One week after saying he was sticking with quarterback Dwayne Haskins, Washington coach Ron Rivera pivoted in another direction. He benched Haskins, inserted Kyle Allen as the starting quarterback and elevated Alex Smith to the No. 2 role for Sunday’s game against the Los Angeles Rams.
It’s a surprising, but not shocking, development as Washington (1-3) abandoned patience with Haskins in an effort perhaps to contend in a weakened NFC East. Allen spent two years in Carolina under Rivera and current Washington offensive coordinator Scott Turner.
In four games, Haskins ranked last in the NFL in total QBR at 30.6, 27th in completion percentage (61.0) and 26th in yards per pass attempt (6.43). He has the second-worst completion percentage over expectation this season at minus-6.6%, ahead of only the Denver Broncos’ Jeff Driskel (minus-8.9%), according to NFL Next Gen Stats.
Haskins has started 11 games in the NFL after just 14 starts at Ohio State.
Washington had preached patience with Haskins from the moment the team drafted him with the 15th overall pick in 2019. There was a consensus of thought last year that he should not play as a rookie. Some felt his game needed work before he would be ready to help the team win. But after firing coach Jay Gruden and starting 1-7, Washington inserted Haskins.
Rivera made it clear after he was hired that he liked Haskins’ talent but wanted to see more — first in terms of leadership, but also on the field. Internally, one source said, the new staff liked Haskins’ arm talent and size and felt he would be a good fit in Turner’s system, which called for attacking down the field. But the lack of spring practices this year, no preseason games and a shortened training camp left little time for development.
Still, they were pleased with how Haskins approached the offseason, and he was eventually named one of the captains by a team vote.
Haskins entered training camp as the starter, and he was the only quarterback who took reps with the first unit. Rivera did say that if there had been a typical preseason, Haskins would have had a true competition and Rivera would’ve alternated his starting quarterback in exhibition games.
At one point this offseason, Rivera said Allen’s knowledge of the offense would give him an advantage in a shortened camp. That’s part of the rationale behind the move. There has been a feeling throughout the organization that Haskins needed to improve some of his decision-making and pocket awareness. Though not everyone is sold that Allen can be a quality starter, there is a belief that the team can get more from its offense because of his experience in the system.
Allen started 12 games for Carolina in 2019 and finished with the second-worst Total QBR (38.3) among quarterbacks with at least eight starts. Allen threw 17 touchdowns and 16 interceptions last season. The Panthers won his first four starts but went 1-7 the rest of the way, including a loss to Washington in Rivera’s final game with Carolina.
The Panthers traded Allen to Washington on March 23 for a 2020 fifth-round pick.
In the past week, Rivera provided hints as to possible changes, saying Friday that the NFC East struggles might alter their initial thought process. The Philadelphia Eagles are in first place with a 1-2-1 record, and Washington is tied with the Dallas Cowboys for second.
“At one point you want to build and you want to build, and now you’re looking at the opportunity to potentially win this,” Rivera said. “You start thinking along those lines and start thinking: ‘You know what, maybe we need to do that.'”
Rivera wasn’t speaking about any move in particular, but it did signal a change was possible. Few spots can affect a season more than quarterback. It was also clear throughout last week that the coaches wanted better play from Haskins, who was coming off a three-interception game against the Cleveland Browns.
While the turnovers got headlines, internally there was concern over multiple facets of Haskins’ game. Some of it could be written off as natural growing pains, but with a chance possibly to contend for a playoff spot, the team no longer wanted to wait on his development.
After Sunday’s 31-17 loss to the Baltimore Ravens, Rivera said, “It’s a tough situation. We’re looking at our circumstances right now as a football team. We’re in a very interesting situation right now.”
After the Rams game, Washington plays the winless New York Giants twice in four weeks in addition to Dallas, Detroit and Cincinnati.