The Los Angeles Rams’ defensive line is not the most formidable the Washington Commanders have faced this season. With 29 sacks through 13 games, they haven’t been nearly as productive as the Philadelphia Eagles, Buffalo Bills or Dallas Cowboys.
None of those defensive fronts have Aaron Donald in the lineup, though.
“One of the greatest to ever do it,” Jonathan Allen said after Wednesday’s practice.
Donald might be having a quieter season than what the nine-time Pro Bowler and seven-time First Team All-Pro is used to in his career, but don’t get it twisted; the future Hall of Famer is going to be one of the Commanders’ biggest obstacles when they travel to Los Angeles this weekend. And everyone, player and coach alike, is aware of how important it will be to have an answer for him.
“You have to pay close attention to him because he can wreck a game,” said assistant head coach/offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy. “I’ve been in one of those [games] where he’s made a lot of hay, and he forces you to keep focus on him. But it’s always fun. It’s always a unique challenge.”
Washington Post (paywall)
Washington was one of five teams with four wins going into Week 14. And because it had a late bye, Washington was a game ahead of the competition for the fourth spot in the 2024 NFL draft. Last weekend, the other teams with four wins — the New York Jets, Chicago Bears, Tennessee Titans and New York Giants — all pulled off upset victories, leaving the Commanders in possession of that coveted pick, for now.
Donald’s 70 pressures
In the 10th season of his career, defensive tackle Aaron Donald remains a force on the line, with 70 total pressures and a 22.1 percent win rate, both tops among interior linemen, according to Pro Football Focus. He notched eight pressures in each of the Rams’ past two games, a win over the Cleveland Brown in Week 13 and an overtime loss to the Baltimore Ravens in Week 14.
102.2 passer rating since Week 11
After a slow start and injuries to his hip and thumb, quarterback Matthew Stafford has turned around his season and jump-started the Rams’ offense. Since the team’s bye in Week 10, he’s recorded a 102.2 passer rating (sixth among quarterbacks in that span) and thrown 11 touchdowns and two interceptions. He’s also launched 16 completions of 20 yards or more, the fourth-most among quarterbacks in the past four weeks.
The Commanders releasing Johnson isn’t necessarily the biggest surprise. Since signing with Washington as an undrafted free agent in 2018, Johnson has been released multiple times and spent time on the practice squad. However, he just signed a two-year extension in March after playing well down the stretch in 2022.
Johnson ends his time in Washington appearing in 66 games with eight starts. He recorded 96 tackles and one interception. Johnson also returned 38 kickoffs, averaging 22.5 yards per return.
The chance to land a young player like Kelly, who Washington liked in the pre-draft process last offseason, was an opportunity the Commanders couldn’t afford to pass up. The 6-foot-0, 193-pounder from Stanford was a fifth-round pick of the Baltimore Ravens in the 2023 NFL draft but was waived during final cuts in August.
Kelly was claimed by Seattle, where he appeared in five games before being waived again on Nov. 11. That’s when the Packers claimed him, and he appeared in one game for Green Bay. In total, the rookie has appeared in six games this season but has played only two defensive snaps. Most of his action came on special teams.
During his time at Stanford, Kelly was a three-year starter and two-time second-team All-Pac 12 selection.
The Commanders have a connection to Kelly. Quarterbacks coach Tavita. Pritchard was with Kelly for all four of his seasons at Stanford, where he served as the offensive coordinator.
The Washington Commanders have seen impressive growth from running Brian Robinson Jr. in his second season.
While Robinson has grown into a three-down back with the ability to run, catch, and protect his quarterback, he’s become a player the team can now rely on to help develop Sam Howell as well.
As the year has progressed and Robinson has proven himself a reliable ball carrier and receiver, his ability to help give Howell that extra half-second or become an outlet receiver is something that doesn’t always get recorded in the stat book but is invaluable to his, his quarterback’s, and even his play-callers growth in teh season.
“I think it’s impacted my growth process a lot,” Bieniemy said of Robinson’s evolution within the offense. “But also too, I think we’ve helped one another. People like to put people in certain categories, he’s a running back, he just runs the ball now....(But) he’s become a guy that Sam can count on. He’s made tremendous plays, not only in the pass game as a receiver, he’s made some huge plays in the run game, but also too, he’s done a heck of a job of stepping up in the pocket and knocking the hell out of some blitzing backers. So, I love the growth that he has shown, but also too, he’s helped me to grow because there’s certain things that I know that I got to do a better job of highlighting of him and just showing his strengths more.”
Robinson’s growth this season may have to wait another week unfortunately as he battles back from a hamstring injury that has cost him all or part of every practice this week.
Podcasts & videos
“Unfinished Business in D.C.” Kendall Fuller is our Next Man Up | Washington Commanders
Episode 13 of @rg3andtheones with SLINGIN’ SAMMY HOWELL is LIVE. @Sam7Howell— Robert Griffin III (@RGIII) December 14, 2023
-Why he is the Franchise QB
-Getting Terry McLaurin the ball more #WPMOYChallenge
-Is Eric Bieniemy a Head Coach?
-Toney offsides and Mahomes reaction
-Sam’s Beef with Beef
-Being one of few… pic.twitter.com/GgwTm9w1zG
Episode 720 - Lost in the Caps & Wiz going to Virginia is that the likelihood of the #Commanders' next stadium being in D.C. just went up. A lot. I discuss that & more off the big news.— Al Galdi (@AlGaldi) December 14, 2023
I also talk Terrell Burgess! & Sam Howell on the state of his season.https://t.co/AYDIeJYOQY
It’s Gonna Be A MOVIE! | Command Center | Washington Commanders
Check out the top photos of the Washington Commanders during their second day of prep for the Los Angeles Rams.
NFL league links
Outlawing the ‘hip-drop’ tackle next season is going to wildly change the NFL. And not for the better
Roger Goodell has spoken and he is going to put defensive players in a near impossible situation
Tackling another human being is not easy. A good little-league coach teaches a step-by-step approach of facemask up, chest-to-chest contact, wrap, grab cloth, and drive. However, a live ball carrier does not stand still. In order to tackle fully equipped ball carriers who sprint, slide, spin and shake, coaches usually instruct players to do their best to get their pad level low, wrap and head to the outside. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell wants to add one more caveat: No slipping allowed. If a player falls off of an opposing player’s body and still makes the play on a lower part, that is known as the infamous “hip-drop tackle.”
During Goodell’s Wednesday press conference at the league ownership meetings he addressed what is being viewed as dangerous play. Judging from his own words, NFL defenders will need to be ready to let go of ball carriers in a split second come 2024.
For the commissioner to voice that strong of an opinion during league ownership meetings, defensive position coaches had better start putting drills together for minicamp that will get players ready for the change. Also, A.J. Brown is about to lead the NFL yards-after-contact because no poor cornerback is going to be able to bring him down without slipping.
When the NFL banned the horse-collar tackle in 2005, that was done in the midst of great protest. The job of a defender is to get the offensive player down to the ground. If it requires snatching a player from behind the shoulder pads, then so be it.
It has been 18 years since that rule was put into place, and these days a fight will start over a blatant horse-collar tackle. The NFL claims it has data that shows injuries are 25 times more likely when a player is taken down by a hip-drop tackle.
Society may be less meat-headed about football in 2023 than it was in 2005, but this potential rule change feels extreme. It will leave defenders with zero room for error when attempting one of the most essential acts of the sport — tackling. Without that aspect of the game, football would not be entertaining enough to dominate the television ratings that way that it does currently.
The NFL Is Finally Being Smart And Looking At Changing The Most Asinine Rule In All Of Sports - The Touchback Fumble Rule
Finally. I was waiting for this to finally get studied, changed, reviewed, whatever the hell you want to call step 1. There might not be something that people argue about more than whether or not the fumble out of the end zone should be a turnover. I think it’s stupid. At the same time it’s dumb to just give the offense the ball back at the 1 or whatever and act like nothing happened. It’s why there should be a penalty. Ball where the fumble was plus a 5 or 10 yard penalty.
NFL executive Troy Vincent says at the league meeting, among other things, that the league will take a look at plays where the player fumbles through the end zone(!).— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) December 13, 2023
Is it too punitive? “Do we need to give them a chance again?”
It will be studied this offseason.
It just never made sense to be a turnover in this scenario. No one recovers it, why does it go over to the defense? The logical argument is it doesn’t happen any other time the ball bounces out of bounds, even if the end zone is no-mans land. But are you really telling me there’s a difference between fumbling at the 1 inch line and at the pylon? No. There shouldn’t be a turnover in that scenario. Again, 5-yard penalty or something along those lines is what would make sense.
Raiders owner Mark Davis was caught in utter disbelief at his team’s domination over the Los Angeles Chargers on Thursday night.
After Raiders cornerback Jack Jones intercepted Chargers QB Easton Stick’s pass for a touchdown, making the score 63-7, Davis was seen hilariously shocked, especially since his team lost 3-0 to the Vikings just last week.
What made the pick-6 even more shocking was that the Raiders defense had just recovered a fumble for a touchdown in the last drive, with defensive tackle John Jenkins running joyfully into the end zone.