Front Office Sports
On Wednesday, the House Oversight Committee voted 31-9 to advance a bill that allows for a 99-year lease for the land — and a potential new stadium for the Washington Commanders — on the RFK site where the franchise played for 36 seasons.
The RFK bill will next head to the House floor for a vote and is expected to be taken up by the Senate in the coming weeks. How quickly the bill advances, however, likely hinges on whether Congress can avoid a government shutdown ahead of a Sept. 30 deadline to agree on a new budget.
While the RFK bill has gained bipartisan support, the issue of public financing arose an unexpected topic of the hearing.
“We have a national problem with municipalities, counties, and states being shaken down by very popular billion-dollar franchises,” Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Maryland) told a small group of reporters as the committee sat in recess. “We’ve been hearing from people around the country and in Washington about opposing public dollars going for the construction of a new stadium. I think that’s why people are torn about it.”
“They’re one of the elite teams in the AFC,” Rivera said after Wednesday’s practice. “I know they’re 1-1, but records don’t mean anything in this situation.”
There’s been a lot for the Commanders to feel good about lately. They’re 2-0 for the first time in 12 years, and they came back from deficits in both games to do so. The 2023 season opener was played in front of a sold-out crowd, and it was recently announced that Sunday’s game against the Bills is also sold out.
But with a Super Bowl contender coming to town with hopes of handing Washington its first loss, none of coaches or players are letting the good vibes go to their heads.
“We’ve got to gear up,” Rivera said. “We’ve got to practice, prepare, get ourselves ready to go.”
Just look at their stats if you need any indication that the Bills still pose a serious threat. They have a top five offense and defense — they’re the only team in the league that can boast about that — and they allow the fourth fewest points on defense.
Howell kept it blunt when evaluating the Bills: “Probably the best defense we’ve played so far this year.”
“Just everywhere you look on the field, there’s a good player,” Howell said. “They’re a veteran group, they know exactly what they’re doing in coverage, and they don’t do a whole bunch of crazy looks. They kind of play what they play and they’re really good at it. So, we got to be ready for that stuff.”
The Athletic (paywall)
Anyone who tracks the league’s long list of sanctions would understand. Gates, who signed as a free agent this offseason, has played in four games for Washington, including two in the preseason. He’s received fines in half of those contests totaling more than $20,000.
Based on the five-year veteran’s relentless intensity — “He’s the type of player that’s always going to have your back,” defensive end Montez Sweat said — and ability to anger foes like Cowboys all-world linebacker Micah Parsons, the logical assumption is that he’ll receive more.
“Nick’s a fiery competitor. You need guys like that on every team,” Washington left tackle Charles Leno Jr. said. “And he brings out that edge you need on the offensive line. He can go right up to the line every time — and I don’t see anything wrong with that.”
But this 6-foot-6, 318-pounder isn’t some all-work, no-fun type; he’s a legit free spirit. Gates is working toward covering his entire body (below the neck) in tattoos. This chef wannabe once considered himself a Rachael Ray fanatic and proudly labels himself “part fish” after surgeons grafted shark skin to his left leg following a gruesome 2021 leg injury suffered, coincidentally, against Washington.
Whenever Gates leaves the locker room of the now 2-0 Commanders for the practice field, he arrives wearing a cutoff 63 jersey. This fashion choice isn’t about showing off (nonexistent) ripped abs. It’s about displaying his ample belly.
“Yeah, I don’t care. I look at myself in the mirror every day. There is nothing someone could say to me that I haven’t said to myself two inches in front of the mirror,” Gates said following Washington’s final preseason game.
“I just like the way it looks,” Gates continued. “Little fat boy, let my belly out, you know? I know what I got.”
“He has an absolute cannon for an arm,” ESPN analyst Dan Orlovsky said on One Bills Live. “Josh Allen has one of the best arms in football — certainly down the field. Sam Howell, it’s not that good, but it ain’t far off (from Allen).”
That’s certainly high praise for Howell, who completed 69 percent of his passes for 299 yards and two touchdowns in Washington’s Week 2 win against the Denver Broncos. On both of his touchdowns in Sunday’s win, Howell was able to place the ball in exactly the right spot in order to land the score.
“I think it’s both, a guy’s mindset that he can go ahead and he can make those plays and then his ability to anticipate to see where the defender is,” coach Ron Rivera said. “He obviously saw that Terry [McLaurin] was in position to run by these guys, and if he laid it out, Terry would go get it and that’s exactly what I thought happened...as far as [Logan Thomas’s] was concerned, the one that I saw was a separation between the two defenders and so the ball was thrown in front to lead him just in the position to catch it.”
The Washington Commanders remain undefeated two weeks into the 2023 NFL regular season schedule.
After giving up a whopping six sacks in the season opener against the Arizona Cardinals, the Commanders’ protection surrendered another four to a solid Denver Broncos defense during Week 2.
Most are quick to blame the re-tooled offensive line for any apparent missed assignments. It can also be easy for fans to admonish a young quarterback who seems to have a bad habit of holding the ball too long.
In reality, every sack is its own entity, with multiple variables in play on each snap. This makes determining the cause or fault for any particular sack a unique challenge in itself.
To achieve consistent protection, the play-caller, offensive line, and quarterback must work to form a special type of cohesion and comfortability in both their communication and the concepts being run.
With new starters all along the offensive front, continuity will only come with time and reps together.
New starting center Nick Gates has been a welcome sight in D.C., displaying toughness and a certain nasty disposition in finishing blocks and sticking up for his teammates. Washington’s free agent stop gap at center has been generally solid through the first two weeks, but has let up two sacks while committing one penalty and could surely stand to improve his pass protection.
The Commanders’ other big free agent acquisition this offseason, starting right tackle Andrew Wylie, has struggled with pass protection as well. He’s given up two sacks and conceded one penalty.
Starting guards Sam Cosmi and Saahdiq Charles have been the strength of the unit, both routinely popping out on film by finishing blocks at the second level. This is immensely encouraging considering the questions surrounding the duo before 2023.
Charles, in particular, has shown up in a big way this season, pleasantly surprising by consistently abusing defenders and opening up big lanes in the run and screen game.
With veteran mainstay Charles Leno Jr. performing adequately manning the blind side, and slight adjustments to communications with protections across the front, the Commanders’ unheralded offensive line may just have the makings of one of the league’s toughest and most physical units.
Washington Commanders quarterback Sam Howell faces his toughest challenge yet with the Buffalo Bills and quarterback Josh Allen coming to town in Week 3.
“I’m always trying to find ways to get the ball out of my hand and limit sacks,” Howell said when asked about his own growth and development. “We still had more than we’d like to have. So we just gotta continue to do a better job of that stuff, but that’s a big emphasis for me...when stuff isn’t there downfield just try to find an incompletion. An incompletion is better than a sack.”
Howell is commonly complimentary of his teammates giving credit for plays to those playing around him and resisting taking credit for himself.
Asked about his 30-yard touchdown pass to Terry McLaurin, for example, Howell gave credit to the receiver and his offensive line for providing the time and for making the catch.
But he did acknowledge at least a little bit of self-praise for his own performance in Week 2.
“I just think I played more decisive,” Howell said. “I think my decision-making overall was better...getting the ball out on time. So I felt like I was in good rhythm.”
Bullock’s Film Room (subscription)
Breaking down running back Brian Robinson’s performance against the Broncos
Washington Commanders running back Brian Robinson played a huge role in their comeback victory over the Denver Broncos this past weekend. As a runner, Robinson ran for 87 yards and two touchdowns on 18 carries, while also converting what turned out to be a critical two point attempt. On top of that, Robinson added 42 more yards on three catches, bringing his total impact on the game to 129 yards, two touchdowns and a two point conversion.
Head coach Ron Rivera has spoken about how it’s taken Robinson some time to get used to new offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy’s system and how Bieniemy likes things to be run, but it appears as though Robinson is starting to get a good handle on things. In college, Robinson was more natural on gap scheme runs and while this offense does use plenty of gap scheme runs, it also calls for a lot of zone runs, which aren’t necessarily Robinson’s specialty. That being said, against the Broncos, he started to show some improvement in that area.
While Robinson is improving as a zone runner, he still remains efficient in other areas of his game that are strengths. He showed against the Broncos that he is still a very capable gap scheme runner and when he gets going, he’s incredibly hard to bring down.
That refusal to go down along with his ability to keep his legs pumping and fighting for every possible yard is a hugely desirable trait in a running back because it can have a huge impact in critical situations. When the Commanders begin their comeback, they went for an early two point conversion, which they only converted successfully thanks to Robinson’s desire to get into the end zone and refusal to be tackled short of it.
Robinson didn’t just pick up a two point conversion, he also scored two touchdowns of his own.
A lot of Robinson’s work was late on when the Commanders were trying to run out the clock and the Broncos were loading the box to stop the run, so even though he still managed 87 yards at 4.8 yards per carry, the stats don’t come close to telling the full story of his performance. Even his contribution in the passing game, where he picked up two huge chunk plays on screens was significant.
It certainly appears as though Robinson is starting to get to grips with the new system and the way Bieniemy wants to do things. With two tough games coming up against the Bills and Eagles back to back, they’ll need every bit of Robinson’s ability if they are to grind out a win or two from those games.
This is what the Washington Commanders envisioned. Running back Brian Robinson Jr. powering through the middle on runs, using patience, vision and a punishing lowering of the shoulder to gain yards. Then he flashed his ability to help in the passing game as well.
And then there was running back Antonio Gibson, getting the ball in space and using his speed to make a big play.
If the Commanders’ offense is going to build off a 35-point showing in a win at the Denver Broncos on Sunday, those two visions must continue to occur.
Washington does not want the passing game to be solely responsible for a consistent attack. Quarterback Sam Howell is 3-0 as an NFL starter, but he’s been sacked 10 times in two games — a function of his own inexperience and saying he holds the ball too long at times and protection that has broken down.
That’s why the run game needs to help power the offense. Two days before facing the Broncos, Washington coach Ron Rivera said Robinson was still learning Eric Bieniemy’s offense. Rivera said the offense coaches have been vocal about what he must do.
“They’re constantly on him because they really think he can flourish in this offense if he can grasp it,” Rivera said, “do little detailed things, understand how important and the reason why to do a lot of these things. He’s got tremendous natural skills and again, it’s just finding his stride within what we do.”
DC Sports King
Thomas had two catches for 22 yards, pedestrian numbers if looking at the box score. But his second catch was a huge touchdown for the Commanders.
Washington faced 4th and goal late in the second quarter while trailing 21-3. commanders linebacker Jamin Davis stripped Broncos quarterback Russell Wilson, and Washington recovered the ball, preventing a promising Denver drive from adding more points.
Washington got near the goal line, but miscues on the first three drives left the Commanders to decide to go for it on fourth down. They had an 18-point deficit and were in danger of giving the Broncos the ball back for one final drive. Also, Denver’s offense was getting the ball at the start of the second half.
Howell delivered a perfectly placed pass over the middle to Logan Thomas. Thomas high-pointed the ball to haul it in for a score. Unfortunately, an out-of-place Broncos safety, Kareem Jackson, tried to dislodge the ball from Thomas by lounging into the tight end’s helmet.
The game’s complexion would’ve been altered if Thomas didn’t make that catch. Thomas would have been out of the game. Washington trailed 21-3, and the team’s mood may have been different.
Instead, the Commanders converted the two-point conversion after Thomas’ touchdown to cut the deficit to 21-11. The defense made a stop just before the half, and Washington’s offense put them in position for a Joey Slye field goal just before halftime, cutting Denver’s lead to 21-14.
Daron Payne and Logan Thomas missed the Washington Commanders’ practice on Wednesday. The Commanders host the Buffalo Bills on Sunday.
Defensive tackle Daron Payne didn’t practice on Wednesday with an ankle injury. Payne had one sack, two tackles for loss and three quarterback hits in Washington’s 35-33 win over the Denver Broncos. Payne downplayed his absence at practice.
“I feel good,” Payne said. “Good to go.”
Logan Thomas also didn’t practice after suffering a concussion against Denver.
Washington Post (paywall)
Thursday night, Josh Harris — currently enjoying the heck out of his honeymoon as the new Commanders owner — will throw out the first pitch at Nationals Park. Next month, when the Commanders host the Chicago Bears, the football team will honor the baseball team.
What’s with the cross-pollination, which the teams are jointly billing as “Capital Crossover: Diamonds and Gridiron”?
“We’re looking forward to developing a meaningful relationship with Josh and his team,” Nationals owner Mark Lerner said in a statement when the arrangement was announced, “and this series is the perfect way to begin a new era of professional football in the District.”
That statement roughly translates to: Daniel Snyder is no longer the NFL team’s owner, which means the NFL team is no longer on an island. Let’s see if we can enjoy each other’s company and support.
Podcasts & videos
With @agetzenberg talking Bills. The big change in Josh Allen; strength of the D&where the Commanders can take advantage. More. Info from me after interview sessions Wednesday. @ESPNRichmond https://t.co/XgnuZZ0LwH— John Keim (@john_keim) September 21, 2023
Episode 661 - As he did in 2021, Ron Rivera is calling a Wk 3 game vs. Buffalo a measuring-stick game. Will this time go better than last time? I discuss this & much more from Ron & Sam Howell on Wednesday, including insight on the #Commanders' screen game.https://t.co/bIW7rv01MA— Al Galdi (@AlGaldi) September 21, 2023
Check out the best photos from the Commanders’ first practice of the week as they prepare for their Week 3 matchup against the Buffalo Bills.
NFC East links
The early surprise: The Cowboys are averaging five sacks per game
The verdict: Mirage-ish. With star linebacker Micah Parsons, maybe anything is possible, but averaging five sacks per game seems a bit much. The NFL record for sacks in a season is 72, set by the 1984 Chicago Bears. To think the Cowboys will get 85 sacks at their current pace is mind-boggling. But the Cowboys have a pass rush that can come from “anywhere at any time,” according to defensive coordinator Dan Quinn. It’s not reliant on only Parsons, who has three sacks in two games. The Cowboys’ record for sacks in a season is 62. That seems doable, especially since the core of this defense produced 54 sacks last year.
The early surprise: The Giants’ defense has zero sacks
The verdict: Real ... for now. That’s right, the old goose egg after two games. This isn’t what you expect from Wink Martindale’s aggressive defense. The defensive front is supposed to be the strength of this team. But it will not last. The Giants started to blitz relentlessly and got pressure in the second half on Sunday. The sacks will come. They were in the top half of the league (13th) last season with mostly the same group.
The early surprise: The Eagles are ranked 21st in passing offense
The verdict: Mirage. Jalen Hurts and the Eagles’ passing offense have shown some rust in averaging 162.5 yards per game, but the early struggles can be largely tied to how opponents are playing them. Defenses are dropping seven and eight men into coverage and keeping the safeties back to prevent big plays downfield. If Philadelphia continues to run the ball effectively (more than 250 rushing yards in Week 2), it’ll force defenses to change their approach, which should open things up through the air.
The early surprise: DE Montez Sweat has 1.5 sacks per game
The verdict: Real. Sweat probably won’t average 1.5 sacks per game this season; that’d set an NFL record. But it speaks to him finishing more at the quarterback, as he failed to record a double-digit sack season in his first four years. Some of his improvement stems from his work with assistant line coach Ryan Kerrigan, the team’s all-time sack leader. But it’s also a function of the talent around him. The line has multiple playmakers in tackles Daron Payne and Jonathan Allen and fellow end Chase Young. Sweat has been relentless more than he’s been quick to the ball; he’s taking advantage of passers either being flushed from the pocket or holding the ball thanks to improved coverage in the secondary. That said, Sweat is playing at a high level.
NFL league links
The Athletic (paywall)
[T]he average age for starting quarterbacks was the youngest in an opening week since 1957 when there were 12 teams instead of the current 32. Young isn’t necessarily bad, but quarterbacks successful enough to start deep into their 30s are generally better than any pool of less-accomplished players, which invariably includes flameouts.
The table below separates recent Week 1 starting quarterbacks into four buckets based on experience: 1-4 years, 5-8 years, 6-9 years and 13-plus years. The shaded final column shows a sharp decline in the number of quarterbacks with the most seasoning.
The league has gotten younger at quarterback more quickly than almost ever before. There were 15 starting quarterbacks with less than five years of experience in Week 1, a peak reached one other time (2012) since 2002. Quarterbacks with less experience generally can handle less of the playbook, which sometimes results in scaled-back schemes that defenses can solve more readily. This all comes at a time when teams are limited to fewer offseason practices than ever before, per the collective bargaining agreement, so there’s less time to get young players ready.
The NFL ideally would be primed to enjoy the best of young and old quarterbacks for years to come. Younger stars Patrick Mahomes, Joe Burrow, Josh Allen and Justin Herbert all earned top-tier commendation from 50 coaches and executives in 2023 Quarterback Tiers, with Jalen Hurts and Trevor Lawrence gaining ground. Former MVP Lamar Jackson, still just 26, is in the mix as well.
But the heralded 2012 class of drafted quarterbacks, which would be entering its 13th season in 2024, has unraveled. Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III met early retirements. Russell Wilson and Ryan Tannehill are holding on but might not be starters beyond this season. Kirk Cousins is still going strong but isn’t the superstar Luck, Griffin and Wilson could have been if their careers had maintained their early trajectories.
Cam Newton (2011 draft) and Sam Bradford (2010) are among the highly drafted quarterbacks who might be thriving in that 13-plus bucket if their careers had gone as hoped.
Washington Post (paywall)
A fan who died after an altercation at Sunday night’s New England Patriots game did not suffer a “traumatic injury,” though findings from a preliminary autopsy revealed the man to have an unspecified “medical issue,” according to the Norfolk County (Mass.) district attorney’s office.
“Our investigation has included numerous law enforcement interviews and the examination of multiple angles of video capturing the scuffle prior to Mr. Dale Mooney’s collapse during the Sunday night game at Gillette Stadium,” the district attorney’s office said in a statement. “Preliminary autopsy results did not suggest traumatic injury, but did identify a medical issue.”
“[Mooney] went over to Section 311 and he basically engaged in mutual combat with another fan,” the witness, Joseph Kilmartin, told the Globe. “A lot of people started trying to pull them apart. … It looked like somebody was in the middle of them, and then a man in the Dolphins jersey reached over and he connected with two punches to the victim’s head. It wasn’t something crazy or out of the ordinary until, 30 seconds later, the guy wasn’t getting up.”
The Norfolk County district attorney’s office said Monday it was overseeing the state police probe into the incident. No charges have been filed.