If Washington rotates QBs vs. Tampa, here are the pros and cons of each passer

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Peter Hailey
·5 min read
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If Washington rotates QBs Saturday, here are pros & cons of each originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington

Ron Rivera's Tuesday presser ahead of his team's playoff meeting with the Buccaneers started off with a bang, as the coach admitted that he's considering rotating Alex Smith and Taylor Heinicke in at quarterback versus Tampa Bay.

Later on, Rivera reiterated that, for now, the bold strategy is just something he's thinking about as opposed to something he's committed to. But even so, just the acknowledgement of that thinking on its own feels massive.

Washington still has three practices to go through before they take off on their postseason run, meaning time remains until a decision about the plan on offense has to be reached. So, while they weigh their options, let's also weigh their options, listing off the pros and cons of both Smith and Heinicke.

Alex Smith

Pros: Playoff and overall experience, effect on rest of the roster, ball distribution 

Smith has appeared in seven playoff contests in his career. Heinicke, on the other hand, has suited up for eight pro games total since entering the league. That sort of experience will allow Smith to stay calm in what's a major moment for the organization and make a difference when it comes to getting his group in the right calls and right spots against an aggressive Bucs defense.

Smith's background also has a huge impact on everyone else in Burgundy and Gold. Ask someone within the building, from Rivera to Chase Young — who loves him some 11 — to any of the wideouts and you'll hear serious praise about how he simply makes Washington believe. Their 5-1 record in his starts will back up that confidence. Heinicke, meanwhile, hasn't even been around for a month.

Lastly, Rivera and Scott Turner are very fond of how the veteran involves all of his targets. Because of that, each receiver knows they have to run their routes exactly how they were coached no matter what number they are in the route tree, since they understand Smith could be coming their way. Washington isn't a unit that's hard to defend by any stretch, but the 36-year-old's willingness to throw to anyone does give them a bit more of an edge. 

Cons: Mobility was at an all-time low in Week 17, can he generate any splash plays?  

A calf strain on top of 17 previous surgeries has, understandably, eliminated almost all of Smith's mobility, which he was once known for. He was extremely vulnerable to pressure in Philadelphia, and there's no doubt Tampa is going to test him often as well. It has the potential to get ugly in that respect.

Due to Smith's leg issues, he has to get the ball out quickly in order to keep things moving forward. It's a style that can work, but for an underdog like Washington, some deep shots to Terry McLaurin and Cam Sims would be a welcome sight and perhaps help them steal a touchdown or two. Unfortunately, Smith may not be able to buy the precious extra seconds that are required for those kinds of calls.

Taylor Heinicke

Pros: Far more mobile than Smith, almost a complete unknown 

Last week, Scott Turner raved about Heinicke's physical tools, telling reporters that the 27-year-old "wasn't invited to the Combine, but if he would've been, I think he would've finished in the top-three in all those athletic categories, whether it's 40-yard dash, broad jump, vertical jumps." He could be just enough to keep Todd Bowles' bunch off balance, at least in certain situations. He’d definitely accomplish that more than Smith.

In addition to that, Heinicke has just one quarter of recent film that can be studied, and that's from his effort in Week 16. Let's not pretend that he's some insane, secret weapon that Washington has been waiting to unveil all along, but that mystery element is intriguing.

Cons: Is he ready for this kind of situation? 

Coming in for a struggling Dwayne Haskins and putting up 137 yards against the Panthers defense was an impressive performance for Heinicke. It'll also pale in comparison to taking on an 11-5 squad in January.

How will he fare on such an elevated stage while squaring off with a much more capable opponent? Yes, he could produce once again simply because he may not know any better, but there's also a scenario in which he gets totally overwhelmed. Smith, with all of his knowledge, won't succumb to the mental side like Heinicke might. 

Conclusion

Again, this is merely an idea at this point — yet it might also be the perfect idea.

Washington would surely prefer to have one answer that encompasses all of Smith and Heinicke's best qualities, but that's an item on their shopping list instead of their current reality.

Rolling with Smith on the first drive to see how he's moving and what kind of rhythm he can settle into from there seems like the optimal way to begin the contest, with Heinicke available off the bench to provide a spark if necessary. 

Hey, it's been a weird season ever since kickoff back in September, right? So why not get weird this Saturday, too?