He wondered aloud: Were he and his assistant coaches asking too much of this team? Were they pushing quarterback Dwayne Haskins too fast?
Because Rivera and his coaching staff are new and the team they have inherited is young, there are a lot of things the players might not be able to do yet — at least as well as the coaches would like. The novel coronavirus pandemic cost the coaches a chance to work with the players during offseason workouts, and while they tried to fit in as much as possible during training camp, just because the plays have been practiced a few times doesn’t mean they will be performed to perfection.
“Are we asking too much of our guys already?” Rivera said. “That’s what we have to be careful of. We don’t want to get ahead of ourselves, like, ‘Oh, we got this; we can put this in now.’ We have to look at us. It’s not just about the players; it’s about the coaches. . . . I’m not looking to blame anybody or throw anybody under the bus; I just want to make sure we as coaches are giving our players a chance to have success, too.”
The team caught a break in that Scherff did not suffer a season-ending injury. He has a medial collateral ligament sprain in his right knee and is expected to miss three to five weeks, according to a person with knowledge of the situation. It seems likely that he will be placed on injured reserve, which would allow him to return to practice after three weeks. NFL Network first reported the details of Scherff’s injury.
Rivera said he spent much of the morning discussing with Scott Turner, the team’s offensive coordinator, whether the coaches were putting too much on the players. One of the things that has perplexed the coaching staff is why Haskins has started poorly in both games this season, only to play better in the second half.
On Sunday, Haskins completed 9 of 16 passes for 66 yards and lost a fumble before halftime. In the second half, he was 10 for 17 for 157 yards and a touchdown.
One of the things that frustrated Rivera was that Washington got several favorable matchups in the first half, such as a running back lined up opposite a linebacker, only to have Haskins miss the throw and squander the big-play opportunity. Rivera said he thinks Haskins gets too “hyped” early in games, going through his progressions so quickly that he rushes his throws.
“You want him to be a little bit more patient because he’s making good reads and he’s making good decisions,” Rivera said. “But he’s going through it too quickly and not delivering a good ball early on.”
Later, with Washington trailing by more than two touchdowns, Haskins was much sharper as the team moved into a hurry-up offense, just as he was during the season-opening win over the Philadelphia Eagles.
“That’s the guy … that you want to see when we start the game,” Rivera said.
Having started for only one year at Ohio State, Haskins is still much less experienced than most NFL quarterbacks. Last year’s coaching staff also worked with him at times to slow down a bit and calm the excitement he had going into games. Rivera has noticed that Haskins will see a play developing so quickly that he doesn’t take the fraction of a second to step forward and put his weight into a throw. Often Haskins’s early passes are made with his body still leaning back, causing the throws to sail high.
“Maintain your composure, go through your motion and deliver a good ball,” Rivera said. “You see that as he gets more comfortable … in the second half.”
In many ways, this is the normal kind of thing you see with a young team and a new coach, exacerbated by players having no preseason games in which they can perfect their timing. Washington has the added challenge of trying to improve while Rivera is battling cancer.
The coach did not travel with the team to Phoenix, instead taking a private plane Saturday, a day after his coaches and players, to get more rest and receive treatment. He also flew home Sunday night on a private plane, where seats in the back had been turned into a bed — allowing him to sleep the whole way.
That allowed him to be more refreshed Monday, even if the game tape said a lot of work needs to be done for a team that is still trying to grow.
Nicki Jhabvala contributed to this report.