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Missed opportunities and inconsistencies plagued Taylor Heinicke vs. the Dallas Cowboys

Taylor Heinicke had his worst game as Washington’s quarterback at the worst time. This film breakdown highlights some examples of where Heinicke had his missteps.

NFL: Dallas Cowboys at Washington Football Team Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

Before Taylor Heinicke suffered his injury vs the Dallas Cowboys that forced him to exit the game, he finished the day 11 of 25 with 122 yards, one touchdown, one interception, and sacked four times with two turnovers. Heinicke was trying to protect the football as the Cowboys are one of the more opportunistic defenses in the league. Could Heinicke fight the urges to “win it” for his team? Or did he succumb to it and force passes where they shouldn’t go? In the end, the “hero” ball ultimately let him and his team down.

Make no mistake though, the offense struggled in multiple phases of the game. The loss was not only a byproduct of horrible quarterback play, but that is a nuanced discussion. While hero ball is sometimes needed, the ultimate gift of a quarterback who plays as Heinicke does is knowing when it is needed versus when you need to manage the game.

I highlighted the missed opportunities and inconsistencies displayed by Heinicke versus the Cowboys.

First Play: 24-0 Cowboys, 3rd quarter, 3rd and 5, at Washington’s 42-yard line.

Analysis: There’s a sentiment by some that because Washington was down 24-0, that they understand why Heinicke threw the ball to star receiver Terry McLaurin here. In reality, it’s only an ideal throw if the quarterback has an elite arm; in this case, we know that Heinicke does not. Heinicke himself knows that he does not. Tight end John Bates has a drag route that crosses Heinicke in the middle of the field, receiver Curtis Samuel has a jet out to the sideline, and receiver Cam Sims has a 15-yard dig route in an open void of the Cowboys zone coverage.

As Heinicke completes his dropback, you will see each receiver has windows in which they are open, well before Heinicke’s attempt to direct McLaurin to go further down the field. Reminder, Washington started the second-half with the football, this is a critical drive because they are down three possessions, but Washington does not need to press at this very instance. Unfortunately, Heinicke does, and it ultimately costs Washington a good start to the half, and McLaurin to a concussion.

Second Play: 24-0 Cowboys, 3rd quarter, 2nd and 10, at Washington’s 25-yard line.

Analysis: This is a simple slot-fade concept from Washington. Everything is perfect leading up to the throw; Heinicke successfully holds the single-high safety long enough to create a space where he can take Terry McLaurin upfield. However, Heinicke severely underthrows McLaurin and allows the ball-hawk Trevon Diggs an opportunity (not defensive pass interference by the way) to make a play on the football. During the play, McLaurin wins at the line of scrimmage with his release and wins with Antonio Gibson’s help, who has a slant under McLaurin’s route.

Third Play: 24-0 Cowboys, 3rd quarter, 1st and 10, at Washington’s 10-yard line.

Analysis: A vertical route similar to the four verticals that Washington ran on their final offensive drive, receiver DeAndre Carter wins on the sideline against the Cowboys defender. With good protection, Heinicke has an opportunity to make a play for Washington’s offense with a strong sideline throw, and Heinicke should have angled the pass towards the 40-yard line. However, in a must-convert opportunity with the nearest safety 20 yards away, Heinicke underthrows Carter by at least three yards.

Fourth Play: 21-0 Cowboys, 2nd quarter, 3rd and 15, at Washington’s 25-yard line.

Analysis: Receiver Cam Sims has a dig route, Adam Humphries is angling towards the middle of the field, and Heinicke targets Sims. The failure to move off of his first read nearly put Washington in a bigger hole against the Cowboys. With Terry McLaurin streaking down the sideline, it is hard to fault Heinicke for not seeing him at the snap if his first read is to the left. However, Heinicke would have seen that if he moved off of Sims, McLaurin was wide open by a mile on the sideline, but his check-down to Ricky Seales-Jones was also the safer option as he had plenty of room to run on 2nd and 15.

If you liked these examples, check out the full breakdown below.

This breakdown was a rough draft of sorts, but if this is a film breakdown you’d like to see more of as we close out the season, let us know!