Shortsightedness Causes Headaches

By Mike Wise
Wednesday, December 3, 2008

It's become rote around here this week to call Miserable Suburban Guy radio, e-mail local sports cable networks or post on Redskins blogs about Jason Campbell's regression, to the point that some warped louts believe the starting quarterback should be benched in favor of Todd Collins.

Look, as much as Toddball was fun for everyone, these poor, myopic souls have to understand two realities:

1) Retarding Campbell's continued growth on the off chance a 37-year-old career backup can recapture the greatest month of his career is not a calculated risk; it's calculated stupidity.

And, most important, 2) after all the euphoria that followed a 4-1 start, the same people petrified in August that Jim Zorn would finish 6-10 became so engrossed in their Tampa fantasies they forgot to look through the wide lens:

It was never about this year.

Daniel Snyder might have said he expected to win the NFC East and return to the playoffs in an interview with Comcast SportsNet in August, which was a nice, preseason carrot for the owner to dangle in front of the needy masses. And the signings of Jason Taylor and later DeAngelo Hall might have been done to immediately bolster the defense.

But from their build-through-the-draft mantra to their brazen pick of a position-coach lifer to take over for Joe Gibbs, the Redskins have not-so-covertly sold their fans and themselves on one big idea: that 2008 would be a starter kit toward lasting NFL success.

That doesn't mean instantly believing smoke and mirrors can lead to hoisting a Lombardi Trophy a year after essentially the same roster barely made the playoffs. It means planting seeds, marrying the minds of a new coach, his young quarterback and yet another new system.

Just because there was gravy before the grunt doesn't mean the long-term goals should now be shelved.

"We just got to take more chances, continue to keep working and understand it's a process," Campbell said after Washington lost its third game in the last four on Sunday. "The first year of the offense is a process. There's up and downs. People are quick to put it on the quarterback and rightly so. I have to look myself in the mirror and continue to fight.

"But this is one of those things that takes some time to get and learn."

It was easy for everyone to get off track when that zany Zorn took play-calling suggestions from players on the sideline, sending in draws on fourth and one, beating Dallas and Philadelphia early by power as much as innovation. And it was just as easy to believe Campbell had arrived as a top-flight quarterback, winning games in the fourth quarter with rockets to Santana Moss, knowing when to absorb a sack and when to head upfield toward the marker.

But 13 weeks into the season, Zorn can't bluff anyone anymore with mediocre cards. This is a tape league; if they don't know what's coming in September, they might have a pretty good guess by Thanksgiving. It's why the Giants jumped several Redskins plays on Sunday, anticipating what the offense was doing because they had seen it before in a video room.

Thirteen weeks later, Campbell is just the bruised target for much more ingrained problems: an aging offensive line, just three genuine receiving threats (Moss, Antwaan Randle El and Chris Cooley, who inexplicably has only one touchdown -- from Randle El!), three don't-quite-get-it kids (Devin Thomas, Malcolm Kelly and Fred Davis) and an unrealistic view of how good this team and quarterback were when they were 6-2.

The fickle and knee-jerk weren't the only ones to notice Campbell's drop-off in performance after the first eight weeks of the season.

"I feel he's taken a step back in the passing game," Tiki Barber said of Campbell. The former Giants running back turned analyst spoke in the FedEx Field press box on Sunday, and he didn't necessarily put the blame on the Redskins' quarterback.

"I don't know if it's the schemes or they're trying to protect him from failure," Barber said. "But you see what the Giants did with Eli eventually; they gave him full responsibility of everything in the playbook. You just got to put it on him at some point. When you try to protect a guy from failure sometimes you protect him from his own success."

It's obvious Zorn isn't entirely comfortable with Campbell's -- and some of his teammates' -- game-speed execution of at least part of the West Coast offense. Rather than putting his quarterback at further risk, he sounds as if he wants to further limit the plays and wait for his players to catch up mentally and physically.

The problem becomes when a defense figures out which plays Zorn feels comfortable with Campbell running. And when seven variations of a formation are reduced to two or three, the guessing game becomes much easier for an aggressive defense against that old O-line. The result: Of the 32 times Campbell has been sacked this season, 14 came against the Steelers, Cowboys and Giants.

Campbell, of course, wasn't buying Barber's assessment. But he did acknowledge: "It would be great to take some more shots downfield. The problem is, there is nothing there sometimes.

"I get frustrated. The switch is right in the middle for us, where it just won't click on for us as an offense. You know, what's really keeping us from doing it? What is it?"

The truth? Time, at least another year. Trusting the process.

No one wants to hear that, including Campbell and his detractors. Especially after this team made so much noise so early, lathering their legions into a frothing frenzy in October.

But real progress in Washington is going to take a virtue this franchise has not had in the past decade: bona fide patience. It's the only way to erase years of impetuous, rash decision-making.

Since Brad Johnson threw for more than 4,000 yards and 24 touchdowns in 1999, there have been 11 changes at starting quarterback for the Redskins. From Jeff George to Tony Banks, from Danny Wuerffel to Patrick Ramsey and beyond. Because of injury or just plain awful play, not one since Johnson has managed to begin and finish a 16-game season.

Jason Campbell has that chance, the opportunity to put a complete regular season under his belt. For the growth of him and the franchise, he deserves that.

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