Column: Ron Rivera can save his job by continuing this trend with the Commanders

October 10, 2022

Washington Commanders head coach Ron Rivera stands on the sideline in the second half of an NFL football game against the Tennessee Titans, Sunday, Oct. 9, 2022, in Landover, Md. But for how much longer if his team doesn't put together a win streak? (AP Photo/Jess Rapfogel)

Carolina firing head coach Matt Rhule on Monday morning sparked the question I alluded to in this week’s NFL Recap: How much longer does Ron Rivera have to turn around the Washington Commanders?

Washington’s 21-17 loss to the Tennessee Titans was the typical “snatching defeat from the jaws of victory” performance we’ve seen here for years, and Rivera has done precious little to change that perception. His 1-4 team is tied for the worst record in the NFL and a complete afterthought in a division in the midst of an unexpected resurgence.

But Rivera has one thing going for him: unexpected win streaks.

In each of the first two seasons of the Rivera era, the Burgundy and Gold have endured a losing streak of at least four games but followed it with a four-game November win streak.

Remember the COVID-impacted 2020 season? An eight-sack beating of then-Eagles QB Carson Wentz preceded a five-game slide, but that was followed by a four-game win streak around Thanksgiving that was barely enough to win the NFC East with only seven wins.

Last year, it was a 2-2 start followed by a neatly stacked four-game win streak sandwiched between four-game losing skids. Absent that post-bye-week roll, Rivera might already be gone.

If the present-day Commanders have another such run in them, they can’t wait until November — it has to begin in Chicago Thursday night.

The Bears are one of the most offensively inept teams in the NFL, second-worst in total yardage and one of only six teams worse than Washington in scoring. If the defense we saw tally five sacks and put Ryan Tannehill under siege all day Sunday at FedEx Field makes the trip to Solider Field, that absolutely has to be a Washington win — even on the road on short rest.

Speaking of which, Washington will have what amounts to a mini-bye when the Green Bay Packers visit FedEx Field in Week 7, and this season to date, the Pack look … well, middle of the pack.

Aaron Rodgers carving up that Commanders secondary is an easy assumption, especially with his career 67.4 completion percentage against Washington with a gaudy touchdown-to-interception ratio (14 to 1) in six career games. But Rodgers’ record in those games is 3-3, and he’s taken multiple sacks in each (21 sacks in the six games).

Then comes the trip to Indianapolis to face the same Colts team that couldn’t stand the sight of Carson Wentz after only one year and sent him to Washington in the offseason.

Indy’s offense is actually in way worse shape without Wentz: 37-year-old Matt Ryan already has 10 turnovers for a unit that has yet to top 20 points in a game and ranks dead last in scoring (a paltry 13.8 points per game). It might get even worse after Sunday, because they’re hosting their kryptonite (the Jaguars, who shut out the Colts in Week 2).

Up next is Kirk Cousins’ return to FedEx Field with a Minnesota Vikings squad that’s eerily similar to the teams he played on here in Washington. The offense is a top 10 unit in yardage but averages only a middle-of-the-road 23.6 points per game, while the defense hasn’t looked nearly as good as it did in a Week 1 domination of the Packers. “Kurt” has a history of the yips, so the emotional nature of being back in Landover could have the same impact as the bright lights of primetime.

Let me be clear: I’m not predicting the Commanders will win all four of these games. Hell, I could make a more solid case for them losing all four. I’m simply pointing out the most logical place for the trend under Rivera to continue.

After this four-game stretch, all bets are off because of the late bye week. Injuries are already mounting, and having to push this banged-up group all the way to Week 14 in December could be what makes the whole thing fall apart — even if games against the Texans and Falcons look winnable on paper.

Of course, this plays into what has Rivera on the hot seat in the first place. Yes, injuries can be a legitimate excuse for Washington’s lack of consistency — just as it factored into their previous five losing campaigns.

But as I mentioned in the D.C. Sports Huddle last week, Rivera’s roster construction has as much to do with this team’s failings as the injuries. There’s a big difference between adding former Panther Trai Turner for depth at right guard and adding Turner to be the presumptive starter because one of the rare All-Pro performers developed in Washington, Brandon Scherff, wasn’t valued enough to keep around.

Regardless of the circumstances surrounding their departures, the fact of the matter is Rivera was handed an offensive line with two homegrown All-Pros (Scherff and Trent Williams) and his series of bad decisions have led to the injury-riddled mess it is today.

Playing Wentz behind that line (and, frankly, making him the choice at QB at all) and making William Jackson III a prized free agent signing also hang on Rivera’s ledger. Jackson III was benched against the Titans, and the secondary looked the best it has all season. Regardless of whether the move was made due to injury or performance (and the fact that there’s even a question shows signs of the dysfunction Rivera was hired to eliminate), Jackson has been a total bust.

Even still, if Washington doesn’t get on a roll now, it’s probably never coming. And if it never comes, Rivera probably isn’t coming back in 2023.

Rob Woodfork

Rob Woodfork is a versatile broadcaster with a broad range of experience. He can be heard in in WTOP's traffic center and on the Sports Desk and his byline is on WTOP.com as a web writer/editor and sports columnist.

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