Why the Commanders believe Carson Wentz will be the ‘spark’ they really need

Why the Commanders believe Wentz will be the 'spark' they need originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington

Now that he’s starting at quarterback again for the Commanders, Carson Wentz will face a lot of figurative pressure. The way he handled literal pressure in his reps against the 49ers this past Saturday has Ron Rivera confident that Wentz will come through.

When Wentz was inserted into the lineup late in Washington’s Week 16 loss at Levi’s Stadium, San Francisco could’ve dialed back its blitzing and simply waited for the final whistle to sound. After all, the Niners had built up a two-score advantage and were in no danger of ceding a comeback.

The Commanders’ opponent refused to take it easy, though — and Wentz, to his credit, adeptly responded to the challenge by displaying a firm feel of where to go with the ball in order to avoid finding himself at the bottom of a pass-rushing pile. 

In Rivera’s mind, that wasn’t just happenstance, either. To the coach, Wentz’s success in that contest was a sign of his improved grasp of the offense, one he was able to further develop while he was on the sidelines and Taylor Heinicke was the starter.

“It’s all understanding to get it out and when to get it out and who to get it out to,” Rivera said Wednesday in his first press conference since anointing Wentz as the main man once again. 

When it was his turn at the podium, Wentz touched on a similar sentiment. 

“I’ve been able to kind of understand it a little bit deeper and hopefully recall quicker and different things that I think have helped,” he said.

And that’s just one factor why Rivera is going to Wentz at a time when his club in dire need of a “spark,” which is a descriptor that Rivera used multiple times when discussing the lineup change.

In addition to Wentz’s theoretical growth in coordinator Scott Turner’s system, he’ll share a backfield with an in-gear Brian Robinson Jr. beginning this Sunday against the Browns. That matchup represents the first of two that, if both are captured, would catapult the team to the playoffs.

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Yes, Wentz and Robinson overlapped for a game and a half earlier this year before Wentz broke his finger, but the rookie running back was nowhere close to the shape he’s in now.

“I think it’s always fun to just see Brian,” Wentz said, “especially finishing runs. He gets hit at two yards, but all of a sudden, we’re in second-and-5. Stuff like that, I think, can just wear down an opponent.”

The defense that’ll take the field when Wentz’s unit isn’t on it is also much sharper, and if that continues in the Cleveland contest and the finale versus Dallas, Wentz will have less responsibility on his own.

While Wentz is clearly a superior thrower to Heinicke, the overall support around him is more reliable than it was in his initial stint in the gig from Weeks 1-6. That will be appreciated by Wentz.

“For me, it’s just come in and do my job and when the play is there, try and make it,” he said.

Despite all of those reasons for optimism, Wentz’s return to the huddle, of course, doesn’t guarantee the franchise’s return to the postseason.

The current state of the offensive line can best be described as shaky, and Wentz — like most of those at his position — really falters when he’s not protected. There’s the matter of his spotty accuracy, too.

Then there’s the very real possibility that the better knowledge, better rushing attack and better defense don’t actually add up to better results for Wentz, who has long been a confounding player since peaking early in his career.

Yet, thanks to what’s transpired in his multi-month absence, Wentz isn’t being asked to be stellar from September to January. Instead, he merely must be a noticeable upgrade in comparison to Heinicke for eight quarters and, ideally, a pair of victories. 

In other words, the Commanders aren’t searching for an inferno. As Rivera put it Wednesday, a spark will do.

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