ASHBURN, Va. — The last time Washington Football Team quarterback Dwayne Haskins threw three interceptions, it led to questions about his readiness and served as proof of why he shouldn’t be playing. But he was also a rookie making his first appearance in an NFL game on Sept. 29, 2019. Haskins was then relegated to the bench.
Coming off Haskins’ second game with three picks, the situation is different as Washington (1-2) hosts the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday (1 p.m. ET, CBS). The interceptions and lost fumble in Week 3 at Cleveland forced coach Ron Rivera to address Haskins’ future, and sticking with him as Washington’s starter.
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Washington knew there would be growing pains with Haskins. They’re willing to wait to see how much he develops, but there’s a limit to their patience. Rivera acknowledged Monday the team’s veterans want to win and will want to see the quarterback that gives them the best chance — whoever that may be.
“There is a cutoff point for me, there is,” Rivera said. “I’ll cross that bridge when I get there.”
That cutoff point remains uncertain. Is it two weeks? Half a season? As long as Washington sees improvement, it will remain patient. After all, Haskins has started 10 games, is in his first season with offensive coordinator Scott Turner and didn’t have a full offseason of on-field work.
Haskins’ backup is Kyle Allen, who has played in 15 NFL games. Alex Smith remains Washington’s third quarterback; he hasn’t played since breaking the fibula and tibia in his right leg on Nov. 18, 2018. He’s splitting scout-team reps with Allen. “The thing that’s been really neat to watch is you start to see the arm strength come back,” Rivera said of Smith.
Washington doesn’t have a sure-fire alternative at QB to jump-start an offense that ranks 30th in yards per game and 29th in passing yards. The trick will be to decide which issues stem from growing pains and which ones are problems no matter how talented the group is around Haskins.
“He’s still growing,” Rivera said. “We want to make sure [what] we’re seeing is positive growth. He did some positive things and put us in some good positions. But, we also took a couple steps back with the interceptions and understanding how we’ve got to protect the ball, where he needs to throw the ball.”
Statistically, Haskins ranks last in total QBR (28.4 on a 100-point scale). When it comes to completion percentage, he’s last on air throws traveling 10 or more yards (9-for-37) as well as on third-down throws (41.4), according to ESPN Stats & Information research. He has fared better in the red zone, where he’s tied for fifth in completion percentage (9-for-12; three touchdowns). He’s 31st in overall completion percentage.
Turner said he told Haskins not to be afraid to throw more interceptions, but stressed that there were other plays Haskins didn’t make Sunday that he must in the future.
“You’ve got to take advantage when you get good looks in this league. Then he just can’t put the ball in harm’s way,” Turner said.
Washington liked how Haskins approached the offseason, becoming a leader and getting elected captain.
“I’m still young. I can’t just sit here and act like I arrived, or I made it. I mean, I made it but there’s a long way to go,” Haskins said. “I want to be a Hall of Fame quarterback one day. That’s not going to be easy. I want it to be hard, hard as hell, just so I can show that I can do it and prove to myself and to my teammates that they believe and trust in me.”
Haskins said a number of teammates gave him encouraging words at the end of Sunday’s 34-20 loss in Cleveland. The QB had a long talk with Rivera on Monday, and his reaction to that meeting highlighted growth from a year ago. Last season after bad or tough games, Haskins would hold midweek news conferences, and following one loss he spoke so softly he was hard to hear even from five feet away.
Haskins said he challenged himself in the meeting with Rivera.
“I know I can be better. I have to be better,” Haskins said. “In order for that to happen, I have to put the work in. Everybody can sit there and feel sorry for yourself or have a pity party or blame other external factors for why it is what it is.”
Washington’s offensive skill players are mostly young and unproven, outside of receiver Terry McLaurin. The line includes two starters on the left side — tackle Geron Christian and guard Wes Martin — who now have a combined 13 starts.
“Their talent stinks,” ESPN NFL analyst Dan Orlovsky said. “It’s bad. McLaurin is really the only big-time player that [Haskins] has.”
But Washington wants Haskins to show more awareness in the pocket, having watched him move into too many sacks. They want him to be more consistent with his mechanics and recognize there are too many throws that are all arm — or where his feet don’t match up with his eyes, leading to errant throws.
“When [the pocket] is clean, he has to be consistent,” Turner said. “If he can throw on balance more, that’ll lead to more accuracy. But there are some times where you can’t. Everyone sees these guys around the league. You’ve still got to play.”
Said Orlovsky: “You got to try and build really good habits for a long career. You can use this time when it’s not good around you to build really, really good habits. And what I want to see Dwayne get better at — because right now it’s not good enough — is he’s not Lamar [Jackson or] Patrick [Mahomes], where his feet can be all over the place and he can make these crazy throws. That’s just not his game.”
The interceptions in Week 3 might have stemmed from Haskins pressing to make a play. He stared down receivers, which he realized he did after watching the game film. Rivera said it’s a matter of slowing his reads down.
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“A lot of it is experience. The only way it’s going to be harder to correct, in my opinion, is if he doesn’t learn it,” Rivera said. “The hard part for him last year is he wasn’t the primary quarterback until the very end of the season. Now, he becomes the primary quarterback. Everything is being put in for him, now he has to learn it.”
If that doesn’t happen, then the concern over Haskins’ job will intensify. Rivera pointed to former Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton’s rookie season in 2011 and his growth into a quarterback that eventually led the team to Super Bowl 50. But Newton was the No. 1 overall pick, a dual-threat player, and Rivera was the coach who wanted him. Rivera inherited Haskins, who was the No. 15 overall pick in 2019 and is not a dual-threat player.
Haskins, though, isn’t focused on what anyone outside the organization says or thinks.
“That’s just opinion and just noise. It’s not in the building. It’s not my teammates,” Haskins said. “So, really it’s just being tough, having a resiliency. People are going to have things to say about you. People hate on the greatest players. But, you’d rather have people talk about you than not talk about you because it means you’re doing something. I’ve just got to start figuring out how to do the right something and to win some games and have somebody talk some positive stuff.”