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Daily Slop - 22 Dec 23: Eric Bieniemy says that Rivera wanted to bench Sam Howell vs Rams

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Eric Bieniemy agreed with Ron Rivera’s decision to bench Howell in Week 15

“Coach Ron, he basically said, ‘Hey, you know what, let’s rest him,” Bieniemy said about sitting Howell for Brissett in the fourth quarter of last week’s loss to the Rams.

“Let’s give him a break. Let’s let him sit back and let’s give him an opportunity to observe Jacoby. Let’s give Jacoby an opportunity to go play.’ And so I agree with him. At that particular time, there was no hesitation. And obviously Coach Rivera is the head man, and when he makes a comment, he has 51% of the vote. And I honestly agreed with him at that particular time because I felt he was pressing, and you never want to see someone pressing.”

Bieniemy’s point is clear here — unlike Rivera. Rivera’s messaging regarding Howell and other things hasn’t always lined up. Washington has let Howell play through far worse situations this season than what he faced against the Rams last week. While Howell was only sacked once, it was more about what he missing than the major mistakes he was making, which lines up with Bieniemy’s analysis.

On a fourth-down completion to Terry McLaurin, Howell had running back Jonathan Williams wide open on a wheel route for what would’ve been a touchdown. While Howell’s pass to McLaurin turned into a first down, the Commanders ended up not scoring.

Later, on Howell’s final pass attempt — an interception — he had McLaurin and another receiver open before he waited too long to force the ball into McLaurin, leading to an inaccurate throw.

Why couldn’t Rivera just say he felt Howell was pressing? From Bieniemy’s perspective, it made sense. Howell has had worse performances this season, but he was not good on Sunday. He was clearly not trusting his eyes, and a break didn’t hurt him.

Washington Post (paywall)

For Terry McLaurin, a whiplash ending to a lost season

The previous five games had been one of the worst stretches of Terry McLaurin’s career. He had topped 50 yards just once and scored zero touchdowns. He had gone without a catch for only the second time in 76 career games. A local radio host suggested McLaurin — whose name has been synonymous with the word “underrated” since college — actually might now be overrated, saying there had been “a major drop-off between the truly elite receivers in this game and Terry McLaurin.” Some fans called for the Commanders to trade McLaurin in the offseason.

But then, late in Sunday’s loss to the Los Angeles Rams, everything changed. Coach Ron Rivera benched quarterback Sam Howell, and backup Jacoby Brissett started chucking the ball deep to McLaurin. Go route, corner route, go route. One went for a touchdown. Another nearly did. McLaurin finished with six catches and 141 yards — a career high.

The late stretch was, for the mild-mannered McLaurin, a polite reminder he can still play like an elite wide receiver.

After a terrible month for the offense, Howell will face plenty of questions over the final three weeks of the season. One of them is whether he can maximize the team’s top receiver. Howell and McLaurin have rarely seemed completely synced up, and on Monday, Rivera said their connection is “still developing.” The immediate success Brissett had with McLaurin put that into stark relief — and the three big plays can’t simply be attributed to the Rams playing soft defense to protect a late lead.

It might be tough for Howell to find McLaurin over the next three weeks. The New York Jets, San Francisco 49ers and Dallas Cowboys all have elite defenses with talented secondaries. Washington faces arguably the NFL’s best corners Sunday at MetLife Stadium: the tall, long tandem of Sauce Gardner and D.J. Reed.

Washington Times (subscription)

Washington’s pass defense was last in the league. Somehow, things got worse.

Barring a miraculous turnaround, though, the 2023 Commanders will go down as the worst defense in recent franchise history, and have all but secured their spot as the worst in the NFL this year.

Washington has allowed opponents to score 423 points this season, far more than second-place Arizona (376).

Their biggest weakness is against the pass, as a porous secondary prone to big mistakes has been paired with a defensive line that saw two key players traded away. That’s left opposing quarterbacks with plenty of time, and an abundance of open receivers.

With the team struggling and an eye toward the future, Washington moved Chase Young and Montez Sweat at the trade deadline to accumulate draft picks. Injuries have sidelined veteran James Smith-Williams, leaving just one non-rookie, Casey Toohill, active at the position on Sunday.

With three games to go, Washington has allowed 32 passing touchdowns and is chasing the record set by the 1961 Redskins, who allowed 37 (that team finished an all-time worst 1-12-1).

Defensive tackles Jonathan Allen and Daron Payne, who have seen more attention as a result, said there’s no point in dwelling on what could have been.

“I mean, them boys gone, man,” Payne said. “They ain’t coming back.”

The Athletic (paywall)

NFC East roundtable: Sam Howell’s future

Sam Howell remains the Commanders’ starter despite being benched in the loss to the Rams. Has he earned the right to finish the season? Has he earned the chance to return as the starter in 2024?

Standig: Big picture first. The notion of “right” doesn’t apply since new leadership is expected to enter the organization following the season. If Washington maintains its current draft pick slot, which is fourth, it will be incredibly tempting to select a quarterback (Heisman winner Jayden Daniels, maybe?) or trade up (Washington’s own Caleb Williams?). But Howell, despite a decline over the current five-game losing streak, has traits (mobility, toughness, arm talent) that warrant further examination, especially since he’ll make roughly $1 million in salary in each of the final two years of his contract. That is why there should be zero consideration about sitting Howell outside of injury or a severe drop in performance. Maybe he’s not the long-term answer, but Howell should remain the starter for Washington’s last three games.

Kubena: It may be brutal to say, but I don’t think these last three games matter for Howell or the Commanders in terms of what will happen in 2024. Having covered the Texans from 2021 to 2023, I can’t help but compare the situation to how Houston handled its future with another mid-to-late-round quarterback: Davis Mills. In both cases, there’s just not enough evidence for a franchise undergoing an organizational overhaul to forego the opportunity to pick a pedigree quarterback (ahem, like C.J. Stroud) and stick with a middling, albeit affordable, signal caller with potential upside. I’d be shocked if there’s not a top-five pick at quarterback at Washington’s training camp next year. And, sure, Howell would technically have a “chance” to compete for the job. But it’s hard to believe the Commanders won’t dangle the opportunity for a new coaching staff to tailor a new scheme to the quarterback of their choice in the upcoming offseason.

Bullock’s Film Room (subscription)

Evaluating Brian Robinson’s development at running back

Looking forward to the future by evaluating the development of RB Brian Robinson

When he was drafted, the Commanders anticipated him being a workhorse, between-the-tackles type power back, but now we’re coming to the end of his second season in the league and looks able to offer much more, which is promising for a potential new regime coming in at the end of the season.

As a runner, Robinson wasn’t the most natural zone scheme back. With his ability to make explosive jump cuts and bounce from one side of the line to the other, he didn’t always display the traits needed in the zone scheme to patiently press the run to the play side, force the defense to overflow and create a cutback lane before then making a single cut and getting vertical. This year, he’s shown good progress as a zone runner.

He’s done a much better job staying patient, pressing the hole and forcing defenders to commit to a gap in order to create a cut back lane. Sometimes that lane is on the front side of the play, but sometimes it can be all the way on the back side of the run.

Here against the Cowboys, we see another wide zone run, but this time to the right. This time the Commanders do have a tight end aligned to the front side, so Robinson has a more defined aiming point. That tight end sifts back across the line of scrimmage and cuts off the edge defender on the back side of the run, but if you look at the point where he starts and the point where Robinson makes his cut on this run, you’ll notice it’s in the exact same place, which is exactly how zone runs are taught.

The Cowboys are very quick to flow to the front side of the play and while it’s not blocked particularly well, because of that eagerness to attack, the Commanders are able to force all the defenders to the front side and create a wall of blockers for Robinson to cut back behind. Robinson presses his run as much as he can to the play side, but makes his cut back behind left guard Chris Paul. Once he makes the cut, Robinson doesn’t dance around as some gap scheme backs are known to do. He gets vertical and gains ground. He picks up 10 yards before a defender even gets close to touching him, at which point he again makes the safety miss with a sharp cut to pick up more yards.

Washington Times (subscription)

Little-known Commanders safety Terrell Burgess is a top Pro Bowl vote getter

Terrell Burgess has played on the winning side in the Super Bowl, and was a third-round draft pick in 2020.

Still, it caught some people off guard when he was announced as the leader in Pro Bowl voting among NFC special teams players. One of those people was Burgess himself, who got a text from a teammate when the news first came out.

“I was like, ‘Oh shoot, that’s pretty crazy,’” Burgess said on Thursday. “I thought it was pretty cool. Hopefully it stays that way.”

“I mean, I don’t have like an army of bots, if that’s what you’re asking,” Burgess said.

What he does have is a network of people pulling for him. That starts with Commanders fans (each team nominates just one special teams player), as well as college fans from his days in Utah, and a family that has worked to spread the word about the vote.

Burgess, a safety, played special teams for the Rams when they won the Super Bowl two years ago, and after a season with the Giants landed in Washington for this season, where he’s been a consistent presence on special teams, logging seven tackles this season.

Four things to know about the New York Jets

1. They’ll be using a third string QB.

To say the Jets’ quarterback situation has not gone as the franchise planned would be an understatement. They sent a heavy load of assets to acquire Aaron Rodgers from the Green Back Packers this offseason, but less than five minutes into their first game of the season, that hope quickly died with him suffering a torn Achilles that will keep him sidelined for the rest of the season.

Re-enter Zach Wilson, the No. 2 overall pick from two years ago who has struggled to start his professional career. Wilson has had his moments; the Jets came just three points shy of tying the Kansas City Chiefs and even beat the Philadelphia Eagles 20-14 in week 6.

Since then, things for New York have widely taken a turn for the worse. Last week, Wilson sustained a concussion during their game against the Miami Dolphins.

Without Rodgers or Wilson, the Jets are calling up third string quarterback Trevor Siemian, who will likely suit up against the Commanders with Wilson in the concussion protocol. Siemian spent a season with the Jets in 2019 but has also played for Broncos, Saints and Bears. He re-signed with the Jets back in September and placed on the active roster in November.

Siemian does not produce results like Rodgers, or even Wilson. He’s had moments of solid and below average quarterback plays since he was drafted in 2015 with 7,203 yards to go with 42 touchdowns and 30 interceptions. Still, he’s prepared to step up for a Jets offense that has struggled mightily all season.

Podcasts & videos

Locked on Commanders: Washington Commanders Sam Howell Starting Despite Calls for Jacoby Brissett | Jets QB Situation

Time to SLEIGH Christmas Eve in New York! | Command Center | Washington Commanders

Chris Russell reacts to Eric Bieniemy revealing it was Ron Rivera’s call to pull Sam Howell Sunday


PHOTOS | Commanders practice, 12/21

Check out the top photos of the Washington Commanders preparing for their Christmas Eve matchup against the New York Jets.

NFL league links



2024 NFL quarterback market: 13 teams that could add starters

Washington Commanders

Current starter: Sam Howell

What happened in Week 15: Ron Rivera cracked. After spending all season committing to Howell as the starter, the Commanders coach finally benched the second-year quarterback after an interception during Sunday’s loss to the Rams, turning things over to overqualified backup Jacoby Brissett. Brissett immediately led two scoring drives, going 8-of-10 for 124 yards and sparking the first breakout game all season from star wideout Terry McLaurin.

Immediately after the game, Rivera said that Howell was pulled from the game to “protect” him, and that Howell would be back in the lineup against the Jets on Sunday. Oh well.

How has it gone in 2023? It has been interesting. New offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy has leaned into the pass, so Howell has thrown a league-high 535 pass attempts. He also leads the NFL with 15 interceptions and 59 sacks, though his sack rate has thankfully come down as the season has gone along. After being sacked on 13.5% of his dropbacks through the first seven games of the season, he has seen his sack rate improve to 6.4% over the ensuing seven starts.

There are unquestionably things to like about Howell. He’s tough and mobile. He has a legitimate NFL-caliber arm, and when he gets a chance to step into a throw, Howell can deliver some really impressive passes. If you put together a two-minute highlight reel of the best Howell plays from 2023, he looks like an above-average NFL quarterback.

Of course, there’s more to the game than a highlight reel, and Howell’s inconsistencies and inexperience show. Despite the big arm, he’s only averaging 6.7 yards per attempt. He’s also 19-of-60 on deep passes traveling 20 or more yards downfield, and his 64.6 QBR on those throws ranks 26th. Owing to Washington’s defense and the heavy pass rate, nobody has more passing yards in garbage time (with a sub-5% win expectancy) than Howell.

Contract for 2024: Howell will be in Year 3 of his rookie deal. Even if he’s pushed into the backup role, the 23-year-old will still be a relative bargain, as he’ll make $985,000. There’s a Gardner Minshew career path in the future for Howell, even if he’s not the long-term starter in Washington. Brissett will be a free agent, and after more than half the league needed to turn to a backup at one point or another this season, the former Browns starter should attract more interest than he did in March.

NBC Washington

Commercial-free football: 4th quarter of Bills vs. Chargers won’t have ads Saturday night

Josh Allen and the Buffalo Bills head west to Los Angeles where the Chargers look to turn things around after a Week 15 shellacking that resulted in their coach being fired

Saturday night’s game between the Buffalo Bills and Los Angeles Chargers already carried significance as the first NFL game to be exclusively streamed on Peacock.

The matchup will also feature another milestone as NBC and the NFL announced Thursday morning that the fourth quarter will be commercial free for the first time.

NBCUniversal says there will be a 40% reduction in the standard ad time for an NFL game which should result in at least 12 additional minutes of game-related content.