Commanders’ 2023 QB decision; why the Cowboys’ offense is humming: NFC East takeaways


Ron Rivera had a simple explanation for his decision to keep Taylor Heinicke at quarterback for the Washington Commanders for the rest of the season: “Winning.” Ideally, that’s the only thing that should matter when decisions are made in the NFL.

But the NFL isn’t an ideal world, and the decision to stick with Heinicke has far-reaching implications that could complicate things for the Commanders down the road. And it almost certainly dooms them to another offseason quarterback search.

First thing’s first, though: sticking with Heinicke is probably the right call for now. The Chiefs are 4-1 since he took over and he seems to have the support of the players in his locker room, an incredibly important factor for any quarterback.

“Every time he comes into the game, the team just rallies around him,” Chiefs defensive tackle Jonathan Allen told reporters after Sunday’s 23-10 win at Houston. “The offense revolves around him. I can’t really understand it, I can’t really explain it. It is what it is.”

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Taylor Heinicke stopped by to talk with Jen Hale about winning the starting position for the Washington Commanders and the win over the Houston Texans.

Indeed, it is, and the players have made that abundantly clear since Heinicke stepped in when Carson Wentz went down with a broken finger during an ugly win at Chicago on Oct. 13. They were 2-4 at the time and stuck in the NFC. East basement

They are now 6-5 and right on the edge of the NFC playoff race.

Heinicke is not the only one responsible for this. He hasn’t even thrown a touchdown pass in the last two games and has topped 211 yards passing in just one of his five starts. But his mobility and stability, not to mention his knowledge of offensive coordinator Scott Turner’s offense, have provided an undeniable jolt to what once looked like a lost team.

It’s clearly working, so why change it now?

But next year is where it gets complicated. Heinicke, who will turn 30 the day the free agent trading period begins in March, is not the future of the Chiefs. He got his shot last season when he started 15 games and went 7-10 down the stretch. That’s why the Chiefs spent the offseason searching for a quarterback and made their trade for Wentz. And now Wentz is a spare piece, certain to be cut in the offseason after collecting $28.2 million in salary and bonuses this year.

so what? The Chiefs can’t bring Wentz back, especially since they can get out of his contract without any involvement from the boss. They could be stuck with Heinicke, especially if they make the playoffs, whether they like it or not. They like Sam Howell, who they drafted in the fifth round, but Commanders team officials don’t seem to think he’s ready. Also, they like the team they put together and believe they are close to competing for a championship. Starting over with a second-year quarterback next season, or a rookie if they decide to draft someone else, would clearly be a step back.

That’s also not something Rivera, who will turn 61 in January and begin his fourth season in Washington, will want to do in what could be a breakout season for him. So they’ll have to ride the quarterback merry-go-round again, where this time the draft pick will be thin. Unless Lamar Jackson, Geno Smith or Daniel Jones hit free agency, or a 45-year-old Tom Brady wants a new challenge with the NFL’s most dysfunctional franchise, his free agent options could be Jimmy Garoppolo, Baker Mayfield or Jacoby Brissett. or maybe a trade with Las Vegas for Derek Carr.

Neither option is particularly attractive. His ideal scenario was to have success with Wentz, let them carry through 2023 and slowly turn things over to Howell or another young quarterback. But the emergence of Heinicke will not allow that to happen. That’s good for now. It’s great if he can keep the magic going in the playoffs.

But it still leaves the Chiefs with a long-term quarterback problem they’ll have to deal with as soon as Heinicke’s wild ride ends.

And eventually, he will.

***

After the Dallas Cowboys’ resounding 40-3 victory over the Vikings in Minnesota, Jerry Jones could see a Super Bowl in his future. And maybe he’s right. Because little by little, since quarterback Dak Prescott came back, they’re starting to look like a Super Bowl team.

“A resounding yes. Yes. Unequivocally,” Jones told reporters after the game. “I think we’ve had adversity. We could very easily have more adversity. But I certainly think what I see here right now is the team you could go to a Super Bowl with.”

The game certainly had it all for the Cowboys. They had 151 rushing yards, including 80 from Tony Pollard (who also had six catches for 109 yards and two touchdowns). They had a strong pass rush that sacked Vikings QB Kirk Cousins ​​eight times and hit him 13 times.

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But the real difference in their performance in recent weeks has been Prescott. His 22-for-25, 276-yard, 2-touchdown performance Sunday was “vintage Dak,” according to Jones. And he’s really been going for it since coming back from a broken thumb last month.

Through four games, Prescott has completed 72.4 percent of his passes (89-of-123 for 998 yards, eight touchdowns and three interceptions, for a 107.7 passer rating, which would be third-best in the League.

And more importantly, their offense has grown from a unit that produced 300.8 yards and 18.3 points per game through its first six weeks to one that has averaged 412.8 yards and 35.3 points the last four games. They have been better in those games than they were last season when they led the NFL with 407 yards and 31.2 points per game.

Last year they just didn’t have the defense to match what the offense was doing. This season they do. Yes, it would help if they had a second receiver to take some of the pressure off CeeDee Lamb in the passing game (hello, Odell Beckham?). But even without one, as long as Prescott stays healthy, Jones could be right.

***

New York Giants coach Brian Daboll said he has no regrets about his decision to use CB Adoree’ Jackson as a punt returner, even after one of his top defensive players tore his knee returning a point. But it should, because it was a short-sighted decision.

He’s right that “there’s a risk in playing every player, no matter what the position,” but part of a head coach’s job is to understand when to avoid those risks. He clearly felt he had to do something after his old punt returner Richie James threw two sacks in Seattle, costing the Giants their game against the Seahawks. Jackson was a good returner at USC and a decent one with the Titans, where he averaged 8.8 yards on 53 returns over three seasons, so on one level it made sense.

But the impact of punt returners is minimal in today’s NFL, and it’s still a risky job with the other team going full steam ahead on the return man with a 40-50 yard lead. On a team as thin as the Giants are, especially at cornerback where it was really Jackson and a bunch of nobody, and on a second team that already lost safety Xavier McKinney to a broken hand, how could it be worth taking a chance just in order to choose? up to five or six meters?

Wasn’t there anyone else who could have stood back there and at least made a fair catch?

“It’s obviously unfortunate,” Daboll said. “You just try to do what’s best for the team.”

In this case, he didn’t, and it could keep Jackson out for a month. It also gave Giants fans of a certain age terrible flashbacks to 1998, when another former USC cornerback, Jason Sehorn, was used as the kickoff returner by the late Jim Fassel, then broke the his ACL on the first pitch he attempted in the team’s preseason finale. game

***

It wasn’t the best performance of Jalen Hurts’ career, but it sure came when his team needed it most. After their first loss of the season a week ago, they were trailing the Colts 13-3 in Indianapolis on Sunday when the fourth quarter began.

And that’s where Hurts just took over and rescued his team.

In that fourth quarter, Hurts completed 3-of-5 passes for 38 yards, including a 22-yard touchdown pass to Quez Watkins, and ran eight times for 49 yards and a 7-yard touchdown to put the Eagles up 17 -16 with 1:20 remaining. That drive included a gutsy quarterback shotgun draw on 4th-and-2 from the Colts’ 9 just after the two-minute mark. And it was all Hurts, who recognized the middle was clogged, so he casually bounced left, off the plate, for 3 yards and a first down.

It’s interesting that Hurts ran so much with the game on the line, even on three of the last four plays of that game-winning touchdown drive. The Eagles appeared to have made a concerted effort to run Hurts less in recent games, possibly as a way to preserve his body for the stretch run. But he had 16 carries for 86 yards on Sunday — his first game with double-digit carries since Week 5.

But when they needed it most, they gave him the ball and let him go.

“Jalen is special with the ball in his hands,” Eagles coach Nick Sirianni said.

Indeed, it is, and that’s a good weapon for the Eagles to have when they need it.

Ralph Vacchiano is the NFC East reporter for FOX Sports, covering the Washington Commanders, Philadelphia Eagles and New York Giants. He spent the previous six years covering the Giants and Jets for SNY TV in New York, and before that, 16 years covering the Giants and the NFL for the New York Daily News. Follow him on Twitter at @RalphVacchiano.


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