Still at a Loss

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 Michael Wilbon
Friday, August 29, 2008

Loathsome as preseason football is, there was actually something important to be learned from and about the Washington Redskins last night. A 47-3 loss to the Panthers in Charlotte last week made the fifth and final preseason game relatively meaningful.

A veteran head coach wouldn't have had to call out his team the way Jim Zorn did this week. A veteran coach, a guy with some track record of even moderate NFL success, could have put his team in pads and made them scrimmage a time or two at the practice facility as a consequence for such an awful outing. But Zorn has no such track record; he's never even functioned as a coordinator in the NFL. The last thing he needed was for his starters to take the field in the season opener against the Super Bowl champion New York Giants fresh off a whuppin'.

So Zorn, after saying before the Carolina game that the starters would not play last night against Jacksonville, did a complete 180 switcheroo, and put 'em right back on the field for a second dress rehearsal.

And the result was nearly as bad.

Okay, the offensive line kept the Jaguars from burying Jason Campbell alive, but otherwise the Redskins were dreadful again in a 24-3 loss. For those of you keeping score, that's 71-6 over the last two games.

Against Jacksonville, the Redskins' first-team offense played three series but ran only seven plays, had one tipped interception, two three-and-outs, zero first downs, one dropped pass and 14 total yards. In short, the starting offense stunk up the joint. "We're all frustrated about it," Zorn said afterward.

The Redskins were hell-bent on proving to themselves they could run Zorn's offense efficiently and go into the final week before the season opener looking like a real football team. Zorn, by putting the starters in for three series, wanted them to show him last week's result was nothing more than a preseason fluke.

Well, a second helping of ugly against Jacksonville might suggest that Zorn has himself a real problem.

Usually, I pay zero attention to preseason football results. Teams that go 0-4 have won the Super Bowl (the Redskins, to name just one) and teams that have gone 4-0 have failed to make the playoffs. Steve Spurrier's Redskins teams a few years ago ran up the score during preseason games but couldn't master the center snap once the real season started. Even now, how do you discount the fact that the Redskins won their first three games of this preseason and looked reasonably sharp doing it?

It's not that the Redskins lost to Carolina; it's that they looked so inept, so not ready for prime time.

Zorn, understandably, didn't want to start the season with that cloud hanging over the team, so he tried to do something quite logical about it. Probably, he even needed to play the starters some against Jacksonville for his own confidence, though no football coach would admit such a thing.

I'd have put both groups of starters on the field to start the game. A new coach, especially one with no résumé, had better establish who's in charge. The risk, of course, is the kind of injury the Giants suffered, losing Osi Umenyiora for the season. But there's another risk, too: losing your team to start the season. This isn't Major League Baseball or the NBA, where teams get weeks to establish their identities.

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