By Paul Tenorio
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, September 22, 2008
As he stood in the locker room following his team's 24-17 loss to the Washington Redskins, Arizona Cardinals safety Antrel Rolle admitted that leading up to the game he "wasn't too high up on" Redskins quarterback Jason Campbell.
Last year, Campbell had passed for a meager 95 yards with no touchdowns and one interception in a 21-19 win over the Cardinals. And despite a prolific performance against the New Orleans Saints one week before, Rolle said he still wasn't sold on Campbell's fit in the Redskins' West Coast offense.
"I knew he was a big-play guy, I know he could definitely beat you with his arm," Rolle said. "But I didn't think he was that comfortable in the system."
But after Campbell picked apart the Cardinals defense yesterday, completing 22 of 30 passes (73 percent) for 193 yards and two touchdowns, Rolle amended his opinion and was one of several members of the Cardinals defense to praise Campbell for his performance.
"He came out today, he was very poised," Rolle said. "I think he knew where he was going with the ball and he made some clutch throws. I take my hat off to him . . . he really stepped his game up today."
Campbell was impressive from the start, showing accuracy and patience as he went 6 for 6 on the opening drive of the game, finding five receivers as the Redskins moved down the field and took the lead on Clinton Portis's three-yard touchdown run.
The drive was indicative of Campbell's style throughout the game, with short, quick passes taking the place of long strikes. That willingness to take what the defense gave him was integral to the success of the Redskins offense, several Cardinals players said after the game, and also a sign of Campbell's growth as a signal-caller.
"He didn't try to make passes he couldn't make," said linebacker Karlos Dansby, who played with Campbell at Auburn. "Screens and underneath stuff. You gotta get in a rhythm and that's what they did today, they got in a rhythm. We couldn't get them off the field."
With the Redskins using those quick plays and misdirection, the Cardinals struggled to put pressure on Campbell for much of the game. When they did, Campbell showed an ability to scramble, picking up two first downs with his legs -- the first a 16-yard scramble on the opening touchdown drive and again on a 13-yard dash on third down in the third quarter -- adding yet another threat for the defense to consider.
"He did a good job of getting the ball out of his hands and if there wasn't anything there then he ran with it," Cardinals Coach Ken Whisenhunt said. "I can't fault our defense as much as they played well offensively today."
Rolle and the Cardinals defensive players weren't the only ones taking notice of Campbell's play. Cardinals quarterback Kurt Warner also said he believed Campbell was making great strides in his development.
"I thought he played well, I thought he played controlled," Warner said. "I think he's a young kid that's growing into the position and understanding how to play and manage games -- that he doesn't have to win games for them now, just make the plays that need to be made. I think he's doing a great job with that."
Warner, who overtook another young quarterback, former first-round pick and Heisman Trophy winner Matt Leinart, as the Cardinals starter this season, said he spoke with Campbell before the game and that Campbell said he was feeling more comfortable in the offense. That comfort, Warner said, showed on the field.
"Now I think he's becoming an NFL quarterback," Warner said. "And he's looked poised and I think he's going to keep growing."