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Dwayne Haskins’ benching caught Washington fans by surprise

Learn about that and more in our weekly ‘5 questions’ segment

NFL: Baltimore Ravens at Washington Football Team Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

The New York Giants and Washington Football Team have been trying to get their ships righted for several years now. Neither has managed it yet, and with the teams set to meet Sunday at MetLife Stadium let’s check in with SB Nation’s HogsHaven for our ‘5 Questions’ segment.

Andrew York answers our queries.

Ed: Were you surprised at all by the quick hook for Dwayne Haskins, who now looks like a wasted pick for Washington? Did he deserve it?

Andrew: Yes, it came as a surprise to most of us, including me. Haskins wasn’t playing especially well, but he wasn’t playing so terribly that we expected him to get benched and he got benched after his best statistical game of the season (in terms of yards and passer rating). He’s also had a higher passer rating than Carson Wentz and Daniel Jones so far this season (though still near the bottom of the NFL). I think most fans were expecting him to get at least half the season, if not the whole season to see what he can do.

However, the focus on stats and yardage hides a lot of issues. There’s a pretty good film breakdown here of what went wrong in that Week 4 game for those who want film details. To summarize, although there were certainly problems with the OL and offensive scheme, Haskins made a lot of mistakes that showed poor judgement and situational awareness, like taking bad sacks, missing easy throws, checking down to throw short of the sticks on 3rd/4th down, and checking down instead of throwing a 50/50 ball to the end zone when down by 3 scores on fourth down at the end of the game, after his OC had specifically told him to throw to the end zone. That last play may have had bigger implications than we realized at the time, as Rivera brought it up repeatedly at his post-game press conference and it may indicate a refusal to listen to his coaches. The Washington Post later ran a story indicating Haskins has had poor attitude and work ethic since being named the starter earlier this year. Similar reports came out last year with Jay Gruden as head coach, so this isn’t the first time we’ve heard this.

It’s hard to say if he deserved it without knowing the truth of what’s going on in the locker room. Purely based on his performance in games, I don’t think he deserved to be benched, as I would expect him to correct his numerous mistakes with experience and he was still playing at a similar level as several other QBs in the division. However, if the reports about his attitude and work ethic are accurate (and I think they are), then they should bench him before that attitude infects the rest of the team. This is an important year for a new head coach to establish the culture of his locker room, and rewarding poor effort with playing time won’t do that.

Ed: Washington has all of those pass rushers who are first-round picks. But, Football Team has given up 30 or more points in four straight games. What is going on with that defense?

Andrew: The defense has definitely been a disappointment, even though some individual players seem to be playing well. Chase Young has missed two games with a groin injury, but looked very good in the games he did play and drew double teams from opposing offenses more than any other DL. Montez Sweat has been a force in games and already has 3 sacks and 4 TFL in 5 games. Ryan Kerrigan has had a quiet season outside of Week 1 and seems to have lost a step. Matt Ioannidis is our best interior pass rusher and tore his bicep Week 3, ending his season. Jonathan Allen and Daron Payne have served more as run stoppers than pass rushers. The boundary CBs (Kendall Fuller and Ronald Darby) have also played pretty well. The problem has been the middle of the defense.

Our LBs are all NFL journeymen or late round draft picks and although they have speed, they have shown to be poor tacklers and have poor instincts in coverage. Landon Collins seems to me to be playing too heavy for safety, he looks like a linebacker, and has trouble matching up in man coverage with more athletic TEs. And our free safety Troy Apke has been missing tackles and making coverage mistakes that give up big plays. Having a great DL doesn’t help much when you give up lots of short-to-intermediate passes before the pass rush can get home. This might be due to the shortened offseason combined with the change in defense, but they look poorly coached too. DC Jack Del Rio was known for several highly-ranked defenses in the past, but he’s been out of coaching for several years and he might be rusty.

Ed: Washington has, for a very long time now, been a dysfunctional organization. How much difference is Ron Rivera making in that regard?

Andrew: It’s hard to tell so early in his tenure, but up until two weeks ago I think people would have said he’s doing great despite a ton of adversity that was largely not his fault. Let me recap what he’s had to deal with. In addition to inheriting a talent-poor 3-13 team, our star LT Trent Williams refused to play for us because of the broken relationship under Bruce Allen, leaving a gaping hole on the OL. Ron took charge of reorganizing the front office, cleaning out some of the previous regime, but leaving the scouting department essentially intact and preparing for the draft. After the draft, pressure mounts from investors to rename the team, and Dan Snyder hides behind Ron and forces him to field questions related to the name change as well as be involved in the process of deciding what to do with the name. After the interim name change is announced, multiple scandalous stories drop about terrible treatment of women within the organization and Snyder again hides behind Ron and lets him field questions about it even though he wasn’t here at the time (and responding with organizational changes also seems to fall under Ron’s duties). All the while, Ron has to plan how to conduct meetings and training in the middle of a pandemic with an unclear NFL schedule. At some point during this process, Ron is diagnosed with cancer and has to begin undergoing intense bouts of proton therapy and chemotherapy that have left him visibly struggling to stand at times during practice and games.

Now he is dealing with a QB controversy that is also inherited from the previous regime. According to reports from last year’s draft, Dwayne Haskins was hand picked by Bruce Allen and Dan Snyder over the objections of the scouting department and head coach Jay Gruden. For those familiar with the history of this team, it’s maybe not too surprising that a QB hand picked by Dan Snyder over the objections of his coach would cause problems down the road. In some ways, it’s great that Ron has the autonomy to be able to bench Haskins, but it’s still a lose-lose situation because we don’t have much QB talent behind him. Fans are also unhappy with some of Ron’s mixed messaging, speaking and acting as if this will be a rebuilding year in the offseason, but recently justifying his decision to bench Haskins as a “win now” move motivated by desire to win a terrible NFC East.

Overall, it feels like Ron is doing as well as can humanly be expected in the midst of a situation that might break a lesser coach. Most of the problems he has had to deal with were out of his control, but a few (like the mixed messaging and the decision to bench Haskins so early) he might have handled better, at least according to some fans. I personally think he’s doing a pretty good job considering the hand he’s been dealt and I’m hoping that most of these issues (name change, pandemic, QB decision) will be resolved by next year and we can move on, though there is always Dan Snyder. I think the most troubling issue that may not be resolved by next year is how well his cancer responds to treatment, but I hope for Ron’s sake he pulls through.

Ed: If you could take one player off the Giants roster and add him to Washington’s lineup who would it be? Why?

Andrew: Darius Slayton. We need to add some sort of weapons to take pressure off of Terry McLaurin in the passing game (can you name another Washington pass catcher?), and Slayton is good, getting better, and on a rookie contract.

Ed: Washington wins if what happens? The Giants win if what happens?

Andrew: Washington wins if our pass rush can get home and force turnovers, giving our offense short fields to work with. Also if the middle of our defense can finally play like an NFL defense and not miss so many tackles or coverage assignments. Most importantly, we win if QB Kyle Allen looks something like an NFL QB and plays like he did in his first 5 NFL starts for the Panthers (where he went 5-0) and not his last 6 starts (where he went 0-6).

The Giants win if their defense plays like they did against the Rams, Daniel Jones can limit his turnovers, and the Giants OL can hold up to our DL.