Would Ryan Fitzpatrick really be an upgrade over Taylor Heinicke?

Oct 31, 2021; Denver, Colorado, USA; Washington Football Team quarterback Taylor Heinicke (4) runs the ball under pressure from Denver Broncos safety Kareem Jackson (22) in the first quarter at Empower Field at Mile High. Mandatory Credit: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports
Oct 31, 2021; Denver, Colorado, USA; Washington Football Team quarterback Taylor Heinicke (4) runs the ball under pressure from Denver Broncos safety Kareem Jackson (22) in the first quarter at Empower Field at Mile High. Mandatory Credit: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports /

How did it all go downhill so fast? A little over ten months ago, Taylor Heinicke was going blow for blow with Tom Brady in the Wild Card Game, with the Washington Football Team keeping the game competitive till the end.

Could this be the end of the long, arduous search for a franchise quarterback? Could this third-string quarterback who was about to take final exams a few weeks before being brought in by Washington be the savior the team had been waiting for?

When Washington signed Ryan Fitzpatrick in the offseason and all but guaranteed him the starting job, many were upset that Heinicke didn’t get a fair chance to prove himself. Well, less than a half of football later, Fitzpatrick went down with an injury and Heinicke once again got his time to shine.

And shine he did, at least for a while.

After throwing a costly interception in Week 2 against the Giants, he had an opportunity to atone for his mistake and led Washington on a game-winning drive to secure the win. Two weeks later,  he pulled off another game-winning drive with a 30-yard touchdown pass to JD McKissic.

With Taylor Heinicke’s magic fading, would the Washington Football Team be in a better spot with Ryan Fitzpatrick at the helm?

After watching the team lose four straight games and watching Heinicke struggle continuously in the red zone, many fans are wondering if it’s time for a quarterback change.

Let’s not get ahead of ourselves, though. This team is lucky to not be winless right now and some of that “luck” is due to the play of Heinicke in those two wins. Heinicke has two game-winning drives so far this season, which is the same as Ryan Fitzpatrick and Alex Smith had combined in the 2020 season. In those two wins, Heinicke completed 72% of his passes, averaged over 300 yards passing, and threw five touchdowns to one interception.

In his other five starts where the team has lost (not including Week 1 since Fitzpatrick technically started that game), Heinicke completed just 59% of his passes, averaged 236 yards, and threw five touchdowns to eight interceptions.

Now, I’m not going to excuse Heinicke’s propensity to make careless throws when trying to bring the team back from behind or excuse his inability to connect on the long ball, but Washington’s downfall shouldn’t fall solely on his shoulders.

Although he is 28 years old, Heinicke has only started eight regular-season games, which gets lost on many fans. Fitzpatrick, in comparison, has 147 career starts but hasn’t produced that much better of a winning percentage throughout his career.

Yes, Fitzpatrick’s ability to throw the long ball would open up Washington’s offense, as his 4.6 completed air yards per pass attempt ranked fourth-highest in the NFL last season, compared to Heinicke’s 3.2, which is fourth-lowest in 2021. However, both Heinicke and Fitzpatrick have pretty similar on-target percentages with Heinicke at 77.3% in 2021 and Fitzpatrick at 79.9% in 2020.

Ironically enough, for all the long-ball love that Fitzpatrick receives, Heincke’s long game in 2021 far exceeds Fitzpatrick’s 2020 season for 2/3 of the field, according to Sharp Football Analysis.

Not only has Heinicke already attempted more deep passes than Fitzpatrick did last year, but his completion percentage and passer rating surpass Fitzpatrick’s when targeting receivers on the deep left or deep middle of the field.

When going deep left, Heinicke is 8-for-20 for 201 yards, two touchdowns, and one interception, with an 89.8 passer rating. Fitzpatrick on the other hand went 8-for-16 for 246 yards and had one touchdown to two interceptions for a 77.1 passer rating.

When going deep middle, Heinicke is 8-for-15 for 188 yards and one touchdown, with a 120.8 passer rating compared to Fitzpatrick, who went 7-for-11 for 192 yards with one touchdown, one interception, and a 99.6 passer rating.

Where Heincke has struggled is going deep right where he is just 7-for-25 for 178 yards, with two touchdowns and four interceptions, and a 43.8 passer rating, which is only ahead of Sam Darnold and Justin Fields.

The other area where Heinicke, and the entire Washington Football Team, have struggled this season is scoring in the red zone. The offense has no problem getting down the field, but struggles to punch it in. Over the last two games, Washington has gotten into the red zone six times but had zero points to show for it.

One big factor that has impacted the lack of red zone success is the loss of Logan Thomas, who injured his hamstring against the Falcons in Week 4 and has missed the last four games, which have all been Washington losses.

Last season, Thomas caught all six of his touchdowns from inside the red zone and accounted for over 50% of the team’s red-zone touchdown receptions, according to NFL.com’s situational stats.

This season, Thomas already had two red-zone touchdowns in the first three games of the season. Before his injury, Washington’s red-zone scoring percentage (TDs only) was 75%, which ranked 10th in the NFL. Since his injury, Washington has dropped to 2nd lowest in the NFL for red-zone scoring percentage (TDs only), coming in at 45.45%.

Heinicke has definitely been impacted by Thomas’ absence, as he was averaging a 144.9 passer rating when targeting the tight end.

And for as bad as Heinicke has looked in the red zone, Fitzpatrick may have actually been worse.

Heinicke is completed 51.9% of his passes inside the red zone and has five touchdowns to two interceptions for a 71.9 passer rating. Last season, Fitzpatrick had a 48.5% completion percentage with 10 touchdowns to three interceptions and a 56.7 passer rating.

Washington has also played from behind in the majority of its games this season. Do you want to know who has better stats when playing from behind between Heinicke and Fitzpatrick? You guessed it, Heinicke again.

Taking it a step further, in the two wins Washington has this season, Heinicke benefitted from a pressure percentage under 20%, while in four of the five losses where he started, the pressure percentage was 20+%, peaking at 30% against the Bills. The drop percentage has also been an issue in recent weeks for Washington where we have seen even Terry McLaurin have a catchable ball slip through his fingers.

Suffice to say, the Washington Football Team’s issues go far beyond the quarterback position. However, for the team to have any success in the second half of the season, it needs better play from the quarterback position. With Logan Thomas and others returning from injury after the bye week and the defense showing signs of improvement, Heinicke deserves a chance to prove himself in the second half of the season.

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