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Dwayne Haskins Film Room, Part One: The not-so-good, bad and ugly of a struggling young quarterback

We take a deep dive into Dwayne Haskins in an effort to identify what the Steelers got when they signed the troubled QB to a Reserve/Future contract.

Seattle Seahawks v Washington Football Team Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images

The Steelers signed former Washington Football Team quarterback Dwayne Haskins to a one-year contract last Thursday, prompting speculation they may see him as a developmental prospect with the potential to succeed Ben Roethlisberger.

The key word to that last sentence is potential, as Haskins, in his current form, is a long way from surpassing anyone on the Steelers’ depth chart. Still, his physical skills make Haskins an intriguing talent and his contract, which amounts to almost nothing, represents a low-risk investment.

The pros and cons of his signing were covered well in a Point-Counterpoint piece from Geoffrey Benedict and Shannon White to which I’ve linked below. This article is Part One of a two-part feature that will focus on what the film tells us about Haskins, beginning and with the areas in which he struggled.

Haskins was the starting quarterback for parts of two seasons in Washington, where they went a collective 10-23. He made 13 starts, compiled a 3-10 record and completed 60.1% of his passes. Haskins averaged a pedestrian 6.1 yards per attempt and threw 12 touchdowns against 14 interceptions. None of those numbers should leave Steelers’ fans jumping for joy.

The interceptions are particularly troubling but not necessarily surprising. Here are some other high-profile quarterbacks with their touchdown-to-interception ratio through the first 13 games of their career:

Ryan Tannehill: 8 TD-12 INT

Alex Smith: 8 TD-15 INT

Drew Brees: 12 TD-15 INT

Josh Allen: 11 TD-14 INT

Matthew Stafford: 19 TD-22 INT

Like Haskins, all of these quarterbacks were high draft picks who were thrust into the starting lineup early in their careers, either as rookies or second-year players. None played for successful teams. Brees’ Chargers were mediocre, finishing 8-8. Tannehill’s Dolphins went 7-9. Allen quarterbacked a 6-10 Bills team. Smith piloted a 4-12 49ers squad. And Stafford slogged through a 2-14 campaign with the Lions. Yet all recovered to have (or are having) successful, even spectacular, careers. It’s not uncommon, then, for young quarterbacks on bad teams to struggle as they learn the professional game while playing with weak supporting casts.

This is not to excuse Haskins for his poor play. I watched each of the fourteen interceptions he threw in Washington and there are indeed some bad ones in the bunch. He looks like a player rushed onto the field who is not yet ready for what he’s experiencing. To context that more clearly, I’ve broken his interceptions into categories with a corresponding reason for each. Many demonstrate the cardinal sins of a young player not yet acclimated to the job:

Slow progression reads/balls coming out late: 8

Inaccurate throws: 5

Dropped balls by his receivers: 1

13 of Haskins’ 14 interceptions were clearly his fault, with just one the result of a teammate failing to execute properly (specifically, a throw in his debut against the Giants in 2019 that bounced off the hands of a receiver). The 13 remaining interceptions all stemmed from slow progression reads leading to late throws or inaccurate passes often caused by poor mechanics. Here are examples of each.

Slow progression reads/balls coming out late

There are two common reasons why a quarterback is late getting the football out of his hand. The first is because he is processing information slowly. The second is because he hangs on his initial read too long before moving along in his progression. In Washington, Haskins fell victim to both.

Here is the first interception of his career, in a game against the Giants in 2019. New York is in man-coverage and Haskins attempts to throw an in-cut to his tight end, who breaks across the field from the right hash at the yellow first-down line. New York’s inside linebacker, who is not assigned to a man and whose responsibility is to disrupt crossers, does a nice job working under the route at its break point. This causes Haskins to hitch up in the pocket and wait for the tight end to clear the backer. That extra second provides safety Jabrill Peppers, who is locked onto the tight end, time to undercut the route. Peppers does so easily, returning the interception for a 32 yard touchdown to close the scoring in a 24-3 Giants’ victory.

If you look at the play again, you can see how Haskins stared down his target the entire time. He did not have the pocket presence or situational awareness to realize that once the backer picked up the tight end out of his break, the timing for that route was disrupted. At this point, Haskins needed to come off of the tight end and check the ball down to an outlet receiver. He had swing routes on either side of the field he could have chosen. Neither was likely to gain more than a yard or two, but 2nd-and-long is far more preferable than a pick-six.

Here’s another. On this one, Haskins is late on a throw to the sideline. He does get to a second read in his progression, looking right to a speed-out from his slot receiver before moving to a comeback route to his left. But you can see, again, how he hitches in the pocket prior to releasing the throw. He also fails to step at his target, resulting in a ball that lacks velocity. These mistakes make him late on the out-cut, allowing Green Bay’s corner to swoop in for the pick.

When Haskins comes off of his first read and looks left, he again stares down his target. This indicates he has a tendency to lock on receivers rather than identifying the drops of defenders. He should know on this throw that Washington is running a flood concept into the boundary, where three receivers overload the short, intermediate and deep zones along the sideline. The corner should be his read-key. There are mere seconds remaining in the half, so likely he is forcing the football to the deeper route to try to gain yardage towards a field goal. But the corner’s deep drop should eliminate that as an option. Had Haskins thrown the intermediate route to his slot receiver, which was wide open, Washington would have had a shot at a makeable 50 yard attempt. Instead, he forced a late throw into coverage and squandered a scoring opportunity.

Inaccurate throws

Another problem area for Haskins has been his accuracy. At Ohio State, Haskins was remarkably accurate, completing 70% of his near-600 pass attempts. That percentage dropped to 60.1 in Washington, a figure that ranks 33rd out of 35 qualifying quarterbacks the past two seasons.

Reasons for the drop-off include Haskins’ struggles with adapting to the speed of the NFL game and problems with diagnosing coverage. But, as we shall see here, he’s had issues with his mechanics as well, which have contributed to a number of inaccurate throws.

On the play below, Haskins attempts to throw to slot receiver Dontrelle Inman (80), who is the inside-most receiver to the trips formation. Inman runs a “divide” route between the linebackers on a 3rd and 15 play with Cleveland in a soft cover-2 zone. Ideally, Haskins wants to hit Inman in the hole between the backers and the safeties, which should be available against this particular coverage.

A couple of things impede that prospect. First, Haskins again stares down his receiver, which does nothing to widen Cleveland’s inside linebacker. Had Haskins looked first to the curl from Terry McLaurin (17), who is the middle receiver in the trips, he likely would have pulled the backer away from the hash, providing more space for the throw to Inman. Second, this throw needs to come out sooner. This is not a slow progression-read since Haskins is locked on Inman (there is no actual progression). Rather, the hitch he takes off of his fifth step delays his release, which gives the backer time to work under Inman’s route. This reduces the window into which Haskins must throw. Haskins compounds that mistake with a low release point, which prohibits him from getting any air under the ball. The ball needs to come out right off of that fifth step as a mid-level throw over the heads of the backers. Instead, Haskins takes an extra step then drills it as though it’s a slant.

Haskins clearly has issues with hitching up in the pocket, which often makes him late on throws. His release point is funky, too. His right elbow is often too low on delivery, preventing him from getting the football to its proper launch point. The throw below, for example, needs more trajectory to reach its target. It’s a corner route where the ball should take the receiver into the boundary. The receiver should run under this throw at the 11 or 12 yard line on an angle taking him inside the 10. Instead, it comes down on his inside shoulder at about the 20. Despite a clean pocket and no pressure in his face, Haskins misses both short and inside here, the result of flawed mechanics.

So, to summarize, Haskins has a bad habit of hitching at the top of his drop, which often makes him late on his release; stares down his receivers too often; is slow in his read progressions; and can be inconsistent with his release point, which leads to inaccuracy. These are just the on-field issues. We haven’t even talked about his questionable work ethic or lack of maturity. As the comedian Bob Newhart once joked, “Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how was the play?”

However, before we bury Haskins, we should remember that he is still a young quarterback who was drafted by one of the most dysfunctional franchises in the league. He also had two head coaches and two offensive coordinators in his season-and-a-half in Washington. Hopefully, provided a more stable environment, he will learn to process information faster, hone his technique and take better care of the football. He may never become as good as Stafford or Allen, much less Brees, but, given his natural ability, evolving into a player in the Alex Smith/Ryan Tannehill mold is not out of the question.

In Part Two of this film room, we’ll look at some of the things Haskins does well, particularly those which could make him a good candidate to run the offense new coordinator Matt Canada is likely to install next season.

(All video via JaguarGator9 on YouTube)