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Dwayne Haskins Film Room, Part Two: Reason for hope amidst the struggles

The Pittsburgh Steelers newest quarterback has had his struggles, but is there hope with Dwayne Haskins?

Seattle Seahawks v Washington Football Team Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images

This is part two of a film study on newly-acquired quarterback Dwayne Haskins, whom the Steelers signed to a one-year contract last Thursday. I covered Haskins’ on-field struggles in part one of this series, to which I’ve linked below.

Haskins, the 15th pick in the first round of the 2019 draft, was cut in December after a tumultuous season-and-a-half in Washington. In Pittsburgh, Haskins will have to prove he can develop as a player while putting the immature and juvenile behavior that paved the way for his exit in Washington behind him. Haskins failed to ingratiate himself to many in the Washington organization both on and off the field. He will have to become a better teammate as well as a better quarterback to succeed.

Fortunately, the Steelers do not need Haskins to step into the lineup upon his arrival. Ben Roethlisberger seems likely to return for an eighteenth season as the starter and Mason Rudolph appears entrenched as his primary backup. Should Roethlisberger not return, or should the Steelers part ways with him to save money, Rudolph will become the starter. Either way, Haskins should have time to sit, study and learn, a luxury he was not afforded in Washington.

For the Steelers, an investment in Haskins could pay great dividends, With Roethlisberger near the end of his career and Rudolph no certainty to succeed him, they were wise to take a flyer on the talented Haskins. He is just 23 years old, his physical skills are significant and he showed enough ability in his one season as a starter at Ohio State to make him a consensus first-round draft pick.

Here are some of the strengths that make Haskins an attractive prospect and some thoughts on how the Steelers might develop him moving forward.

Mobility

Haskins isn’t Kyler Murray or Lamar Jackson with his legs. He’s not even Josh Allen. But he is mobile enough to move out of the pocket, something that has largely disappeared from the Steelers’ offense the past few seasons with the aging Roethlisberger.

Below, we see Haskins in Washington running a simple bootleg. It begins with jet motion, a staple of the offense Matt Canada will likely install now that he has been named the Steelers’ new offensive coordinator. The motion, coupled with the complimentary flow of the running back, induces Philadelphia’s back-side end to chase the action. This allows Haskins to slip out of the pocket, where he throws a nice ball to an open receiver:

That concept looks similar to the one below, with Jacoby Brissett operating Canada’s offense when the two were together at North Carolina State. Canada substitutes a pump-fake for the play-action but the idea is the same: get his mobile QB out of the pocket where he can better see the routes develop:

Here’s another of Brissett, this time rolling right to execute a throwback to his tight end. Canada smartly brings the tight end in motion from outside the hash as a decoy. It looks like he will block the edge to allow Brissett to roll to his right. Instead, the tight end chips and releases, sliding unnoticed towards the opposite sideline:

Here’s Haskins running a similar concept at Ohio State. He rolls right, pulls up and makes a beautiful throw across the field towards the opposite corner:

These are nice counter plays to the sprint and boot action, as they exploit coverage that flows with the quarterback by throwing back against the grain. Pocket movement and misdirection of this sort were largely absent from Pittsburgh’s offense in the Roethlisberger/Randy Fichtner era. A mobile quarterback like Haskins puts these concepts back into play.

Haskins can also make plays “out of rhythm,” meaning those that occur once the structure of a play breaks down. For years, Pittsburgh fans reveled in Roethlisberger’s ability to “extend plays.” Haskins displayed similar traits both in college and with Washington. Again, he is not a “running” quarterback and will not be used on zone-reads or QB counters the way the Ravens do with Jackson. But he can threaten defenses with his scrambling ability and his penchant for escaping the pocket.

Here, operating from an empty set, Haskins faces a stunt from the Eagles in which they execute a twist with their right defensive end and tackle. The end comes down into the A-gap while the tackle pushes out to replace him. Haskins quickly recognizes the pressure, slides to his left and, with no defender in position to hold the edge, takes off for a nice gain:

There is nothing spectacular about this play, but it does show an ability Haskins possesses that Roethlisberger has lost and that Rudolph, to date, has not demonstrated. And while the empty formation used here is more of a Roethlisberger/Fichtner staple than something I expect from Canada, it can be great for a mobile quarterback. With a defense spread from sideline-to-sideline in coverage, they must be disciplined in their rush lanes to prevent the quarterback from escaping the pocket. Once he does, he has plenty of open space in which to run.

“Arm Talent”

“Arm talent” is a phrase I really dislike. I’m not sure of its origin but it feels like the creation of some studio talking-head. In all of my time around football, I’ve never heard a coach or player say “That guy has great arm talent.” A strong arm, yes. But arm talent? As though his arm functions independently of the rest of him? I don’t think so.

Whatever is meant by this phrase, I believe it applies to Haskins. His film highlights an ability to really drive the football. Like here, against Baltimore, where he sets his feet and rips a throw up the seam to Terry McLaurin (17):

In part one of this film room, we talked about how Haskins has a bad habit of hitching off of the final step in his drop, which often makes him late to his target with the football. There is no hitch here. Haskins hits that final step, plants and fires into a tight window.

Here’s another. On this play, Haskins bails from a collapsing pocket and takes off running to his left. As he nears the line of scrimmage, he throws from a difficult angle on a line to a receiver twenty yards down the field, who toe-taps the sideline for a nice completion:

This is a special play from Haskins. Despite the fact he is moving to his left, with a defender in his face and a receiver pinned into the boundary, he releases the football quickly, musters impressive velocity and puts the throw on the mark. We’ve seen guys like Patrick Mahomes and Josh Allen do this but few others. Haskins, at his best, can do it too.

Whether he can harness this “arm talent” and combine it with the other traits necessary to become a quality NFL quarterback remains to be seen. The talent exists, though. That’s a nice place to start.

Matt Canada

Canada should be a boon to Haskins’ career. He was brought in last season as the team’s quarterbacks’ coach and seems to have been beneficial to Rudolph’s development. The sample size is small, but Rudolph looked far more certain and decisive in his start at Cleveland the final week of the regular season than he had in his eight starts filling in for an injured Roethlisberger in 2019.

Chances are good that Haskins could develop similarly. Much like Rudolph, he suffered in Washington from being thrown into the starting lineup prematurely, allegedly, as the story below indicates, because owner Daniel Snyder wanted to “create a buzz” about his young QB. Washington never properly developed Haskins and his play suffered for it. Having an opportunity to sit, learn and work with Canada could do wonders for him.

A Canada/Haskins pairing is intriguing. Haskins gained experience in a system at Ohio State that stressed shifts, motions, pocket movement, RPOs and a vertical passing attack. These are all elements that Canada is likely to employ. He has been effective at adapting his scheme to his personnel and would (hopefully) understand how to maximize Haskins’ strengths while minimizing his weaknesses. Canada could use some of the passing concepts with Haskins that he ran at NC State. Brissett threw for over 5,200 yards with 43 TDs and just 11 interceptions under Canada’s tutelage with the Wolfpack. He bears striking similarities to Haskins in stature, arm strength and mobility.

One difference between the two, however. is that Brissett is regarded as a fairly cerebral quarterback while Haskins has struggled to master NFL schemes. Canada could mitigate those deficiencies by simplifying the complexity of his passing game. In part one of this film room, we talked about how Haskins tends to lock on his first read and struggles to get through his progression. He may not be ready for full reads that have him move from one side of the field to another. But structured reads, like the bootlegs shown above or the Levels concept below, could be an effective way to compensate.

Image courtesy of AFCA Football

Levels, which was a staple of Peyton Manning’s offense in Indianapolis, stresses a defense by stretching it horizontally. A quarterback can throw to either side of the formation depending on the pre-snap coverage, but it is designed to go to the trips side. The QB reads the play from the inside-out, progressing from the dig to the Y receiver to the square-ins from the H and the Z. The benefit for the QB on this play is that his eyes stay in the same basic area and he can see all three routes develop within his original line of sight. By keeping the route progression to the same side of the field and limiting eye movement, a quarterback can be more decisive. Canada would be wise to nurture Haskins on these types of concepts.

Canada might be able to lead Haskins to water, but it will be up to the young quarterback to drink. Before he makes progress in Pittsburgh, Haskins will have to acknowledge his failure in Washington. Reports of his lack of preparedness and sense of entitlement suggest a player who was immature, did not know how to work at the NFL level and assumed success was given. Hopefully, he has been humbled and is ready to start again. If so, his ceiling is high.

How high? It’s hard to say. Comparisons to Brissett are fair, as are those to Alex Smith, who also suffered a miserable beginning to his career before developing into a solid NFL starter. Neither of those players were criticized for their lack of work ethic. Yet Haskins has more natural ability than either. The road ahead for Haskins will require discipline. Still, should he become comparable to either Brissett or Smith some day, the Steelers will have made a wise investment.