CHARLOTTE – Based on what was shown from the quarterback position Friday night at Bank of America Stadium, the Pittsburgh Steelers will be in serious trouble this season if longtime veteran starting quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is out for any extended period of time.
One of the Steelers other options under-center – Dwayne Haskins – mostly played uninspired and mediocre football against the Carolina Panthers. And that might be putting it kindly.
And Haskins had something to play for, as it seemed the quarterback depth chart below Roethlisberger was unsettled. If Haskins had turned in an impressive performance, he may have leapfrogged Mason Rudolph for the No. 2 job.
Instead, Haskins struggled – despite being given a stage and opportunity to shine – and didn’t find a rhythm until his final drive.
“Like the rest of us, I didn’t think there was enough varsity work from him,” Pittsburgh head coach Mike Tomlin said of Haskins after the 34-9 preseason loss to the Panthers. “It wasn’t the type of performance he wanted, or we wanted. But such is life.”
Haskins – a former 2019 first-round draft pick whom the Steelers signed for pennies after he was unceremoniously cut by the Washington Football Team last December – got the starting nod and did not make the most of it. The former Ohio State quarterback looked nothing like the player who was the Rose Bowl MVP just a few seasons ago.
In the first half, Haskins got five drives worth of work. The first two resulted in underwhelming three-and-outs, and the third ended with an interception. In a play that began with Haskins under-center, he faked a handoff to Benny Snell and rolled to his right, and took aim at fullback Derek Watt in the flat. But Haskins’ pass was a bit high and a bit behind Watt, who tipped the ball before it fell into the arms of Panthers’ defensive end Brian Burns.
Haskins finally took a shot down the field during his fourth drive. Out of a shotgun set, a pass rush put Haskins on the run, but fired a dart to Chase Claypool for an 18-yard pick-up. That was the longest offensive play of the first half for the Steelers, and it was also the first time they forced the guys on the sidelines to move the chains. Haskins’ next series saw him escape out of a pair of sacks, however, the drive fizzled out before entering scoring range.
In the second half, Haskins remained at quarterback, and his first possession of the third quarter finished with another forgettable three-and-out. It looked like his day was finished with a stat line of 38 yards on 5-of-12 passing.
“I wanted to play better and I wanted to do better … I got to watch the film and see exactly what happened,” Haskins said. “I definitely feel like having two three-and-outs early doesn’t help anybody.”
Haskins was replaced by fourth-stringer Josh Dobbs, who led the Steelers on their first scoring drive, a long field goal by Chris Boswell. But Dobbs suffered what Tomlin called “a turf toe, maybe” in the fourth quarter, and Haskins was thrust back into action.
In Haskins’ return, his first fourth quarter drive ended with Tony Brooks-James coughing up a fumble. Haskins got the ball one more time though, and finally played like competent NFL quarterback. Haskins orchestrated a six-play, 75-yard drive that ended with a touchdown. Haskins completed five-of-five passes while in hurry-up mode, including a 22-yard strike to Ray-Ray McCloud for a score. That final drive padded Haskins’ stats a bit, and he finished the day with 108 yards through the air while completing 9-of-16 passes.
Unfortunately, Tomlin and Steelers fans didn’t see enough of that Haskins on Friday, the one that was efficient and sharp in a fast-paced offense. For Tomlin, that final Haskins drive didn’t really mean much.
“I’m sure it did for him,” Tomlin said. “You know, in terms of getting that taste out of his mouth. But obviously, it had no consequence or bearing on the outcome of game.”
Meanwhile, on the other side of the field, Panthers’ quarterback Sam Darnold carved up the Steelers’ second and third string defense for 162 yards and two touchdowns in the first half. Darnold, the former third-overall pick by the New York Jets in 2018 out of UCLA, completed his first six passes, but finished the day going 19-of-25 through the air.
This preseason, Haskins has completed 37-of-58 passes for 379 yards and two scores. He’s completing 63.8% of his passes and averaging 6.5 yards per-throw.
“The best thing I can do is just hope that, throughout preseason, throughout training camp, there’s enough body of work to showcase how much I’ve improved,” Haskins said. “I’m never satisfied, but I definitely feel like I’ve done a good job of just playing myself into this situation and doing the best I can and showing how much I want to be on this team and how much I want to be able to help this team.”