For much of the first half of Washington’s win against the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday, the team appeared sloppy and inefficient, much as it has in recent seasons. Positive plays on defense were masked by costly mistakes — offsides penalties, missed tackles, a 55-yard pass play allowed on third and 22.
But the most notable struggles were on the offensive side, as second-year quarterback Dwayne Haskins took his first live snaps in a new scheme with a new play caller and many new players around him. But Haskins’s response to his and the offense’s slow start painted a picture that the stat sheet never could.
“He looked like he was having fun, but he looked like he was a little bit anxious at times,” Rivera said. “Once he settled in, though, and we saw that, he really took command of what we were doing.”
Washington’s opening drive was marred by two critical mistakes up front that resulted in a three-and-out for a net loss of one yard. The first miscue: Washington lined up in a tackle-over package, using Geron Christian Sr. on the right side and tight end Jeremy Sprinkle on the left. The line outnumbered Philadelphia’s four-man rush, yet somehow Eagles defensive end Brandon Graham skirted past Christian and went unblocked to tackle rookie running back Antonio Gibson in the backfield.
On the subsequent play, Eagles defensive tackle Malik Jackson knocked left guard Wes Martin back so forcefully that Haskins was pressured to get rid of the ball before Jackson crashed into him.
“They got smacked in the face early. They really did. Excuse me for using that phrase. They got hit pretty good early. I think that they kind of snapped,” Rivera said. “Wes Martin took a pretty good shot early on and wasn’t as stout as he needed to be. I just went up to him and said, ‘Hey, drop your anchor, young man. You can play this game.’ Geron got lazy on another play, and I said, ‘Hey, keep moving your feet.’ I thought they responded. I really did.
“ … I think both Wes and Geron epitomized guys that started slow but all of a sudden realized: ‘Shoot, I belong here. I can play.’ That was pleasing to watch.”
Before its first touchdown late in the second quarter, Washington produced a pair of three-and-outs, was forced to punt five times, went 1 for 7 on third downs and crossed midfield only once.
After that, the offensive line settled and Haskins took command. He gave the halftime speech to teammates while Rivera received an IV, then led the offense on four more scoring drives in the second half to complete Washington’s comeback victory.
“I thought in the third quarter, in the second drive, he showed confidence,” Rivera added. “He stood tall, made some really good decisions, delivered a couple nice drives. It just looked like he had good command.”
Though the offense bounced back, much of its success was dictated by Washington’s defense. All five of Washington’s scoring drives started in Philadelphia territory thanks to big plays by the defense: two interceptions, a forced three-and-out and two fourth-down stops.
Asked whether having the defense carry the team is sustainable in the long haul, Rivera said he believes the workload will balance itself out.
“I’m not quite sure if we know exactly where we are offensively because we’re so young and we’re so new to it,” he said. “One of the plus things about being on the defensive side, if you look at the guys that made plays yesterday other than Chase [Young], that front was here. It’s just a matter of putting those guys in the position to have success.
“Offensively, there’s … a lot of new people, a lot of new faces at wide receiver, new faces at tight end, at running back. We’ve got a young quarterback. So we may have to win that way for a while. But don’t count out the possibility of our offense catching fire and learning and understanding and growing into who we can become.”
Rivera said he came away especially impressed by Haskins, despite his incompletions in the early going. He showed a resilience that not all young quarterbacks possess.
“I think it’s what he’s been working toward,” Rivera said. “ … It was one of the things I challenged him with in January and one of the things he focused on what he was doing. It seems to be confidence more than a cool or calmness. It’s more confidence because he knows.”
Throughout training camp, Rivera stressed decision-making as the most significant barometer of the quarterbacks’ play. Though some of Haskins’s throws were low or even occasionally too hard, he quickly ran through his progressions and settled on the right target — even under pressure. According to Pro Football Focus, Haskins was under pressure for 14 of his 36 dropbacks, or 38.9 percent, the seventh-highest rate among quarterbacks through Sunday’s games. Yet he didn’t turn the ball over.
“Again, this is a second-year quarterback who’s done a great job, who’s learning, who’s made good decisions yesterday. He really did,” Rivera said. “That was one of the things that was really pleasing. Even though he may have missed a couple throws, those throws were headed where they were supposed to, to the right receivers.”