If you were to draw up a scale to measure quarterbacks and their styles of play and had that scale range from ultra safe to ultra aggressive, Taylor Heinicke would check in far closer to the latter than the former. The pylon-seeking signal caller loves to give his targets a chance and doesn't seem to be afraid of much on an NFL field.
Heinicke's coach, though, would prefer Heinicke to dial it back a bit as Washington moves forward following its 1-2 start to the season.
In a Zoom press conference with the media on Monday, Ron Rivera offered up this assessment of the 28-year-old.
"I'd like to see him do things in more of a game-manager way," Rivera said. "Sometimes, that is really just taking what's given to you."
"It might be a simple check-down on third-and-8," he continued. "Give the guy a chance to catch and turn and run and see if he can pick it up."
In Sunday's blowout loss in Buffalo, Heinicke threw two interceptions — and he was fortunate to finish with just a pair of turnovers.
Afterward, Rivera and Heinicke both agreed that those poor choices were a result of the QB desperately trying to create a positive gain, which can often produce outcomes that are the exact opposite of positive.
However, Rivera's Monday phrasing — "a game-manager way" — will surely catch the ears of many outsiders and fans.
At best, that label conjures up images of shorter throws, modest stats and winning the field-position battle.
At worst, it's code for "we don't want this guy to do anything that could cost us a win."
In a one-on-one interview with NBC Sports Washington's JP Finlay that followed Rivera's general presser, Rivera got to further elaborate on his comments.
First, he shared the types of things he's telling Heinicke specifically.
"'Look, right now, don't look over your shoulder,'" Rivera said of the advice he's giving No. 4. "'Just look forward. Play the game. Take what's out there. Manage the game. Make plays when you have to, not all the time.' I told him today, 'Look, make the right play. Make it because it's the right play, not because it's hard or because it's easy, because it's the right decision out there. That's what you have to do.'"
Then, he emphasized that he doesn't need Heinicke to always dump it off underneath, à la 2020 Alex Smith or others who have that same reputation. Instead, Rivera hopes that Heinicke will follow the flow of each play call and go where his reads lead him.
"I think he understands that, if you have to throw a check down, I'll take it," Rivera told Finlay. "If you have to throw a nine [route], I'll take it. But only if it's right, because it's the right time to do it. That's what he has to understand more so than anything else."
Now, what's interesting is that both Heinicke (as already mentioned) and the passer that he's replacing, Ryan Fitzpatrick, aren't what anyone would describe as consistently sound with their decisions. That willingness to freestyle and be risky is what's behind their best highlights and, of course, their worst attempts, too.
Yet as Rivera reiterated to Finlay on Monday, the goal is to have Heinicke pull off those heroic sequences only when the situation requires them and not eliminate them entirely. For most of the action, meanwhile, it's about keeping the ball in his team's hands and keeping the unit as a whole on schedule.
"When Taylor manages things and doesn't force things, you can see him move the ball for us," Rivera said. "But when he tries to do more than he needs to, bad things seem to happen."
Those teaching points make sense and are no doubt valid. Whether Heinicke is the one to execute them is less certain.