Ron Rivera admitted the painfully obvious about his handling of Washington Commanders quarterback Sam Howell's first season under center.
Ron Rivera got a lot wrong during his four years as Washington Commanders head coach. Perhaps his biggest flaw was not finding stability at the quarterback position.
It looked like Sam Howell was the guy once upon a time. Rivera proudly declared midway through the season that the former fifth-round pick was demonstrating the traits normally associated with long-term, productive signal-callers around the league. This was followed almost immediately by steep regression as the Commanders' 2023 campaign spiraled out of control.
Howell's production dipped significantly. He was going to be benched before Jacoby Brissett's injury. Rivera was relieved of his duties, meaning the gunslinger's future is hanging by a thread amid vast changes across the organization.
Commanders strategy failed Sam Howell
There's no doubt Howell should have done better. The decision-making didn't improve much. Other concerning elements to his game failed to progress. However, there were mitigating factors in play that also contributed significantly to the player's demise.
Eric Bieniemy's pass-happy scheme piled way too much pressure on Howell. The offensive line was a joke. Washington's defense became porous beyond comprehension. It was a complete mess and made evaluating the North Carolina product extremely difficult.
What the future holds for Howell is unclear right now. But looking back, Rivera conceded that he'd put way too much on the second-year pro's shoulders when speaking to John Keim of ESPN. A decision the respected figure wishes he could take back based on comments via USA Today Sports.
"I think that was probably one of the mistakes I made this year. The biggest one I think I made was I put way too much on him, and he didn’t deserve to have that put on him. He’s a good, young quarterback who has some talent and some ability. I think that’s something I should have backed off."- Ron Rivera via USA Today Sports
This has been the story of Rivera's coaching career. Even when a genuinely elite quarterback fell into his lap when the Carolina Panthers took Cam Newton at No. 1 overall in the 2011 NFL Draft, the head coach failed. There were phenomenal times, but failing to put the right pieces around the 2015 MVP led to a series of avoidable injuries that began a downward spiral neither the signal-caller nor the coach could recover from.
Aside from Newton's success, it's been one disaster after another. Howell was the last in a long line.
There was too much scrutiny on coaches in prominent positions thanks to the introduction of Josh Harris' ownership group. The need to win was evident. This denied Howell the opportunity to learn and grow at his own pace. With Rivera no longer part of the equation, his fate rests entirely on new general manager Adam Peters' unbiased evaluations.
Rivera was man enough to admit his grave error in judgment. But looking at how things unfolded, treating Howell differently wouldn't have altered his fate when push came to shove.
What it could have done is improve Howell's chances of cementing his status as the Commanders' QB1 long-term. With the prospect for reinforcements arriving - perhaps with the No. 2 overall selection in the 2024 NFL Draft - he might never get another shot.
For Rivera, that's the most damning indictment of his final season in Washington.