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Daily Slop - 20 Dec 23: Jay Gruden: “I’d still stick with Sam”

A collection of articles, podcasts & tweets from around the web to keep you in touch with the Commanders, the NFC East and the NFL in general

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Washington Commanders v Dallas Cowboys Photo by Ron Jenkins/Getty Images

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The Athletic (paywall)

2024 NFL Draft order projections: What are the biggest needs for teams in the top 10?

4. Washington Commanders

Top needs: QB, OT

Washington needs a new quarterback and, frankly, this is the year to find one. The Commanders (who may also have a new coaching/front-office regime in 2024) definitely have other needs. But if they land at four, and miss on the top two QBs, there are still other passers in this class worth exploring — from Jayden Daniels to J.J. McCarthy and beyond.

However, with five picks in the top 100, Washington should be targeting the No. 1 or No. 2 slot via trade this spring.


Bullock’s Film Room (subscription)

Sam Howell struggles against the Rams

Breaking down quarterback Sam Howell’s performance in the loss to the Rams

The statline on its own is bad, but for some context, it was season lows on completed passes (11), completion percentage (42%), yards (102) and average yards per pass attempt (3.9). While he had the four interception performance against the Bills and three interceptions against the Giants, I think this game was probably his worst of his NFL career to date. He never looked comfortable and struggled to get into rhythm. One of Howell’s strengths this year has been generally getting to the correct receiver, just sometimes not quite fast enough. In this game, he frequently missed open targets.

There were far too many...failed execution plays in this game from Howell and many of them could have resulted in more interceptions.

Here, the Rams bring a safety down in the box to fake a blitz, but actually bail out to a Tampa-2 coverage. Howell sees the safety down low and makes a late signal to McLaurin to send him on a go route down the sideline as he believes he has one-on-one coverage. The Rams fool him a little bit here because it’s not one-on-one, they’re playing Tampa-2, but there is a window in Tampa-2 between the cornerback and the safety known as the honey hole. It’s called that because much like harvesting honey from a beehive, there’s a sweet reward if you can make it work, but it can sting if you get it wrong.

Howell absolutely has the arm talent to drive the ball into that honey hole and hit McLaurin between the underneath cornerback and the safety over the top. However, he anticipates the pressure coming off the right side not being picked up by his protection. Instead of trusting the protection to hold up and fully stepping into his throw, Howell leans back and falls away from the throw instead of fully stepping into it. The protection held up just fine and gave him plenty of room, but for whatever reason, he didn’t trust it and because of that, he wasn’t able to fully drive the ball the way he is capable of doing. This caused the ball to lack the required velocity, allowing both the cornerback and the safety to get across and close of the hole shot to McLaurin. The corner attempted to make the interception after working hard to sink back underneath it, but he probably took away the easier interception from the safety who drove down on it from deep.

It was a very disappointing performance overall from Howell and one that is concerning as we approach an offseason with a likely new regime and a possible top five pick. He appeared to take a few backwards steps in this game, missing some of the layup throws that he typically would make, either via a bad process that meant he never saw them or just a poorly executed throw. He put the ball in danger far too much in this game and was probably deserving of being benched for the number of turnover-worthy plays.


Washington Times (subscription)

LOVERRO: After lost opportunities, Commanders’ season reduced to bad football and coaching

“We’re just going to go and evaluate,” Rivera told reporters after Sunday’s loss. “One thing I thought we did pretty well at times is that we ran the ball … if you run it efficiently, it helps and gives you an opportunity to do some different things.”

There it is. Opportunity. It’s been like a greased pig for this football team. It’s there, they can see it, but they just can’t get their hands on it.

Jacoby Brissett got his hands firmly around the opportunity he was given Sunday when the backup quarterback took over for benched starter Sam Howell. Brissett completed 8 of 10 passes for 124 yards and two touchdowns, nearly pulling off a remarkable comeback.

He didn’t get much help from the coaches — the same ones who kept him on the bench all season.

Washington took nearly three minutes to score on a first and goal against the Rams, with penalties and play calling wasting valuable time. By the time the Commanders scored and tried an onside kick, there was just 1:46, and a Rams first down sealed the game for Los Angeles.

Maybe by that point, new owner Harris was pointing across the field at Sean McVay on the Rams sideline and asking, “So we once had him?”

Instead of McVay, the Commanders have a coach who traded up for a long snapper in the 2021 draft who seems to have caught Steve Sax disease and can’t consistently snap the ball long, which is kind of the point of the position. He nearly cost the team its most valuable player, punter Tress Way, with one bungled snap and then cost them an extra point on another.

When this problem came up earlier this year, Rivera tried out several other long snappers but decided to stay with Camaron Cheeseman. After all, how foolish would he look if he cut a typically undrafted position player after moving up in the draft to select him?

This foolish — he cut Cheeseman Monday.

Rivera made another foolish commitment after last season, handing Howell the starter’s job and dedicating this season to developing the young quarterback. That meant a wasted year for players like receiver Terry McLaurin who might have flourished under Brissett at quarterback, based on what we witnessed Sunday.


Riggo’s Rag

Ron Rivera’s quarterback confusion is symbolic end to Commanders tenure

It’s been a constant stream of failed quarterbacks since Rivera took charge almost four seasons ago. Howell doesn’t quite fall into that category yet, but the coach’s confidence has waned significantly after boldly claiming the Commanders had found their guy just a few short weeks ago.

Rivera’s evaluation of quarterbacks - or lack thereof - is the common denominator in his failings as a head coach. Cam Newton was a gift from the football Gods at No. 1 overall in the 2011 NFL Draft. Nothing else came close to cutting the mustard.

When any new regime takes charge, this is the first and biggest conundrum to solve. But suspect free-agent signings, a trade for Carson Wentz that blew up in his face, and leaving it too late with Howell during his rookie development all contributed to his demise in Washington.

Rivera basically stated that if the Commanders were in playoff contention, Brissett would be the QB1 this weekend. Washington isn’t playing for much else other than pride. Therefore, giving the young guy reps in the hope he can bounce back will be the course of action.

One expects the leash to tighten around Howell’s production at the New York Jets. He’s not been playing well of late. Rivera is desperate to leave on a high. That is a dangerous combination.


Commanders Wire

Jay Gruden thinks Sam Howell should remain the Commanders starting quarterback

What did Gruden think of Rivera benching Howell and going to Brissett?

“That was a unique deal, but at the end of the day, I think he probably made the right choice because Jacoby came in there and played really well and moved the ball and made some big-time throws,” Gruden said per Lou DiPietro of Audacy.

“Sam wasn’t getting hit that much, so I don’t think it was to protect him; I think it was for a spark, something that they needed. I think the interception probably drove Ron a little crazy, although he did have a nice touchdown drive two drives before that, so it was weird. The way Sam’s been playing and laying it on the line for the team, I don’t know if Sam really deserved that, but, you know, when you’re trying to win a game, and you feel like your team needs a spark, then maybe Jacoby’s had a couple of good weeks of practice, and they wanted to see what he could do.”

Rivera made it clear after the game that Howell remains the starting quarterback.

Gruden, who has praised Howell throughout the season, believes that’s the right call.

“I still stick with Sam,” Gruden said. “He’s been your starter, and I hate to say that the reason why they’ve lost so many in a row is because of Sam because Sam is the reason why they’ve been close in a lot of these games. For the most part, they’ve been competitive on offense because of Sam and his ability to move and make some plays, so I think you have to go back to Sam, personally.”What did Gruden think of Rivera benching Howell and going to Brissett?

“That was a unique deal, but at the end of the day, I think he probably made the right choice because Jacoby came in there and played really well and moved the ball and made some big-time throws,” Gruden said per Lou DiPietro of Audacy.

“Sam wasn’t getting hit that much, so I don’t think it was to protect him; I think it was for a spark, something that they needed. I think the interception probably drove Ron a little crazy, although he did have a nice touchdown drive two drives before that, so it was weird. The way Sam’s been playing and laying it on the line for the team, I don’t know if Sam really deserved that, but, you know, when you’re trying to win a game, and you feel like your team needs a spark, then maybe Jacoby’s had a couple of good weeks of practice, and they wanted to see what he could do.”

Rivera made it clear after the game that Howell remains the starting quarterback.

Gruden, who has praised Howell throughout the season, believes that’s the right call.

“I still stick with Sam,” Gruden said. “He’s been your starter, and I hate to say that the reason why they’ve lost so many in a row is because of Sam because Sam is the reason why they’ve been close in a lot of these games. For the most part, they’ve been competitive on offense because of Sam and his ability to move and make some plays, so I think you have to go back to Sam, personally.”


Commanders.com

Three things to watch in Washington’s final three games

It looked like Washington’s offense was about to hit its stride about a month ago against the Seattle Seahawks. With Howell tossing three touchdowns and throwing for 312 yards, the unit had put the team in position to force overtime before the Seahawks got in range for a game-winning field goal.

Since then, the offense has not performed up to that level, partially because the Commanders have gone against better defenses. They have failed to surpass 300 yards in the last two weeks, including 297 against the Rams.

The Commanders’ toughest tests will be in the final stretch against the Jets, 49ers and Cowboys with the final two competing for the No. 1 seed in the NFC playoffs. Some of the improvements will center around Howell and whether he can prove himself against better competition. That alone hasn’t always led to wins for the Commanders, but the offense’s best days have unsurprisingly come when he’s in a groove.

But Commanders’ offense as a whole can be better. In the last three games, the unit is tied for 25th first downs per game, 17th in third-down conversion rate (37.21%) and tied for 24th in points. Against the Rams, Washington had four punts and two turnovers on down before finally getting in the end zone in the third quarter.

If Washington has any hope of getting a win in the last three weeks, it must find ways to stay on the field for longer and finish drives. The Commanders’ offense only ran 58 plays against the Rams, and that simply is not going to cut it against the slate of opponents Washington has to close out the year.


Podcasts & videos

BMitch & Finlay: Nicki Jhabvala agrees Sam Howell benching just another inconsistency from Ron Rivera



Hoffman Show: Has your perspective on Commanders QB Sam Howell changed?



Brissett might be starting if Washington was in the playoff mix | Trap or Dive Podcast


NFC East links

Pro Football Talk

Jason Kelce blames himself for penalty: They’ve been warning me for years

When Eagles center Jason Kelce was called for a false start just before his team appeared set to pick up an easy “tush push” first down, there were plenty of complaints that it was a bad call. But after the game, Kelce offered no such complaints.

Kelce said that he has been warned many times not to move the ball forward before snapping it, and this time the officials stopped with the warnings and threw the flag.

“They’ve been warning me of that for years,” Kelce said. “I had a tendency to do that in the past so they’ve definitely warned me before. I’ve got to be smarter, especially in that situation.”

Kelce said that because it was third-and-inches, the officials weren’t going to tolerate him moving the ball forward at all, as that would be basically moving the ball across the line to gain. Kelce thinks that if it hadn’t been such a short-yardage situation, the officials would have let it go.

“I think if that’s a full yard to gain, probably not as much, but because it was so short, if I move it forward at all it’s going to be called, and I’ve just got to be smarter than that,” Kelce said.


Washington Post (paywall)

The Eagles don’t look anything like a Super Bowl contender

The Philadelphia Eagles are spiraling downward, a trend that continued with Monday night’s 20-17 loss to the Seattle Seahawks. It was the third straight loss for the reigning NFC champions, and it left them a game behind the San Francisco 49ers for the best record in the conference and tied with the Dallas Cowboys for the NFC East lead heading into Week 16. Betting markets now have the Eagles as a distant second behind the 49ers to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl, but even that might be too favorable. At this point, it is hard to take the Eagles seriously as a Super Bowl contender.

This shouldn’t be terribly surprising; cracks were showing in the foundation as far back as Week 2, when the Eagles were 2-0 en route to a 5-0 start. They opened the season with one-score wins over the New England Patriots and Minnesota Vikings, yet you could argue those wins were earned through good fortune more than solid play, a pattern that continued deep into the season — until it didn’t.

And now, when you compare the Eagles with other title contenders, they seem clearly lacking. For example, the Miami Dolphins, like the Eagles, are 10-4, but Miami has a point differential of plus-147. The Cowboys are 10-4, with a plus-167 point differential. The Detroit Lions are 10-4 with a positive 51-point differential. The 49ers are one game better than Philadelphia but have outscored opponents by a whopping 191 points. The 11-win Baltimore Ravens have scored 159 more points than their opponents. The Eagles, on the other hand, have managed just 18 more points than their opponents, a total we would expect through 14 games from a 7-7 team, not one with double-digit wins.


Bleeding Green Nation

Nick Sirianni explains unexpected Eagles defensive coordinator change

The Eagles head coach spoke to reporters following their Week 15 loss to the Seahawks, and addressed how they move forward from their third straight loss.

On giving the defense to Matt Patricia

“I made the decision. I did what I thought I needed to do with the best interest of the football team. I didn’t feel like — made some adjustments there, I didn’t feel like we were playing well enough and coaching well enough on defense, so I made an adjustment.”

Sirianni went on to explain that he made the decision to give Sean Desai’s responsibilities to Matt Patricia sometime in the middle of the week, right when they started game-planning.

“It was a tough decision to be able to do this, but, again, I did what I felt was best for our football team. We’re always making adjustments, and that’s what I did.”

The head coach also clarified that Patricia is getting the final say on the defense now.

He also noted that despite the game on Monday night, he doesn’t plan on making any other coaching changes.

When asked about Desai’s role with the team now that Patricia is in charge of the defense, Sirianni said that it is a collaborative effort.

“As disappointed as Sean [Desai] was, I think he handled himself like a true pro, and we know that Sean can still be helpful to this football team because he still has a bright mind.”

The head coach went on to say that when he listened in on the defense, Desai and Patricia were communicating back and forth, similar to how the pair communicated when the roles were reversed.

Sirianni admitted that he knows there’s going to be scrutiny around his decision, but in his role as head coach, he has to do anything he can to help the football team succeed. He knows it’s not typical to make that kind of adjustment as a 10-3 team, but he said it was similar to what he did in 2021 when he gave up the offensive play-calling to Shane Steichen.

When he made the decision to give the responsibilities to Patricia, he did speak to the player council to let them know, and one reason he didn’t talk to reporters about it, is because he wanted to make sure the players knew about the change first. Sirianni also noted that divulging that information would’ve been a competitive disadvantage.


Blogging the Boys

A handful of stats reveal the totality of the Cowboys’ failure against the Bills

Sunday was very not good for the Dallas Cowboys.

Dak Prescott had a horrific game. Things were not helped by the loss of Zack Martin in the game, which led to the pressure on Prescott being dialed up even more and him being sacked three times. But his accuracy was very off. He would throw an interception late, but repeatedly he would almost get picked on bad throws. It could have been much worse. On one series, he threw three consecutive incomplete passes, and that was just more illustration of how off target he was.

It was highly uncharacteristic for him. He finished with 21 completions on 34 attempts for 134 yards, but a chunk of those came on a garbage time drive in the fourth quarter that demonstrated highly questionable judgment from Mike McCarthy in keeping his starters in. Both Prescott and CeeDee Lamb were getting hit hard throughout this game. Getting a touchdown when it had no effect on the outcome was simply not worth the risk of injury. The coaching staff as a whole just did a terrible job in this one. If they don’t get better fast, this will be a brief journey in the postseason for the Cowboys.


Blogging the Boys

The Eagles loss on Monday night shakes up the NFC East tiebreaker situation

The Cowboys didn’t win this week, but they took a small step forward in the divisional race.

the Philadelphia Eagles let the Seattle Seahawks steal one at the end and that was fantastic. And when we say fantastic, it’s not just because of our general disdain for the Eagles (although that’s part of it), but rather what it does to the NFC East race.

First off, let’s remind ourselves why that’s important.

Winning the East comes with a home playoff game rather than going on the road, and we can’t gloss over the fact that the Cowboys are sensational at AT&T Stadium and sometimes not so good on the road. Additionally, winning the division means they would be either the no. 2 or no. 3 seed in the NFC, with San Francisco presumably holding on to the no. 1 spot. So, not only would they play at home for the Wild Card game, but they would draw the Detroit Lions in the Divisional Round which is way more desirable than traveling to the bay.

Now, that we know what’s at stake, how can the Cowboys get there?

Right now, both teams are 10-4 and technically the Cowboys still hold the tiebreaker over the Eagles, but we’ve already discussed that this is just temporary. If both teams win out, they’ll both finish at 13-4, but the Eagles will win the tiebreaker by condition #5 below, the strength of victory.

  1. Head-to-head (best won-lost-tied percentage in games between the clubs).
  2. Best won-lost-tied percentage in games played within the division.
  3. Best won-lost-tied percentage in common games.
  4. Best won-lost-tied percentage in games played within the conference.
  5. Strength of victory in all games.

The Eagles win this tiebreaker because they have beaten tougher teams than the Cowboys and that is out of the Cowboys’ control.

However, if both teams lose one more game, things are quite different. And it doesn’t matter which game each team loses, with one lone exception, the Cowboys must beat the Washington Commanders in the regular-season finale.

The Eagles must lose one other game. We know that must happen. If the Cowboys also lose one other game (and it’s not to Washington), the Cowboys will win either tiebreaker scenario #2, #3, or #4 depending on who they lose to.


Pro Football Talk

Tommy DeVito mends fences with pizzeria owner, hires new marketing rep

The Giants quarterback has mended fences with Coniglio’s Old Fashioned of Morristown, New Jersey, after agent Sean Stellato apparently reneged on a deal to appear at an event on Tuesday for $10,000. Stellato allegedly doubled the price after the Giants beat the Packers last Monday night.

Via Ryan Dunleavy of the New York Post, DeVito appeared at the pizzeria on Tuesday, without Stellato present.

“It was really important to me,” DeVito told the Post. “There was a lot going at that time — and a lot of people doing different things as part of my team. Some things slipped through the cracks and as soon as I was made aware of it — which was Monday, when it hit my phone — that’s when I was like, ‘We need to go in there, meet [Nino Coniglio] face to face, set things right, eat the awesome pizza and have fun.”

Paul Schwartz of the New York Post separately reports that DeVito has hired a marketing agent, relieving Stellato of that specific aspect of his duties on the player’s behalf.

Stellato will continue to handle DeVito’s football contract.