3 adjustments Commanders should make to maximize Taylor Heinicke at QB

Oct 23, 2022; Landover, Maryland, USA; Washington Commanders quarterback Taylor Heinicke (4) converts a third down in the final two minutes of the game at FedExField. Mandatory Credit: Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports
Oct 23, 2022; Landover, Maryland, USA; Washington Commanders quarterback Taylor Heinicke (4) converts a third down in the final two minutes of the game at FedExField. Mandatory Credit: Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports /
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Heading into last week’s game against the Green Bay Packers, there were five quarterbacks who had defeated both Patrick Mahomes and Aaron Rodgers in a regular season game. Four of them are long-time vets who will one day be in the Hall of Fame. The fifth is Jared Goff. And now you can add a sixth name – the Washington Commanders’Taylor Heinicke.

I don’t care how much Goff’s inclusion may devalue this achievement, but it’s still pretty cool for the former St. Louis Battlehawk backup to be on a list with Tom Brady, Russell Wilson, Matt Ryan and Phillip Rivers.

I am on record saying that Taylor Heinicke does not have the arm to be a starting quarterback in the NFL, and I stand by that. Two throws against the Packers make that point obvious. The deep-out pick six was both late and behind JD McKissic. And that doesn’t even matter. Deep outs are the litmus test of arm strength, and if a QB cannot rifle the ball deep and across the field, it usually results in a defensive touchdown. Heinicke cannot make that throw on a consistent basis.

His pass to tight end Cole Turner shortly before halftime was both high and behind Turner, and resulted in the tight end taking an awkward hit. This is one of the biggest concerns I have with Heinicke. His lack of arm strength requires him to loft deep passes, a problem exacerbated by his short stature. The result is that he is often high with his throws, exposing his receivers to big hits. The concern is that he is going to get his receivers killed.

And yet – he won the game. His rainbow touchdown to Terry McLaurin was beautiful. To seal the game, he made another deep out throw, aided in no small measure by McLaurin’s strong move to come back to the ball. He showed the toughness and resilience that even his detractors have admired. He clearly deserves a place in the league as a backup who can come in and give the team a jolt of energy if the starter goes down. I am happy to admit I was wrong in underestimating his ability to do that.

But if Heinicke is going to be the starter for the rest of this season, or at least for a good chunk of it, I would humbly suggest Scott Turner modify his offense to take advantage of what Heinicke does best, and to minimize his chances for mistakes.

3 things Commanders should do to maxmize Taylor Heinicke at QB

(Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)
(Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images) /

1. More run/pass options

The Washington Commanders do not run many run-pass options. It is a concept that took the league by storm ten years ago when Robert Griffith III dominated, and many of the best offenses today – Eagles, Ravens – use it with great success.

I don’t know if Ron Rivera and Scott Turner are philosophically opposed to the RPO. Rivera certainly ran versions of it with Cam Newton in Carolina. But the QBs Washington has chosen to build around since Rivera came to town have been wholly unsuited for it. Alex Smith and Carson Wentz might have had the skills to do it at one point, but by the time they arrived in DC, those days were past. And Dwayne Haskins and Ryan Fitzpatrick were never going to run that concept effectively.

But Taylor Heinicke is a different kind of cat. He is not a drop-back passer who will stand tall in the pocket and rifle the ball all over the field. He needs to confuse the defense to create room for his underpowered throws. Washington now has a group of dynamic runners and good receiving options. Heinicke has the veteran savvy and elusiveness to make quick reads and quick moves.

We all saw the extraordinary stubbornness shown by Matt Eberflus and Luke Getsy late in the Commanders game against the Bears a few weeks ago. It was fairly obvious that if Bears quarterback Justin Fields would have kept the ball in his hands – either on designed runs or on RPOs in the final series of plays, the Bears would have scored and probably won the game. But his coaches insisted on having Fields drop back and throw the ball – something that he is not very good at right now. As a result, the Bears lost.

Rivera and Turner cannot make the same mistake with Heinicke.