Washington Post (paywall)
[T]he problem as the Commanders trudge into the final three games of a lost campaign — everyone ready for Commanders-Jets on Christmas Eve! — is that the season has always been about whether Sam Howell could establish himself as the clear starter for 2024 and beyond. It would solve so many problems if he did. Alas, with 2024 a week away, that’s murky, or worse.
Harris’s most significant upcoming moves are whom to hire as coach and personnel maven. The instructions here: Those should be two people. Please. Two people, each with a manageable job and a clear directive.
That done, the subsequent most important move by those two people — with the head of football operations having say over the coach — will be to dig into Howell’s tape and make a decision. Whatever it is — move on from him or ride with him — it has to be right. The speed of a turnaround and a return to the playoffs depends on it.
Through Howell’s first 10 games, I was in. In two months and change, he completed 66.5 percent of his passes, was averaging just more than seven yards per attempt and 278.3 yards per game, had 17 touchdowns against nine interceptions, and had shown a resilience in taking too many sacks — 4.7 a game — but still getting up and plowing ahead.
But as the season has wound down, Howell hasn’t improved — he has regressed. Blips are understandable and expected. Bad games happen to the best. This feels more like a slide, and a worrisome one at that.
Howell’s numbers over the past four games: a completion percentage of 59.4, 5.7 yards per attempt and 196.3 yards per game, two touchdowns and six interceptions, while still taking three sacks a game. Across the board, the numbers are worse. To the naked eye, it looks worse, too.
The Athletic (paywall)
What team declares a fifth-round pick with one career start its QB1 six days after the previous season? Or before hiring an offensive coordinator or some form of competition?
This one did. Considering the circumstances — namely, a limited offseason spending budget and a looming franchise sale that would likely lead to sweeping coaching and front-office changes — the approach was justifiable. Washington lived in the league’s no man’s land territory — good enough to win 7-8 games, but rarely bad enough to have a shot at drafting a top quarterback prospect. Going with Howell meant escaping the middle and possibly in a positive direction if the defense maintained its previous top-10 form. If Howell rocked, regardless of the team’s record, it could feel better about its quarterbacking future. Otherwise, if the team got rolled, a corresponding high draft choice would be coming. At 4-10, Washington holds the fourth overall selection in April’s draft based on current standings.
Howell’s recent decline — six of his league-high 15 interceptions came in his last five games, while his 61.0 completion percentage ranks 23rd over that stretch — will be viewed more as a blip based on a step-up in competition and defenses adjusting to his skill set. The offense’s scoring margin during the five-game skid (minus-88) is 19 points worse than any other team, per TruMedia.
That an aggressive Brissett quickly threw two touchdown passes in the 28-20 loss only made Howell’s impotent showing look worse.
The priority, even for a coaching staff likely facing pink slips after Week 18, must be about helping Howell get back on track or showing future decision-makers that he’s not the answer. Whatever occurs, the first-year starter is entering new territory.
Ron Rivera continues to confound...
This is reminiscent of when Taylor Heinicke was benched in Week 16 against the San Francisco 49ers last season. Although he was 13-for-18 for 166 passing yards and two touchdowns against the top-ranked defense in the NFL, he had two turnovers - a fumble lost and an interception - in three plays.
At that point, Rivera inserted Carson Wentz into the game, with Washington down 30-14. The struggling veteran led an 11-play, 82-yard touchdown drive - capped off with a 20-yard touchdown pass to Curtis Samuel.
Wentz got the start the following week. He quickly showed that the late-game success accomplished versus San Francisco was just a mirage.
You remember that infamous Rivera interview, don’t you? The one where he seemed completely unaware that the Commanders could be eliminated from contention with another reverse. In many ways, this is a microcosm of his tenure with the organization.
After Rivera returned to Wentz, there was no way Heinicke would want to come back into the lineup and close out the season. This ultimately ended his time in Washington on a sour note, paving the way for Howell to get his one and only rookie start against the Dallas Cowboys in Week 18.
Here we are less than a year later and Rivera once again decided to bench his starting quarterback and watched his team get eliminated from playoff contention. History does repeat itself. Unfortunately for the Commanders, not in a good way.
Burgundy & Gold Report
6’4” 230 lbs | QB | UNC
Draft Proj 1st Rd
Career (30 games) 618/952 8,018 yds for 63 TDs & 16 ints
*(Rushing) 302 att for 1,209 yds with 16 TDs
2023 (12 games) 269/425 3,608 yds for 24 TDs & 9 ints
*(Rushing) 112 att for 449 yds with 9 TDs
As a true freshman in 2021, Maye saw action in only 2 games for the Tar Heels. He registered only for 89 yards and 1 TD on 10 attempts with an average of 8.9 yards per pass with a QB rating of 130.8.
In ‘22 as a redshirt freshman, Maye was the unquestioned starter and played in all 13 games. He finished the season with 4,087 passing yards and 34 total touchdowns.
Maye finished the season with a completion percentage of 66.6 for an average of 8.5 yards per pass and a stellar QB rating of 110.4.
Despite being sacked 41 times in 2022, Maye rushed 143 times for 833 yards with a 5.8 yard per rush average in ‘22. He helped the Tar Heels to a 9-1 start and their second-ever ACC Championship Game.
Despite a dip in production, Maye threw for 3,608 yards for 24 touchdowns and 9 interceptions in 12 games this season. He also rushed 112 times for 449 yards, which resulted on 9 rushing touchdowns.
Maye’s tape was much improved and looked every bit an NFL franchise signal caller this season.
The Tar Heel quaterback is 2nd all-time in UNC history with twelve 300-yard passing games, fifth all-time in passing touchdowns (60) and total offense with 8,591 total yards. He also ranks sixth in passing yards (7,555) and career completions (580).
Maye has all the attributes NFL teams covet in a franchise signal caller. Cutting down on his hero ball mentality is something coaches will need to work with him on.
Taking what defenses give him and throwing the ball away if nothing is available, must be his focus early on while he adjusts to the speed of the pros.
Furthermore, his athletic ability is intriguing and he must be accounted for as a runner on every down.
As with any rookie quarterback, Maye will deal with his share of hiccups, but his ability to make all the throws required in the NFL should lead to early success for the Tar Heel signal caller.
Lock down the Jets’ play makers.
As bad as the Jets’ offense has been, there are still a handful of play makers who could give Washington trouble.
At the top of that list is Garrett Wilson, who is closing in on his second consecutive 1,000-yard season. He’s not the sensation that he was as a rookie, but he’s still the Jets’ top target by far with nine plays of at least 20 yards. He’s mostly used out wide, but he’s also proven himself as a quality slot player with 256 yards on 33 receptions this season.
Breece Hall is another threat that Washington will need to consider this weekend. The team numbers don’t look great — the Jets average the third fewest yards per game — but Hall has had a strong season with 637 yards, including a league-leading 83-yard run, while averaging 4.2 yards per carry.
“They do have a really good running game,” Ron Rivera said. “They try to control the pace and tempo. It’s not like they’re trying to go a hundred miles an hour. They’re slowing the pace down. I think the thing that they’re trying to do is just be very steady with their game. But to me it, it really starts with their running game.”
But Hall has almost as potent as a pass-catcher with 52 receptions for 441 yards, fourth among all running backs, and three scores. He has the fifth best receiving grade for the position with six explosive plays as a receiver. Both his targets (68) and yards are more than double what he had as a rookie.
Washington’s issues with explosive plays are well known by now, particularly in the passing game. Both Wilson and Hall, while not having similar performances as some of the other weapons the Commanders have faced this season, are still dynamic, explosive players who can break loose at any point in a game.
In a new column from Albert Breer of Sports Illustrated, he mentions what he heard about Harris’ intentions at the NFL owners meetings last week and which NFL franchise Harris might want to model the Commanders after.
No surprise, it was the Baltimore Ravens.
Here’s this from Breer:
We’re all learning on the fly about Commanders owner Josh Harris, who was accompanied by one of his limited partners, Mitchell Rales, at this week’s league meetings in Dallas. And one thing I learned down in Texas over the last few days could at least color how the next couple of months go with the new owners and their team — Harris likes how the Commanders’ beltway rivals from Baltimore do business.
Here’s more from Breer on Shen’s hiring and the thought process behind it:
Seven weeks ago, Washington brought Eugene Shen aboard as its new senior vice president of football strategy, poaching him back from the world of finance, a world to which he’d returned in 2022 after serving as the Jaguars’ vice president of football analytics, and the Dolphins’ director of analytics between ’19 and ’22. For five years before that, Shen cut his NFL teeth helping to run analytics for the always innovative, always forward-thinking Ravens, who have gone so far as to build their own proprietary analytics systems.
That the hire was made before Harris made decisions on the futures of GM Martin Mayhew, top football exec Marty Hurney or coach Ron Rivera is notable for a couple of reasons. First, it’s an indication of how he sees the role—as one that would be there regardless of who the GM or head coach was. Second, it opens the possibility that Shen could have significant input in the next round of hires, whenever they’re made.
Does that mean Harris would hire someone from the Ravens as either a director of football operations or a general manager? Perhaps, because Baltimore has multiple talented executives who will likely be due for promotions.
Of course, it could also mean that Harris just likes how Baltimore is set up. No team has had a better front office structure over a long period of time than the Ravens, Eagles and 49ers. It would make sense for Harris to target an executive from any of these teams as Washington’s next GM.
Regardless of who Harris hires, Washington fans should be excited. The Commanders will finally resemble a stable organization that is built the correct way, with a GM making football decisions, which includes hiring the coach.
Podcasts & videos
Episode 726 - Eric Bieniemy on Thursday did not give his usual press conference filled w/ cliches & generalities. He opened up & got specific about Sam Howell. Very refreshing. I discuss this & more & conduct Rhyming Keys for a #Commanders LOSS at #NYJets.https://t.co/PhiyJ38x7t— Al Galdi (@AlGaldi) December 22, 2023
“The Girl Dad” Percy Butler is the Next Man Up | Washington Commanders
Ben Standig on the end of the Commanders season, what comes next with Doc Walker
NFC East links
Big Blue View
Eagles have lost three straight after 10-1 start
Ed: Three straight losses? What has gone wrong and how worried are you about the Eagles’ ability to make a deep playoff run?
BLG: I don’t want to let the Eagles off the hook with excuse-making since they deserve criticism. But it is true that they were in a tough spot with their schedule. They faced the 49ers, who clearly look like the best team in the NFL, when San Francisco was coming off a mini-bye. Then the Eagles faced the Cowboys coming off a mini-bye. All in the middle of a six-game gauntlet that began with battles against Dallas, Kansas City, and Buffalo. Expecting them to go 6-0 was never realistic.
4-2 was a reasonable expectation. So, I was willing to give the Eagles some benefit of the doubt after losing two straight because they would’ve been there with a win over the Seahawks.
But then they went out and only managed 17 points against a bad and injured Seahawks defense that was allowing 24.5 offensive points per game. The Eagles’ offense has been a disappointment relative to high expectations this season. Offensive coordinator Brian Johnson has taken a lot of heat and I’m not here to say he’s not part of the problem … but he’s received a disproportionate amount of blame relative to Nick Sirianni and Jalen Hurts. The operation simply hasn’t been good enough. Play design (Sirianni), play-calling (Johnson), and play execution (Hurts) is all lacking.
Against the Seahawks, the offense needed to pick up just one more first down to effectively end the game. We’ve seen the Eagles be so good in those end of game situations before, even as recently as earlier this season.Instead, they had to punt then ball away and that led to a 92-yard game-winning touchdown drive by Drew Lock. So much for demoting Sean Desai and promoting Matt Patricia (of all people)!The vibes around this Eagles team are bad. They didn’t need to be. They didn’t need to panic after the Cowboys loss. They had a real opportunity to right the ship against the Seahawks. They blew it.
Ultimately, it’s hard to envision them getting past the 49ers. Frankly, it’s hard to envision anyone beating the 49ers right now. They’re in their own tier as the best team in the NFL. Until something changes, they deserve the most benefit of the doubt.