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Washington’s offense is taking fewer penalties with Heinicke at the helm

Washington Commanders v Philadelphia Eagles Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images

This morning, Bill published an incredible piece on Washington’s offensive strategy, and how that has evolved over the course of the season. Distilled to its essence, this is the central thesis and conclusion:

The Commanders game plan is clearly to slow the game down, play defense and field position, and try to make fewer mistakes than the opposing team. Looking at the win-loss details, the strategy seems to be working.

Since week 5, Washington has taken steps to emphasize the rushing game, reduce the number of drives in games, and as a result, play lower scoring matches. These changes have roughly corresponded with the shift from Carson Wentz to Taylor Heinicke, but Wentz’s week 6 game against the Bears was managed in a similar fashion.

Bill’s piece goes into extensive detail on the league-wide trends in drives per game, and the relative offensive efficiency of a Wentz versus a Heinicke-led unit, so there’s no need to cover that ground again, but I want to pick up on an element he did not cover:

try(ing) to make fewer mistakes than the opposing team.

In the perpetual effort to tease apart whether Taylor Heinicke is having a positive effect on the offense, a question was raised in the comments section of a recent article about whether a QB-effect exists for the offensive penalties Washington has taken this season.

With my curiosity piqued by the inquiry, I decided to go back and examine whether this was one spot the QB might be helping to limit mistakes.

The current window between weeks 12 and 13 provides a near ideal environment to compare Wentz’s performance versus Heinicke’s. Twelve weeks in, we have an even sample of 6 games for each QB to examine. Using data obtained from, I was able to grab week-by-week statistics for three key variables: Total offensive penalties, the yardage associated with those penalties, and the number of those offensive penalties that occurred pre-snap (e.g., false start, delay of game, illegal formation, illegal motion, too many players on the field).

The raw data and averages broken out by QB are below:

2022 Offensive Penalties by QB

Week QB Off pen Off yds Off presnap
Week QB Off pen Off yds Off presnap
1 Wentz 1 5 0
2 Wentz 2 17 1
3 Wentz 2 8 2
4 Wentz 7 61 3
5 Wentz 6 44 3
6 Wentz 3 13 3
7 Heinicke 1 5 1
8 Heinicke 0 0 0
9 Heinicke 0 0 0
10 Heinicke 3 30 2
11 Heinicke 1 10 0
12 Heinicke 2 20 0
Wentz 3.5 24.7 2.0
Heinicke 1.2 10.8 0.5

The differences in offensive penalization broken out by QB are fairly stark. Even in week 6, where Wentz was running a more rush-heavy offense, his unit had more pre-snap penalties (3) than Heinicke has had at any time since he’s been the starter. In fact, in 2/3s of the games that he’s played, Heinicke’s offense has had zero pre-snap penalties. In total, the team had four times as many pre-snap penalties in Wentz-led games than it has had in Heinicke-led games.

But maybe the decrease is because Heinicke has tended to have fewer drives than Wentz, right? Probably not. In his article, Bill points out that Wentz did average 24.5 drives per game to Heinicke’s 21 drives. That’s about 14% fewer drives for Taylor, with 75% fewer pre-snap penalties since the QB change.

Overall offensive penalties are down significantly as well - though admittedly, these aggregated numbers are likely less purely QB-dependent, as they could include offensive pass interference and infractions downfield as plays develop. In any case, Washington’s offense is taking about 13 as many total offensive penalties, for about 14 fewer yards lost per game, since Heinicke took over in week 7. In two of those games, Washington’s offense took no offensive penalties whatsoever.

And, in case it needs to be said, taking fewer penalties matters. Shorter third and fourth down situations are far easier to convert than continual third and longs:

In addition to the game planning changes that Bill has already raised, and the tightening up of Washington’s defense, it genuinely appears that the offense - and, very likely, the quarterback - are playing more error-free football. Utilizing a style where every single drive, and every point or two counts, cutting down on drive-killing penalties is a critical element of team success.


Do you think Taylor Heinicke is playing more error-minimizing football than Carson Wentz did?

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