- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 7, 2020

ASHBURN — For months, when it came to the direction of his football team, Ron Rivera preached patience. But in the back of the Washington coach mind, Rivera said he knew a day like Wednesday was always possible. He realized it when he looked at Washington’s schedule and saw a winnable slate of games early in the season, he said.

That’s why for Sunday’s game against the Los Angeles Rams, Rivera made the seismic decision to shift gears in an attempt to win now — benching Dwayne Haskins to start Kyle Allen at quarterback.

Rivera said the move was mainly due to the circumstances of the NFC East and Washington’s upcoming schedule: At 1-3, Washington is just a half-game behind the Philadelphia Eagles (1-2-1) for the division lead. The NFC East is off to the second-worst start in the NFL’s past 50 years, and after the Rams game, Washington faces New York, Dallas and New York again in a pivotal three-game divisional swing.

By turning to Allen, Rivera believes Washington will be “better off” with someone who is well-versed in offensive coordinator Scott Turner’s offense. Allen, who was acquired in the offseason, started 12 games for Carolina last year with Rivera serving as his head coach for 10 of them before his firing in December.

As a result, Haskins, the 15th overall in last year’s draft, was benched after just four games. On Sunday, he’ll likely be inactive as Rivera said Alex Smith will be the backup quarterback. Smith is poised to be active for the first time since his leg shattered in November 2018.

Over the course of a 20-minute press conference, Rivera was notably animated in defending his decision.

“This is not an indictment on Dwayne as much as it is an indictment of the situation and circumstances that we’re in,” Rivera said. “He did not have the benefit of OTAs and minicamp. … It’s just one of those things that he needs more time, and we’re also in a situation where with what has happened in our division — it’s open.

“I want to take an opportunity to see what we can do.”

Make no mistake, Haskins’ benching was in part because of the 23-year-old’s performance. Despite Haskins throwing for a career-high 314 yards in Sunday’s 31-17 loss to the Baltimore Ravens, coaches felt Haskins wasn’t progressing fast enough through the first four weeks. Turner said Haskins kept making the same types of mistakes, adding the quarterback still has “a little way to go” from becoming a productive player.

In the first quarter of the season, Haskins has thrown for 939 yards, four touchdowns and three interceptions while completing 61% of his passes. But advanced metrics grade him as one of the worst quarterbacks in the league.

According to Pro Football Reference, Haskins leads the NFL in “bad throws” with 34 — and made a bad throw 23.6% of the time, behind only Denver’s Jeff Driskel and Chicago’s Mitch Trubisky, both of whom have been benched. Rivera had criticized Haskins’ mechanics and situational awareness in recent weeks.

Rivera said if Haskins had won two of his first four games, the coach felt like he could have stayed with Haskins as starter. But because he did not, Rivera said he’d “be wrong” to try and stay the course, especially with the division the way it is.

He even indicated that there was frustration on the sideline among players with losing.

“I look at that, I see that, I feel that,” Rivera said. “The guys want to win. Right now, where (Haskins’) development is, I feel our best shot to win now is with guys who have been in the system.”

In 2019, Allen went 5-7 as a starter, throwing for 3,322 yards and 17 touchdowns. But there was a stark difference in how the 24-year-old performed over the first half of the season compared to the last.

In Allen’s first six starts, the quarterback posted an 87.4 passer rating (nine touchdowns, four interceptions) as Carolina went 5-1. But over his next six, Allen’s passer rating fell to 75.3 (eight touchdowns, 11 interceptions) and the Panthers lost all six games.

Allen started those games because of Cam Newton’s season-ending foot injury. An undrafted 2018 free agent, Allen said he was “thrown to the fire” in 2019 and believes it will help him for this season.

Allen said he found out that he was starting early Wednesday morning.

“When you get your opportunities, you just have to pounce on them and take advantage,” Allen said. “That’s kind of been the story of my career so far. … I’m going to be ready for it.”

The decision to bench Haskins didn’t sit well with everyone.

Quincy Avery, Haskins’ private quarterback trainer, tweeted: “And that’s why the Washington football team will forever be the Washington football team.”

In a Twitter poll from 106.7 The Fan’s Grant Paulsen, nearly 56% of respondents voted that the second-year quarterback was benched too soon. 

Rivera said Haskins, who did not speak to reporters, was upset with the decision. The 23-year-old did not throw a pass in the portion of practice opened to reporters, but Rivera said the quarterback ran scout team later on.

Rivera left open the possibility that Haskins could play again the season. “I expect them all to compete,” he said of his quarterbacks. But for now, Rivera said he was chasing the short term — telling reporters he’d be “stupid” not to try.Rivera said he hopes Haskins understands.

“It’s not fair either,” Rivera said. “I get it. It’s not fair. He didn’t have the OTAs and the minicamp. He didn’t have the four preseason games. That’s not the fair part, I get it. But, the situation right now calls for us to do something different. I’m going to do something different.”

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