Final Rehearsal, Flat Performance

After the first-team offense struggles again early in the Jaguars' 24-3 victory, it seems the Redskins have even more reason to be concerned with the season about to begin.
By Jason Reid
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, August 29, 2008

The plan called for the Washington Redskins to make a statement on offense. The starters intended to accomplish goals quickly against the Jacksonville Jaguars yesterday during their final preseason game, hoping to inspire confidence in a veteran group that suddenly appeared shaky.

But after the first-team offense struggled again early in the Jaguars' 24-3 victory in front of 59,076 at FedEx Field, it seems the Redskins have even more reason to be concerned with the regular season opener in a week.

On the night Jacksonville defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, formerly Washington's assistant head coach-defense, came back to FedEx for the first time since owner Daniel Snyder fired him after last season, Jacksonville's first-team defense limited Washington's starters to 14 yards -- and no first downs -- on seven plays in three first-quarter series.

Coach Jim Zorn expected an effective performance from players who acknowledged they were "manhandled" last week by the Carolina Panthers. Instead, quarterback Jason Campbell and Washington's other top offensive players found only frustration in another disappointing outing marked by miscues and questionable decisions as they failed in their second significant test in as many weeks.

The Redskins and New York Giants kick off the league schedule Thursday in a nationally televised game at Giants Stadium, and Zorn has time to make adjustments before he begins his first regular season as an NFL head coach. Considering how poorly the Redskins finished in losing their final two preseason games after starting 3-0, he could be extremely busy.

"We couldn't sustain the drives," Zorn said. "I wanted to get 'em out in one series, but going three and out, three and out, we didn't sustain. We didn't sustain, for whatever reasons."

The Redskins had hoped to receive a boost from rookie wide receiver Malcolm Kelly, who was supposed to make his pro debut after recovering from a hamstring injury and arthroscopic knee surgery. Kelly was unable to play, though, because he experienced a knee problem during warmups, Zorn said.

Despite the offense's problems as the preseason wound down, it is not time to panic, Campbell said.

"If people start to panic, if they start to panic now, we had three great first preseason games offensively," said Campbell, who completed 1 of 4 passes for three yards. "We struggled against Carolina, and then tonight we had three series and shot ourselves in the foot a couple of times.

"It's nothing to start getting discouraged about because everything we're doing is very correctable. We can't hit that panic mode. If we start panicking, you can't start the season off as strong as you want."

Because of their participation in the Hall of Fame game, the Redskins played five preseason games instead of four. Zorn initially said the offensive starters would sit out against Jacksonville, but he scrapped that plan after the Panthers routed Washington, 47-3, Aug. 23 at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte.

The first-team offense performed horribly in what was supposed to be a dress rehearsal for the season opener against the Giants. Hoping to end the preseason on a positive note, Zorn decided the offensive starters would have a short session against the Jaguars, despite acknowledging the risk of injuries. In terms of the number of series the starters played, they were on the field longer than expected.

"I would loved to have had them play the whole game and just grind it out and work at getting some rhythm and things like that," Zorn said. "But that would not have been smart on my part."

The Jaguars took the opening kickoff and punted after picking up one first down. The Redskins started from their 18-yard line with 11 minutes 47 seconds remaining in the quarter. Stephon Heyer filled in for right tackle Jon Jansen (foot), James Thrash played for wide receiver Antwaan Randle El (hand), and top running back Clinton Portis was given the night off.

Zorn, Washington's play-caller, went with a three-receiver formation (Thrash, Santana Moss and rookie Devin Thomas) on the first play from scrimmage. The offensive line had struggled in pass protection the previous two games against the New York Jets and Panthers, and Campbell was not under duress in his short stint.

"When coach put us out there, he wanted us to get our confidence back, and we did that," Pro Bowl left tackle Chris Samuels said. "The game the week before was a disaster, so we needed to go out there and play a pretty good game up front, and I think we did that."

On the first play, Campbell dropped back and had plenty of time to locate receivers. He spotted Thomas on the right side and delivered the ball, but Jaguars cornerback Rashean Mathis stuck his hand in on coverage and middle linebacker Mike Peterson got an interception on the tipped pass.

The Redskins got the ball back again on their 28-yard line with 7:33 to go in the quarter. They would not have it long.

Running back Marcus Mason, who started in place of Portis, gained seven yards on two rushes. On third and three from Washington's 35-yard line, tight end Chris Cooley dropped a pass from Campbell that would have resulted in a first down. TV replays showed Cooley did not have possession, but Zorn challenged the play. It was not overturned.

Eager to take something positive from the game, Zorn sent the starters back out one more time. With 4:41 left in the first, Campbell led the Redskins on the field to their own 23-yard line.

Thrash was open for a short pass on the right side, but Campbell did not immediately spot him and threw short for an incompletion. Mason gained four yards to set up a third down and six at the 27-yard line. Campbell found Thomas on the right side, but only for a three-yard gain.

When the pass was completed, Zorn removed his headset and had a look of frustration. Many players were shaking their heads as they came off the field.

"We don't feel any pressure," Campbell said of the regular season opener. "We understand it's a big game. It's an [NFC East] division game, it's the first game of the NFL season. Us and the Giants are it. We just got to go up there and play together."

© 2008 The Washington Post Company