson. Because of that, he doesn’t really set his feet properly to make the throw, which causes it to be slightly behind Robinson. As I said, Robinson isn’t known as being the most prolific receiver out of the backfield, but this play shows that maybe he deserves more chances. Robinson sees the throw incredibly late after sneaking out to the flat, but despite that he does a great job not only locating the ball, but adjusting to it. He has to extend his left arm out and completely spin back on himself to get to the ball.
Somehow, he manages to make a very tough one-handed catch look incredibly smooth and in fact, he spins out of the catch and is able to use that momentum to burst up the sideline. Because Thomas and Bates had both run down the field, there’s a fair bit of space for him to work with and Robinson is able to turn a poor throw in the flat into a five-yard gain to keep Washington ahead of the chains.
Washington Commanders coach Ron Rivera spoke about the importance of running backs Brian Robinson Jr. and Antonio Gibson being valuable both as rushers and pass-catching options.
Robinson’s rookie year was, of course, altered rather drastically when he was the victim of a gunshot in an attempted robbery just weeks before the season began. Fully healthy in 2023, the former third-round pick has rushed for 485 yards, while averaging four yards per carry. He’s also caught 20 passes for 256 yards. In total, Robinson has eight touchdowns in his second season with the Commanders.
Gibson may never top the production that he put up in his first two NFL seasons, but has been productive when given opportunities in Bieniemy’s offense this season. He only has 30 carries, but is averaging 4.6 yards per carry when asked to rush this season. Gibson also has 30 catches for 269 yards and two receiving touchdowns in 2023.
3. Their defense is struggling.
Last year, the Giants’ defense was the catalyst that helped propel them to the playoffs. Flash forward to now, and the unit is not quite as intimidating to their opponents.
Things are looking questionable for what once was a solid Giants defense after they let up 640 yards to the Cowboys last week, the second most of any team this season, falling only behind the Denver Broncos’ 70-20 loss to the Miami Dolphins that resulted in 726 allowed yards.
For an offense like that of the Commanders, which seems to be finding its stride, it could be another opportunity to put up strong numbers. Washington had one of its worst performances a month ago during its first matchup with New York because of Wink Martindale’s blitz-heavy system, but New York’s lack of personnel could be an advantage in the rematch.
Let’s start with the cornerbacks. On the left, Adoree’ Jackson did not participate on Wednesday after being diagnosed with a concussion at the cornerback position. And things could be better on the line with them missing Kayvon Thibodeaux, who also didn’t practice Wednesday with a concussion.
These injuries should create more obstacles for a defense that is already struggling to contain opposing offenses. The Giants are 27th in yards per game and 29th in points allowed. The Commanders will need to get past the Giants’ pass-rush, which has generated the seventh-most sacks in the NFL, but if they can, there should be chances to move down the field with ease.
Washington has played its share of good quarterbacks this season but has also played some who’ve struggled. Yet, in seven of the 10 games so far, opposing quarterbacks have had at least two touchdown passes against the Commanders. Also, five quarterbacks have had their best games against Washington, while two others have had their second-most yardage against the Commanders.
There are a lot of reasons for Washington’s defensive struggles. Regardless, defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio hasn’t provided answers.
This week, the Commanders host the Giants in a rematch from Week 7. The quarterback this week is undrafted rookie Tommy DeVito. Surely, the Commanders can slow down DeVito. Right?
Here’s a look at what opposing quarterbacks have done against Washington’s defense this season.
Sam Howell leads all NFL quarterbacks with 2,783 passing yards. Sam Howell leads all NFL quarterbacks with 264 completions. Sam Howell leads all NFL quarterbacks with 397 pass attempts. Sam Howell, objectively, is balling
3) Washington’s offense ranks first in the league in passing attempts. Washington’s offense ranks last in the league in rushing attempts. Objectively, Washington passes a ton and could use to run the ball a bit more.
4) The Giants’ starting quarterback for Sunday’s matchup at FedEx Field will be Tommy DeVito, an undrafted rookie free agent. DeVito started last week against the Cowboys and completed 56% of his passes for 86 yards with two touchdowns against one interception. He was sacked five times.
5) The Giants have started three quarterbacks this season (Daniel Jones, Tyrod Taylor, DeVito) and have the worst offense in the NFL. New York averages about 160 yards-per-game and 11.8 points-per-game, both last in the NFL.
6) The Commanders defense gives up 27.4 points-per-game (31st). The Commanders defense ranks 29th in yards allowed-per-game, giving up about 391 yards-per-game. So at least they’re consistent?
7) Giving up explosive plays is the biggest problem for the Commanders defense. In the last two games, Jack Del Rio’s group has given up touchdowns of 60+ yards, and Washington has allowed a league-high 12 touchdowns from outside the red zone.
Burgundy & Gold Report
Howell currently leads the NFL with 788 passing yards and 6 touchdown passes in the fourth quarter. He has the ninth highest QBR in the fourth quarter (2nd in sacks taken) and has gained national attention for his play.
Howell is the only quarterback in NFL history to throw for over 2,900 yards, rush 200+ yards and have a a 65% completion percentage within his first 11 career games. He also leads the NFL with completions (264) and is T-3rd in touchdowns with 17.
Per Pro Football Focus Howell leads the NFL with 24 big-time throws this season. This isn’t a well known statistic or something often mentioned when discussing NFL quarterbacks. It is a glimpse however, into Howell’s ability to create under pressure and put the team on his back, with many of his big time throws occuring in the 4th quarter.
Podcasts & videos
Albert Breer tells Grant & Danny that Bill Belichick coming to DC ‘makes sense for a lot of reasons’
Episode 701 - In-depth #Commanders discussion off comments from Ron Rivera & Sam Howell, including:— Al Galdi (@AlGaldi) November 16, 2023
- the truth about Jon Allen & Daron Payne this season
- statistical deep dive on Sam
- how BRob & AG have been 2 of the best pass-catching RBs in the NFLhttps://t.co/4Q9GmjkkGQ
The PFF NFL Pod guys (me and Steve!) and Joe Banner talked Washington Commanders in this team-building episode— Sam Monson (@PFF_Sam) November 16, 2023
Do they have the QB? Are they gonna clean house? How will the new owner start the project?
Here's the link: https://t.co/yTupKjdd38
Check out the top moments from the Washington Commanders’ first practice of the week.
NFC East links
Big Blue View
This matchup looks quite different from the last one
If the Giants have any shot of winning another game this season, they’ll need their defense to carry them. In the first Commanders game, they showed that they could possibly be capable of that.
Is there any way the Giants’ defense can go 2-for-2 against Washington?
Pray for the pass
One of the reasons the Giants won the first matchup with Washington was the Commanders’ poor offensive game plan. To that point, the Giants had allowed 5.7 yards per carry on all first-half runs, including 7.1 YPC on first down. Rather than taking advantage of that, Washington ran the ball just seven times the entire first half.
Fortunately for the Giants, Washington has followed this trend the entire season. They rank last in the NFL in first-half run rate at just 28.4%. The three teams directly above them are Cincinnati, Miami, and Kansas City — three teams with elite passing offenses and/or quarterbacks. Though Sam Howell has played well recently, the Commanders’ inability to mix it up earlier in the game makes their team more predictable.
James Harrison and Roger Goodell represent the perfect example of a workplace dynamic going to shit. Employee severely breaks the rules by repeatedly engaging in illegal hits. Bossman lays down the punishment of hefty fines. Leaving the employee to respond with an extremely pointed threat that he would rather let the commissioner burn than take the opportunity to piss on him to put out the flames. And that’s just one of the many menacing remarks. In other words, it’s a sure-fire recipe for beef.
Through 10 games, the Giants have allowed the most rushing yards (729), the highest YPC average (5.5), the most rushing touchdowns (11), and the fifth-highest EPA per rush (0.0863) in the first half. If the Commanders avoid the ground game early, their loss is the Giants’ gain. This is particularly important because Washington has PFF’s 12th-rated run-blocking offensive line.
Big Blue View
What’s going on with Washington right now?
Ed: In the six games surrounding Washington’s 14-7 loss to the Giants, the Commanders have averaged 23.6 points per game. What’s been the difference?
LASkin: The Giants-Commanders game was a wakeup call. Before that game, Sam Howell was on pace to set a new NFL record for quarterback sacks. There was a lot of discussion about how much of the problem was the offensive line versus Howell’s tendency to hold the ball too long versus Eric Bieniemy’s play calling. The game with the Giants showed the shortcomings of all three, but it ended debate about the line’s shortcomings. The poor line calls and inadequate adjustments by the linemen in picking up blitzes where an overwhelming problem in that game.
Howell was sacked an average of 5.0 times per game through the Giants game but has been sacked an average of only 2.3 times since. What’s different mostly is Howell’s development and the play calling. Howell is getting the ball out much faster and is less reluctant to throw it away when nobody is open. His progressions have been crisper and more decisive, and he has learned to use the checkdown very effectively when the other receivers are covered. Also, Bieniemy’s play calling has helped, with many more short, quick pass plays that help cover up the OL’s problems. It’s too late to fix the line this year, and in fact the OL hasn’t played that much better after replacing the C and LG due to injuries.
I’m looking forward to seeing whether they play better this time around against the Giants.
NFL league links
Speaking on the ”Pardon My Take” podcast, Thompson talked about her experience as a sideline reporter and the conversations they have with coaches and players, primarily just before or right after halftime. Typically before the game starts, the sideline reporter will give any details coaches told them, but she sometimes made up what they say.
“I’ve said this before, so I haven’t been fired for saying it, but I’ll say it again,” Thompson said. “I would make up the report sometimes because, A, the coach wouldn’t come out at halftime or it was too late and I was like, I didn’t want to screw up the report, so I was like, “I’m just gonna make this up.’”
She then explained there was no harm in anything she would say to audiences.
“No coach is gonna get mad if I say, ‘Hey, we need to stop hurting ourselves, we need to be better on third down, we need to stop turning the ball over and do a better job of getting off the field,’” she continued. “Like, they’re not gonna correct me on that. I’m like it’s fine, I’ll just make up the report.”
Several reporters criticized Thompson’s admission of giving fake reports, with people saying it hurts the credibility of the job and trust with coaches.
“Young reporters: This is not normal or ethical,” ESPN reporter Molly McGrath said. “Coaches and players trust us with sensitive information, and if they know that you’re dishonest and don’t take your role seriously, you’ve lost all trust and credibility.”
#13 Sam Howell
2023 stats: 10 games | 66.5 pct | 2,783 pass yds | 7.0 ypa | 17 pass TD | 9 INT | 174 rush yds | 1 rush TD | 5 fumbles
The Commanders are 1-2 in their last three games, but if you attempted to guess the outcomes based on Howell’s stat lines in each of those contests, you’d have reason to believe they went 2-1 or even 3-0. He’s been remarkably sharp of late, with a passer rating of 103.0 in the last three weeks. In fact, his worst statistical showing came in the one game Washington won (Week 9 over New England). So, what happened against Seattle on Sunday? Well, Howell struck early with a touchdown pass to Brian Robinson Jr., encountered difficulty for the next two quarters, then rediscovered his out-of-structure magic in the final quarter and a half, completing 14 of his final 23 passes for 179 yards and two touchdowns. He nearly helped the Commanders reach overtime, thanks to his touchdown strike delivered over the middle of the field to Dyami Brown, but Washington’s defense couldn’t prevent Seattle from reaching field goal range for the game-winning kick. Howell is playing quality football right now, and he deserves more credit than Washington’s record suggests.