How Eric Bieniemy can help the development of Sam Howell
Breaking down the ways Bieniemy can build his offense to help Howell develop in his second season in the NFL.
With Eric Bieniemy officially hired as the new assistant head coach/offensive coordinator of the Washington Commanders, attention now turns to building the offense that Bieniemy wants to run. Obviously the most pressing question is who will play quarterback and it appears as though the Commanders are still set to give Sam Howell an opportunity to earn the starting job and develop under Bieniemy. So how can Bieniemy build his offense around Howell and give him the best opportunity at success? Let's take a closer look.
One of the things Bieniemy can do early on to help Howell is embrace his movement skills. Howell is a mobile quarterback capable of adding on to the run game with the read-option elements, rolling out on bootlegs and scrambling off-script when plays break down. The old school approach to that style of quarterback would be to try and turn him into a traditional pocket passer, but Bieniemy will have seen first hand what having a mobile quarterback can add to the offense, so expect him to lean into that.
This clip contains a bunch of rollout plays from the Chiefs offense with Patrick Mahomes at quarterback. This cuts the field in half and allows the quarterback to make a simple read. The first play of the clip has two receivers crossing over before breaking outside, giving Mahomes the ability to throw outside first and then come back inside if that outside route is covered. The rest of the plays in the clip consist of different types of smash concepts that are designed to stress a single defender.
Those smash concepts are built around the idea of having a receiver in the flat occupying the outside cornerback, while a receiver in the slot runs a corner route behind him. The read becomes simple for the quarterback, if the cornerback sinks back to match the deeper route, throw the underneath route. If the cornerback bits up on the bait underneath, hit the deeper route behind him.
These types of rollout plays would give Howell the ability to make use of his mobility by getting him on the run, but also make things simple for him. It cuts the field in half and in most cases is a simple one-read throw based on the leverage of a single defender. The back up option after all of that would be allowing Howell to keep the ball and run it himself, which he’s proven capable of doing already. It should, in theory, also help protect him because it can be easier to negate a pass rush or even a big blitz by moving the pocket and messing with the path that the rushers have to take to get to the quarterback. In fact, there have been times where the Chiefs have seen a heavy blitz look and checked into one of these types of rollout plays to help protect Mahomes.
Embracing his mobility is a key factor in unlocking Howell’s potential and I’m sure Bieniemy will be looking to incorporate him in the run game with read-option looks, in the play-action game with bootlegs and in the passing game with things like these rollout plays. Another strength of Howell’s game that I’d expect Bieniemy to embrace is his quick release. Howell does a nice job getting the ball out quickly when he needs to, which helped him become such a threat on run-pass option plays (RPOs) and in the quick passing game. RPOs were a huge part of the offense in Kansas City, so I would expect Bieniemy to bring over the extensive RPO package to make use of Howell’s quick release.
The typical RPOs that the NFL uses regularly typically involve an individual route tagged onto a running play. The Chiefs did plenty of that, but they also managed to package in some of their quick game concepts into RPOs. This could be a hugely beneficial starting point for Howell in this offense.
These clips show two different RPOs with a different quick game concept built in. The first RPO packages an inside zone run with a stick concept, while the second packages an outside zone run with a slant-flat concept (known as dragon in the west coast offense). These concepts are staple quick game concepts for the west coast system and frankly every offense in the league, but by packaging them into run plays, Howell can get used to the read and feel of the play, making use of his quick release if he does decide to pull the ball and throw, or he can simply hand the ball off inside without any major risk.
It’s not like Howell will have never run a stick or a dragon concept before, every offense in America runs them. But some offenses run them from different looks and every offense will have different terminology for them. By introducing some quick game concepts via RPOs, Bieniemy can teach his variations of those quick game concepts and how he prefers them to be read while providing Howell with a safe option to just hand the ball off if the look isn’t great, instead of having him worrying about flipping his hips and working to the other side of the field to read another concept or throw the ball away.
With the mobility embraced and the quick game introduced via RPOs, Bieniemy can then gradually start to add layers to the passing game for Howell. Something the Chiefs did really well under Bieniemy was having routes naturally flow into the quarterback’s vision. Here’s an example.