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Redskins' First Team Strives For Better Than Second Rate

By Jason Reid
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, August 18, 2008

Jim Zorn, the Washington Redskins' rookie head coach, figured his starters would have a clunker at some point in their five-game preseason.

Sure enough, after two sharp performances, the first-team offense struggled in Saturday's 13-10 victory over the New York Jets at Giants Stadium.

"I don't think anybody felt spoiled that we had won our first two games and [said], 'Here we are on top of the winners' podium,' " Zorn said in a news conference yesterday at Redskins Park. "I think we all had the idea that this was a different defense [a 3-4 defense], a different scheme and a different philosophy."

Quarterback Jason Campbell was hesitant on throws early in his brief outing, he was unable to connect with receivers on deep passes and the offense bogged down in the red zone. And although rookie quarterback Colt Brennan had another highlight-reel performance in the fourth quarter while rallying the Redskins to their third victory in as many preseason games, he has not been as impressive as his statistics would lead some to believe. "I don't want to splash the water on him yet," Zorn said.

On the night that quarterback Brett Favre made his Jets debut, New York's defense took an aggressive approach against the Redskins. "They really came after us," Zorn said. "They emptied their posts with their [defensive backs] and really brought an extra guy."

The pressure from the secondary contributed to mistakes, but the Redskins should have executed better, Zorn said. On two first-half possessions, Washington's starters produced only 62 net yards on 16 plays from scrimmage. The Redskins' longest completion during that stretch was only 13 yards.

In a 17-14 victory over the Buffalo Bills on Aug. 9, the Redskins' longest pass play covered 19 yards. Campbell completed 80 percent of his passes and had a 125.6 passer rating in Washington's first two games. Against the Jets, Campbell went 4 of 10 for 28 yards -- he had a 47.9 passer rating -- and failed to take advantage of some opportunities. "We had some things there we missed," Zorn said. "We just didn't take advantage of some things."

Campbell did not play with the decisiveness he displayed in the first two games. "He hesitated a couple of times. The rhythm was a little off," Zorn said. "I thought he fought through it, I just wanted more completions. It was just a hesitation and he didn't need to. He wasn't sure of the very first thing he wanted to do.

"I've got to get him to help himself with his gut feeling because he had the right decision at first. He just wanted it to be better and he didn't need it to be. I thought his tempo was decent. Again, I just want him to push his tempo."

The inefficiency in the red zone was frustrating, Zorn said. On their second possession, the Redskins moved from their 19-yard line to the Jets 9-yard line. Washington should have scored a touchdown, Zorn said, but Campbell missed a chance for a big play. Shaun Suisham's 30-yard field capped the drive.

The mistakes "really showed up in the red zone this week," Zorn said. "We don't have a lot of red-zone opportunities any week, so what we have to do is be very aggressive in our practice, our repetitions, our rehearsal in the red zone in practice. When you take it to the field, you haven't had a lot of chances.

"We had a route that Jason held the ball and we had a vertical outside that was an easy touchdown. Honestly, it was an easy touchdown and we just didn't see it. He didn't focus on it, and then he turned back in and tried to throw the ball over the middle to the tight end [and the route] wasn't there.

"He'll see it [on the game tape]. It's just that whole idea of the red zone. Things happen faster. The decision is immediate. He was very stingy with the ball in the red zone. That's the mark of a guy in control of the situation. I just want him to not hesitate."

The Redskins' rushing attack fared better. Ladell Betts started for Clinton Portis, who was given the night off, and rushed for 34 yards on six carries (a 5.7-yard average). Betts left the game with a mild right knee sprain. "I thought Ladell was incredible," said Zorn, who praised Betts for his vision and cutback ability. "He really was just very good."

Rock Cartwright led the Redskins with 90 yards on six carries -- including a 73-yard run. Marcus Mason, who is battling for a roster spot, continued to be productive, gaining 55 yards on nine carries (a 6.1-yard average). "Our line got on guys and we sustained blocks early," Zorn said.

And then there was Brennan.

Trailing 10-6, Washington took over on its 20-yard line with 2 minutes 4 seconds remaining in the game. Brennan had entered in the third quarter in Washington's first two games but came in to start the fourth quarter Saturday. Zorn wanted to evaluate the rookie in a late-game situation with the team either in a hurry-up mode because it trailed or trying to manage the clock with a lead.

On the drive's first play, Brennan completed a 37-yard pass to wide receiver Billy McMullen. Mason rushed for 14 yards on the next play, and then Brennan was sacked. The Redskins went to a no-huddle offense, and Brennan teamed with tight end Jason Goode on a 33-yard touchdown pass over the middle with 1:09 to play.

Jets defensive back James Ihedigbo gambled for the interception, and Goode got behind him. Suisham's point-after kick gave the Redskins a three-point cushion. The Jets missed a potential tying 23-yard field goal as time expired.

In the quarter, Brennan completed 4 of 5 passes for 79 yards with a touchdown and had a 158.3 passer rating. Brennan also had big numbers (9 of 10 for 123 yards and two touchdowns with a 157.5 passer rating) in a 30-16 victory over the Indianapolis Colts on Aug. 3, "but there's a lot more distance that he has to go, and to be honest with you, he knows it," Zorn said. "He won't be strutting around here. He shouldn't be strutting his stuff.

"He has great vision. He's made some heads-up plays and we've had success. I really like all that, [but] I'm looking for, maybe I want more, but I want better technique. I want him to use the kind of techniques that are going to take him further down the road. We were all talking differently after the Buffalo game [Brennan went 4 for 8 for 37 yards] when everybody said: 'Oh, Colt came down to earth. Now, he's in outer space again.' "

The Redskins have two preseason games remaining before they kick off the season Sept. 4 against the New York Giants at Giants Stadium. The Carolina Panthers host the Redskins on Saturday and Washington's starters should plan to be on the field for an extended period, Zorn said.

"We'll play that a little bit more with the starters," he said. "We'll try to put together a rhythm during the week that we're going to use throughout the season."

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