Washington Post (paywall)
It’s hard to untangle exactly why the unit has been so bad over the past four games — how much blame to give offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy vs. quarterback Sam Howell vs. the supporting cast — but it’s clear it’s not working. There’s little reason to suspect the unit will meaningfully improve over the final three games against elite defenses.
Even though Coach Ron Rivera said he benched Howell in the fourth quarter Sunday to protect his health and even though Rivera stressed that Howell will remain the starter, the move put an exclamation point on an abysmal month. Before Sunday, there were plausible reasons for the struggles on offense: The Commanders had faced tough pass defenses, and their own defense kept putting them in holes nearly impossible to dig out from.
Washington was only the seventh team in the past decade to win the first-half turnover battle by two or more and still trail by 13 or more points at halftime, according to the website TruMedia.
Last offseason, Rivera sifted through the problems that torpedoed the 2022 offense — quarterback, coordinator, line — and bet on Howell, Bieniemy and a budget line that several analysts said gave the team a “razor-thin” margin for error. At this rate, the 2023 offense probably will not finish much better than any of the five impotent versions that came before it. The unit has not finished in the top 20 in offensive points or expected points added since the departure of Kirk Cousins following the 2017 season.
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.
Washington Post (paywall)
Brissett, who hadn’t attempted a pass all season, immediately led a five-play, 67-yard touchdown drive that he capped with a 29-yard strike to Terry McLaurin. After the Commanders’ defense forced a rare three-and-out, Brissett led a second scoring march, and his three-yard touchdown pass on a fourth-down play after the two-minute warning pulled Washington within a score. The Commanders’ comeback bid came up short, but Brissett finished 8 for 10 for 124 yards.
One week after being held without a catch for only the second time in his career, McLaurin had six catches for a career-high 141 yards. He also found the end zone for the third time this season and for the first time since Week 8. McLaurin caught three passes for 93 yards after Brissett entered the game. He nearly made an incredible one-handed catch on a deep ball from Howell in the third quarter, but the officials, who missed a blatant defensive pass interference penalty on the play, ruled McLaurin didn’t have control as he hit the ground.
There’s a reason Terry McLaurin had only one available hand … pic.twitter.com/oxtYv9Jx8K— Nicki Jhabvala (@NickiJhabvala) December 17, 2023
It was another afternoon to forget...
Commanders’ failure to capitalize on turnovers
The Los Angeles Rams would have had the game well in hand early had they not shot themselves in the foot. On their first drive, for the second straight week, Sean McVay inexplicably abandoned the highly effective running plays that had shredded the defense once he got into the red zone. And for the second straight week, he had to settle for a field goal.
Then, Kyren Williams, who had his way with the Washington Commanders defense all game, served up two gift fumbles that kept hope alive for the visitors.
You know how good teams seize momentum after a turnover. Aaron Rodgers always did this. Patrick Mahomes does it. They know the defense is a little discombobulated after a sudden turnover. They go for the throat.
The Commanders don’t go for the throat. Maybe the pinkie toe. But not the throat.
After Williams’ first fumble, Antonio Gibson ran twice for two yards. Then Aaron Donald pushed a blocker into a running back to blow up the jailbreak screen. Before Washington’s defense was enjoying their first cup of Gatorade, they were trotting back onto the field.
The second post-turnover drive was even worse.
Maybe the Commanders had to be conservative after the first fumble because they were deep in their territory. But after the second one, they were close to midfield. The whole playbook was open.
They threw a short out to Gibson that went nowhere. Then Sam Howell was scrambling for his life on an incompletion. And then he was sacked. That’s right. After the big turnover, they went backward.
Oh, and then soon-to-be-former long snapper Camaron Cheeseman bounced his snap to Tress Way, giving the Rams the ball on Washington’s 15-yard line. It’s as if Williams’ fumble never happened.
Washington Post (paywall)
The Commanders released Camaron Cheeseman a day after he botched multiple snaps in a 28-20 loss at the Los Angeles Rams. The snapper had errant snaps throughout the season and came close to losing his job earlier in the year. But on Sunday, the problem proved dire as his snaps nearly led to punter Tress Way being injured and contributed to a missed extra-point attempt by kicker Joey Slye.
“It’s unfortunate because for two solid years we got some real good stuff from him,” Coach Ron Rivera said Monday. “And unfortunately this year, it was not as consistent as it needed to be.”
“I shouldn’t have put him in that position,” Cheeseman said. “Plain and simple, the ball should be in his hands; he should be able to get the ball off. It’s my job to help him, whether it’s blocking or just getting the ball back there. He should never be touched.”
Cheeseman said he hesitated with one hand instead of having both timed up on his release, causing the errant snap.
“Just bad snaps — I mean, it’s as plain and simple as that,” Cheeseman said. “You practice it so much, and you expect it to go your way, but sometimes it doesn’t. And no matter how hard you try to be perfect, it isn’t always going to go that way.”
Three of the long snappers who tried out in September — Tucker Addington, Rex Sunahara and Bradley Robinson — remain free agents. Rivera said Monday that the team has a “shortlist” of candidates to replace Cheeseman.
The Athletic (paywall)
Tours of stadiums, including the futuristic SoFi Stadium, home of the Los Angeles Rams, will help shape all aspects of the house Harris and friends eventually build in the Washington area — from the look of the building to gauging best practices for fan-friendly game day experiences (Harris gained location negotiating leverage this past week without leaving town. Any structure and scene will be a clear upgrade whenever the venue project begins).
The longer this season, the more the same applies to the team. Unlike a stadium that will not open for several years, the football fixes need immediate attention. Similar to how stadium considerations for LA’s Mediterranean climate don’t fit in the mid-Atlantic region — the translucent roof is open on three sides, allowing for cool breezes to permeate the 70,000-seat space — there’s no one-size-fits-all contention plan for NFL teams.
Washington’s latest result, a 28-20 loss to the Rams, came against an organization that remains defined by one such approach. Los Angeles took the aggressive tact of trading high draft selections for expensive star talent. That vision led to five consecutive winning seasons, two Super Bowl appearances since 2018 and a Lombardi Trophy to hoist following the 2021 season. Other teams followed.
“I do think there has been, over the last 4-6 years, (a shift) to people getting more aggressive — doing something differently, doing something less traditional,” Rams general manager Les Snead said in 2022. “This year, the snowball is a little bit bigger. We were a part of that; we just happened to do it in an out-front way and won the Super Bowl.”
Podcasts & videos
️Fresh from LaLa Land on what's become a tired script for the Commanders. Sam Howell sitting, Josh Harris' next steps, bouncing the long snapper. How the Wiz/Caps arena plans affect the Commanders. More. With @JerryBrewer (and a @JourdanRodrigue cameo). https://t.co/41Q2kxI386— Ben Standig (@BenStandig) December 18, 2023
Episode 722 - #WASvsLAR postgame. Quest for top-4 pick continues. How Cameron Cheeseman epitomizes player-personnel for Washington under Ron Rivera. Why Sam Howell must remain #Commanders' QB1. And more.— Al Galdi (@AlGaldi) December 18, 2023
I also talk #ALLCAPS, Wizards, #Hoyas, #UVA & more.https://t.co/TxvGrL09Rj
Fred’s Christmas Pranks and New York Jets Preview! | Get Loud | Washington Commanders
Craig Hoffman’s First and Ten: The marriage of Howell and Bieniemy wasn’t meant to win games?
NFC East links
The Washington Commanders and the rest of the NFL are making moves as they work their way through a season of ups and downs and news and views ...
Football fans in Washington D.C. aren’t thrilled with the Commanders sitting at 4-10, and it appears their interest has diverted elsewhere.
According to NBC Sports Washington reporter JP Finlay, the Dallas Cowboys game against the Buffalo Bills on FOX drew more viewers than the Commanders game on CBS in the D.C. area.
Sure, the Cowboys and Bills had more playoff implications, but if the Commanders want to turn their franchise around, they need to build more buzz in their own backyard.
Drew Lock and Seattle stunned Philadelphia 20-17 on Monday
Drew Lock outshines Jalen Hurts under the lights
That’s not a header you’d expect to see after this matchup. Lock said after the game he was ready to start even though Seattle never announced its starter after Geno Smith’s late activation. Lock remained the guy after starting last time out versus the San Francisco 49ers and used a late surge to outduel his MVP-candidate opponent.
Lock completed 22 of 33 passes for 208 yards, one touchdown and no picks while Hurts completed 17 of 31 passes for 143 yards, no touchdowns and two picks. Hurts also rushed for 82 yards on 13 attempts for two goal-line scores, including the infamous “tush push.”
Eagles flying backwards at the wrong time
It’s not fully panic time just yet for Philadelphia, but this result was just the latest in a series of tough goes. Perhaps the Eagles had been lucky to pull off some late wins of their own earlier in the season when they didn’t play so well.
Now they’ve played three straight NFC playoff-contending teams, losing blowouts to the top two in San Francisco and Dallas and now dropping this road game (also now 0-8 versus Pete Carroll) in Seattle.
How NFC playoff picture changes
In terms of the No. 1 seed in the NFC, the 49ers now have the chance to clinch it next week depending on certain results. They’d need these four to happen:
- Win vs. Ravens
- Eagles’ loss vs. Giants
- Cowboys’ loss vs. Dolphins
- Lions’ loss vs. Vikings
The Eagles, should they win out, would need the 49ers to now lose two of their next three games (Baltimore, Washington, Los Angeles Rams) to reclaim the top seed. They can also win the division over Dallas if they win out.
Philadelphia is officially in a rut. Nick Sirianni made the decision to swap defensive play-calling duties from Sean Desai to Matt Patricia, and the switch largely worked — at least, until the Seahawks’ final drive of significance. Despite the final numbers, Philadelphia’s run defense was improved on a per-down basis, frequently stonewalling attempts. But the consistency still wasn’t there, as evidenced by Walker’s 23-yard touchdown run, Walker’s 15-yard catch-and-run on a drive that ended in a field goal, and Lock’s 92-yard game-winning drive. Placing James Bradberry in single coverage in a Cover 1 look should have worked out, at least on paper, considering the Seahawks were short on time with no timeouts available. But it didn’t because Bradberry didn’t protect deep, highlighting a lack of situational coaching emphasis that has become too prevalent for the Eagles this season. We haven’t even gotten into Philadelphia’s offensive issues, which continued with Hurts’ two interceptions and the Eagles’ inability to consistently piece together scoring drives. The total picture isn’t a pretty one right now, and after three straight losses, it’s certainly fair to be concerned about the Eagles. They haven’t played a complete game all season and are struggling at a terrible time. They can only hope a meeting with the Cardinals (sandwiched by two dates with the Giants) ends up being the remedy they need.
Next Gen stat of the game: On his game-sealing interception, Julian Love covered 23.4 yards in 2.9 seconds from the moment Jalen Hurts released his pass to the moment Love picked it off.
NFL Research: The Seahawks’ 92-yard game-winning touchdown drive was only the second game-winning touchdown drive of 90-plus yards in the last two minutes of a game by Seattle in the Pete Carroll era (since 2010).