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Practice notes | Commanders prepare for Sean Payton's 'diverse' offense led by Russell Wilson

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Back when Sean Payton was first hired to be the Denver Broncos' head coach, the hope was that he would be able to breathe some new life into Russell Wilson, who drastically underperformed compared to expectations in his first season with the franchise. 

The combination of Payton and Wilson is still a work in progress, but there are signs that the marriage of skill set and philosophy could, in fact, work out. While the Broncos did lose their season opener to the Las Vegas Raiders, Wilson looked much better in spurts during the matchup, particularly in the first half, when he completed 17 of 19 passes for 125 yards with two touchdowns. 

Head coach Ron Rivera and the Washington Commanders are preparing for a tough challenge in Denver on Sunday. 

"He's moving well," Rivera said after Wednesday's practice. "He's still a good decision maker. He get the ball out quick. He's got an NFL arm still." 

There's not much of a sample size for what a Payton offense run by Wilson looks like, but Rivera has experience competing against the player and coach and knows what to expect from both.

Rivera and Payton's history together goes back to their time in the NFC South. Payton's offenses, led by Drew Brees, were considered some of the best in the league during his 15 seasons with the New Orleans Saints. He had 13 top 10 finishes in yards per game, including six years with the league's best average. During the nine years that Rivera was the Carolina Panthers' head coach, he had an 8-9 record against Payton's Saints.

Ten of those games were decided by eight points or fewer.

"Sean's got a...very good offense," Rivera said. "It's very diverse. He utilizes his playmakers very well. The idea is to get the ball to them as quickly as possible."

Wilson struggled mightily in his first season with Denver after being traded away from the Seattle Seahawks. His yardage (3,524) was about average compared to what he had in previous years, but his completion percentage (60.5) was the worst of his career. His touchdowns (16) were also a career low.

Although it's only one game, Wilson was able to direct Payton's offense the way it's supposed to be run. There were heavy doses of play-action, and he delivered the ball quickly to running back and tight ends. As a result, Wilson completed 79.4% of his passes, which was the second-best rate for a quarterback in Week 1.

"I think he's still learning and growing in Coach Payton's offense," Rivera said. "I think Russ has the type of arm that can suit it and fit very well."

There were still growing pains from Wilson and the Broncos. Their passing yards were just 20th in the league, and their 260 yards of offense were 23rd. Rivera doesn't expect those numbers to stay down for long, though.

"I think as they work together and they grow, they're gonna become more and more efficient, and they're gonna cause a lot more problems for people."

Final notes

-- After watching the film from the Arizona Cardinals game, Commanders quarterback Sam Howell said there wasn't much that surprised the offense last Sunday. The Cardinals did exactly what they expected them to do, but as it's been said before, the Commanders couldn't get out of their own way, which led to the unit getting off to such a poor start.

"It was just a matter of we turned the ball over too many times and didn't execute at a level that we would like to."

-- Last Sunday's game was a physical one with Howell taking several hits from Arizona's defense. Howell wasn't bothered by it, though, saying that "it wasn't really anything crazy."

"It was a physical game, but I feel alright. I think I did a good job in recovering the past two days and getting two good workouts in, so my body feels back to normal."

-- Howell had some praise for Jacoby Brissett and his role as a backup. He's a tremendous asset for Howell, giving him helpful tips from what he sees on film. During the games, Brissett is "very supportive" and gives Howell confidence when he goes back out on the field.

-- This Sunday will be Howell's first road start, and it should be a challenging one for the young quarterback. He'll be playing at Mile High Stadium, which historically is one of the more difficult venues because of the fan base and the high altitude. It will be Howell's first experience in such an environment.

"That's definitely something we'll kind of be talking about all week long. I know [Assistant Strength & Conditioning/Nutritionist] Jake [Sankal], our nutritionist, he has some things that might help us for that. I'm excited for what people have talked about it a lot and I really never experienced anything like that. I'm excited for what it brings."

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