The Washington Commanders will be without Carson Wentz for the foreseeable future. In the meantime, backup Taylor Heinicke will run the offense.
Per ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler, Wentz was given a four-week recovery timeline from finger surgery, and Washington will decide later this week whether to put him on injured reserve, which would knock him out the next four games.
In a perfect world, Wentz beats the four-week timetable, but does anyone really want his first game back to be in Philly on Monday Night Football? Having Wentz return — assuming the Commanders still have something to play for — for Week 11 vs the current winless Texans is a much smoother landing spot.
For now, all the attention turns to Heinicke, who who won the backup job in preseason despite getting outperformed by rookie Sam Howell. Some fans campaigned for the fifth-round pick to get the nod, but Ron Rivera explained to reporters Tuesday why Heinicke is the guy to replace Wentz.
Here’s why the Commanders will start Taylor Heinicke over Sam Howell to replace the injured Carson Wentz.
"“Taylor, right now, gives us the best opportunity to be successful,” Rivera said.“I think because of the familiarity with some of the things we do, it’ll be an easy transition for us. With Taylor, too, there’s always that ability to run the ball — he’s got a little bit of that in him. It’ll be interesting because the things we do will certainly match his skill set.”"
Tough to push back on that explanation.
It also speaks volumes that Heinicke has the most experience in Scott Turner’s system of Washington’s quarterbacks. This is Heinicke’s third season with the Commanders and he was in Carolina when Turner was partnered with Rivera. Heinicke and Turner even crossed paths in Minnesota before then.
For what it’s worth, Washington averaged more points with Heinicke commanding the offense last season than with Wentz so far in 2022. While you can argue Heinicke had a superior offensive line, the 29-year-old didn’t have a healthy Curtis Samuel, Jahan Dotson, Brian Robinson and Cole Turner at his disposal.
Rivera later listed Heinicke’s grit and ability to rally the locker room as chief reasons the Old Dominion product will start in place of Wentz.
"“A big part of it comes from you bring a guy in 2020, throw him out there and he has this never die, never quit [attitude]. The guys rally around anybody who’s going to step up and compete. It’s kind of that underdog story. It’s kind of exciting and we’ll see how it goes.”"
And finally, Rivera doesn’t think Howell is ready. The rookie’s footwork received mixed reviews (putting it kindly) during the preseason and Rivera doesn’t wan to put him in a position where he feels like he’s tasked with saving the season.
Almost every Commanders fan wants to see Howell under center, but it’d be best if that happened later in the season. If Washington is out of the playoff picture come Week 12 or 13, or thereabouts, let Howell finish out the schedule.
Heinicke has his limitations as a quarterback, but there’s just no hiding from the fact that he’s a gamer of the nth degree, led Washington to seven wins in unfavorable circumstances last year and has an unteachable ability to rally the locker room.
Throw Howell’s inexperience and need to develop in the mix and it’s pretty obvious why Rivera named Heinicke the temporary starter.