Washington Post (paywall)
In recent weeks, Howell’s play has declined statistically in numerous areas. He has tossed six interceptions (three were pick-sixes) in the past four games. His passer rating has dropped to 75.5, down from 90.1 in the first eight weeks, and his completion percentage has dipped to 61.7 percent, from 66.9 percent in Week 8. His 102 passing yards and 42.3 percent completion rate against the Rams were career lows.
The Commanders currently own the fourth pick in the 2024 draft and have five selections in the first three rounds. Keeping Howell as the starter would allow them to build out the roster around him without allocating significant funds to the quarterback position; he has two years left on his rookie deal with salary cap hits of about $1.1 million and $1.2 million.
But passing on a quarterback in the draft when the team has a top-five pick and the means to move up higher to land a player it covets could be difficult if the staff isn’t fully in on Howell. His final few games could weigh heavily in the decision.
Sam Howell’s future looks murkier than ever...
It hasn’t been that long since head coach Ron Rivera proudly declared Sam Howell as the long-term answer at quarterback. Something the Washington Commanders have been desperately seeking since mismanaging Kirk Cousins’ contract situation and allowing him to leave for the Minnesota Vikings in free agency.
Things look entirely different right now. Howell’s been inconsistent over the past few weeks. His benching in Week 15 at the Los Angeles Rams coupled with veteran backup Jacoby Brissett’s eye-catching cameo only raises the stakes heading into a crucial three-game stretch to close out the campaign.
Commanders need to see more from Sam Howell
Howell hasn’t spoken to Rivera about the change or what might be ahead based on comments via Sports Illustrated. However, the former fifth-round selection did acknowledge the need to increase productivity and consistency to enhance his chances of a brighter future under a new coaching staff in 2024.
“Honestly, we haven’t even spoken about it. But yeah, I mean, just going try to keep doing what I can and taking it one day at a time and keep trying to be the best player I can for this team. I mean obviously, it’s hard to say and if we knew what the issue was, we’d fix it. But I think what it comes down to is we just got to execute better and that starts with me. So it’s been an unfortunate couple weeks. Obviously wish we could go back and do it again, but reality is we can’t and all we can control is how we move on from this point and how we finish the year.”
Rivera and quarterback confusion have gone hand in hand throughout his head coaching tenure. He’s also looking to salvage a sense of respectability from another campaign of underachievement before he’s eventually let go by Josh Harris’ ownership group. Therefore, a permanent change cannot be ruled out if Howell struggles once again in Week 16 at the New York Jets.
What happens over the next three games is also going to come with long-term ramifications. Howell being benched for a second - or perhaps final time - won’t go unnoticed by any new regime. This could lead the Commanders into taking a quarterback with their high-end first-round selection rather than acquiring a premier offensive tackle such as Olu Fashanu or Joe Alt.
Coming into the Rams game, Howell had been sacked 17 times in the previous five games. In his last three games before Sunday, Howell had disappointingly offered up a pick-six against the Giants, Cowboys and Dolphins.
In four games this season, Howell has registered a passer rating of over 100 (Denver, Atlanta, Philadelphia, Seattle). However, in his last four contests, Howell has not only not reached a passer rating of 100, he has recorded some of his worst passer ratings of the season:
- Vs. Giants — 62.8
- Vs. Dallas — 74.1
- Vs. Miami — 50.5
- Vs. Rams — 50.3
Of particular note, Howell’s last two games are surpassed only by the Buffalo game in how bad his performance was.
Against the Rams, his interception early in the fourth quarter was the last straw. On the play, Howell had both Terry McLaurin and Antonio Gibson wide-open.
What made it even worse was that it was a first-down play. Yet, there was Howell staring down McLaurin well after his route, then forcing it to him, and it was intercepted. The play easily could have gained five to 10 yards (on first down, no less) if Howell simply had taken what was open.
Howell has been pressing, and as a result, he is not seeing the field well. And that is the real reason Howell was pulled for Brissett against the Rams.
The Commanders’ offense had been struggling for weeks prior to playing the Rams in Los Angeles, partly because of how difficult this stretch of the season has been. It seems like a lifetime ago that Washington was seconds away forcing overtime against the Seattle Seahawks with Howell throwing three touchdowns and completing 66% of his passes.
As Howell has struggled, so has the Commanders’ offense. While opposing offenses have had their way against the Commanders as they have for most of the season, Washington has done little to keep up. Over the last three weeks, they’ve averaged the eighth fewest points per game (15). They’ve failed to score more than 20 points since their matchup against the Seahawks on Nov. 12.
However, there were sparks of life when Brissett got on the field. The Commanders only needed five plays to get into the end zone with him under center, and the next time he was one the field, hit Terry McLaurin for a 49-yard gain — the longest play by a Washington receiver all year.
The biggest difference that Rivera and Howell noticed: Brissett played more freely during the two drives he was out there.
“I could hang in the pocket a little bit more,” Howell said. “I think I’ve bailed out of pocket sometimes where I didn’t need to. So, there’s just some little things here and there that I know I could do a better job of that’ll help me play more efficient football.”
The Washington Commanders have yet to get star receiver Terry McLaurin a quarterback he can consistently produce with, but that isn’t stopping him from being an important part of the team.
McLaurin didn’t receive a target on the first Washington possession in a 28-20 loss to the Los Angeles Rams this past weekend. Instead, his first came during the second drive, and the duo connected for a 13-yard gain.
Unfortunately, the reception was wiped out by a holding penalty on left tackle Charles Leno Jr. and it took two more tries for Howell to get the ball to his top receiver.
When he did, however, it worked well and the Commanders gained 24 yards on fourth and two, moving the ball into field goal range.
That catch was McLaurin’s only one that counted in the first half and he was targeted three times.
He finished the game with five more receptions and 117 more yards to go with a touchdown catch.
Three of those, 93 yards, and the scoring play all came from backup quarterback Jacoby Brissett.
That means just three of McLaurin’s receptions and 48 yards came from Howell.
Work in progress is one way to put it, but if the only way McLaurin and Howell can produce is by the quarterback feeding the receiver then perhaps there’s a better way to go about making him available.
Whether by scheme or by function it appears early on that Washington has another mismatch between its star playmaker and pass distributor.
And it has three weeks to figure it out before that storyline becomes one that echoes throughout the offseason.
Bullock’s Film Room (subscription)
Looking at some of the common criticisms of the Commanders offense and breaking down how fair those criticisms are
We’re starting to see this package of plays around Samuel’s ability to line up in the backfield over these last few weeks, which is great, but we’ve not seen a similar package of plays built around McLaurin or Dotson and we’ve certainly not seen those different packages meshed together cohesively in the way that San Francisco does with guys like Christian McCaffrey, Deebo Samuel, Brandon Aiyuk and George Kittle.
Now again, in fairness to Bieniemy, he hasn’t been able to fully hire his own staff, having to retain the majority of the offensive staff Rivera had in place last year. I’m sure if Bieniemy had been able to hire his ideal staff then the offense would be a little further forward than it is now, so we’re probably not getting a full reflection of exactly what Bieniemy can do right now, but that doesn’t necessarily mean we would see a drastically improved offense if Bieniemy was able to hire his own staff.
Ultimately, I think anyone that believes Bieniemy is a terrible coordinator and did nothing in Kansas City is mistaken. There are certainly flashes of very good elements in this offense and things that help the development of a young quarterback like Sam Howell. But given how this season has gone to date, I think it’s unlikely Bieniemy will be retained in Washington beyond this season.
- Washington will head to New York and take on the Jets on Christmas Eve in Week 16. The Commanders are 6-3 all-time on Christmas Eve.
- This will be the first time the Commanders will play in New York against the Jets since 2015.
- Washington looks to break a three-game losing streak against New York. The Commanders have a 4-1 record on the road against the Jets and are 8-4 all-time against New York.
- WR Terry McLaurin (4,116) needs 118 receiving yards to pass Hugh Taylor for the eighth most receiving yards in franchise history. McLaurin (365) needs 12 receptions to pass WR Pierre Garcon (376) for ninth most receptions in franchise history.
- DT Jonathan Allen (39) needs one sack to tie LB Brian Orakpo (40) for sixth all-time in franchise history.
Washington Post (paywall)
Washington Commanders at New York Jets (-3)
Sunday, 1 p.m. | CBS
Pick: Commanders +3
Should the Jets be favorites against anyone at this point of a terrible season? Yes, the Commanders rank last or near the bottom in almost any defensive metric that matters, but the Jets are scoring a league-low 1.1 points per drive and are coming off a 30-0 loss to the Miami Dolphins. Since their Week 7 bye, the Jets are 2-6 and have been outscored 168-88, which averages out to a minus-10 point differential per game.
At the least, Washington has the better quarterback situation. Sam Howell has shown he can provide some solid outings — albeit with a very, very low floor — while backup Jacoby Brissett completed 8 of 10 passes for 124 yards and two touchdowns in relief of Howell on Sunday. The Jets have to choose between Zach Wilson, who suffered a concussion last week and has been the worst qualified passer of 2023 per ESPN’s Total Quarterback Rating, or third-stringer Trevor Siemian, whose QBR in two games this season is 5.4. That’s not a typo. That means we would expect an average team getting a similar passing performance to go 1-16 over a 17-game season.
Podcasts & videos
Nick Sundberg CRUSHES Ron Rivera to Grant & Danny, says Ron ‘lied to my face’ offseason before cutting him
Grant asked Nick if it was hard to see what the Commanders have become:
“Yeah, but I mean, hopefully I’ll be able to root for the team again in a few weeks,” he said. “It’s tough to watch Ron, man. I mean, if I got cut in January or just told I wasn’t being brought back in January, but three days before free agency starts? That’s a little frustrating. That aggravated me quite a bit. I could have been rehabbing in Phoenix the whole time, but I was there trying to do what was right for the team and all that that sort of thing, and they were and constantly like, ‘don’t worry, we’ll get (a contract) done, we’ll talk to your agent,’ just lying to your face type of stuff. So that is annoying.”
Grant could only say “that does not speak to the culture we’re being told that they had, where everything was on the up and up,” and when he asked Nick if he would be rooting for the good guys maybe by February, this is how he replied:
“Hopefully soon, sooner rather than later.”
You Wanna See One of the Weirdest Stretches? | Sam Cosmi Mic’d Up in LA
Locked on Commanders: Projecting Competition for Washington Commanders Sam Howell | Offensive Line and Coaching | Re-Draft
Ref the District: The Washington Commanders’ Next GM has a Choice to make at QB. Sam or Draft a new one. Ep 152
Check out the top photos of the Washington Commanders preparing for their Christmas Eve matchup against the New York Jets.
"We all come in here to play to the best of our abilities. So, if somebody's taking notice of that, I'm definitely grateful" #ProBowlVote Terrell Burgess— Washington Commanders (@Commanders) December 20, 2023
NFC East links
Bleeding Green Nation
The Eagles are struggling on both sides of the ball, and after their third loss in a row, some players aren’t keeping their frustrations in-house anymore.
Last week, before it was revealed that Darius Slay underwent arthroscopic knee surgery, he posted a video in which he responded to the fans who put two trash cans outside NovaCare, one with his name on it. Slay explained that he actually had a great game against the Cowboys, but the team played poorly.
Context or not this is such an insane statement pic.twitter.com/YxvaJnUOjj— Kendall Beck (@KBeckEagles) December 15, 2023
This wasn’t a good look, at least initially, with a defensive captain seemingly avoiding accountability coming off a super bad loss to a division rival in December. However, following the Seahawks game, guys like A.J. Brown and James Bradberry are making similar comments that allude to issues aside from the guys on the field.
Bradberry had a notably poor game against Seattle, allowing six receptions on the six times he was targeted, including getting smoked on the game-winning touchdown. After the game, the veteran CB was asked if he would do anything differently on that play, and his response was interesting.
[10 second pause] “Nothing really, he just ran past me because I was sitting at the sticks.”
This definitely feels like he’s putting the onus on the playcaller, which ironically was Matt Patricia after head coach Nick Sirianni stripped Sean Desai of his DC role earlier in the week — an adjustment he justified as making in the best interest of the team.
Similarly, A.J. Brown’s post-game comments made note that he was disappointed, but not discouraged, and he knows what type of football play he is and having to just focus on his job.
“Everything else is out of our control. We run routes, we get the ball, we catch the ball, we try to make plays. Other than that, we can’t control the other stuff. As much as we don’t like it, there’s nothing that we can do about it.”
Brown has never been shy to speak his truth, but there’s definitely a growing sense of frustration throughout the locker room, and captains speaking out hits differently than these comments coming from a depth player.
Blogging the Boys
The Cowboys have more questions than answers after brutal loss to Bills
The last time the Cowboys prompted a “same ol’ Cowboys” sentiment was that 49ers game in Week 5. The team was quick to write off the Cardinals loss as a lapse in focus, coupled with the fact that they were down three starters on the offensive line. Dallas took out their frustrations on the Patriots, who have just two wins since then, and looked ready for their rematch with the 49ers.
That, of course, led to an absolute dismantling on Sunday Night Football. It was a harsh reminder that the Cowboys were a good team but still nowhere close to the same stratosphere as the 49ers, the class of the NFC.
Things turned around quickly after that game, though. San Francisco lost three in a row, suddenly looking vulnerable, and the Cowboys offense started clicking. McCarthy was in his bag every week, and Dak Prescott rapidly ascended to the forefront of the MVP race. The Cowboys won seven of their next eight, with the only loss being a very narrow road loss to the Eagles that was avenged in dominant fashion just five weeks later.
Which brought us all to this most recent game. The Cowboys seemingly announced themselves as a legitimate contender with their big win over the Eagles, moving into first in the NFC East and needing just one more Eagles loss to control their destiny in the division. They got that on Monday night, as Philadelphia lost to a Seahawks team led by backup quarterback Drew Lock. All the Cowboys had to do was take care of business, but they couldn’t do that.
Not only did Dallas lose in Buffalo, but it wasn’t even close. The offense was horrible - Prescott rarely had time to throw, and when he did he was missing left and right - and the defense got bullied in the trenches from start to finish. Even the special teams unit was hurting the Cowboys, with a roughing the kicker penalty that erased a rare stop on defense. In just about every way, this game was reminiscent of the 49ers game, and easily the worst this team has performed since then.
NFL league links
Washington Post (paywall)
The procedural move allows Rodgers to continue practicing with the team. Rodgers’s 21-day practice window — which the Jets opened late last month — was expiring, so the team had to activate him from the IR list or officially end his season. If the Jets had not activated him, Rodgers would not have been permitted to continue practicing.
“We’re still going to keep him on the active [roster],” Saleh said during a news conference Wednesday. “We’ve got the roster flexibility. … It’s all part of his rehab. And just having him out on the football [practice] field is a plus for everybody. It’s a plus for him. It’s a plus for his teammates.”
Coach Saleh says that QB Aaron Rodgers will be added to the active roster to keep practicing as part of his rehab process. pic.twitter.com/grGFGnf55F— New York Jets (@nyjets) December 20, 2023
The Jets have been eliminated from playoff contention and face the Washington Commanders on Sunday in East Rutherford, N.J.
Rodgers, 40, said Tuesday that he does not expect next season to be his last in the NFL.
Pro Football Talk
Via Mark Daniels of MassLive.com, the official kicking balls were underinflated for Sunday’s game between the Chiefs and Patriots at Gillette Stadium.
The accepted range is 12.5 to 13.5 psi. At halftime, the balls were measured as having a psi of 11. The balls were properly inflated for the second half of the game.
Underinflation might have contributed to missed first-half field goals by Patriots kicker Chad Ryland and Chiefs kicker Harrison Butker. Before Sunday, Butker had a perfect season of field goals and extra points.
“[The Patriots] told the refs they were a little under inflated or they felt that way,” Daniels reports. citing an unnamed source. “At halftime, they confirmed and obviously put air in them.”
The kicking balls are kept separate and apart from the balls used by the two teams. If those balls are underinflated or overinflated, it’s nothing that any specific team is responsible for.
Per the report, the Patriots noticed something was off when the opening kickoff traveled only to the three yard line, allowing for the Patriots to return it.