Important decisions are rarely made in a vacuum. You wouldn’t choose a mate on looks alone (well, most of us wouldn’t), or buy a rundown house simply because of location.
Dwayne Haskins’ inconsistent quarterback play through the first quarter of the Washington Football Team’s season undoubtedly was a huge factor in his demotion from first to third on the team’s depth chart. He ranks 30th in the league in passer rating (80.2) and 30th in completion percentage (60.1). Oh, and his team is 1–3, with the victory almost in spite of him rather than because of him.
But those numbers alone didn’t convince Ron Rivera to name the undistinguished Kyle Allen to starter and to promote Alex Smith (who could barely walk a year ago) into the backup role. A confluence of developments factored into the call.
Primary is Washington’s residence in arguably the NFL’s weakest division in years. Rivera admitted on Wednesday that being half a game out of first place was a big consideration.
After Sunday’s home date with the Los Angeles Rams, Washington plays six games against four teams (the New York Giants and Dallas Cowboys twice each, Detroit and Cincinnati once) with a combined record of 3–12–1. Waiting for the expected development that Haskins has yet to show wasn’t an option, not with winnable games ahead.
And Rivera doesn’t have motivation to be overly patient.
First of all, he has cancer, which naturally tends to make people concentrate on the short term. Secondly, the coronavirus is slowly creeping into NFL camps, postponing games and infecting star players like New England’s Cam Newton and Stephon Gilmore. If the season has to be paused, it’s possible that no one will play a full complement of games, and being in first place whenever the music stops could mean a playoff berth when and if it resumes.
And remember, Rivera didn’t draft Haskins last year. His predecessor, Jay Gruden, didn’t want to, either, but capitulated to owner Daniel Snyder. As a requirement for taking this job, Rivera demanded overarching authority that Gruden didn’t have. And although The Washington Post reported Snyder was “very supportive” of Rivera’s call, he also reportedly told him, “you’re going to live with those decisions.”
Has Haskins gotten a fair shake in Washington? That’s complicated.
Due to the coronavirus, he missed out on a crucial off-season of workouts before his first year as a starter. That’s huge. He has one quality receiver (Terry McLaurin) to throw to and no accomplished running backs. Washington’s best blocker of the past generation, left disgruntled left tackle Trent Williams, was traded to San Francisco, and the best remaining lineman, Brandon Scherff, is injured.
Those factors all conspired against Haskins. But the coaching staff kept seeing repeated, avoidable mistakes that likely drove them crazy.
The final straw was likely Sunday’s 31-17 loss to Baltimore, when Rivera eschewed a fourth-quarter field goal on fourth and goal from the Ravens’ 13. Quarterbacking 101 dictates you throw the ball into the end zone. Facing moderate pressure, Haskins dumped the ball off to Isaiah Wright at the 8, giving him no chance to score.
Although he kept his composure after the game, Rivera had to be livid. The fact that he chose Allen, who lost eight straight starts, threw 16 interceptions and fumbled 13 times in 2019 for the Carolina team that eventually fired Rivera, speaks volumes about the new staff’s opinion of Haskins. Even more telling is the fact that Smith, who hasn’t played since his gruesome broken leg nearly two years ago, is now the primary backup.
Is this the end for Haskins in D.C.? Not necessarily, but it doesn’t look good—not given Rivera’s power and tenure (assuming his good health). It also means that Washington may be in the market to draft yet another quarterback in 2021, which could come at the expense of filling the team’s many other needs (offensive line, receiver, tight end and cornerbacks).
Haskins may well get another shot before the year’s over. But it seems clear that like so many before him, he’s not the franchise quarterback Snyder thought he was. And that leaves a woebegone franchise in even more disrepair.
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