Monday, September 28, 2009

Redskins 14, Lions 19

Let's see... where to begin?

Should I start with the horrendous play-calling? The inability to punch the ball in from the 1-yard line? The defense -- you know, the one that was ranked 4th in the league last year and that was "upgraded" in the offseason -- allowing the lowly Detroit Lions to drive the field at will?

No, forget all that. Let's start with the end result and work our way backwards, shall we?

Yesterday at about 4:15pm, the final whistle blew in the Motor City and the Washington Redskins -- after a week of intense scrutiny that you think would've offered some motivation to step it up -- became the ultimate punchline.

I can see the answer on Jeopardy! now:

On September 27, 2009, they became the first team to lose to the Detroit Lions in over 21 months.

Yes, the Detroit Lions. The only team in the history of the league to lose all 16 games in a regular season. The team led by a rookie quarterback who threw 5 interceptions in his first 2 starts. The team whose estimated attendance yesterday was barely over 40,000, which meant local TV wouldn't even be offering the game to its viewers.

For the majority of teams in the NFL, a trip to Michigan has meant, for the better part of the last decade, an all-but-guaranteed W. For Washington -- and the fans of the Burgundy & Gold -- yesterday's contest meant a chance to right the ship, to prove to everyone that last week's disastrous performance was an anomaly, that there's no way the team was that bad. Most importantly, perhaps, it meant a chance to quiet the media shit-storm that erupted after barely squeaking by an abysmal St. Louis team at home.

Image courtesy The Washington Post

Unfortunately -- for Jim Zorn, Dan Snyder, Jason Campbell, Clinton Portis and the rest of those "on the hot seat" -- those chances are all gone now. The aforementioned media shit-storm has just been upgraded from a we-can-ride-this-thing-out Category 3 to a full-blown, board-up-the-windows-we're-getting-the-hell-outta-here Category 5.

Nobody is safe, or at least they shouldn't be.

Maybe there's a reason Jim Zorn hadn't reached the position of head coach -- or even offensive coordinator -- anywhere else in the league yet. Don't get me wrong -- heading into this season, I was willing to give Synder the benefit of the doubt, and I was also willing to give Zorn at least a second campaign to prove that Dan's decision was a wise one.

Three games into the second year of his headset-wearing career, however, and I'm afraid we've all seen what Jim Zorn is capable of. Never mind the fact that some guys are missing their blocks, that Campbell isn't getting enough time in certain situations, that veteran players are acting as though the pressure of the NFL is a new, tingly sensation.

No, this falls on Zorn. We've all heard the audio -- or read the transcript -- of Sonny calling out the head coach after last week's questionable option pass on 3rd and goal. We know that Zorn would've (apparently) taken his quarterback off the field had he defied orders, and we know that he stuck to his guns on whether or not he thought that was the right call for the situation.

And therein lies the problem.

Jim Zorn does not adapt. He thinks every play he calls is the right one, regardless of whether or not it works. He is confident -- hey, I'll give him that -- that if executed well, each time he dials something up, Shaun Suisham should be getting ready to trot onto the field for an extra point try.

Very rarely -- if at all -- does Zorn accept blame and say "you know what? I probably shouldn't have done that."

Take the final play of yesterday's loss, for example: after the Lions called timeout (essentially giving the Redskins the gift of being able to draw up a play for one last shot), Jason Campbell threw a short pass and left it up to the rest of the offense to try and lateral their way 40 yards down the field and into the endzone.

Why not throw the ball deeper down the field? Did Zorn really think, after not being able to move the ball all that well throughout the game, that they'd be able to miraculously weave in and out of a defense that was as desperate to stop them as they were to score?

It simply doesn't make sense, and, unfortunately, that's just the tip of the play-calling iceberg.

Going for it on 4th and goal from the 1-yard line on the team's opening possession? I'm fine with it. (No, really... I understand the need to get the proverbial monkey off your back, so for some reason I can accept that decision.)

Why not give the ball to Mike Sellers, though? Did everyone inside the organization forget that The Caveman is pretty good at running people over? If there's one thing that Joe Gibbs learned early in his second stint, it's that Sellers is pretty good in short-yardage situations.

Watching these first few games, it's as though Jim Zorn writes a script before each game and, despite the circumstances, never strays even a hair from that script. When you coach a good team and you're working with a clean slate -- i.e. the game scoreless or tied early -- you can afford to be proactive. When the opposing team successfully defends 3 downs deep in their own territory, however, the ability to react is much more valuable.

Zorn needs to take a deep breath, see what is and isn't working and plan accordingly. He can't simply sit there and say "this play was a beauty in practice, so it's certainly going to get us 6 now."


Ok, so now that we've established -- or rather, I've established -- that "Coach" Zorn's ability to adjust on the fly is suspect at best, let's discuss a couple of other things:

First, it's hard to fathom a Redskins defense allowing 381 yards to an offense that, leading up to yesterday's game, could've been labeled "work-in-progress" at best. Missed tackles, blown coverage, not nearly enough pressure on the quarterback; these things were supposed to be points of emphasis in the off-season for Greg Blache & Co. They were exposed early and often yesterday, however, and it appears as though gaping holes exist throughout what once was considered the team's biggest strength.

Second, it's hard to really argue against Jason Campbell's production so far this season, statistics-wise, but unfortunately, passing yards don't always equal success. While he's done a semi-decent job of marching down the field, that certain something is seriously lacking when it comes to finishing what he and his supporting cast start.

Very rarely does Campbell seem comfortable, and it's pretty clear that Zorn does not trust him enough to open up the passing game. Now, more than ever, I'd like to see deep balls thrown in the first few plays. Santana Moss proved yesterday that he still has a step on a lot of defensive backs, so why not try and take advantage of that? It's time for the training wheels to come off, I say.

It’s been hard enough to root for the Redskins over the past 15+ seasons, what with the revolving door of coaches, quarterbacks, high-priced free agents, etc. Now, after yet another big off-season in which Washington supposedly improved, it appears as though the team is headed for another lengthy, disappointing campaign.

Is firing Jim Zorn the answer? Probably not, but I’ll tell you what, I wouldn’t lose an ounce of sleep if that’s what Dan Snyder chose to do. Something -- anything -- to light a spark in that locker room.

Sure, the season is still very young, but it’s not like those wearing the Burgundy & Gold are showing any indication that they’ll be competitive this year. Until they do, the benefit of the doubt is gone. Fans in Detroit used to regularly show their disgust by wearing paper bags over their heads during games. Sadly, I think it’s time for the FedEx faithful to consider doing the same.


  1. I know you don't want to hear it but the Lions are better than people think this year. Having said that, you may want to start tuning into Capitals games as NHL season starts this week.
    Wow. I think scoring only 9 points on a terrible Rams team was worse than losing to Detroit.

  2. good looking blog, much nicer looking than the Redskins.