After Sam Howell dropped back to throw 52 times compared to 19 rushing attempts in the Washington Commanders’ latest loss, Ron Rivera defended the pass-heavy approach rather than criticizing the decision not to run the ball more.
“I’ve been fine with what we’ve tried to do offensively,” Rivera said Monday.
He cited Howell’s development as the reasoning, seemingly signaling a shift in the team’s approach from doing whatever it takes to contend for a playoff spot to preparing the young quarterback for life in the NFL beyond this season.
“I think we have found a young quarterback that gives us an opportunity,” Rivera said. “We’re trying to play the best football we can and at the same time grow a football team.
“We’re not going to go around cutting a bunch of people, trading for a whole bunch of people, trying to hire a whole bunch of people. We’re trying to develop a young football team to be a very good football team for the future, and that’s what we’re going to continue to work on.”
With new ownership led by Josh Harris now running the show, that future could come with a different front office and coaching staff that doesn’t include Rivera or offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy. This is Rivera’s fourth season in charge in Washington and could be the third in that time without a playoff appearance.
The Commanders have lost four of five since a 2-0 start, again falling below .500 with a demoralizing 14-7 loss at the New York Giants. Howell was sacked six more times, reaching a league-high 40 on the season, while completing 22 of 42 passes for 249 yards, no touchdowns and one interception.
The difficulty level gets ratcheted back up on Sunday, when the NFC East-leading Philadelphia Eagles come to town with the NFL’s seventh-ranked defense. There’s no indication — or reason — the Commanders will bench Howell for veteran backup Jacoby Brissett, with Rivera saying he’s committed to the 2022 fifth-round draft pick.
Rivera stopped short of declaring Howell the starter for the rest of the season, barring unforeseen events.
“I can’t predict the future,” he said. “I’m going to focus in on one game at a time because, the truth the matter is, that’s the only thing that matters right now and that’s getting ready for Philadelphia.”
The defense showed up, with one of the Giants’ touchdowns coming after Howell threw his eighth pick of the season and gave them the ball in Washington territory.
“If our defense gives up 14 points (with) one of those touchdowns on a short field after my interception, we should win the football game,” Howell said. “Hats off to our defense. They kept us in the game.”
WHAT NEEDS HELP
Rivera said changing the offense under Bieniemy was going to come with growing pains. It’s also coming with Howell feeling plenty of pain, thanks to all the sacks he’s taking.
The blame ranges from Howell holding on to the ball too long to the remade offensive line not giving him ample opportunity to find open receivers.
“That’s a work in progress,” Rivera said. “Those are things we are working to correct, and we’ll continue to do that.”
Tress Way, a two-time Pro Bowl punter, struggled a bit through the first few games this season — at least based on his standards. Way was back to his brilliant self Sunday, punting 10 times for 513 yards and pinning the Giants inside their 20-yard line on four occasions.
Second-year receiver Jahan Dotson’s production already was being questioned after he had just 17 catches for 140 yards through six games. Dotson had five against New York but also a big drop on fourth down that would have given Washington a first-and-goal opportunity.
They’re starting to pile up after a relatively calm start to the year. Linebacker Cody Barton and left guard Saahdiq Charles were both having MRIs after leaving the Giants game.
Rivera said the expectation is that Barton has a high ankle sprain and Charles aggravated a strained calf muscle that bothered him during training camp.
Reserve safety Jeremy Reaves, an All-Pro special teams player last season, said he’s having season-ending knee surgery. Reaves was injured in a 40-20 home loss to Chicago on Oct. 5.
10 — A 10-second runoff ended the game when defensive tackle Daron Payne was unable to get off the field with a football injury because Washington had no timeouts left.