ASHBURN — Some of Taylor Heinicke’s best moments with the Commanders have come in high-pressure, hurry-up situations.
That’s no surprise to those who have been following his career, given that he did the same at Old Dominion. With more and more NFL offenses incorporating no-huddle and other “tempo” concepts, why not let Heinicke do the same in Washington?
The answer, it turns out, involves the rest of the team.
Heinicke has already performed late-game magic against the Colts and Giants this year, but Washington’s identity, and wins over the Eagles and Packers, has been grounded in slow, methodical drives.
By winning the time-of-possession battle, the Commanders also take some of the pressure off their defense, which has relied on Jonathan Allen, Daron Payne and Montez Sweat to play a high percentage of snaps.
People are also reading…
Heinicke noted Wednesday that a slip-up while playing with an uptempo approach can be costly.
“If you’re trying to do that in the middle of the first quarter, the third quarter, they might throw an exotic blitz at you, and you get sacked,” the quarterback said. “Next thing you know, it’s second-and-18. And that’s not how our offense rolls.
“So there’s definitely a fine line there, trying to be smart about it.”
Heinicke demonstrated the other side of that line with a pre-halftime interception against the Atlanta Falcons, though that turnover did not end up costing the Commanders any points.
On the whole, coach Ron Rivera has been more willing to let Heinicke cook than he was earlier in the season.
Rivera, though, also threw cold water on the notion of using more of the uptempo style that Heinicke seems to favor.
“You have to be aware of what you’re trying to do, and how does it impact the other 10 guys,” the coach said. “We’ve got some young guys that are out there. We’ve got a little bit of a mix in our offensive line, and some young skill guys that getting ahead of them could be detrimental.
“We have to try and make sure that some of the things that (offensive coordinator Scott Turner) scripts, some of the stuff that he plans when we do some of the tempo stuff, is with the right group of guys and it fits what we’re trying to do.”
Turner has found success this season on games where the team has had longer rest, and Sunday fits that criteria, with Washington coming off a bye week entering a crucial late-season matchup against the Giants.
Heinicke has also differed from past seasons in that he’s been much more hesitant to run the ball, instead attempting to extend plays by throwing and keeping his eyes downfield on receivers Terry McLaurin and Curtis Samuel in particular.
Heinicke has only rushed for 67 yards this year, compared with 313 yards last season — that’s less than half as much on a per-game basis.
“Yeah, it’s one of those things that kind of just happens,” Heinicke said. “I don’t really try and think about running. It’s kind of one of those things where if things break down, then yeah, I’ll go for it.
“I will say that there’s been a couple instances in previous games where I feel like I should have. But again, that’s something that you just keep on working on and it’s not something that you want to be thinking about pre-snap. It’s something that kind of just happens.”
While it might seem that Heinicke is being put at a disadvantage within the offensive system, he said he doesn’t see it that way at all.
He said he’s there to win, and he’s on board with whatever the best method is for getting there.
“As long as we’re winning, we’re good,” he said. “I could throw the ball 7 times or 50 times, I don’t care. As long as we’re winning, that’s all that matters.”
Practice update: Cornerback Benjamin St.-Juste (ankle) returned to practice on Wednesday and was seen cutting and running with the other defensive backs during individual drills. ... Defensive end Chase Young (knee) also participated in the practice, and Rivera expressed optimism this could be the week he finally makes his season debut.