An organization once included among the league’s elite, there haven’t been many positives since the turn of the millennium for the Washington Commanders. There were a few spotty playoff appearances and a couple players to rally around, but decades’ worth of substandard football has seen Washington faithful fall into the shadows of the days of Joe Gibbs, the Hogs, and the Art Monk, Doc Walker-led Fun Bunch. But with 2023 on the horizon and a new name, new threads, potential ownership changes, and a sparkling new offensive mind in town, things—finally—look to be on the up and up in the nation’s capital.
Following three years of a stagnant, often predictable game script orchestrated by Scott Turner, the arrival of Eric Bieniemy has invited an entirely new wave of expectations for a unit littered with playmakers. The brain trust and architect of one of the league’s top offenses of the last decade in Kansas City, taking a quick glance into the Commanders’ laundry list of skill players should raise the eyebrows of defensive coordinators across football with Bieniemy calling the shots. Terry McLaurin, Jahan Dotson, Curtis Samuel, Dyami Brown, Brian Robinson Jr., Antonio Gibson, J.D. McKissic… see what I mean?
Now, there is no Patrick Mahomes in Washington—the role of QB1 is Sam Howell’s for now—but Bieniemy’s ability to tailor his scheme to the athletes in place has always been his M.O., and you’d be smart to place a sizable bet that Washington won’t replicate its disappointing 18.9 PPG total this fall.
While every coordinator in the league has pillars on offense that they hang their hat on, the name of the game is about matchups, mismatches, and in-game adjustments. Tailoring a unique script to the defense at hand each and every week has been a knack of Bieniemy throughout his time in the league.
Washington has a trio of talents in Robinson, Gibson, and McKissic that each brings a unique skill set. While lining up with two backs or “Pony” personnel wasn’t a commonality for the Chiefs throughout the 2022 campaign, flipping on the Super Bowl saw a variety of formations and concepts designed to use the likes of Isiah Pacheco and Jerick McKinnon in unique ways—something the Eagles failed to prep for. Robinson is the clear RB1 of the group as we approach the spring, but the utilization of Gibson and McKissic will be fun to watch considering how dynamic both athletes are with the ball in their hands.
Health remains the biggest thing for McKissic to reach expectations, but for Gibson—a former day-two pick whose role in Washington was minimized in 2022 due to ball security issue—the former wideout at Memphis presents a chess piece that could explode from a production standpoint due to his ability to run the ball with success and create nightmares for slower linebackers and smaller safeties in coverage at 220 pounds. Don’t be surprised if he gets some reps as an “F” tight end or H-back as well.
Gone are the days of predictable run plays on early downs. The Chiefs have been a team that doesn’t mind slinging it around on first and second down. While, again, Howell is not Mahomes and there are expected speed bumps he will have to counter to earn the job for the future, the faces on the outside with Bieniemy operating as a surgeon-like marionette from a scripting and play-calling perspective should allow the young signal-caller to thrive.
An RPO-centric aerial attack fits Howell’s game back to his days at North Carolina, so expect the dual-threat talent to be allowed to be an athlete all campaign long. It’s the name of the game at the pro level, and pigeonholing players into something they’re not has been an issue in the past for Washington.
The offense starts and stops with McLaurin, a high 4.2 runner and a talent that could enter an entirely new stratosphere as the top target in what will be a revitalized offense. His success has consistently gone underrated with the quarterbacks he’s worked with in the past. No. 17, laughingly, looked uninvolved at times in the game plan over the last few seasons—that simply won’t be the case under Bieniemy, who has annually raised the performance ceiling of skill players under his control.
Alongside McLaurin sits Dotson, a 2022 first-rounder and an alpha that plays above his weight class. One of the most successful rookie pass-catchers in the league, watching the Penn State product and McLaurin dominate the intermediate portions of the offense next fall isn’t just an expectation, it’s a must. Getting the quarterback in rhythm, taking calculated shot plays, and allowing wideouts that can run after the catch will be staples come September with Howell in the pocket. Then you add in his ability to not just pick up a chunk of yards in an emergency, but keep every defender honest with his lower half, you force defenders into a case of ‘pick your poison’. Other athletes like Samuel and Brown are also threats to reach paydirt each time they get the ball in their hands.
A talented unit that is expected to enjoy a healthy amount of changes along the front five, Bieniemy’s arrival should provide a jolt into the offense unlike anything the Washington franchise has seen in a long while. The burgundy and gold have finished in the top 10 in scoring just twice since 1999, but with the athletes in place and coaching to boot, Bieniemy’s arrival could be a franchise-altering hire both for the immediate and long-term future.
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