- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 20, 2019

ASHBURN — There it was: Dwayne Haskins’ coming-out party. He was ready to flash the arm the Washington Redskins have praised since he was drafted, and the Redskins still had a fighting chance to topple the New York Jets.

Haskins moved left, stepped up and flicked a pass deep downfield to old college teammate Terry McLaurin, who had two Jets defenders trailing him. It gained 67 yards. At the start of the second quarter, the offense finally could have been in business.

Instead, it all disintegrated, thanks to something the Redskins had been trying to avoid.

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Guard Brandon Scherff was flagged for holding on the play. Tackle Donald Penn took issue with the call and complained to the referees for more than a few seconds. Scherff joined in, removing his helmet — which earned him an unsportsmanlike conduct call and backed the Redskins up into their end zone.

Washington finished the game with 11 penalties, after only picking up a total of seven over its previous two games combined. An issue with discipline that appeared to be improving cropped up again Sunday, and it threatens to be a problem for the rest of this lost season.

Penn was still shocked about the Scherff holding call after the game.

“I played for the Raiders for five years, and I thought we had a target on our back, man, but this team’s like way different. We can’t get away with anything,” he said.

But the 36-year-old tackle — signed in training camp after Trent Williams didn’t report — wants to set a better example for the Redskins‘ “young guys” after that outburst.

“This week I’m gonna go to apologize to everybody, because I gotta keep my cool,” Penn said. “I’m the oldest dude on the team, and they see me acting like that, they’re gonna kind of react like that … So I gotta do better on my part, being a leader and being a vet guy.”

Avoiding undisciplined moments like arguments with the refs is one aspect. Another is the sheer number of more run-of-the-mill penalties. The Redskins are ranked tied for 10th in most penalties per game with 7.6. Sunday was the third time they earned double-digit penalties in a game, after getting called for 12 apiece in Week 1 and Week 4.

Holding continues to be a key problem. Washington has picked up 22 offensive holding penalties to date, second only to the Jaguars’ 25, according to nflpenalties.com. That doesn’t count nine holding flags that the Redskins‘ opponents declined. Even considering that holding was called at a historically high rate leaguewide during September, it’s a high mark.

As one of the first changes he made after being elevated to interim coach, Bill Callahan brought in a referee crew to work the Redskins‘ practices. In the first game they played after Callahan took over, against the Dolphins, the offensive line wasn’t called for a single hold. But the problem crept back in.

The referees are still part of daily practice in Ashburn. Callahan said they will communicate directly with players when needed.

“I think that dialogue has been good just to make them constantly aware [of] positioning, the technique and how a call could be made,” Callahan said. “Maybe the player doesn’t recognize it, but the officials here that come in, they do a great job.”

Callahan has called the penalties uncharacteristic and costly. Players know it, too. The next step is about how to correct them again.

“Just addressing the precision of hands and technique, and we just go back to the drawing board and reemphasize everything that we’ve discussed from the beginning of training camp on,” Callahan said. “At times, you get those types of games or weeks or situations where you’re kind of dry, you’re clean and you’re doing well. Then, you hit a game like we did on Sunday where we didn’t do as well.”

Perhaps it’ll help that Washington faces a similarly flag-happy team, the Detroit Lions (8.1 penalties per game), on Sunday.

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