He checked to a different protection to handle a blitz; he slid from the pressure and climbed the pocket. He went through his progressions, finding his third target — with his feet and eyes aligned.
It’s everything the Redskins want to see from their rookie quarterback. And it resulted in a 20-yard pass.
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“When he does it right, it’s really good,” Redskins quarterbacks coach Tim Rattay said.
Haskins, who will make his fourth start Sunday when the Redskins play at Green Bay (1 p.m. ET, Fox), remains a work in progress — like any young quarterback. He has thrown two TD passes and six interceptions and the Redskins know he must become more consistent with his accuracy (he’s completing 54.1% of his passes) and much better in the red zone (4-of-17, 19 yards, one touchdown, five sacks). He’s far from a finished product, good or bad. In his four starts, he ranks last in total QBR (18.3) and 29th in passer rating (70.2).
But the Redskins, on a two-game winning streak, have seen incremental progress. Two weeks ago against Detroit, after a rough first three quarters, he led two fourth-quarter drives that resulted in field goals to win the game. Against Carolina, he managed the game well, was more accurate than the week before and made throws he hadn’t been making previously.
And the 20-yard pass to Kelvin Harmon provided a snapshot of that progress. Here’s why:
Three weeks ago, the New York Jets confused the Redskins’ protection with different looks — sometimes sending extra rushers and sometimes creating openings for only four. The issues weren’t on Haskins alone, but he didn’t always handle it well and it resulted in constant pressure.
On Sunday, late in the play clock, two Panthers’ linemen switched sides with urgency. As soon as they did, Haskins stepped up and called out a new protection. Based on film study, he said he knew an overload blitz was coming to the right — so he had the line slide protection accordingly. They picked up the overload and running back Chris Thompson was then responsible for the other side; he, too, picked up the blitz.
“It has progressed a lot,” Redskins center Chase Roullier said. “It’s a process. It’s something he’s gotten a lot more comfortable with, switching us around. … On that play, he was able to flip the protection and make a big play.”
One week does not mean he has become an expert. Every week will present a new challenge based on the defenses and the various blitzes.
“That’s the thing he has to keep studying,” Rattay said.
After Sunday’s game, Haskins said his favorite plays were the ones in which he was able to move through his progressions while moving around in the pocket. That’s what he did on the pass to Harmon.
As he dropped back, his primary targets — Steven Sims and Terry McLaurin were running on the right side, on the hash and the numbers, respectively. But the safety was cheating that way. So he worked back to Harmon, his third option, as he climbed the pocket and delivered a strike.
“He was also able to step up, stand tall and make a throw instead of trying to step up and leave the pocket,” Rattay said. “That was a big play.”
Haskins missed a handful of reads Sunday, but he’s also working through them more. He said some of that stems from slowing down; it also helps he is starting to eliminate some routes based on the pre-snap look.
“I was playing faster than I needed to,” Haskins said. “I was playing myself out of position with certain reads. I don’t have to speed up my drop every time I feel pressure. I don’t have to escape every time I see someone flash across my face, and I don’t have to make the big throw every play. It’s trusting my eyes, trusting my feet and making the right reads.”
Feet matching the eyes
When Haskins struggled with his accuracy against Detroit, coaches generally boiled it down to one big issue: Too often his feet were aiming one way while his eyes looked another.
“When you look at a quarterback and he’s not accurate and he’s as talented as he is throwing the ball, it’s usually the feet and the eyes,” Rattay said.
On Monday, interim coach Bill Callahan called it Haskins’ best game as far as his feet mirroring his eyes, which Rattay said he agreed with “100 percent.”
This time, Haskins’ feet moved from down the middle, to slightly right and then back to the left as he moved up in the pocket. It resulted in an accurate throw to Harmon. It’s something the coaches have harped on, and after practice Wednesday he worked with Rattay on various throws.
“The biggest thing with me is playing more calm and not rushing my eyes, my feet,” Haskins said, “because I’m late or not in rhythm. Now I’m playing where my eyes and feet tell me and it’s allowing the ball to rip when it’s there.”
Sometimes those feet tell him to slide out of trouble, extend the play or to run. Haskins has lowered his body fat from 17% to 13%, helping increase his quickness. But the more plays he has like the one to Harmon, the better off he and the Redskins will be.
“It’s not all the way there, yet,” Rattay said, “but there are so many good examples of him doing it right and trusting the progression and bringing his feet along accordingly. We just have to keep working and keep going.”