Washington Commanders head coach Ron Rivera was criticized for not giving the proper attention to the team's offensive line before the 2023 season.
Nobody needs to tell Ron Rivera that he is a man under pressure this season. The Washington Commanders are embarking on an exciting new era led by Josh Harris' ownership group, who've given everyone within the organization a chance to prove themselves before coming to some formal outcomes once the 2023 campaign concludes.
Rivera is one of the primary figures under the microscope. His three-year tenure with the Commanders to date has been underwhelming from a results standpoint, although there are some mitigating factors in play that didn't exactly make his job easy.
That is now a thing of the past. Harris and his team of wealthy investors took over everything to do with what was transpiring off the field, allowing Rivera to focus on the football side for arguably the first time since arriving in the nation's capital.
The Commanders' fortunes are hanging in the balance this season. Their defense looks like it could become among the league's best if everyone stays clear of injury, but there are some doubts surrounding Washington's offense despite the arrival of Eric Bieniemy as the team's new play-caller.
Commanders could pay for OL decisions in 2023
Bieniemy's presence should put some outstanding skill position players to better use. Obviously, this all rests on the performance levels of quarterback Sam Howell - the former fifth-round pick who's been given the keys to the kingdom after an exceptional preparation period.
Howell's looked the part and the aura around him has visibly grown. But according to Ben Standig of The Athletic, the lack of investment made by Rivera in Washington's offensive line is borderline malpractice and something that could cost the Commanders in the biggest possible way.
"Not making clear or potentially significant additions to the offensive line was almost a dereliction of duty, given that the plan for months centered around a QB with one career start. The O-line helps the rest of the offense more than vice versa. Washington knew significant changes were needed. Some were made, but they collectively lacked oomph. Rivera keeps noting that ex-Chief Andrew Wylie played for a Super Bowl champion while omitting the reality that the right tackle was the worst of Kansas City’s starters. Wylie was essentially a role player for a unit with three Pro Bowlers elsewhere on the line. Tasking him with anchoring the right side for a line without that overall quality feels like too much."- Ben Standig, The Athletic
The protection got a little better as the preseason went on, but there's just no telling how this group will hold up when push comes to shove. One could point out flaws in all the projected starting five, with Rivera's preference for positional flexibility over expertise across the depth chart becoming an ongoing source of frustration,
It's worth remembering that Rivera was working with one hand tied behind his back throughout the offseason. The ownership was in flux and there wasn't much spare cash around, but if Andrew Wylie and Nick Gates were the best they could do, it's a problem.
Many projected the Commanders to address this need early in the 2023 NFL Draft. A number of gifted prospects were there for the taking, but Rivera opted to use their opening two selections to bolster the secondary instead.
While that'll help in Washington's quest to create more turnovers and get their defense to No. 1 league-wide, it'll do nothing to keep Howell out of harm's way. Third-round selection Ricky Stromberg is a backup center right now and fourth-rounder Braeden Daniels struggled so much that the Commanders had to put him on season-ending injured/reserve rather than cut their losses entirely.
Rivera seems confident in his protection. But if things don't go according to plan and they cannot keep Howell upright, the primary decision-maker could be facing some difficult conversations with Harris before or after the campaign.