Case Keenum hit rock bottom in Week 3. At least that’s what Washington hopes.
The journeyman quarterback was harangued by the Bears’ suffocating defense throughout a Monday Night Football showcase. Keenum was sacked four times, hit five more, and had five turnovers (with a sixth negated by a questionable hands to the face penalty) in a 31-15 loss that wasn’t as close as the final score indicates.
That marred an otherwise decent start to the season from 2017’s breakout passer. Through three games, Keenum has recorded career highs in completion rate (69.4 percent), touchdown rate (5.6 percent), yards per game (311), and passer rating (100.0). That’s despite playing without his top offensive lineman — left tackle Trent Williams has yet to report to the team in the midst of a contract dispute. He’s also been left to guide an offense that’s gotten next to nothing from its tailbacks; Washington’s 2.8 yards per carry ranks 30th in the league.
Those stats suggest Keenum is overachieving, but one last number outweighs all of them: zero. Washington has yet to win a game in 2019, and Keenum hasn’t made the throws that matter most to drag his offense to victory. As a result, the clock is ticking on Jay Gruden’s tenure as head coach. Gruden now has even odds to be the first NFL coach fired this fall. That pressure could force him to make a switch at quarterback.
Fortunately for Washington, one of the league’s brightest young passing prospects is waiting on the depth chart. Dwayne Haskins turned a prolific 2018 season at Ohio State into a top 15 selection in the 2019 NFL Draft. He’s waiting for his chance to prove he’s his team’s next franchise cornerstone, but he has yet to take the field as a rookie.
So when should Washington pull the trigger on its young passer?
Not until after the Trent Williams situation gets settled
Things are bad in Washington. The team has given up 31+ points in each game it has played in 2019 so far. The blocking has been similarly porous, opening few holes in the running game and allowing the kind of pressure that can force an inexperienced quarterback to develop bad habits.
Per Pro Football Focus, Washington’s OL ranks 20th among 32 NFL teams. It’s highest-graded blocker got juked by a coffee cup move in primetime last week:
Danny Trevathan really beat Brandon Scherff with a "look over there" move pic.twitter.com/trLTc9hmdh— Christian D'Andrea (@TrainIsland) September 24, 2019
Even though Donald Penn has been better than expected after being rescued from Oakland and moved to left tackle, he’s 36 years old and coming off a season in which he made only four starts due to injury. The ideal solution would be to insert perennial Pro Bowler Williams to protect the blind side and move Penn back to his usual spot on the right side, but he hasn’t reported for any team activities this season as part of a contract standoff.
We’ve seen a similarly ineffective line derail Baker Mayfield’s progress in Cleveland (though playcalling issues and some bad decisions are playing a role as well), and it could ultimately hurt Haskins’ trajectory. Getting Williams back would be a boon, yet seems unlikely. He really, really doesn’t want to be in Washington without a new contract. Trading him and getting some OL depth back in the process could help provide a stable pocket for the team’s QBs — just not as much as caving and paying Williams to continue his outstanding tenure in the nation’s capital.
So what should Gruden do at quarterback in what’s shaping up to be a lost season? Keenum has missed practice this week while dealing with a foot injury, but it won’t keep him from game action.
As tempting as it might be to throw Haskins into the mix and see what he can do with sensational rookie wideout — and former Ohio State teammate — Terry McLaurin, there’s no harm in waiting. Keenum has been a perfectly serviceable starter who can hold down the fort while alternating dazzling plays with baffling ones. Replacing him isn’t going to make Washington a contender unless it also somehow fixes the problem of a defense that’s given up more points per play than everyone in the league but the hapless Dolphins.
Instead, give Gruden a long enough leash to bring Haskins along slowly in 2019. Let him take the field when he’s ready rather than when he needs to bail out a winless team with rapidly fading postseason hopes. Playing the long game and allowing a plan to unfold rather than making a snap judgment is the smart decision here.
That would be a very un-Washington move, but it’s the right one. — Christian D’Andrea
Wait until the season is actually lost
Gruden already gave the answer to this question when he was asked about Haskins after the Monday Night Football debacle.
Gruden on if prefers Haskins not play this year: "We've played 3 games. The season is not lost. I know everybody wants to say it's over go ahead & play Haskins. We feel confident we can turn this thing around...If Dwayne gives us the best chance 2 win, we'll put him in there."— John Keim (@john_keim) September 24, 2019
That’s the right way to handle it, even if you laughed at the part when he said Washington is going to turn this thing around. The team is 0-3 and already well behind the 3-0 Cowboys in the NFC East standings. Maybe Washington could rattle off some wins and get in the NFC Wild Card race. Probably not, though.
Either way, Keenum is the team’s best shot.
For as rough as that game was against Chicago, Keenum hasn’t been bad. He counts just $3.5 million against Washington’s salary cap this season and he’s way outplayed that cost. Keenum is top 10 in the NFL in completion percentage, yards per game, and passer rating. Really, the only thing that’s working for Washington right now is the passing offense.
A defense that was supposed be the strength of the roster has been the much bigger problem. It has allowed over 30 points in all three losses, despite adding three-time Pro Bowl safety Landon Collins to a high-priced contract in the offseason.
The team has also been dragged down by a running game that has managed just 144 yards in three games with only 2.8 yards per carry.
Haskins doesn’t fix any of that. Even if he excels as a rookie, the best Washington could hope is that he produces at the same level as Keenum with fewer turnovers. That’s overly optimistic for a quarterback who only has one year’s worth of starts at Ohio State under his belt in terms of experience.
The only true advantage of starting Haskins in 2019 is to give him live game reps and evaluate his strengths and weaknesses. That may make sense at some point this season, but not until around November or December, and likely after Gruden has lost his job. — Adam Stites
Start him now. Why wait?
I’ve seen Dwayne Haskins play in person one time. It was November 2017 in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Ohio State was losing 20-14 in the third quarter and had yet to hold a lead in the game. Then, starting quarterback J.T. Barrett left the game with an injury.
In came redshirt freshman Dwayne Haskins, who had played sparingly but never in this kind of environment: on the road at the biggest college stadium in the country, against his team’s fiercest rivals who were desperate to finally get a win. It was about the highest-pressure situation he could face, and it didn’t faze Haskins in the slightest. He immediately led Ohio State down the field for a touchdown, picking up two key first downs on the way — one with his arm and one with his legs. The Buckeyes never trailed again. If not for a missed field goal, Ohio State would’ve scored on all four of Haskins’ drives.
That win was a sign of things to come for Haskins, who set a boatload of school and Big Ten records the following year as Ohio State’s full-time starter. The Buckeyes went 13-1 with him at the helm, and without Haskins saving their bacon on more than one occasion, they would have had a couple more losses.
The NFL is a different beast, but what I knew almost two years ago hasn’t changed: this kid has “it.” So let’s see what he can do. It doesn’t matter if things don’t go perfectly because things already aren’t going perfectly in Washington. If your quarterback is going to turn the ball over five times in a game, then it might as well be someone who can learn from the experience.
In the last five years, 16 quarterbacks have been drafted in the first round. All of them, except for Haskins currently, started at least one game as a rookie. And the only one who could be considered an absolute disaster is Paxton Lynch (even Josh Rosen was acceptable under the circumstances in Arizona). Most of them have been downright stars who benefited from playing early.
Haskins deserves that chance, too. Washington isn’t going anywhere right now. It might not go anywhere with him. But at least the team would be watchable, if only to see Haskins and McLaurin team up again to give us a glimpse of what Washington can be in the future.
Besides, who doesn’t want to see Haskins go head-to-head against Daniel Jones? — Sarah Hardy
What do you think? Should Haskins get the starting nod ASAP or later?
When should Dwayne Haskins start?
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