The Washington Commanders have unquestionably been better with Taylor Heinicke than they were with Carson Wentz.
Both quarterbacks have now started six games for the Commanders to massively different results: 2-4 under Wentz, and 5-1 with Heinicke.
But does that mean Heinicke has been better than Wentz?
Well, the easy answer is: Duh, of course. The only thing Commanders fans — and the organization — should care about at this stage is the win-loss record. With Wentz, the Commanders looked destined for a top 10 pick in the NFL draft before he fractured his finger in Week 6. With Heinicke, they’re in a wild card spot.
OK, now that the massive disclaimer is out of the way, the bottom line takeaway when comparing their statistics through six games is simple: Neither has been good.
Put them side by side, and it’s hard to differentiate between the two.
Heinicke: 60.8% completion rate, 4.1% touchdown percentage, 2.9% interception rate, 6.8 yards per attempt.
Wentz: 62.1% completion rate, 4.3% touchdown percentage, 2.6% interception rate, 6.4 yards per attempt.
Be honest, if the names were stripped away from the numbers, you wouldn’t be able to guess with any confidence which was Heinicke and which was Wentz. And maybe that’s the point.
The difference with the Commanders under Heinicke has less to do with how he’s throwing the ball and more about the way offensive coordinator Scott Turner is calling plays, the emergence of Brian Robinson to boost the run game and the marked improvement of the defense.
Under Wentz, the Commanders threw the ball 38.7 times per game. Under Heinicke, that number has dropped to just 28.5. Across the entire season, only four NFL teams have passed the ball less than Heinicke’s Commanders — Chicago (21.2 attempts per game), Atlanta (23), Tennessee (25) and Carolina (28).
Fewer pass attempts (or more carries for Robinson and Antonio Gibson) have coincided with the Commanders shooting up the NFL’s time of possession leaderboard. Washington now leads the league at 32 minutes, 45 seconds.
“It’s a quarterback’s best friend,” Heinicke said Sunday after the win over Atlanta about Washington’s style of play. “The defense we have, the offensive line with the way they are playing, our run game and our weapons out there, I don’t know any quarterback that wouldn’t want to be on this team.”
In raw numbers, Wentz threw for more yards (1,489), touchdowns (10) and interceptions (six) than Heinicke has (1,169 yards, seven touchdowns, five interceptions). Stretched across a 17-game season, here is what their final numbers would be:
Wentz: 4,219 yards, 28 touchdowns, 17 interceptions.
Heinicke: 3,312 yards, 20 touchdowns, 14 interceptions.
For Heinicke, those stats look similar to the ones he put up in his 15 and 1/2 games as Washington’s starter last season (3,419 yards, 20 touchdowns, 15 interceptions). For Wentz, the yards would be a career-high, but the touchdown-to-interception ratio would be the third-worst of his seven-year career.
But there is one key difference in the numbers that could speak to why the offense has run more smoothly with Heinicke under center. He doesn’t take those back-breaking, drive-stalling, mind-numbing sacks that Wentz did — 23, to be exact.
Remember when Wentz was sacked nine times against Philadelphia in Week 3? That’s how many total sacks Heinicke has taken in six starts. Now, part of that is because Heinicke is dropping back significantly less than Wentz was and because the offensive line play has improved. But it can also be attributed to Heinicke’s mobility and skill at maneuvering around the pocket.
“He‘s making some quicker decisions, he‘s getting the ball out of his hands,” coach Ron Rivera told reporters Wednesday. “He is not taking the sacks and the hits that he took last year. He’s playing a smarter, quicker game.”
Either way, put both quarterbacks up against the rest of the league, and the picture isn’t pretty. Wentz and Heinicke rank 27th and 28th in passer rating, respectively. In QBR, ESPN’s version of passer rating, Heinicke is significantly ahead of Wentz, who is fourth-worst at 32.9, ahead of just Denver’s Russell Wilson, Houston’s Davis Mills and Carolina’s Baker Mayfield.
That doesn’t mean Heinicke’s QBR is good, though. He’s ranked 24th at 46.9, just ahead of Pittsburgh’s Kenny Pickett, the New York Jets’ Zach Wilson and Indianapolis’ Matt Ryan. That’s not good company, either.
But Heinicke doesn’t care if it’s pretty — and neither will Rivera and company if the Commanders keep winning.
“I don’t care, man. As long as we’re winning, we’re good,” Heinicke told reporters Wednesday when asked about his low pass attempt totals. “I could throw the ball seven times or 50 times, I don’t care. As long as we’re winning, that’s all that matters.”