Washington Post (paywall)
Rivera said that the move will give Howell a chance to “take a breath” and that he made the decision with the young quarterback’s “continued development” in mind. But Brissett’s efficiency and production the past two weeks stood in stark contrast to Howell’s operation of the offense — so much so that it may have made the decision for Rivera.
The benching may hinder Howell’s chance to become the long-term starter in Washington; the franchise is expected to overhaul its coaching staff and front office in the offseason.
Brissett will be the ninth quarterback to start a game for Washington since 2020. Three times in that span, the team has made a quarterback switch in Week 17.
Opposing defenders in recent weeks noted how they planned to confuse Howell with pre- and post-snap reads, details that Brissett has more experience dissecting and countering.
In the first eight weeks of the season, Howell completed 66.9 percent of his passes for an average of 268.3 yards. He threw for touchdowns on 4.2 percent of his passes and had a touchdown-to-interception ratio of 1.6. In the seven games since, Howell hit on just 58.6 percent of his passes for an average of 211.1 yards. He threw for touchdowns on 2.4 percent of his attempts and logged a 0.7 touchdown-to-interception ratio.
In relief of Howell, Brissett completed 78.3 percent of his passes and threw for three touchdowns with no interceptions. His passer rating is 146.8.
The Athletic (paywall)
This latest turn doesn’t necessarily have any bearing on Howell’s future with Washington. Significant staff changes are expected after the season, meaning the arrival of new decision-makers who would determine whether to stick with Howell or select a quarterback in the first round of the 2024 NFL Draft.
Managing partner Josh Harris purchased the franchise in July, too late for any immediate impact on the team’s 2023 season.
Rivera made an unconventional decision in January to announce Howell as QB1 despite one career start entering the offseason program. The coach has frequently cited the 2022 fifth-round pick as the franchise’s long-term hope at a position he and other coaches have struggled to fill throughout this century.
The Commanders close the season with home games against the 49ers and Dallas Cowboys, teams with highly ranked defensive units. They’ve also moved into a draft order tie with the New England Patriots. By holding the strength of schedule tiebreaker, Washington would pick third overall in April’s NFL draft, which evaluators project will include two to three quarterbacks among the top picks.
Howell is also playing on a rookie contract, an appealing aspect for a team still trying to build. He still has two years remaining on his rookie deal.
“He’s had some pretty good opportunities and some pretty good moments, and moments where he’s learned a lot and moments where he’s taken some lumps,” Rivera said. “He’s a resilient player, a solid young man who has a bright future in this league. He’s a guy who can play quarterback in the NFL and do it at a high level.”
After Sunday’s loss, Brissett said he spoke to Howell on the field to offer words of encouragement. Brissett said his support for Howell won’t change.
“He needs people in his corner right now,” Brissett said. “And I stand on the table and I’m behind him 100%. I’m still on his side and this doesn’t change how I feel about him and what I think for his future that I hope it is and that he hopes it to be. I’m able to be able to put the game to the side to take care of my teammate too.”
It’s hard to pin down one reason why Howell has struggled over the last five weeks, because there are several that have led to Rivera’s decision to bench him. Certainly, the fact that Washington is going through its toughest stretch of the season has something to do with it. Since Thanksgiving, the Commanders have played against the Dallas Cowboys (7th in yards allowed), Miami Dolphins (4th) and Jets (3rd). With the San Francisco 49ers (11th) and a rematch with Dallas up next to close out the year, it isn’t going to get any easier.
The number of times Howell has been hit (he’s been sacked a league-leading 60 times) can’t be discounted, either. There was a time when he seemed to be improving in that area by getting the ball out quicker and rolling out of the pocket to avoid pressure. Against the Jets, however, it seemed like he was rolling out of clean pockets, which often led to incompletions.
In the first half of the season, Howell showed promise with his ball placement, poise in the pocket and a willingness to take shots downfield. But moments where those traits shine have come less frequently over the last month. The last two weeks have been particularly frustrating for Howell. He had just 68 completed air yards against the Los Angeles Rams, which was a career low for him. Against the Jets, he had five.
Bullock’s Film Room (subscription)
Breaking down quarterback Sam Howell’s performance in the loss to the Jets
The past few weeks, Howell has regressed in taking what the defense gives him. There were a number of plays in the last few games that Howell has refused to take the easy option that the defense is giving him for whatever reason.
Here on second and eight, the Commanders have tight end Logan Thomas run a choice route to the right of the formation. Thomas gets matched up on a linebacker and breaks inside on his choice route into open space. He does slip a little bit coming out of his break, which causes Howell to hesitate on the throw. But you’ll notice that the defender in coverage also slips, which leaves Thomas still open over the middle after he recovers from losing his footing. Howell has plenty of time in the pocket to deliver that throw and was setting up to do so before Thomas slipped, but as soon as the slip happened, Howell went into panic mode.
Thomas pretty much recovered his footing by the time the ball would have arrived, so Howell could have just made the throw anyway, but even if he held it for a second longer, he’d have seen the defender also slipped and Thomas still had time and space over the middle. Howell was still in a clean pocket and had time to wait, but instead he looks to bail out of a clean pocket and runs into pressure, resulting in him having to throw the ball away.
If we take that as a one off play, we can possibly write that off as Howell seeing Thomas slipping and not trusting the window to be there by the time Thomas recovers, but even then the process is still bad as he bails out of a clean pocket and runs into pressure. Unfortunately for Howell though, we can’t take this as just a one off play as there were regular occurrences of him failing to take what was available.
On this play, the Commanders face third and seven near midfield. They run a variation of the Seattle sail concept we’ve seen from them a number of times this year. Curtis Samuel runs the Seattle route, designed to look like an over route before breaking back outside. In the slot, McLaurin a vertical route but widens it initially to make it look like a slot fade and create space for himself to break it back inside towards the post. On the outside, Logan Thomas runs a pivot route, faking a shallow cross before pivoting back outside to the flat.
As Howell drops back to pass, he should be able to see the Jets defenders sinking back in coverage. He gets to the top of his drop and pauses for an extra beat, which is already a bad sign. He should be playing in rhythm but no rhythm is designed for the quarterback to sit at the top of his drop for an extended period of time. If he’s getting to the top of his drop and holding his position, he should have his internal clock telling him it’s time to either get the ball out or make a move. Even after pausing for a beat, he should be able to see the outside corner and the safety have McLaurin’s deep route covered while the two underneath defenders are sinking under Samuel’s Seattle route. This should tell him to just take the flat route to Thomas and trust he can pick up the first down after the catch as Thomas has plenty of space available to him.
Howell doesn’t take the flat and continues to wait for something to open up down the field. This results in pressure arriving and him having to dance around in the pocket to avoid a sack before eventually throwing the ball away.
This is a bad sign of regression from Howell. He struggled with this type of thing early in the season and it was the reason for a lot of his early sacks. A few weeks into the season, he started to correct this issue and become much more decisive in taking checkdowns when things weren’t available down the field.
Washington Times (subscription)
So where did Ron Rivera go wrong?
You could make the case that it was the minute he accepted a phone call from Washington owner Dan Snyder. At the end of the 2019 season, despite being fired as the head coach of the Carolina Panthers and despite having six losing seasons in nine years there, Rivera was still a respected coach in the NFL — not the object of ridicule that he has since become.
He had options. There were other jobs, if not that year, then likely soon after. The feeling was that after Snyder had chewed up another coach, he was damn lucky to get Rivera to take the job with an organization that had been a train wreck for decades, no matter what Joe Gibbs whispered in Rivera’s ear.
It started as soon as he took the job, when he meekly accepted the owner’s quarterback as his own. It began with the decision to live with Dwayne Haskins instead of telling the owner, “That’s your quarterback. Not mine. I’m going to go find one, because someday, a few years from now I will tell reporters, ‘The truth is this is a quarterback-driven league, and if you look at the teams that have been able to sustain success, they’ve been able to build it around a specific quarterback.’”
It doesn’t matter what grades Rivera said they had in Carolina on Haskins coming out of Ohio State. There were red flags surrounding him from the night he was drafted in 2019 until his life ended tragically when he was fatally struck by a dump truck trying to cross Interstate 595 in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, at 7 a.m. on Aug. 9, 2022.
The biggest alarm for Rivera should have been that Haskins was the owner’s son’s high school buddy who Snyder demanded the front office draft, over their objections, with the 15th pick in the first round. Rivera should have channeled his inner Marty Schottenheimer and told Snyder to play with his boat while the coach devoted his time to the most important position on the team — quarterback.
He had all the leverage over Snyder, having just signed a five-year deal with the radioactive owner and still being a highly regarded coach not yet poisoned by the aura of self-destruction that engulfed this franchise under Snyder. Yet Rivera went along with taking on the owner’s quarterback as his hope to begin his tenure in Washington.
If Rivera had made that stand then instead of wasting time on Haskins, the two top quarterback prospects available with the second pick in the 2020 draft were Tua Tagovailoa and Justin Herbert, after Joe Burrow went to Cincinnati with the first selection.
Rivera had the opportunity for a dramatic beginning. He had the chance to begin the rebuild with the biggest building block he would need — the quarterback. Several years later, Rivera would tell everyone that the difference maker for winning teams was building around a successful quarterback.
But he drafted pass rusher Chase Young with that second pick.
The lawsuit alleges that Bank of America turned “a blind eye” to “financial red flags” raised by Snyder’s financial mismanagement of the team, including an increasing reliance on debt and failure to pay his partners their quarterly share of profits. The centerpiece of Rothman’s lawsuit is the bank’s December 2018 approval of the franchise’s $55 million credit line taken out by Snyder without his minority partners’ knowledge or required approval. The bank allowed Snyder to draw $38 million in March 2019 from the credit line “without verifying Snyder had obtained board approval,” the lawsuit states.
The bank approved the loan at the same time Snyder was allegedly “self-dealing” by paying himself millions of dollars through the Commanders, including charging $3.5 million to place a team logo on his private jet and $7 million in expenses for “yacht(s), residential properties, personal staff, automobiles, and other personal entertainment and lifetime expenses,” according to the lawsuit.
By allegedly ignoring “Snyder’s improper and illegal dealings,” Bank of America executives “knew or reasonably anticipated that Snyder would have to sell the Franchise as a result of Snyder’s indebtedness,” Rothman’s lawyer Brian Kopp wrote in the 45-page complaint filed Wednesday in Tampa federal court.
The lawsuit alleges that the bank repeatedly put its own financial interests ahead of Rothman’s and the other two minority partners. Bank of America “failed to notify Rothman of the Franchises’ improper conduct prior to or after closing the 2018 Loan,” the lawsuit says. The loan “allowed the bad actors to disguise improper financial dealings, cash flow problems and internal Franchise self-dealing to the financial detriment of Rothman.”
The sale of the minority partners’ stake to Snyder — as well as the sale of the franchise to a group led by Josh Harris in July — was brokered by Bank of America. Rothman’s lawsuit alleges that Bank of America’s actions “forced Rothman to sell his franchise shares below market value.”
Rothman, who has been a client of Bank of America’s wealth management arm since the late 1990s, is seeking at least $75 million in compensatory damages.
“For profit and prestige, BofA blind-eyed legal, ethical and moral obligations,” Kopp said Wednesday. “As a client of the BofA’s financial service division, Bob was entitled to honest financial advice free of conflict and bad motive.”
Rothman declined to comment.
Washington Post (paywall)
Robert Rothman filed the lawsuit in U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida, Tampa Division. The suit seeks a jury trial and compensatory damages in excess of $75,000.
The lawsuit does not name Snyder or the NFL as defendants.
It alleges Bank of America and other defendants — including Merrill Lynch, Pierce, Fenner & Smith, Inc. — “violated federal and state law and conspired with and aided and abetted various individuals and entities in a manner that resulted in serious and substantial financial harm” to Rothman.
The lawsuit says that because “Snyder had a reliable and complicit financial relationship with Defendants and because Defendants chose to put their collective financial interests above the interests of Rothman, the Defendants and Snyder were able to conduct business in an illegal and improper manner to the financial detriment of Rothman.”
Bill Halldin, a spokesman for Bank of America, said, “We will vigorously defend ourselves against these allegations.”
The NFL declined to comment.
Allen said he has learned how fans look at it from their perspective of how can the team win over the next ten years. But he has also learned that as an NFL player, the only right way for him to look at it, is he is trying to win right now (this day, this game).
Allen then confirmed that a younger version of himself would have been upset with local fans and local media, wanting the team to lose for a better draft position, etc., but now that he has matured, having been in the NFL since the 2017 NFL draft, those things don’t bother him. He understands the fan base has their perspective, and they need to understand he has a player has his perspective.
To help ease the angst of an again-bewildered fan base, we imagine how an AI-based Commanders chatbot might answer some big questions about the future of the team
Q: Why did the Commanders bench Howell? Wasn’t he supposed to be the future?
A: For months, Rivera has talked about Howell as the future of the franchise, but in reality, that was likely premature. Howell had some great moments this season but his play over the last month deteriorated to the point he was a liability on the field and was benched in each of the last two contests. In the last four games, Howell has thrown just one touchdown against five interceptions. He’s completing only 46% of his passes in that span, all Commanders losses. Further problematic for Howell is that Brissett has excelled when he’s come in for the relief role. In less than a full game of work, Brissett has completed nearly 80% of his passes and thrown three touchdowns with no interceptions.
Q: What about Jacoby Brissett?
A: He signed just a one-year contract with Washington. A smart, veteran passer playing good football, Brissett will be an unrestricted free agent in March and will likely have many suitors.
Q: What about the rest of the roster? The rest of the staff?
A: Typically when there is regime change in the NFL most of the building gets flipped. That means players, coaches, front office and some non-football staffers. Considering the Harris group took control of the organization in late July, just one week before training camp opened, their hands were largely tied operationally. Now, after watching a full season play out, Harris must have a much better idea of what works and certainly what doesn’t.
Podcasts & videos
I talk a lot about the Commanders:— Ben Standig (@BenStandig) December 27, 2023
* With @Fsmoot21SeanT on my pod. Lots of Sam Howell/QB chatter https://t.co/7pMEz0JKP4
* With @AlGaldi on hishttps://t.co/jw7FzCZrqW
* On @team980 w/ @kevinsheehanDC https://t.co/htAIcB8hqK
Brissett is in, Pop-Tarts Bowl, 49ers Preview | Get Loud | Washington Commanders
Joe Theismann tells Doc & Lynnell benching Howell the right call, but further example of lack of patience with QBs in NFL
“I think the decision Ron made to make the change was the right one, but there’s no patience in the NFL anymore,” Joe Theismann, Doc’s old teammate, said when he joined the guys. “We’re gonna start Jacoby, Russell Wilson is being sat down, the Giants are gonna start Tyrod (Taylor), Cleveland is on their fourth guy. I mean, there will be like 65 quarterbacks that have started this year on 32 teams.”
NFC East links
Veteran Tyrod Taylor will lead the Giants against the Rams on Sunday
Coach Brian Daboll announced the change on Wednesday, saying Taylor provided a spark on Christmas Day in a loss in Philadelphia. The 34-year-old veteran will make his fourth start of the season Sunday against the Los Angeles Rams (8-7) at MetLife Stadium.
An undrafted rookie free agent who grew up in New Jersey, DeVito had started the past six games for the Giants (5-10) and led them on a three-game winning streak that got them within striking distance of a playoff berth earlier this month.
However, the Giants were beaten by the Saints in New Orleans on Dec. 17 and then had their playoff hopes extinguished on Monday in a 33-25 loss to the Eagles.
Taylor, who had started three games after Daniel Jones was sidelined by a neck injury in October, replaced DeVito in the second half against Philadelphia with New York down 20-3. He sparked the offense and got the Giants within 30-25 with a 69-yard touchdown pass to Darius Slayton in the fourth quarter.
Blogging the Boys
Micah Parsons has a right to be outraged by NFL officiating.
Sunday afternoon against the Dolphins, there were numerous occasions in which Parsons could have drawn a holding call, and yet, nothing. Here’s about a dozen examples the referees could have thrown the penalty flag against Miami for holding Parsons. Some obvious, some questionable, but all potentially flagable.
It’s pretty obvious NFL officiating needs to be held accountable. But until things change, we will probably continue to hear/see all of the “Free Micah Parsons!” Propaganda, and deservedly so. Because until that time comes, coaches can instruct their players to continue to hold Parsons because he’s not going to draw those calls...
NFL league links
Pro Football Talk
[T]he Broncos are moving on.
That’s coach Sean Payton’s way. Once it’s been deterined that a mistake has been made, don’t double down. Move on, move out. If Payton had any desire to keep Wilson at the terms of his current deal, Wilson wouldn’t be benched for the balance of the season. They’d keep things going with Wilson, instead of looking for a spark from Jarrett Stidham.
A trade could happen, but it won’t. Wilson has a no-trade clause. And he has no reason to waive it. Why consent to an arrangement that results in his new team giving anything of value to the Broncos when Wilson can simply wait to be released and pick his destination?
With $39 million already fully guaranteed to Wilson in 2024, he could do a one-year deal for the veteran minimum with a new team, forcing the Broncos to pay the balance.
That’s the smart path for Wilson. One year. League minimum. Stick the Broncos with the balance. Re-establish himself in his city of choice. Then, re-sign in 2025 or hit the market again.
From the moment the Broncos made it clear that Wilson will be benched, that became the only outcome. He’ll be released before the next $37 million in injury guarantees become fully guaranteed, on the fifth day of the league year. Then, the question becomes where he’ll go next.
Robert Saleh: No regrets on decision not to sign Joe Flacco. https://t.co/O1IhxHItgM— ProFootballTalk (@ProFootballTalk) December 27, 2023
Antonio Pierce on bid to keep Raiders coaching job: "My resume is on the grass"https://t.co/2qMfaPKygu— Around The NFL (@AroundTheNFL) December 28, 2023