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Daily Slop - 9 Feb 24: Why Eric Bieniemy flamed out in Washington

A collection of articles, podcasts & tweets from around the web to keep you in touch with the Commanders, the NFC East and the NFL in general

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Eric Bieniemy lasted one season with the Commanders. Here’s what went wrong.

The Commanders job, which had its share of difficulties with an unproven starting quarterback, gave Bieniemy play-calling duties and the added title of assistant head coach. But he inherited a roster that was built for the offense of the previous coordinator, Scott Turner, and included minimal investment in the offensive line. Even so, it appeared to be another step toward trying to prove he deserved to run a team after he spent five seasons as the Kansas City Chiefs’ coordinator and interviewed with 15 teams to be a head coach.

But in Bieniemy’s lone season in Washington, the Commanders’ offense was inconsistent and unbalanced, and quarterback Sam Howell regressed as the season went on. Bieniemy was hardly the team’s only or biggest problem; its 4-13 finish was the result of myriad issues on the field and in the front office.

In the locker room, signs of frustration were evident throughout the season. After Washington’s last game, a blowout loss to the Dallas Cowboys, tight end Logan Thomas was as direct as any player had been about the simmering tensions between Bieniemy and his players.

Other players, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal team dynamics, described Bieniemy as a hard-working coach who hamstrung his own efforts with poor communication, stubborn play-calling and a disregard for player feedback.

During a training camp practice, cornerback Benjamin St-Juste hit tight end Cole Turner hard and stood over him, glaring. Wide receiver and team captain Terry McLaurin believed the play had been unsportsmanlike and got in St-Juste’s face.

From the sideline, Bieniemy screamed at McLaurin and others to “stop with the dumb s--- and do your f---ing job.”

McLaurin yelled back: “Can’t do that s--- to your teammate, bro!

The next week, then-coach Ron Rivera said some players had gone to him because they were “a little concerned” about Bieniemy’s coaching style. Rivera attempted to clarify his comments the following day, and multiple players went on the record to acknowledge the value of Bieniemy’s hard-nosed approach.

Multiple people said there was often confusion on game days because offensive adjustments were not clearly communicated to players and assistants didn’t seem to be on the same page. Behind the scenes, some players urged their position coaches to beg Bieniemy to run the ball more.

One player felt Rivera delegated too much and failed to step in or make changes quickly when warranted.

“It was EB’s f---ing team,” another said.


Commanders.com

Rick Spielman: ‘There’s no question’ Dan Quinn is right choice for Commanders HC

Spielman wasn’t the prevailing voice in the Commanders’ decision to hire Dan Quinn, but his opinions mattered to Harris, Myers and the team’s search committee. As someone who spent two decades in NFL front offices, he was able to offer input based on his choices, both right and wrong, to help guide Harris and his fellow partners on who should lead the franchise going forward.

After seeing the process firsthand, and hearing Quinn’s press conference, he’s confident the Commanders made the right choice.

“There’s no question,” Spielman said. “Just off his press conference. He’s a leader of men. I think that’s exactly what Josh and [general manager] Adam [Peters] were looking for in a head coach.”

Although Quinn was a strong candidate from the start of the process, he was not the only candidate that Washington was reportedly interested in speaking with. Unlike with the hiring of Peters, which took about a week, Harris and the committee felt that they could take their time and give several coaches serious consideration.

Washington was also competing with seven other teams looking for head coaches. Teams slowly started to find their guys, and eventually, Washington was the only team left without a head coach. Still, Washington remained patient, despite the angst of fans looking for them to finish their search.

Harris and his partners knew they had to find the right person, though, and they were willing to wait.


Commanders.com

Why Kliff Kingsbury, Joe Whitt Jr. were perfect fits for Dan Quinn’s vision

This will be the first time Quinn has worked directly with Kingsbury, but he is familiar with his new offensive coordinator’s style and reputation. Aside from his four seasons coaching the Cardinals, most of Kingsbury’s experience has come at the collegiate level. Although his combined record with Texas Tech and the Cardinals is 63-77, his offenses, influenced by the “Air Raid” system, have been dynamic.

“The explosive comes offensively and on the return game from big plays, through the run game, through play action, through the passing game, ones that can change fields position,” Quinn said. “And those are the explosive plays that you have to keep going and being aggressive to go.”

It also doesn’t hurt that Kingsbury has a proclivity for elevating quarterbacks. Case Keenum finished his college career as Houston’s all-time leading passer; Johnny Manziel became the first freshman in college football history to win the Heisman Trophy; Patrick Mahomes is third in passing yards and touchdowns at Texas Tech; and Kyler Murray was named the NFL’s Offensive Rookie of the Year in 2019.

While Quinn has watched Kingsbury from afar, his relationship with Whitt goes back to when he was the Falcons’ head coach. Whitt, who worked with Charles Woodson as a cornerbacks coach and passing game coordinator for the Green Bay packers, joined the Falcon with the same title in 2020. They only worked together for a few months, as Quinn was relieved of his duties five games into the season, but Quinn could tell that Whitt “has special traits about him.”

“I had a chance to be shoulder to shoulder with him over the last three years in Dallas and through that time, I’ve just seen the detail, the connection, the play style,” Quinn said of Whitt.

Since taking over the Cowboys’ secondary in 2021, Whitt’s unit has led the league with 59 interceptions. Last season, Dallas’ pass defense ranked fifth in passing yards allowed per game (187.4) and recorded 17 interceptions, tied for the eighth most in the NFL. DaRon Bland set an NFL single-season record for most interceptions returned for touchdowns in a single season (five) and earned Pro Bowl and All Pro honors.


Commanders Wire

Commanders hiring Jason Simmons as defensive pass game coordinator

Dan Quinn is assembling his coaching staff in Washington and he’s bringing in a former member of the Las Vegas Raiders to help the pass defense. According to Jeremy Fowler of ESPN, the Commanders are hiring Jason Simmons as their new defensive pass game coordinator.

Simmons held that same role with the Raiders for the last two seasons after also being the defensive pass game coordinator in Carolina from 2020-2021. He started his coaching career with the Packers in 2011 and has primarily worked with defensive backs ever since, with a brief stint as an assistant special teams coach in Green Bay from 2016-2017.

Simmons, 47, played a decade in the NFL as a defensive back, spending six years with the Texans and four with the Steelers. He had two career interceptions and 241 total tackles.


Bullock’s Film Room

State of the Roster: Commanders Defense

Breaking down where things stand with the Commanders defense now Dan Quinn has officially been hired

Quinn said in his introductory press conference that the defensive system would be similar to what he and Whitt ran in Dallas, so that gives us an idea of the style of play that Quinn wants to introduce and the scheme he wants to use. With that information, I thought I’d take a look at the current state of the Commanders roster on the defensive side of the ball to see where things stand and what needs Peters and Quinn will have to address this offseason.

Linebacker

Under Contract: Jamin Davis

Free Agents: Cody Barton, David Mayo, Khaleke Hudson, Jabril Cox (restricted)

Analysis: Linebacker is up there with defensive end as a priority need for the Commanders this offseason. At the very least, they need more bodies with only Jamin Davis under contract for next season.

Perhaps Quinn looks to bring in a veteran that he knows that can help establish his culture and brand. Bobby Wagner is a free agent and was the Mike linebacker for Quinn in Seattle when the Seahawks won the Super Bowl, so that could potentially be an option. But Wagner will be 34 by the start of the 2024 season and while he was a perfect fit for Quinn’s system in Seattle, he probably wouldn’t suit the system that Quinn ran in Dallas.

Ultimately, I think the Commanders will need to look to the draft to find their future Mike linebacker. They’ll bring in a free agent or two to make up the numbers and fill out the depth chart, but they’re unlikely to find real quality at the position on the open market. Fortunately for Washington, Adam Peters has a pretty good track record in the draft. Fred Warner is arguably the best linebacker in the NFL and Peters was part of the 49ers front office that drafted Warner in the third round back in 2018. Now, that’s not to say Peters can repeat that magic this year and just magically create a Warner clone in the third round, but there’s history to suggest he can identify talent at that position.

Safety

Under Contract: Darrick Forrest, Percy Butler, Quan Martin

Free Agents: Kam Curl, Jeremy Reaves

Analysis: The roles of these safeties will be pretty different from what we’ve seen them play the past few years. Under Rivera and Del Rio, Washington lived in mostly two deep safety looks, meaning both safeties were back deep trying to help disguise the coverage. Quinn does use some two deep coverages, but more often than not his Cowboys units worked out of single high safety looks. This means the safety roles are a little more defined, with the free safety being the single deep safety that needs to have great range to stay on top of everything. Meanwhile, the strong safety is much more of a box safety that rotates down into the box and is part of the run fit. In this man coverage system, the strong safety also needs to be able to match up man to man against tight ends.

Forrest definitely has the range to play free safety and will likely be the starter there in 2024.

I actually wonder if Quan Martin might be better suited to playing free safety in this style of defense. I’ve said before that I wouldn’t necessarily want to leave him at safety because I think part of the appeal with Martin is his versatility to play different spots and cover different types of receivers, but he’s not necessarily the most reliable in man coverage yet. Where he would be reliable is at free safety, where he has good range but also great instincts for the position as a single deep safety.

Percy Butler will probably shift to strong safety under Quinn. He came in for the injured Forrest at free safety last year but he blew a few coverages and missed some key tackles that led to long touchdowns when playing as the last line of defense. That’s obviously not a good sign, but as I showed in my write up of him at the end of last season, he also flashed some potential when he was closer to the box and matching up in man coverage.

Now the big question at safety is obviously what to do with Kam Curl. I’ve always been a huge fan of Curl and have written that I think he should be extended. I understand the argument that safety is a devalued position unless they are extremely high in turnover rates and Curl isn’t the type of player to generate 5 interceptions a year. But he’s such a versatile player that fills so many different roles to a high level that he can cover a lot of holes and keep the defense together when other players get hurt.

I think Curl is most valuable to a team that will make use of his versatility to play strong safety, big nickel, dime linebacker and occasionally some free safety too. In this system, he wouldn’t be the deep safety but he could certainly still play strong safety, big nickel and definitely dime linebacker. The Cowboys were very thin at linebacker under Quinn, so he had to use multiple safeties as linebackers last year, which meant they were better off in coverage but struggled against teams that could run the ball well. Curl is someone that could make that work better as he’s a terrific run defender. He’s also capable in man coverage matching up against tight ends and occasionally slot receivers, so I think he’d bring a lot to this defense.


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Bleeding Green Nation

Brian Johnson is staying in the NFC East

Philadelphia will face their former offensive coordinator twice next season.

While Johnson underachieved as a play-calling OC, he performed well as a quarterbacks coach to assist Jalen Hurts in his development. Perhaps he’ll be a good contributor to the Commanders in a lesser role than he had in Philly last year.

The feeling here has been that Johnson got a bit of a raw deal from the Eagles. He took a disproportionate amount of blame for what went wrong on offense and lost his job in no small part due to Nick Sirianni’s failings.

Speaking to that point, Johnson received multiple head coach interviews and multiple offensive coordinator interviews this offseason. Of course, he didn’t actually land any of those jobs. But he could garner stronger interest next year if the Commanders show promise on offense this season.


Blogging the Boys

The Cowboys are seeking their comfort zone in defensive coordinator search

The Cowboys are being rather conservative right now.

The list of candidates for the Dallas Cowboys defensive coordinator position keeps growing. Ron Rivera and Mike Zimmer have already interviewed, and reports on Wednesday are that the team is also interested in Rex Ryan and Wink Martindale as part of the search. Marquand Manuel was also recently added. With the departure of Joe Whitt to join Dan Quinn on the Washington Commanders staff, the only internal candidate seems to be Aden Durde, but he almost seems to have slipped people’s minds.

It sounds like it is going to be at least a few more days before we get the decision. But the names that we know tell us a lot about the way things are run in Dallas. All of them carry well known reputations, and in the case of Zimmer and Durde, history working for the owner.

That reflects some of the basic characteristics of how things work at The Star. Coaching hires don’t just reflect the desired direction of the team. They also are driven by what the decision makers are comfortable with. In general, people grow more cautious and become more risk-averse as they age. Most NFL owners fit the senior citizen profile, and that certainly includes Jerry Jones. However, most other owners do not serve as their own general managers. Others hire someone else and let them take the lead on coaching hires. Many of the GMs around the league seek innovation and creativity. That is a recognition of how the game is constantly evolving and changing. It leads to hiring young coaches with a certain view of how to adapt to things.

Adaptation is not a big thing for Jerry or Stephen Jones. The glory years of the 1990s are always in their minds, and they seem to have a yearning to restore that by falling back on the known and comfortable rather than bring in a new guy with new ideas. This leads to them wanting to interview people with well established résumés, and in many cases, a real sense of familiarity.


Big Blue View

2024 NFL Draft prospect profile: Cade Stover, TE, Ohio State

Stover is both a good receiver and blocker, and was used all over Ohio State’s offense. He played as a traditional “Y” tight end, lined up as an H-back, and as a slot and wide receiver on occasion. He was frequently sent in motion before the snap and was used as both a check-down option and as a downfield threat.

Projection

Cade Stover projects as a primary tight end at the NFL level.

He has a solid, well-rounded skill set and is a capable blocker as well as receiver. He’s a bit limited as an athlete and might be viewed closer to an H-back. He should be a three-down player at the NFL level and should be able to find a fit in pretty much any NFL offense.

Stover’s blocking will be appreciated in the running game, and he has the skill set to be a reliable security blanket for a quarterback or a weapon down the field. He isn’t a particularly graceful tight end, particularly when compared to some hybrid tight ends to come out of college in recent years.

Some teams may want to pair him with a tight end who’s more of a receiver in 12 personnel packages. However, Stover is capable of becoming a starting and primary tight end in an 11-personnel package.

Final Word: A Day 2 or very early Day 3 pick


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Pro Football Talk

NFL owners can own up to five percent of a sportsbook company

those who own NFL teams also may have equity interests in sportsbooks.

“There is no restriction on owning equity interests in casinos that have no sports betting,” the league told PFT on Wednesday. “An owner would be able to hold up to 5 percent in entities that generate revenue from sports betting operations, provided the individual has no involvement in management of the company (such as an officer or director or in a management role).”

In other words, any (and every) owner can own up to five percent of any company that generates money from sports betting. While that doesn’t sound like much, the bigger the company, the bigger the number.

For example, DraftKings currently has a value of $19.95 billion. Five percent currently is worth $997.5 million.

The lack of transparency is jarring. At a time when everyone connected to the league has strict limits on when and how and where they can gamble, owners of NFL teams can own up to five percent of “the house.” But they won’t tell us which owners own what amount of which sportsbook.


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