By Jason Reid
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, September 16, 2008
It was only a six-yard pass. Quarterback Jason Campbell and rookie tight end Fred Davis teamed on the short completion Sunday in the fourth quarter of Washington's 29-24 victory over the New Orleans Saints, but Coach Jim Zorn noticed something more important than the yardage gained.
Davis was Campbell's third option on the play, Zorn said, and Campbell read the Saints' defense well and made the correct choice. After often focusing on his primary targets too long in the Redskins' season-opening loss to the New York Giants, Campbell was more efficient at locating other receivers against New Orleans.
Campbell's improvement in that area was among the keys to Washington's strong offensive showing. The Redskins must have many receivers involved in the passing game for Zorn's version of the West Coast offense to be productive, and Campbell's strong performance provided reason for optimism.
"It's a really good thing," Zorn said of the diversity in the passing attack. Campbell "did some different things this week that he didn't do the week before, as far as finding that second receiver. He made some strides that way."
Five Redskins caught passes in the 16-7 loss to the Giants on Sept. 4. Wide receiver Antwaan Randle El led Washington with seven receptions for 73 yards, and Randle El's 26-yard catch was the team's longest play from scrimmage.
Nine players had receptions in the Redskins' Week 2 victory, and wideout Santana Moss led the way with seven catches for 164 yards. Campbell and Moss connected on a 67-yard touchdown pass late in the final quarter that provided the go-ahead score.
In addition to Moss, tight end Chris Cooley had five receptions -- including a clutch catch in the fourth quarter as the Redskins rallied from a nine-point deficit -- for 72 yards. Randle El contributed four catches for 53 yards.
Last season, the Redskins did not have a game in which at least nine players caught passes when Campbell was the starter. Washington matched that reception total on Dec. 23 in a 32-21 victory over the Minnesota Vikings, but backup Todd Collins had become the starter after Campbell's season was cut short because of a knee injury.
Against New Orleans, Campbell completed 24 of 36 passes for 321 yards. He had the touchdown pass to Moss, no interceptions and an impressive 104.1 passer rating. There were many encouraging signs offensively for the Redskins, and "the thing that was evident was, as the game goes on, you can see how many guys can actually catch a ball in this particular offense," Zorn said. "It showed that the scheme was there, we got protection, [and] we didn't get into those third and extra longs all day."
Although Campbell had many special moments against the Saints, Zorn was particularly pleased with the fourth-year player's performance during the Redskins' first touchdown drive in the fourth quarter. Trailing 24-15, the Redskins took over on their 18-yard line with 10 minutes 36 seconds remaining in the game. On first down, Campbell was sacked for a 12-yard loss. But on the next play, Campbell found Cooley for a 23-yard gain and a first down.
"Jason made the play completely," Zorn said. "I called a different play and he adapted a similar concept to a different formation, got the protection right, got the play run and threw a strike to Cooley.
"That was all Jason Campbell. I had nothing to do with that play. I had called something out of a different formation, and I don't know where the confusion was, but he worked it out all by himself and created a huge play. It was a great play."
The possession, which running back Clinton Portis capped with the second of his two second-half touchdown runs, also included Campbell's short pass to Davis -- the first catch of Davis's career. On the drive, Campbell also completed passes to Moss and Randle El. He was perfect in five attempts for 82 yards.
Quickly moving through his progressions enabled Campbell to get into a good rhythm offensively, which was possible because the offensive line gave him the time to look "back side when your front two progressions are not there," Campbell said. "You have to go to your third or fourth. In order to do that, you got to have protection."
The Saints sacked Campbell twice and the Giants had one sack. Considering the offensive line's problems in pass protection late in the preseason, only three sacks in two games are fine with Campbell.
"The guys really got mad about what happened [in the preseason] and they've been great," he said. "It all starts up front, so they deserve a lot of the credit for whatever we do as an offense."
Said Pro Bowl left tackle Chris Samuels: "We take a lot of pride in giving Jason the time he needs back there and doing the job in the running game. If he has time to find people, well, that's what you want."
Campbell recently acknowledged he prefers to operate in the shotgun formation on some plays, and Zorn has permitted him to do that, but "we're not going to make him a gun quarterback," Zorn said. "There were a couple of plays where we wanted to be in the gun, and then there were several plays where, based on the situation, I didn't want him to be in the shotgun because we had some other things working there.
"It's not a security blanket [for Campbell]. There's some comfort at times on certain routes to be in the gun and there are definite advantages to being under center. I think the mix is how we're going to continue to work that."
Staff writer Barry Svrluga contributed to this report.