Thursday, October 22, 2020

Rivera focusing on Haskins's throwing

Sep 30. 2020
Despite Dwayne Haskins's reputation as an accurate passer, the early returns on his NFL career present concerning numbers about his accuracy. MUST CREDIT: Washington Post photo by John McDonnell
Despite Dwayne Haskins's reputation as an accurate passer, the early returns on his NFL career present concerning numbers about his accuracy. MUST CREDIT: Washington Post photo by John McDonnell
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By The Washington Post · Sam Fortier · SPORTS, FOOTBALL 

Coach Ron Rivera pointed out that on two of Dwayne Haskins's interceptions Sunday, the quarterback put the ball on the wrong side of the receiver - and if he had not, both might have been completions. This is an example of the inaccuracy that has troubled Haskins throughout his young career. While he has shown that he can be on-target, particularly this season, long-term concerns about his accuracy linger.

Beyond anecdotal evidence, the key is what is referred to by NFL Next Gen Stats as completion percentage above expectation, or CPaE, which shows a quarterback's performance relative to the difficulty of his throws. Although imperfect, the stat has proved to be a stable bellwether of accuracy, among other things.

This is not good news for Haskins. This season, he has had the NFL's worst or second-worst CPaE in each of the first three weeks. His current mark of minus-9.8 means that, controlling for the difficulty of his throws, his completion percentage is fourth worst in the NFL (56.4%) and well behind the expected league average (66.2%). If Haskins's CPaE stays around minus-9.8 for the rest of the year, it would be the second-worst season since the NFL began tracking the stat in 2016.

The counterargument here is sample size: Haskins has started 10 NFL games. But his CPaE this year is not far from last year's, which was minus-4.6, third worst among qualified passers.

These numbers do not doom Haskins. He could fix mechanical flaws, become more consistent and prove to be the long-term solution for Washington at quarterback. But they do illustrate a concerning trend.

After Rivera defended Haskins on Sunday, he took a more critical stance Monday.

"The one thing he has to understand," Rivera said, "is there is a certain point where you're no longer a rookie."

- - -

With wide receiver Steven Sims Jr. limited by a toe injury, two reserve rookies stepped into the spotlight. Antonio Gandy-Golden, a fourth-round draft pick, and Isaiah Wright, an undrafted free agent, showed playmaking ability in spurts. Wright looked dangerous when given the ball in the open field, and Gandy-Golden flashed versatility on a 22-yard double reverse.

While neither is expected to become a focal point of the offense soon, the unit needs their help. Top receiver Terry McLaurin's share of team receptions, 28.1%, is seventh highest in the NFL.

The running back timeshare seems to be solidifying with Antonio Gibson in the lead and J.D. McKissic playing a sizable, complementary role. This could change - offensive coordinator Scott Turner and Rivera often say their personnel groupings are matchup-dependent - but in the past two weeks, Gibson and McKissic have combined to handle 78% of the rushes out of the backfield.

After Peyton Barber's 17 rushes in Week 1, when the defense handed the offense five short fields, Barber has almost disappeared, with just eight offensive snaps the past two weeks. And Bryce Love has yet to be active, although Turner said last week that Love "is doing a great job for us in practice."

"Bryce is going to have an impact as the year goes on," Turner added. "It's just kind of a matter of when."

- - -

After a rocky start to the season, free safety Troy Apke played "much better" this week, according to Rivera. The training camp star has been a frequent target of fan frustration as the defense allows explosive plays. But Rivera said the safety's angles improved Sunday, and it showed early in the second quarter when Apke tracked the route of Cleveland Browns star wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. and broke up a deep pass attempt.

In a way, Apke and Haskins have been on opposite trajectories through three games. Rivera emphasized there will be growing pains for both but that he wanted to see "positive growth." He got it from Apke on Sunday, and "that was good to see."


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