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Film Room: Center Stage Too Much For Dwayne Haskins In Preseason Finale

After HC Mike Tomlin announced that QB Dwayne Haskins would be the starter in the preseason finale against the Carolina Panthers Friday night, the anticipation and intrigue was soon to follow. Haskins would be pitted against the starting defensive unit of Carolina, and while he would be without several of the regular starters on offense, this was seen as his opportunity to make a statement with all eyes on him at center stage.

Unfortunately, the game got out of hand as the starters of the Panthers beat up on a mix of starter and backups for Pittsburgh. Haskins’ performance on the night didn’t inspire confidence either, as he had several key mistakes that have been littered throughout his previous game tape in the past show up again in Carolina.

To start out the game, Haskins did ok given the circumstances. The defensive front of the panthers was in his face all night long, causing him to regularly have to get outside of the pocket or throw under pressure with defenders laying a hit on him while in the middle of his release. This first play shows Haskins on a rollout to his right, throwing on the run and delivering the ball on-target to #11 Chase Claypool. However, #8 Jaycee Horn plays the ball well in coverage, getting his arm in-between Claypool’s hands to force the incompletion

 

The very next play, Haskins takes the snap but soon sees the pocket collapsing around him, dumping the ball of to #24 Benny Snell Jr. on the check down while being sandwiched by two pass rushers, completing the pass, but failing to move the sticks.

 

The next possession, we start to see Haskins show some of those inconsistencies when it comes to accuracy and ball placement. On this pass to #13 James Washington, Haskins takes the snap from the shotgun and turns to throw to his intended target, but the ball is too low and to the side of Washington, causing his intended receiver to have to dive forward for the catch, ultimately falling incomplete.

 

This next throw by Haskins had his detractors calling for his trade or release as he fakes the play action and rolls out to the right, having #44 Derek Watt running open by the LOS, but puts the ball to high and behind him. Watt tries to reach up and tip the ball to himself, but the attempt to make the catch backfires at Watt tips the ball into the air and right into the hands of #53 Brian Burns in pursuit who capitalizes on making the interception. While Haskins didn’t throw the ball directly to Burns on the play, the poor accuracy on a relatively easy throw given his ability to throw on the run definitely is concerning.

 

Here is another view of the throw that results in the interception by Haskins.

 

You could tell that Haskins wasn’t comfortable Friday night with the lights shining on him. He seemed anxious and played tight rather than with confidence to handle the adversity he faced. Another bad play later in the second quarter provided evidence as such where Haskins mishandles the shotgun snap from #53 Kendrick Green that hits him in the hands, but he drops to the turf. He manages to get on top of the football, but a negative play to have on first down.

 

While Haskins had his struggles Friday night, I will admit that I have been more on the positive side concerning his outlook and potential since he arrived in Pittsburgh. And as I highlighted the negative elements of his game, I only feel it right to highlight the positive as well to put his whole performance into context.

Take, for example, this play right before the botched shotgun snap where Haskins fakes the handoff to Snell but has the defender #81 Zach Gentry is tasked with blocking pressure him in the pocket, forcing Haskins to escape to his left where he is able square his shoulders and deliver a baseball-like throw to #14 Ray-Ray McCloud along the left sideline for the first down. Sure, Haskins puts the ball low to the ground, but his ability to escape pressure and throw off-platform are tools in his toolbox that most third-string QBs can’t say they have.

 

Here is another example of Haskins using his mobility two plays after the botched snap from before, stepping up to escape pressure coming from either side of the pocket, getting to an open space right by the LOS where he squares up his feet and fires a pass between three defenders in coverage to McCloud who has the ball knocked out by #21 Jeremy Chinn. Sure, Haskins had all of that green grass to scramble, but given the down and distance, throwing the ball compared to running it with defenders converging on him made for a sensible decision on third-and-long.

 

On the next offensive drive, we see Haskins pulling off his best Ben Roethlisberger impression on first down. The LE comes off free after the snap of the ball and meets Haskins in the backfield. However, Haskins is able to shake of the defender in the pocket and rolls to his left as the pocket collapses, getting his eyes downfield as he continues to run toward the LOS, but decides to get back to the line to live another down.

 

Haskins initial performance definitely wasn’t something pretty to look at on the stat sheet, but when Josh Dobbs left the game with injury, Haskins was thrust back into the game. Facing the backups of Carolina, Haskins had more success, completing a two-minute drill at the end of the game to put points on the board.

At the start of the drive, we see Haskins again step up in the pocket and get hit as he throws to McCloud over the middle of the field, practically shot-putting the football to him with room to run as McCloud picks up an extra 15 yards after the catch to get the ball in Carolina territory.

 

To cap off the drive, Haskins finds McCloud again on the crossing pattern over the middle of the field for the easy pitch-and-catch as McCloud easily jogs into the end zone for the touchdown.

 

Overall, I admit I came away a little disappointed with Dwayne Haskins’ performance against the Panthers. While he didn’t have the full starting offensive lineup at his disposal to face the Panthers defense, Haskins still had several starters along the offensive line as well as Chase Claypool, James Washington, and Pat Freiermuth as receiving options that he couldn’t capitalize on at the beginning of the game. While he had success to end the game, there may have to be asterisk placed there due to the fact that success came against the second and third-stringers for the Panthers defense.

Despite his struggles, I do recognize Haskins had to make a lot of difficult plays under pressure throughout the night. You might say that a first-round pick and franchise signal caller should be expected to make these plays rather routinely. While I do partially agree with that statement, I do question whether or not Mason Rudolph would’ve handled the situation any better given his lack of mobility and to create off-script out of the pocket the way Haskins was able to on several occasions Friday night.

While Haskins may have shown that he indeed is not ready to be the successor to Ben Roethlisberger that some Steelers fans were hoping for, I would suggest he has shown enough in his preseason performances to be happy with the claim Pittsburgh made for him after he was released, picking him up off of the wayside and getting him into the building to show what he can do. There is no doubt he has more development needed to play as a capable starter one day, but for Pittsburgh to have the opportunity to stash him away on the roster for 2021 and see what he can do after a year of being in the system in 2022 should be seen as a positive.

What are your thoughts on Dwayne Haskins’ performance against the Carolina Panthers? Do you think that his play suggests he clearly can’t be in consideration for the backup job and cements his status as a draft bust? Or do you think that a lot of what happened Friday night was out if his control and he played alright given the circumstances? What are your thoughts on Haskins in 2021 and moving forward? Please leave your thoughts in the comments section below and thanks again for reading!

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