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Dolphins vs. Commanders Week 13 preview: Insider look at Ron Rivera, Sam Howell, defense, and 2024

The Miami Dolphins face the Washington Commanders on Sunday. Who are the Commanders? We get an insider look at Washington with some Hogs Haven assistance.

Photo by Brandon Sloter/Image Of Sport/Getty Images

The NFL’s Week 13 schedule includes an inter-conference matchup for the Miami Dolphins, who have a chance to renew a rare, but historic rivalry with the Washington Commanders. The two teams have only met 13 times in the regular season, but have split a pair of Super Bowl matchups. The first of those championship games featured the Dolphins completing the Perfect Season with a victory in Super Bowl VII. Ten years later, Washington reversed the results, winning Super Bowl XVII.

In 2023, the Dolphins look like a team that could return to the championship game. Miami is 8-3 on the season, leading the AFC East by 2.5 games and sitting a half-game out of the top spot in the AFC playoff picture. They have the top-ranked offense in the league and a defense that is ranked seventh in the league. The Dolphins appear set to be a threat in the AFC this season.

The Commanders are headed in the opposite direction. They are 4-8, nearing the bottom of the NFC standings. They fired defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio this week and are hoping to stabilize a team that is not reaching pre-season expectations.

Who exactly will the Dolphins be facing this weekend? I had a chance to sit down with KyleSmithforGM from SB Nation’s Commanders team site, Hogs Haven, to get a closer look at the Commanders. Smith and I spoke about Ron Rivera’s future with the team, quarterback Sam Howell, the defense, and what 2024 might like look in Washington .

You can check out my side of the conversation as I answered questions about the Dolphins here:

When a coordinator is fired in the season, it feels like that is the first step toward a complete coaching staff change. Is the feeling that, now that defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio has been let go, head coach Ron Rivera will be fired after the season ends? Can anything save his job and what went wrong that got us to this point of speculation?\

New York Giants v Washington Commanders Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images

The firing of Ron Rivera should have happened around a year ago, but it didn’t, because of the ownership change. At this point, his firing at the end of the season - as well as the firing of the rest of the coaching staff and front office - feels like a virtual certainty. I’ve written extensively about the reasons for it in the past. At the end of the day, though, Rivera just isn’t a very good coach. The reality is that, in the next game or two he will lock in his 10th non-winning season in his 13 years as a head coach. Most people around the league seem to respect Rivera “as a man,” but as a coach, he’s basically a trumped up - less successful - Jeff Fisher.

Washington fans are eagerly awaiting the day, hopefully in a month or two, where the owners select a proper GM, that GM hires a head coach, and we can finally be run like a decent NFL operation for the first time in a quarter century.

Sam Howell leads the NFL with 3,339 passing yards and looks like he could develop into a solid starting quarterback. But a fifth-round quarterback for a franchise that has now seen an ownership change and could be headed toward a complete house cleaning may not be a lock to remain with the team. Is Howell Washington’s quarterback of the future? What works and what does not for Howell?

Washington Commanders v Dallas Cowboys Photo by Kevin Sabitus/Getty Images

I think anyone who says that Sam Howell hasn’t exceeded their expectations this year is lying. It’s entirely possible that he’ll end up being the best QB from the 2022 draft, not named Brock Purdy, in the near future. He’s really been the only bright spot for the team on the field this year. That said, the NFL is a brutal business, and once a new GM and head coach come in, particularly with a top 5 draft pick, it’s entirely possible they may want a new QB of their own, and I can’ begrudge them that, if that’s what they decide.

That said, having the QB position locked down, gives the new guys a ton of flexibility with five draft picks in the top 100 next April. Lining up a top tackle and continuing to surround Howell with talent could be a relatively quick path back to relevance, if he has what it takes to make it.

Early in the season, Howell was holding onto the ball way too long, and taking a ton of sacks. He seems to have improved significantly in that regard over the past month or so, and is really focused more on taking what the defense gives him. The next 5 weeks are going to continue to be an extended tryout for the new regime.

Del Rio feels like he was put in a bad situation when the Commanders traded away defensive ends Montez Sweat and Chase Young. How has the defensive responded without Sweat and Young and who should Dolphins fans be watching for on the Commanders’ defense?

New York Giants v Washington Commanders Photo by Michael Owens/Getty Images

It’s interesting to hear this from an outside perspective. The reality is, there’s probably not a defensive coordinator in the NFL who had done less with more talent than Del Rio. He had six first round picks on his starting defense, and several seasoned vets drafted a bit lower (Fuller, Curl, Forrest), to start the season and consistently fielded one of the worst defenses in the league. His scheme also didn’t seem particularly well-suited to taking advantage of the skillsets of Sweat or Young (or his secondary).

Jon Allen and Daron Payne remain the heart of the defensive line, but neither of them have played remarkably either this year.

Two rookie ends, Andre Jones and KJ Henry, have gotten significant additional playing time since Sweat and Young were traded away, and Henry, in particular, has made some impressive plays. Washington’s rookie, first round corner, Emmanuel Forbes, appears to have a relatively serious elbow injury and is unlikely to play this week.

I typically do not make these conversations a negative look at a team, but it does feel like the focus for the Commanders - and the fan base - is already looking toward next year. That may be a little premature, but the season has not gone as the fans expected. Let us take a look at the brighter future for the Commanders. Who does the team have they can build around for 2024? What can make this a fix rather than a full rebuild?

NFL: OCT 15 Commanders at Falcons Photo by Rich von Biberstein/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

It’s definitely not premature. I had huge expectations for the team this year, particularly if Howell panned out like he has. Instead, I was ready to check out after Washington lost in prime time in Week 5 to the abysmal Bears (they’ve since lost twice to the even more wretched Giants).

But, the future can only be brighter. The final cleansing of the Snyder regime is likely to occur at the end of the season, with the new ownership group likely to put its stamp on all aspects of the organization. Howell is certainly a potential piece to build around, and there are talented players on this team, dispersed across the defensive unit, in the receiving corps, and in the running back room. If the new management decides to stick with Howell as QB1, this could be a relatively quick fix with the right coaching staff. If they decide Howell is not their guy, I think they’re looking at something closer to a full re-build.

The Dolphins, according to DraftKings Sportsbook, are 9.5-point favorites and the total for this game is at about 50. What do you expect to see in this game? How would you bet the spread? And, would you go over or under the point total?

New York Giants v Washington Commanders Photo by Michael Owens/Getty Images

My concern is that the Dolphins alone may exceed the “over” for this game. I’m expecting a boat race by Miami that approaches their early season humiliation of the Broncos. Will Washington score some touchdowns? It’s possible, but their odds of keeping up in a shootout with the Dolphins are nearly zero. I’d bet the over, and give me Miami with the points.

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