During camp, it has become clear that RPOs will be a major part of the West Coast scheme offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy brought with him from Kansas City. The Chiefs used RPOs often and to great effect under Bieniemy, and Sam Howell’s experience with them in college at North Carolina suggests the Commanders may lean on them even more.
Howell, who will start the preseason opener Friday night in Cleveland, seems nearly giddy to show his ability with RPOs.
“That’s pretty much all we did in college,” he said. “All of our run game stuff in college was RPO stuff, and last year’s [Commanders] offense wasn’t near as much as that. But in Eric Bieniemy’s offense, there is a lot of RPO stuff, and a lot of stuff that I’m very familiar with. Similar concepts, some of the same exact concepts that we ran at UNC. So I’m very confident in my RPO game … and I think you can really make defenses wrong in the run game when you have the RPO ability.”
By design, it can be difficult to tell the difference between an RPO, play action from shotgun and “zone read,” which can look like an RPO but only has the options of run (keeper) or run (handoff). One of the main tenets of an RPO is that it incorporates a run and a quick pass, such as a slant. The quarterback’s job is to read the key defender, often a linebacker or an end, and decide whether to run or pass. If he passes, he must get the ball out quickly
One would expect Howell to play the first series or two. Anything more than that seems unlikely, but it’s also dependent on how the player performs right out of the gate.
If Howell looks smooth and leads the Commanders on a scoring drive, then Rivera will probably take him out. If things are a bit disjointed and the timing isn’t there, keeping him in a little longer might be the best course of action.
In terms of the season’s outlook for Howell, it’s hanging in the balance. But according to Chris Trapasso of CBS Sports, having Bieniemy and stud wide receiver Terry McLaurin to call upon might be enough to maximize what appears to be an exceptional opportunity.
“While [Sam] Howell isn’t the most pinpoint accurate passer, he possesses a lot of the same attributes — albeit at a lesser degree — as the game’s best quarterbacks. Of course, he’ll be more comfortable in Year 2 than his rookie campaign, and while I don’t adore his supporting cast, [Terry] McLaurin and new offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy are two aces in the hole for Howell. The Commanders will feel good about the long-term future at the quarterback spot for the first time in a long time after Howell’s second season.”
- Chris Trapasso, CBS Sports
Howell is still in the transition period from perennial backup to prominent starter. The Commanders are likely going to start slowly before perhaps giving him a quarter or even a half next week, which can hopefully add to the solid foundation he’s already built throughout the summer en route to a profitable campaign.
[T]here are specific things head coach Ron Rivera wants to see from his young passer Friday.
“I think the biggest thing is when we get on the field, more so than anything else, is going to be his command in the huddle and then his command at the line of scrimmage and then his decision-making once the ball snapped,” Rivera said Wednesday. “That’s what we’re looking for, is to see how he handles all those unique situations.”
Washington must manage a delicate balance with Howell. Rivera has said when the starters are out, Howell will be out, and that’s the case for each preseason game. It’s tough because Howell needs the experience. But as the starting quarterback, he can’t be playing in the second half of a meaningless preseason game behind anything other than the starting offensive line.
So, for the coaching staff, it’s about the little things for Howell. How he handles the huddle, everything pre-snap, etc., more so than how many yards he passes for or touchdowns he throws over the next three weeks.
The Washington Commanders will be counting heavily on their wideout room in 2023.
Dyami Brown - Commanders WR
- Height: 6-foot-0
There was a moment early last season against the Tennessee Titans when it appeared Dyami Brown had arrived. He caught two touchdowns from Carson Wentz – a 75-yard twisting grab and an even better 30-yard one-handed catch against tight coverage. And then – nothing.
There is some hope that being reunited with college quarterback Sam Howell will awaken the serious potential of Brown as a deep threat. Time will tell as to whether or not this faith is repaid.
BEST: Brown becomes the Washington Commanders’ home run hitter. He may only catch 25 balls, but he will average 18 yards per reception and will score six touchdowns.
WORST: Brown loses a training camp battle against similar players Byron Pringle and Mitchell Tinsley, finding himself a casualty of the numbers game. Washington briefly inks him to the practice squad, but another team will scoop him up at some point.
REALISTIC: There’s a chance Brown doesn’t make the final roster, but I don’t think that’s very likely. He will stick around and get another year to prove he can make plays.
The fact that Howell teamed with him at North Carolina may help some, but far more important is the fact that the signal-caller can throw deep. That was never a strength of Taylor Heinicke.
Byron Pringle - Commanders WR
- Height: 6-foot-1
I am very happy the Washington Commanders signed Byron Pringle. He has always stepped up in big-game situations. In his final year playing under Eric Bieniemy with the Kansas City Chiefs, he caught 42 balls, and more than 75 percent of them resulted in first-downs or touchdowns.
Pringle represents a significant upgrade over what the Commanders got out of their backup receivers last season.
BEST: Pringle starts a couple of games as the top three deal with minor injury issues, but is clearly established as the fourth wideout. Catches 40 balls for 500 receiving yards and 30 first downs.
WORST: Washington decides to go with younger players like Dyami Brown and Mitchell Tinsley. Pringle is released in the final round of cuts.
REALISTIC: Those younger players could knock him out, but I don’t think it will happen. Pringle is 29 years old and has another year or two as a high-quality backup. Maybe not 40 catches and 30 first-downs worth – but 30 and 20 could be possible.
Bullock’s Film Room
Breaking down a catch by Jahan Dotson during Washington Commanders training camp practices.
Today I wanted to highlight a particular play I saw on Twitter yesterday from my friends over at the Redzone In The Lab podcast. Here’s the link to the clip:
The reason I wanted to highlight this particular play is because it shows some encouraging signs from Sam Howell. Let’s get the play drawn up and take a closer look.
This is the look we’re faced with at the start of the clip. The offense is working out of 11 personnel (one running back, one tight end, three receivers) and uses a trips set to the left. The interesting thing about this formation is that the tight end aligns outside the two receivers to the left and Terry McLaurin is the inside receiver of that group. Typically he’d be the receiver isolated on the other side of the formation, but on this play that role goes to Jahan Dotson instead.
On the other side of the ball, the defense is showing a heavy blitz look with seven defenders on the line of scrimmage. The four defensive lineman are joined by linebackers Cody Barton and Jamin Davis as well as safety Kam Curl as the defense looks to disguise its true intentions. The offense has to be ready to account for all seven and even possibly slot corner Benjamin St-Juste, who is also creeping inside and showing the potential to blitz. Obviously the offensive line can only account for five and with the running back in the backfield, they can pick up six. But with the tight end aligned outside, if the defense rushes any more than that, Sam Howell would be responsible for the extra rusher by having to get the ball out quickly.
With that laid out, there’s a few things for Howell to process before the ball is even snapped here. For a start, he has to know how many of the defenders on the line of scrimmage can be blocked by his offensive line and which defender(s) he’d need to be responsible for if the defense does send a big blitz. With that in mind, he’s probably thinking pre-snap that he needs to be ready to throw hot if the blitz comes.
Washington Commanders coach Ron Rivera spoke highly of safety Percy Butler this week.
“You know, another young guy to keep an eye on is [S] Percy [Butler],” Rivera said. “You know, Percy’s a guy that runs very well and plays very fast. So, you’ve gotta find ways to get those type of players on the field.”
Butler was a fourth-round pick out of Louisiana in 2022. In his rookie season, Butler appeared in 15 games, recording 11 combined tackles and a fumble recovery. Kamren Curl and Darrick Forrest are currently penciled in as the starting safeties, but if Butler is able to take a step forward in 2023, he would give Rivera and defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio another chess piece to work with in what has a chance to be a strong secondary.
That’s of course, on top of one of the league’s elite defensive lines, which features two excellent defensive tackles in Daron Payne and Jonathan Allen, along with Montez Sweat and Chase Young coming off the edge.
Episode 630 - For the 3rd time in 10 months, Ron Rivera has had to clarify/apologize for something he said at a press conference. Why does this keep happening?— Al Galdi (@AlGaldi) August 10, 2023
I also talk #Commanders defense off comments from Jack Del Rio, #Nats getting no-hit & #Orioles.https://t.co/Q8654PcBbL
with my fellow young reporters @Sam4TR, @Matthew_Paras and @PeteHaileyNBCS as we discuss all topics from training camp: standouts; QB play and more. What they want to see vs the Browns. A classic dad bit by me. @ESPNRichmond https://t.co/wNVqcqRACv— John Keim (@john_keim) August 10, 2023
Take a look at the Washington Commanders traveling to Cleveland for their preseason opener against the Browns.
NFC East links
Big Blue View
Unfortunately it’s more the exception than the norm
What can [an NFL team] really expect from [rookie cornerbacks], though? Fans expect first round picks to excel, despite the fact that historically only about half of all first rounders become great players. Furthermore the hit/miss ratio has decreased in recent years once you get down to the lower part of the first round, as evidenced by the number of fifth year options that teams picked up. Sixth-round picks are always considered long shots to succeed, which is true of players at any position drafted that late.
Add to that the fact that cornerback is one of the most difficult positions to play in today’s NFL, with rule changes over the past several decades that increasingly favor receivers and quarterbacks. The rules that cornerbacks face in the NFL are more draconian than those they experienced in college, where they made the plays that got them drafted:
- Contact with receivers in college is allowed anywhere as long as the pass has not yet been thrown. In the NFL, contact is restricted to within five yards of the line of scrimmage.
- Defensive interference in the NFL results in an automatic first down at the spot of the foul. In college, that is only true if the foul is within 15 yards of the line of scrimmage. A foul beyond that distance results in a 15-yard penalty and automatic first down.
So cornerbacks enter the NFL having to adjust to a game that is tilted more against them. It’s reasonable to expect an adjustment period.
There was one elite rookie cornerback in the NFL last season, Sauce Gardner. Out of 43 who took the field for even 10 snaps, never mind the others who took less than that or didn’t see the field at all. And Sauce wasn’t even the first cornerback taken. That would be Derek Stingley, who played fewer than half of the snaps (309) and had a 49.9 PFF grade. Things get only a little better if we include those with very good coverage grades: Tariq Woolen, Trent McDuffie, and Martin Emerson Jr.
And that’s the problem.
NFL league links
Texans WR Tank Dell should push for more playing time. The rookie receiver spun Patriots defensive backs into a tizzy time after time. The 5-foot-8 Houston product was a blur, using quick moves to gain separation and hitting another gear after the catch. In 17 routes run, Dell caught 5 of 8 targets for 65 yards and a touchdown. Even when he wasn’t targeted, the rookie was open often. Dell was a menace on short routes, getting open off the line, giving the QB an easy target. On three of his five receptions, the wideout generated 3-plus yards of separation, per Next Gen Stats. Dell capped off his night with an acrobatic touchdown grab. The ball initially slipped through his hands, but the rookie stayed with the play, pinning the ball to his leg for the score before sliding out of bounds. In a Texans receiver corps highlighted by Nico Collins, Robert Woods, John Metchie III and Noah Brown, Dell could push for snaps, particularly from the slot. Houston moved him around Thursday (14 wide, three slot). The big question was always Dell’s size. If he proves he can get off press coverage when the competition ramps up, he should be a guy who improves as the year wears on.
C.J. Stroud struggles. The No. 2 overall pick played just two series, throwing an interception on the opening drive. Stroud was under siege on his dropbacks and looked slow to pull the trigger. Davis Mills ran the offense with more rhythm. Stroud’s first night under the NFL lights, as detailed here, was a rough one thanks in large part to White and the Pats’ pass rush.
Kyle Shanahan Said The 49ers Likely Would Have Signed Philip Rivers To Play QB In The Super Bowl If They Had Beaten The Eagles In The NFC Championship Game
[T]he Eagles ruined everything by beating the 49ers backup backup QB and backup backup backup QB before they just gave Christian McCaffrey the ball to mercy kill their season. But holy shit it would’ve been fun to see the chaos when Schefter tweeted Philip Rivers was being signed to start in the Super Bowl, his entire litter of kids filling an entire suite in Arizona, and maybe just maybe writing a flat out BONKERS ending to his career that nobody saw. Thanks for nothing Smitty! (JK General, I just had to pile on since you are in the blender right now).
Anyway, I think the NFL should make a rule that if any team’s QB room gets ravaged by injury in the AFC or NFC Championship Game like San Francisco’s did, Philip Rivers should automatically become their starting QB in the Super Bowl for all the great storylines I just laid out. Plus let’s be honest, Philip Rivers has to lead to league in last minute comeback attempts that ended in wild fashion. Seeing a Philip Rivers Ending during The Big Game™ would make it the greatest Super Bowl ever, even if he ended up coming short just like he did countless times during the end of the late afternoon games right before 60 Minutes started and signaled the beginning of the end for the weekend. If Goodell has a shred of a brain in his skull, he will institute the Philip Rivers Automatic Super Bowl QB rule tomorrow. But I’m not holding my breath.
Actually what am I saying? Being the 49ers Emergency QB is the best gig in sports since it is a certainty that everybody on the depth chart at that position is going to end up with a season-ending injury as long as Shanahan is coaching there. I don’t know if it’s the Football Gods exacting revenge for Kyle and his dad torturing fantasy players by turning the most random running backs into studs while turning the first rounder you drafted into a bench player or just awful luck. But something tells me Kyle and Philip will be talking about Rivers joining the 49ers at some point after Christmas.