The Path to the Playoffs?
A weak NFC East and coming soft schedule may force Washington Football Team quarterback Dwayne Haskins to prove himself in the next two games. Otherwise, coach Ron Rivera should consider changing passers to save a season.
Save a season if 1-4? Given the Dallas Cowboys might win the NFC East at 8-8, Washington needs to consider a midseason move when the schedule permits. After facing Baltimore on Sunday and then the Los Angeles Rams at FedEx Field, Washington gets the New York Giants and Dallas twice each plus Detroit and Cincinnati. Washington could easily go 4-2 over that stretch with several division wins to keep them atop the NFC East before a brutal road stretch against Pittsburgh, San Francisco and Seattle. Washington then finishes against Carolina and at Philadelphia.
There is still a path to the postseason, but it largely revolves around Haskins, some tightening by the defense and maybe a midseason trade.
Haskins regressed in the loss to the Cleveland Browns on Sunday with three interceptions and a fumble costing 24 points. Some of that was on the Washington defense. Granted Cleveland was given short fields, but the defense could have forced more field goals than long scoring plays.
Haskins made a lot of rookie mistakes, which is expected given the second-year player has only played in 12 career games. This season is supposed to be all about maturing Haskins into a good passer or moving on in 2021, but the awful NFC East suddenly changes perspective. Why not steal a division title in a bad season if possible, but it’s only possible if the offense improves.
Right now, Washington has an offense of various parts. Some nice runners, but no dominant one. A standout receiver in Terry McLaurin, but a supporting cast of No. 3 receivers, no No. 2 tight end which makes the position a break-even deal at best and the offensive line is fragile.
Haskins is being asked to carry more than he should, but that’s life as an NFL passer. He’ll get better in time, but the time for Washington to make an unexpected move may come versus New York. If Haskins doesn’t improve over the next two games, Rivera should pivot to Allen.
Rivera’s recent comments and actions show some cracks in his conviction. Not using his timeouts late in the last two losses showed no confidence by the coach of an offensive comeback. He admitted a scenario that Haskins might gain some perspective from the bench. Granted, it will take some bad efforts to force Rivera into that move, but that’s what the next couple games will show.
Meanwhile, Rivera saw what Allen did for him last season when the two were in Carolina. It’s why Washington traded a fifth-rounder for the quarterback. Allen won his first four games in Carolina with seven touchdowns and no interceptions. Then the wheels came off, but maybe Allen is one of those spot players who succeed in short bursts before defenses figure them out. There are plenty of passers who stay in the NFL for years by giving one or two good games before plateauing. Former Washington quarterback Gus Frerotte played 10 seasons after leaving Washington for six teams and was 26-21.
A near midseason move could bolster Washington during its easier schedule. Also, the Oct. 29 trade deadline could bring another target if Washington is at least 3-4.
If Allen flounders, Haskins can always return and a season of discontent will play itself out. But if there’s a chance of reaching the playoffs, Rivera owes it to the franchise and fans to make a move if warranted. It’s really up to Haskins to either play better or risk benching.
Rick Snider is an award-winning sports writer who has covered Washington sports since 1978. He first wrote about the Washington football team in 1983 before becoming a beat writer in 1993. Snider currently writes for several national and international publications and is a Washington tour guide. Follow Rick on Twitter at @Snide_Remarks