When Washington Football Team quarterback Dwayne Haskins first hit the field in the fourth quarter, his team was still in it. The offense had just put up two unanswered touchdowns in the third quarter, gliding to a 20-17 late-game lead over the Cleveland Browns. Haskins had two interceptions already on the stat sheet, but he’d rebounded, put his team in a position to win, and nullified the damage.
Then he threw another interception on third and long. And then he suffered a strip-sack not long after.
As quickly as Haskins’ offense rose up to take the lead back in the third quarter, that lead was squandered, and Cleveland whisked away to a 34-20 victory. What was once a one-score game wound up comfortably out of reach, and much like last week, Haskins walked off the field as an enigma.
Uncertainty is not uncharted territory for Washington at QB
After the 2019 season, Haskins’ future was already a topic of debate. The regime that selected him in the first round of the 2019 NFL Draft has gone and has been replaced with a staff led by a head coach whose previous franchise quarterback was a free agent.
Some believed that Haskins would potentially be ousted after just one year, similar to 2018 first-round pick Josh Rosen. However, Ron Rivera vocally expressed his support for Haskins and cited his growth in the latter stages of the 2019 season as evidence for his developmental potential.
Rivera stuck with Haskins throughout the 2020 offseason, and reports were positive on every front. Haskins was learning the system, working with renowned quarterbacks coach Ken Zampese, and trimming down his weight to be more mobile. All signs pointed to more positive development in 2020, but through three games, Haskins has not taken the anticipated steps.
It’s not a new situation for Washington; an underlying theme for the team’s performance over the past two decades is that the quarterback position has always seemingly been in flux.
However, there was, and is, genuine hope that Haskins can be the team’s franchise quarterback. Rivera has invested significant resources in Haskins’ development. So why has Haskins still fail to lock down the job for good?
Haskins’ uncertainty peaks in Cleveland
Haskins’ best moments in 2019 showcased a quarterback who had enough, if not all, of the tools necessary to succeed. Haskins’ arm talent flashed more and more down the stretch, as did his toughness in the pocket and his accuracy in the short and intermediate ranges. His mechanics, sloppy at first, began to show some refinement as the 2019 season wound down.
There was still work to do by the turn of the decade, but Haskins put enough on tape to sell the new coaching staff on his development. He presented very good arm talent, surprising mobility, and a genuine ability to elevate when he was playing confident and composed.
Despite all this promise, 2020 has not gone as expected, and perhaps no game has been a better microcosm of Haskins’ overall development than his Week 3 performance against the Browns.
Early on, Haskins played well enough. Scott Turner managed to establish a rhythm for Haskins with quick-developing throws, and the result was a first-quarter touchdown to Dontrelle Inman. In 2019, Haskins often blossomed when he found a rhythm early, but that was not the case in Week 3.
Instead, Haskins threw two interceptions in the second quarter. On the first interception, Haskins overthrew Logan Thomas trying to force the pass into a tight window. On the second, he failed to see linebacker Malcolm Smith passing in front of Inman, and threw the ball too late.
Haskins’ interceptions both led to touchdowns for Cleveland, and Washington went into the half down by 10. Haskins rebounded in the third quarter, finding Inman again for a score and leading two touchdown drives. Despite a bad second quarter, Washington had the lead entering the final stage of the game.
Then Haskins gave the ball away again, this time throwing off his back foot on third and long, his mechanics collapsing when he anticipated pressure that wasn’t there.
Twice in Washington’s loss against the Browns, Haskins managed to lead his team out front. But too many times after that, his own mistakes led to opportunities for the Browns, and ultimately led to their decisive victory.
Dwayne Haskins’ Week 3 play a microcosm of his development
With three uninspiring games from Haskins, whispers have started, and some are questioning whether or not he’s the future for the team at quarterback. Rivera isn’t hearing it yet; he emphasized in his postgame press conference that he wants to see Haskins grow, and he’ll take lumps to do it.
Rivera’s sentiment is a reasonable one, and in his comments, he makes a good point: Haskins’ game against Cleveland was just his 10th career start. Additionally, Haskins’ offensive cast is less than stellar, and he was missing Pro Bowl guard Brandon Scherff on Sunday.
But at some point, excuses need to be limited for the quarterback who’s expected to elevate his team. Quarterbacks are always going to face adversity at the NFL level, but many of Haskins’ miscues on Sunday were his own doing. Mechanically, he was off, and mentally, he seemed rushed and indecisive.
Haskins, at some point, has to develop to a level where he can transcend his circumstances and create for Washington’s offense. Instead, he’s still in the pre-production stages of his development, with a startling variance in quality and polish not just from game to game, but from play to play.
It’s too much up and down, and not enough forward for Haskins, and his Week 3 performance was all too effective in demonstrating that. Haskins still has time to grow, and he still has the patience and confidence of his coach — something he needs to reach his potential. But he had that confidence all offseason, and results have yet to be seen.
After three weeks, one can’t help but wonder when they will be.