Evaluating Dwayne Haskins’ starting debut against Buffalo

Photo by: John Munson
Washington Redskins quarterback Dwayne Haskins looks to throw during the first half of an NFL football game against the Buffalo Bills, Sunday, Nov. 3, 2019, in Orchard Park, N.Y. (AP Photo/John Munson)

With Washington sitting at 1–8 heading into its Week 10 bye week, head coach Bill Callahan gave rookie quarterback Dwayne Haskins a shot under center for his first career start in Week 9 after Case Keenum went down with a concussion against the Vikings.

In a season most would agree to be almost completely miserable, it was a rare occurrence for there to be any semblance of excitement heading into a game this late in the season. Haskins has that effect on the fanbase. The Ohio State-product hasn’t exactly had the most exciting rookie campaign, but who would when you’ve thrown four interceptions in just 22 career passing attempts before your first NFL start. 

It’s been a tumultuous season all around for this team, but Haskins’ starting debut at Buffalo against the now 6–2 Bills showed something arguably more important than a win in a lost season: progress. 

Looking just at his stat line may make it hard to come to that conclusion: 15-of-22 throwing, 144 passing yards and 14 yards on the ground. It’s certainly not a flashy stat line in any sense of the word, and it helps to note that Haskins did not lead the team on a touchdown drive which makes it the third straight game without a touchdown for the team. No, it’s not the lack of scoring that should be focused on, it’s the lack of turnovers on that stat sheet that makes it an admirable debut. 

The Bills defense is one of the best in the league and is arguably the main reason this team sits at a 6–2 record. They’re third in the league in points allowed, third is total yards of offense allowed and third in passing yards allowed. They’re also 15th in the league in interceptions with six on the season. This was not an easy debut for Haskins on paper, who has struggled adjusting to NFL defenses and hasn’t been able to efficiently work around Washington’s offensive line woes. 

More than anything, Haskins had to prove he could play turnover-free football before he could start playing winning football, and Kevin O’Connell’s play-calling fit that strategy. The conservative, run-heavy game plan certainly shielded Haskins from forcing anything, and the reliance on short and intermediate passing was used to help put him in a rhythm. It worked to some degree. 

Adrian Peterson’s 108 yards rushing on 18 carries benefited Haskins, who wasn’t asked to carry the offense in his first start. The 34-year-old bruiser’s most important part of the day besides some impressive plays through contact was his ability to keep the field short for Haskins; he wasn’t always forced to convert on third-and-long situations which is big for a newcomer under center. 

Haskins showed the most promise on passes to the outside. His arm strength is clearly one of the biggest positives of his game, and his throws toward the sideline were an indication of that strength.  

His most impressive pass of the game came on a third-and-6 from Washington’s 32-yard line with 13:55 left in the fourth quarter (that play can be seen at the three minute mark in the video below.) The Bills sent a four-man rush at Haskins, including an unblocked blitzing linebacker that running back Wendell Smallwood failed to identify, leaving Haskins with a defender in his face as he delivers the throw. 

In shotgun formation, Haskins doesn’t have much time to set his feet and deliver to his first read, Paul Richardson on a 9-yard hitch route, yet he still puts it exactly where it needs to be. It’s thrown to where only Richardson can get it while Haskins gets hit in the process. The play extended the drive when it was still just a 17–9 Bills lead and all of a sudden the Redskins were showing some life. 

Now, a 9-yard completion on a drive that resulted in a punt may not be the best evidence of a good game for Haskins, but considering he took four sacks and really didn’t have a very clean pocket for most of the game, a well-thrown timing route on a key third down with pressure coming shows that Haskins has the tools and toughness to succeed in this league, though a better supporting cast will be needed to get a full assessment on his true ceiling. 

Haskins’ debut tells me that there still needs to be a level of patience as he adjusts to this game; he still hasn’t even thrown a touchdown in his young NFL career. The steps he took in the game may have been small, but they were enough, and coach Callahan would be foolish to halt Haskins’ development by sitting him once Keenum is healthy.

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