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The 5 O’Clock Club: The 2021 quarterback position is a Rorschach test for WFT fans

It’s 5 o’clock somewhere....

The 5 o’clock club is published from time to time during the season, and aims to provide a forum for reader-driven discussion at a time of day when there isn’t much NFL news being published. Feel free to introduce topics that interest you in the comments below.


The Rorschach Test is a projective psychological test developed in 1921 by Hermann Rorschach to measure thought disorder for the purpose of identifying mental illness. It was inspired by the observation that schizophrenia patients often interpret the things they see in unusual ways. In the test, the participant is shown a series of ten ink blot cards and directed to respond to each with what they see in the inkblot.

The test often appears in popular culture and is frequently portrayed as a way of revealing a person’s unconscious thoughts, motives, or desires.

Rorschach developed his approach after studying more than 400 subjects, including over 300 mental patients and 100 control subjects. His 1921 book Psychodiagnostik presented ten inkblots that he selected as having high diagnostic value. Rorschach’s book found little success, and he died suddenly at age 37 just one year after the text’s publication.

The test, however, gained prominence; the ink-blots are widely recognized in popular culture. These days, the test is primarily used in psychotherapy and counseling, and those who use it typically do so as a way of obtaining a great deal of qualitative information about how a person is feeling and functioning. The therapist and client can then further explore some of these issues during therapy.

The heart of the test is its ambiguous images that allow an observer to interpret each ink blot image in any way they wish. Test-takers are allowed to hold the cards in any position they may want, whether it is upside down or sideways. The respondents are free to interpret the ambiguous image however they want. They may also respond in any way that they want. They may say that they see one thing, several different things, or even nothing at all. Test-takers can focus on the image as a whole, on certain aspects of the image, or even on the white space that surrounds the image.

Washington Football Team

It strikes me that the 2021 Washington Football Team offense is a lot like the Rorschach test — fans can interpret the offensive roster in any way they wish; they are free to interpret ambiguousness however they want; they may say that they see one thing, several different things, or even nothing at all; fans can focus on the roster as a whole, on certain aspects of the roster, or even what they don’t see on the roster.

Quarterback competition

As we sit here in June 2021, the promised “competition” at quarterback is of the backburner variety; it is on a low simmer rather than a high boil.

The race seems pretty easy to handicap right now, with the grizzled veteran Ryan Fitzpatrick already having been declared by head coach Ron Rivera as being at the top of the depth chart, with this starter job being Fitz’s to hold onto.

If anyone were to wrestle the starting job away from the 38-year-old, it appears that it would most likely be Cindarella... uh... Taylor Heinicke. Ron Rivera has all but stopped mentioning Kyle Allen, who is trying to return to play following an ugly ankle break/dislocation that happened in the middle of the 2020 season.

Looking at the Harvard educated 16-year veteran with 146 career starts and the 28-year-old former ODU star with 2 career NFL starts, I see two huge ambiguous ink blots to be interpreted. For the Football Team to make the playoffs again this season, then either one or both of the quarterbacks — Fitzpatrick or Heinicke — has to do what he has never done before in his career.

Both players offer potential, but the potential of each has been so far unfulfilled.

Ryan Fitzpatrick

In 16 seasons, Fitzpatrick has never reached the playoffs. He fills a spot in the pantheon of active quarterbacks that is almost unique. He is clearly capable of top-end play at the position, yet he is not perceived as a top-end starter because he has always been defined by inconsistency. Not many players carry two nicknames, but the Fitzmagic-Fitztragic monikers communicate why #14 is such an intricate inkblot test all on his own.

Jets
In a two-game stretch with the Jets in 2016, Fitztragic threw 9 interceptions. In a three-game stretch with NYJ in 2015, Fitzmagic threw 9 TDs with zero interceptions.

Tampa Bay
To begin his 2018 season in Tampa Bay, Fitzmagic threw 8 TDs and 1 INT in the opening two games — both wins — but then the tragic version threw 3 TDs and 4 INTs in the next two games — both losses. Magic had a 6:2 TD:INT ratio in his next two appearances for the Bucs, followed by 0 TDs and 5 INTs for the Fitztragic in his final two appearances on the field of play in a Tampa Bay uniform.

Miami
For fans who want to see the glass half full (if I may be allowed to mix psychological tests), Fitzpatrick’s performance in Miami over the past two seasons is a place to look for support. In the final 12 games of 2019, the quarterback threw 19 touchdowns to 9 interceptions and had only two games with 2 INTs, while he had six games with multiple TDs. In his final 8 games as a Dolphin in 2020, Fitzy had a 13:5 TD:INT ratio, and Miami had a 5-3 record in those games.

Cincinnati Bengals v Miami Dolphins Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images

Optimists will see Fitzpatrick’s potential to throw TDs and win games, pointing to stretches of play where he has done both. They will say that Fitzpatrick, paired with one of the elite defenses in the NFL, won’t feel the need to play ‘hero ball’, which will allow him to play more within himself, rely on the defense and special teams to do their part, and that his energy, experience and leadership will allow him to do what he’s never done before — win enough games to get his team into the playoffs.

Others will say that a leopard doesn’t change his spots, and that giving Fitzpatrick a defense and a great punter won’t change the fact that he is a streaky passer who can’t win consistently in the NFL.

Taylor Heinicke

The challenger at the QB position is Taylor Heinicke. It’s easy to be enthusiastic about the guy based on his roughly five quarters of play in a Washington uniform, but there are a lot of caveats that some fans stay focused on. Having entered the league in 2015, Heinicke has only four game appearances with more than one pass attempt, with two career starts. He has thrown just 77 regular season passes, with a 2:3 TD:INT ratio in those 77 attempts. He added another 44 attempts in his single playoff game, throwing for 1 TD and 1 INT.

His upside potential, however, is pretty strong. Heinicke played a gritty game against the Tampa Bay Bucs and their top-ranked defense in the wildcard game in January — one that will likely live on for many years in franchise lore. He proved to be a smart passer who can move through reads quickly and accurately, and he proved to be a mobile quarterback who can hurt a defense when he runs. Heinicke averages well over 6 yards per attempt running the ball, and he has 8 first downs and a touchdown in just 15 career rushes.

Still, despite Heinicke’s best efforts on the ground and in the air, the Washington offense managed just 23 points against Tampa Bay, and Washington lost the game, knocking them out of the playoffs. In fact, Heinicke’s teams are a cumulative 0-4 in games in which he has thrown 2 or more passes

The biggest question marks about Heinicke, though, relate to his size and durability. He is just over 6 ft. tall; he has been injured in each of his two career starts, and has been knocked out of two of the four NFL games in which he has attempted more than one pass. Heinicke says he spent this offseason bulking up in an effort to become more durable, and one look at him proves the truth of his assertion.

Furthermore, in recent interviews he has indicated that, now that he feels a bit more job security, he will play with less reckless abandon — sliding or running out of bounds as opposed to diving five yards at the sideline in a reach for the pylon. His offensive coordinator, Scott Turner, who has been Heinicke’s coach on three different NFL teams, scoffed at the idea that Heinicke would play more conservatively, while admitting that it’s something Washington’s current backup needs to do if he wants to survive in the NFL.

Summary

Washington has come a million miles and found themselves back where they started in some ways. A year ago, Washington had one grizzled veteran in Alex Smith who came with incredible uncertainty because of his unique personal situation. The team had a relatively inexperienced quarterback in Dwayne Haskins who hadn’t done enough to answer the questions and reservations that many observers had about him. And Kyle Allen was there lurking in the background, waiting for a chance.

NFL: Washington Football Team at Dallas Cowboys Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Here we are in 2021, with the grizzled veteran Ryan Fitzpatrick whose duality makes him an uncertain proposition at quarterback. Fitzpatrick is the ‘Gemini’ of NFL signal callers — a guy that we know a lot about (maybe we know too much about him), but a guy about whom we still have questions because you never know which version is going to show up on any given Sunday. The team has an exciting but inexperienced quarterback in Taylor Heinicke who hasn’t done enough to answer all his doubters. Kyle Allen is still lurking and looking for another chance.

Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

The quarterback room

Some will look at this collection of quarterback group and see a quarterback room brimming with talent and potential; they will see a deep position that can withstand the rigors of a 17-game NFL season with its ups and downs and attendant injuries.

Others will look at the same group and see lack of draft pedigree, lack of achievement, and limited physical gifts. These observers will see a room filled with career backups and journeymen; a room filled with low ceilings and lack of star power. A group of losers.

There’s an argument that the quarterbacks that Washington has on the roster are ‘good enough’ because they come at the right price (i.e. cheap), and all they have to do is play mistake-free football and let the defense win the game. Questions still exist even with this view. Can Ryan Fitzpatrick play mistake-free football? Is it in his DNA to be a risk-taker? Do you have to accept his “Mr. Hyde” in order to benefit from the genius of his “Dr. Jekyll”?

With Taylor Heinicke, can he beat out Fitzpatrick and get on the field? If he does, can he stay healthy? Not only that, but can he play like he did in his 5 quarters in Washington last year? After all, this is a guy who couldn’t convince coaches in New England, Minnesota, Houston or Carolina that he belonged on the field, and he was the 4th QB in Washington, and only got to play when it was obvious that Alex Smith could barely walk. Remember that Heinicke wasn’t even the starter in the XFL with the St. Louis Battlehawks — he was the backup there after being out of football in 2019.

Even Kyle Allen comes with health questions. He had an ugly injury, and it’s unclear when he will be ready to play again. Despite getting off to a 6-1 record in his first 7 starts, Allen is 7-10 as a starter in his career, and he was 1-3 last season in Washington.

It seems to me that the 2021 quarterback position provides a Rorschach test for Washington Football fans, and how you feel about the upcoming season will depend largely on what you see when you look at the quarterback position.

So, I guess there’s only one question to ask: What do you see?

Poll

Which quarterback will have the most starts for Washington in 2021?

This poll is closed

  • 82%
    Ryan Fitzpatrick
    (326 votes)
  • 15%
    Taylor Heinicke
    (62 votes)
  • 0%
    Kyle Allen
    (3 votes)
  • 1%
    Steven Montez
    (4 votes)
  • 0%
    Someone else
    (2 votes)
397 votes total Vote Now

Poll

If Fitzpatrick is the Week 1 starter, which of these three records do you think is the most likely in 2021?

This poll is closed

  • 74%
    10-7
    (268 votes)
  • 22%
    8-9
    (82 votes)
  • 3%
    6-11
    (12 votes)
362 votes total Vote Now