Another season, another year for the carousel to keep on spinning at quarterback for the Washington Commanders. From Carson Wentz to Taylor Heinicke and now back to Carson Wentz, although the burgundy and gold remain the final seed in the NFC playoff race, a massive question mark still remains at a position they haven’t been able to figure out for decades running.
A roster that was looked upon as a ‘quarterback’ away this offseason, the initial reports back on making the trade for Carson Wentz proved fruitful. The opening two weeks of the season saw him gel with the weapons on the outside. He looked comfortable and strong in the pocket—everything head coach Ron Rivera thought he would be when the move from Indianapolis was made. And while many things attributed to his lack of success as the fall wore on, and a broken finger suffered against Chicago put a halt to his campaign, Wentz is back atop Rivera’s depth chart in a last-ditch effort to lead the Commanders to the playoffs.
Despite Heinicke helping the team turn around a 1-4 start, Christmas Eve’s game against the San Francisco 49ers was the straw that broke his back. Although his inspiring story under center has led Washington to success dating back to a competitive loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the playoffs nearly three years ago, limitations under center have forced him back to the sideline. A four-game stretch that was a massive evaluation period for Heinicke’s game against above-average defensive units, more tape, and higher-level defensive talent exposed his game.
Although Heinicke has shown to make a play here or there or pull a rabbit out of his hat when asked to find consistency as a passer, as teams have forced him to dissect, he’s faltered when it’s mattered most. It’s a difficult case study in the fact that the last time we saw him on the field the front five was a turnstile, but it all correlates and consistent turnovers inside the shadow of his goal line and an inability to keep a defense honest in the vertical game is just one of many facets of his game that have hampered Washington’s ability to reach its lofty offensive performance ceiling.
It’s been there in spurts, but there’s a reason why they paid Terry McLaurin this offseason, drafted Jahan Dotson in the first round, signed Curtis Samuel in free agency, and drafted Dyami Brown on day two. It’s not to look cute in uniform, it’s to present nightmares for opposing secondaries through the air and Heinicke just hasn’t moved the needle as a passer. It’s a difficult world to live in when you look around the league—heck, within your own division—and see the high-flying offenses in Philadelphia and Dallas whom Washington match up nicely to from a weapons perspective. And despite the bodies they do have, it starts under center, and scoring more than 20 points once in the last five weeks of football just won’t cut it at the NFL level, no matter how heartwarming a story is or how hard a guy may work.
It’s a business and one that operates on a ‘what have done for me lately’ mantra. Heinicke is a talent Washington has won ‘with’ not ‘because of’—for the Commanders, everything starts with the ground game (no run = no offense). Heinicke being a large reason the Commanders have lost games is not something the team can live with.
Now, it’s Wentz’s shot to earn back respect once again. A once MVP candidate turned journeyman, it’s his story to write with rookie fifth-rounder Sam Howell sitting in the wings as the potential 2023 starter. Have we seen the last of Heinicke? Maybe, but he remains just a play away. But for an organization that has yet to tie its wagon to someone since Robert Griffin III and Kirk Cousins were in town, desperate times have called for desperate measures, and it’ll be on Wentz’s shoulders to guide them through treacherous waters if they eye a second playoff berth in their last trio of campaigns.
- Jan 26, 2023
- Jan 26, 2023