The term "game manager" is thrown around a lot, and there are some negative connotations that come with it. The belief is that the "play it safe" approach might protect the football, but it comes at the cost of having a more explosive offense.
"People think you don't want the guy to make plays," Rivera said. "There's a time and a place to make the big play."
It's an approach to the game that Rivera wants Taylor Heinicke to take after throwing two picks against the Buffalo Bills. He doesn't want to take away Heinicke's gunslinger mentality, but the quarterback needs to know when to take his shots. Heinicke has no problem with adopting that mentality.
"That's what every quarterback should be," Heinicke said. "You take what's there, take what's given and you move the ball down the field. That's something I want to do."
To many, being a game manager is directly tied to players whose first instinct is to make the checkdown play, but Rivera explained there's more to it than that oversimplified definition. Game managers control the pace, make the right decisions and throw downfield bombs when they're needed. Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady, he said, is the ultimate example of this because he makes decisions based on what the offense needs.
To be fair, there's only one Brady, but Heinicke can take some things from Brady's systematic approach. Rather than force a pass to Adam Humphries, like he did on his second interception, he should have connected with Logan Thomas, who was open on a five-yard route. Perhaps Thomas wouldn't have gotten the first down, but punting the ball away is better than giving Buffalo a short field.
"You don't have to make a big play," Heinicke said. "You just have to keep taking that check down if it's there and keep moving the chains. That's where I kind of went off the board and tried to make something big happen."
At that point in the game, Washington was down 19 points to the Bills. And while Heinicke has come a long way since first playing for Rivera with the Carolina Panthers, the head coach wants to remind him that he can't get all 19 points back in one play.
"You're not going to get it all back on one throw, so let's make...the right decision," Rivera said. "If a checkdown is the right play, then throw the checkdown."
The Washington Football Team begins its week of practice to prepare for its road matchup against the Atlanta Falcons in Week 4. (Photos by Emilee Fails/Washington Football Team)
There are also times when throwing downfield is the right call. In those moments, Heinicke needs to make the right read. After the defense forced a turnover on downs in the first quarter, Heinicke opened the drive with a deep shot to a well-covered Dyami Brown, resulting in an incompletion.
What Heinicke didn't see was that Terry McLaurin, who was dealing with press coverage, had actually beaten his man in the middle of the field. He thought the safety would float downfield to cover, so rather than wait to see how the play would develop, he diverted his attention towards taking a gamble on Brown.
The lesson on that play: if a defender is pressed on McLaurin, take that matchup.
"It's just little things like that [to] just keep polishing up," Heinicke said, "because there are shots down the field that are safe that we want to take."
Moving forward, Heinicke wants to be more careful with the ball. There should be opportunities to do that against the Atlanta Falcons, who have had mixed success giving up yards through the air. Quarterbacks have completed 70.8% of their throws against defensive coordinator Dean Pees' defense, and the team's DVOA against the pass is one of the worst in the league (26th).
So, as long as Heinicke sticks to the game plan, it could be a chance for him to recapture some of the momentum he collected against the New York Giants. And if he gets labeled a game manager for that, so what?
"You're put in the spot, the ball's in your hands every play and you're supposed to make the right decision," Heinicke said. "If you manage the game the right way, you should win the game. So, that doesn't bother me whatsoever."