Ron Rivera says Commanders utilized Curtis Samuel early to 'set a tone' vs. Jags

·3 min read

Rivera: Commanders utilized Samuel early to 'set a tone' vs. Jags originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington

In many ways, Curtis Samuel's performance Sunday afternoon was a year in the making.

Washington's prized free agent acquisition last spring, Samuel played in just five games for the club in 2021 as nagging groin and hamstring injuries prevented the wideout from ever reaching full health. And when he was on the field, Samuel was simply not himself. His first season with Washington was a forgettable one. He totaled just 10 touches for 38 scrimmage yards all of 2021.

The 2021 season is in the past, though. And on Sunday in Washington's 28-22 victory against Jacksonville, Samuel reminded everyone of the player he truly is, finishing with eight catches for 55 yards and a touchdown.

“It was great," Samuel said postgame. "My main thing going into the season was my health. I feel like I changed and everything I got is going for me. My diet and everything, I just have to keep it on.”

The Commanders wasted no time getting Samuel involved. On Washington's opening drive, Samuel touched the ball four times (three catches, one rush) and capped off the possession with a four-yard touchdown, his first six-pointer as a member of the Commanders.

After scoring that early touchdown, Samuel celebrated in style before screaming "I'm back." It was clear how great Samuel felt being back out there and making difference-making plays.

"It was just one of those things where I was excited to be back out there," Samuel said. "To get the first touchdown of the season and get my first touchdown in a long time, I think that was a great way to start the season off.”

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Speaking with local media on Monday, head coach Ron Rivera made it clear that getting Samuel the football early on was a big part of the game plan versus Jacksonville.

"Early on the plan was to get the ball to him and to really kind of help set a tone," Rivera said. "But once the success started to roll, I think [offensive coordinator] Scott [Turner] kind of continued to go to him."

In just the first quarter, Samuel totaled five receptions for 48 yards. The versatile wideout made several Jaguars defenders miss practically every time he touched the football. Whenever Washington's offense needed a play early on, Carson Wentz looked in Samuel's direction.

“It’s been so long since I have been able to make dudes drop like that," Samuel said. "It’s been a while, but I wouldn’t say I impressed myself, but I did what I knew I could do and I was just like I said I was on call when they made plays and when I touched the ball.”

Wentz started to spread the ball around more as the game went on, but Samuel still remained involved in the game plan. Jacksonville's defenders struggled to contain him all afternoon long, as Turner deployed Samuel in different schemes and formations.

Part of the reason why the Commanders signed Samuel back in 2021 was Rivera and Turner's familiarity with him. Samuel played under both coaches in Carolina. Rivera and Turner knew exactly the player they'd be getting by signing him in free agency.

So, it's understandable why Washington's coaching staff was bummed last fall when Samuel's injuries prevented him from being that same player he was for the Panthers.

On the flip side, though, it's also why the wideout's stellar performance against Jacksonville should bring excitement about Samuel's potential moving forward.

"We know what Curtis can do, and that's what was so frustrating about not having him on the field last year," Rivera said. "Now that he's healthy, now that he's playing to his ability, I think we all see what he's capable of and just how important it is. Those are plays that we couldn't use last year because we didn't have a body type like that."