5 reasons why Commanders picked Carson Wentz over Taylor Heinicke

Before Washington’s Week 16 game against the San Francisco 49ers, Commanders head coach Ron Rivera left the door open for a potential quarterback change now that Carson Wentz was ready to go.

There was a feeling that Taylor Heinicke would have a short leash against the 49ers, which possessed the NFL’s best defense. Heinicke played well, despite a lack of a running game. While offensive coordinator Scott Turner’s playcalling kept Washington in some third-and-long situations, Heinicke converted on multiple third downs.

However, early in the fourth quarter, after a second consecutive turnover, Rivera had seen enough. He benched Heinicke and brought Wentz into the lineup.

Afterward, Rivera wasn’t ready to discuss who would start the following game. On Wednesday, ahead of Washington’s critical Week 17 game against the Cleveland Browns, Rivera publicly declared Wentz as the starter.

Why did Rivera turn back to Wentz?

Here are five reasons why the head coach picked Wentz over Heinicke.

Looking for a spark

Heinicke gave the Commanders a spark when he entered the lineup in Week 7. When Wentz returned in the fourth quarter against the 49ers, he looked good. He handled the pressure well and took what was available instead of making the big mistake.

There’s no question about how Washington players feel about Heinicke. However, Washington hasn’t won a game since Nov. 27 and is clinging to life in the NFC playoff race. Often, when there is a quarterback change, the new guy brings a spark. Rivera hopes that’s what Wentz brings against the Browns.

Hoping he can unlock deep passing game

You saw glimpses of Washington’s potential in games against the Jaguars, Lions and Titans with Wentz under center. You also saw the ugly side in losses to the Eagles and Cowboys. In fairness to Wentz, pass protection was a major problem in the loss to Philadelphia.

Rivera and offensive coordinator Scott Turner hope Wentz can help take advantage of Washington’s outstanding wide receivers. Heinicke’s arm strength is an issue at times, and it limits the deep passing game that Turner loves. Terry McLaurin, Jahan Dotson and Curtis Samuel are a mismatch that Rivera wants to exploit.

There is now a running game

When Wentz played the first six games, the Commanders weren’t consistently running the football. Much of that was due to rookie running back Brian Robinson Jr. being out for the first four games after suffering gunshot wounds in August.

As Robinson has rounded into form, so has Washington’s running game. There will not be as much pressure on Wentz if he has a running game. It also allows Turner to use more play-action, which is helped by a strong running game.

Rivera wants to see more from Wentz

The Commanders have a big decision regarding Wentz in the offseason. While he has two years remaining on his contract, Washington can cut him without penalty. Rivera didn’t trade multiple draft choices to give up on Wentz after six starts. Rivera feels this Washington roster gives Wentz a strong supporting cast and sets him up for success.

There is no bigger test for Wentz than starting two playoff games to determine Washington’s postseason fate. A lot was made of Wentz failing in a similar situation last season, but this is a different year and a different team. And as we’ve seen from the Colts this season, the 2021 failures weren’t just on the quarterback.

If Wentz plays well and leads the Commanders to the postseason, there’s a good chance Washington brings him back next season, whether it’s on the same contract or a revised deal. There is no better evaluation for Rivera than these next two games.

 

Rivera simply believes Wentz gives Commanders a better chance

This could be as simple as Rivera worrying about two games and believing the team has maxed out under Heinicke, and Wentz offers a better chance. There are reasons to think he is correct. If you go back and watch Heinicke each week, he does leave points on the field by not seeing open receivers or being inaccurate. Now, Heinicke also offers things that Wentz can’t provide.

Wentz, too, is far from perfect. However, his arm strength is a big play waiting to happen. Washington’s offense, specifically its passing offense, has a much higher ceiling with Wentz under center. Rivera understands the importance of not choking away a playoff berth in Washington’s control for over a month.

As we all know, neither player is a perfect solution, and Rivera probably understands this. However, this is about Week 17, first and foremost.

Story originally appeared on Commanders Wire