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Trying to Get Up to Speed

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After last night's loss against the New York Giants, the Post's Jason Reid analyzes the battle ahead for the Redskins. Video by Jason Reid/The Washington Post

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By Jason La Canfora
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, September 6, 2008

The day after his first regular season game as a head coach, Jim Zorn broke down the Washington Redskins' offensive problems in a 16-7 loss to the New York Giants on Thursday night, critiquing his own play-calling and decision-making as well as the mistakes of quarterback Jason Campbell.

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Zorn and Campbell will shoulder the brunt of the criticism as Washington transitions to a West Coast offense, as is the nature of their jobs. As coaches reviewed the game film, they concluded both could have performed better.

Zorn's problems were exacerbated by his inefficiency with clock management and offensive tempo when the Redskins were trailing by nine in the fourth quarter. Campbell continues to adjust to Zorn's mentoring, as well as the coach's attempts to get Campbell to adjust his tall frame and long delivery to the quick-timing cadence of this scheme.

The Redskins produced 209 yards of total offense and converted 3 of 13 third down chances. Only two players had more than one reception. The Redskins produced two first downs in the first half, excluding those obtained via penalty, and held the ball for a total of 24 minutes 17 seconds. The offense was anemic and lethargic during the final weeks of the preseason as well, with Campbell the key component in the new system.

"He's so big, and I just want him to move faster," Zorn said of the 6-foot-5 Campbell, who completed 15 of 27 passes Thursday night for 133 yards with a touchdown and an 81.2 passer rating. "And we'll continue to work on it. I'm not discouraged with a lot of the things he did. I just want him to get better."

Zorn lauded Campbell for protecting the football and not turning it over but was concerned by his tendency to lock onto a particular receiver, which contributed to a sack on the first offensive play of the game. Campbell also neglected to attempt to find a primary receiver downfield too often -- opting for "check-downs" to secondary options instead -- and Zorn is still waiting for a vertical component of his attack take shape.

Some scouts and executives believe Campbell is a poor fit for the West Coast offense, with his size and skills favoring seven-step drops and more deep throws, instead of the three-step drops and quick, rhythmic cadence of Zorn's style. "When I watch that team, I think something's going to have to give," said one NFL executive who has studied Campbell closely and believes he could succeed as a drop-back passer. "Is it the scheme or the quarterback? At some point either the coach is going to have to change what he does to fit the quarterback, or they're going to need a different quarterback."

Zorn discounted the notion Campbell might not be a perfect fit for this offense but was honest about the length of time necessary to grasp it fully. He spoke again yesterday about how "wild" Pro Bowl passer Matt Hasselbeck was in his first season in Seattle with Zorn as quarterbacks coach, even after Hasselbeck's four years as a backup in the same system in Green Bay, but said Campbell has enough talent to overcome any hiccups.

"I think he's got enough athleticism, I really do, to speed up his game in certain situations," Zorn said. "And part of that, I'm hoping, is just the idea of understanding the offense better, the speed of it. He's not there yet, but I'm not totally discouraged. We have to make big plays when the opportunity is there."

Zorn pointed specifically to a pass on second down and six from the Washington 41-yard line in the third quarter with the Redskins down by nine. Wide receiver Santana Moss was in single coverage with young cornerback Aaron Ross, and beat him cleanly on a go route down the right sideline. But Campbell waited too long to deliver the throw after avoiding a pass rush, and the pass fell incomplete. Moss gave up on the route, believing Campbell had been sacked (an assumption that also hurt the Redskins in their playoff loss to Seattle in January).

"He's got to avoid and throw," Zorn said of Campbell. "We ran this drill all of training camp. Avoid, reset and throw."

That was Campbell's intention, but when he dropped back to throw "I couldn't see him," Campbell said, referring to Moss. "I lost sight of him; I couldn't see him through the linemen. I tried to stick with him just a little bit too long to see if he won [the one-on-one matchup]. You learn from that. You move on to the next play."

The failure of that play was not on Campbell alone, said Moss, who acknowledged he eased up prematurely. "It's on all of us," Moss said. "The play usually develops a little quicker than that, and that was one of my reasons for slowing down, because I'm running forever. I kind of looked back and the ball wasn't there, so I thought something happened. But he got pressured. You could see, clear as day, he got pressured.

"He had to do a little something different. When that happens, a play like that will [break down] like that. We couldn't get out of the play what we thought we could get out of it once he got pressured. He still got a chance to throw it down the field, but by that time I had slowed down and it gave the other guy [Ross] a chance to catch up. It happens like that sometimes. I'm pretty sure that if he didn't get the pressure, you probably wouldn't be talking about the play like that."

Staff writer Jason Reid contributed to this report.


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