By Jason Reid
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, December 3, 2008
With the Washington Redskins having the day off, quarterback Jason Campbell took a rare break from football yesterday. Instead of reviewing game film or going over the playbook, he decided to just relax at his house and take his mind off the game.
A once-promising season is threatening to slip away, with the Redskins having lost three of their last four games. And as is typical in the unforgiving world of the NFL, criticism of the team's quarterback is intensifying with each loss.
Frustration among fans -- not to mention sports radio and television pundits -- boiled over after Sunday's 23-7 loss to the New York Giants. Callers filled talk radio programs with attacks on Campbell's performance, with many saying he should be benched in favor of backup Todd Collins, who led the Redskins' late, four-game winning streak that resulted in a playoff berth last season after Campbell was lost to injury.
There is no quarterback controversy in the Redskins' locker room, and Coach Jim Zorn reaffirmed Monday that Campbell remains the team's starter. Even so, the soft-spoken Campbell, who will turn 27 on Dec. 31, is unaccustomed to this level of scrutiny. In only his second full season as a starter, the native of tiny Taylorsville, Miss., is shouldering the burden of a franchise still trying to recapture the Super Bowl-winning success it enjoyed during the 1980s and early 1990s.
"People just don't understand," Campbell said with a tired voice as he leaned against a wall near the locker room at Redskins Park on Monday. "Right now, I'm getting all of the blame and, yeah, it's tough. As the quarterback, you know you're going to get too much of the credit when the team wins and too much when you lose. People are basically throwing me under the bus right now, and here I am still trying to get established in this league.
"But I'll accept all the blame, because the same ones who are riding me right now were the same people [earlier] this year that were saying something a whole lot different. I'm smart enough to know that it's not all on me."
Cold in November
Named the Redskins' starter midway through the 2006 season under former coach Joe Gibbs, Campbell was sidelined during Washington's run to the playoffs in 2007 because of a dislocated kneecap. The team re-signed Collins, 37, in the offseason. But Campbell has worked closely with Zorn, who came to Washington from the Seattle Seahawks with a reputation as a good teacher of young quarterbacks.
The relationship appeared to be paying off as Washington opened 4-1, and the stellar play of Campbell was pointed to as one of the reasons behind the team's strong start.
The Redskins were 6-2 at the midpoint of their schedule and appeared to be on track to qualify for the playoffs in consecutive seasons for only the second time since the 1991-92 seasons. Then came November and losses to Pittsburgh, Dallas and the Giants, with a lone victory against the lowly Seahawks. The Redskins, now 7-5, would not qualify for the playoffs if they began today.
The Redskins' performance, particularly a lack of scoring by the offense, has stirred more criticism of Campbell, who acknowledged this week that "you can't help but hear it when it's out there like it is now."
"You try not to listen to it, try to just stay away from all the negativity, but it's all over the place," he said. "But I know who I am and how hard I work. You always have to remember that. You can't let outside people get you down when they really don't know what's going on."
The Redskins average only 17.3 points per game, ranking 28th in the NFL. They scored 43 points in November -- an average of 10.8 -- and 23 points in three losses on their home field to the Steelers, Cowboys and Giants. The Redskins have scored four offensive touchdowns in their last four games, and are among only three teams -- the Detroit Lions and Cincinnati Bengals are others -- without a 30-point game.
Zorn said this week that his West Coast offensive scheme is fine. In his opinion, lack of execution by players is the Redskins' biggest problem. "I'll stay with that, because I believe it to be true," Zorn said. "Our schemes are good, and I think our adjustments are good, too. I think we've approached each game soundly. But we have to execute better."
Campbell is tied for 12th in the NFL in passer rating at 87.8. He has completed 63.8 percent of his passes for 2,560 yards, but has only 10 touchdowns with four interceptions. Last month, Campbell had a total of two touchdowns and four interceptions, and a passer rating below 74 in three games.
"I don't have a lot of touchdown passes, I know that," Campbell said. "I would love to have 20 touchdown passes right now, not because I want the stats, that's not what I care about, but I want us to score more points. But you can't throw touchdowns if guys are not open. It doesn't work like that."
Among fans' most repeated complaints about Campbell are that he does not show enough emotion on the sidelines and that he does not throw enough deep passes. Campbell brushes aside the criticism.
"People are really getting absurd with the stuff they're saying right now," Campbell said. "I'm the quarterback of this team, and I work hard to prepare myself and be a leader. You can't tell anything about how much someone cares about their job, about what's going on, from watching them on TV on the sideline. I'm not going to jump around and run around shouting at guys just to put on a show. That's not me.
"And throwing downfield -- people think I don't want to go downfield? I have a strong arm and I don't want to go downfield? I love to throw the ball downfield, but you just can't throw it downfield when there's nothing there. If you do that, then you're just asking for trouble. So, what, I'm just supposed to throw the ball up in double coverage? Then they're saying, 'Now, he just throws the ball up in double coverage.' It's a no-win situation. You just can't start throwing the ball up blindly and just throwing the ball up for grabs. That's why I'm saying, people are getting absurd."Lack of Support
Rookie wide receivers Malcolm Kelly and Devin Thomas have not contributed as envisioned when the team drafted them in April in an effort to improve the receiving corps. "You look at the Giants. They use all five, six of their receivers," wide receiver Antwaan Randle El said. "That's kind of what you want. That's why we brought the guys here. We expect big things out of it. They've got to keep working and get going."
Although rookie tight end Fred Davis was not expected to supplant tight end Chris Cooley, who is coming off his first Pro Bowl, he also is behind veteran Todd Yoder, in large part because of his lack of understanding of the playbook, Zorn recently revealed. Davis has been inactive the last two games.
"It [stinks] for Jason to be in the situation he's in, but it's just the nature of the game," said Santana Moss, the team's top receiver. "As an offense, we have to give him more chances to be himself. Right now, he's doing well with what he's got, but we could be a lot better.
"You can call it what you want to call it. I'm just a player, all I can do is go out and play, and it's up to the organization or the [coaching] staff to do whatever they're going to do to help Jason. But he's most definitely the right guy. You can see that."
Campbell often looks to Cooley, Moss and Randle El because of the trust he has developed with them.
"Hopefully, the younger guys will develop into guys who can also go downfield," Campbell said. "Malcolm, he's had that knee [injury], and he's still learning and trying to develop. Devin is still learning and trying to develop. But when we face these tough defenses, the only way we're going to be able to start to free up Santana is that we've got to start getting a lot of other options, so it's tough. I drop back to throw the ball sometimes, they're playing cover-2 man, and you have people talking about, 'He's holding the ball too long.' I can't throw the ball because we're not getting open off of it."
Major breakdowns in protection occurred last month, a primary reason only three quarterbacks have been sacked more times than Campbell. That problem, combined with Campbell having few dependable receivers, dropped passes and the Redskins' offense becoming one-dimensional and predictable when they are trailing in games, has had a cumulative effect on Campbell's performance. "All of those things are very true," Zorn said.
The deteriorating physical condition of top running back Clinton Portis also has taken a toll. Portis, the NFL's second-leading rusher, has 1,228 yards, but he totaled fewer than 70 yards in three of the last four games. Earlier in the season, Portis's running opened options in the passing game that have not materialized for Washington in the last four games.
To be sure, Campbell has room for improvement. He has made poor decisions reading defenses at times. Some of his passes have not been sharp. Zorn rated his performance against the Giants on Sunday as "very average."
But Zorn also said he has confidence in Campbell. He has praised his quarterback for making strides in learning his third offensive system in four pro seasons and said he is committed to Campbell's development. "I put a lot on him to be right all the time," Zorn said. "He knows that I think he can really do it."
Washington faces the Baltimore Ravens (8-4) on Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium. A loss would be another significant blow to the Redskins' playoff chances.
"I'm my own toughest critic," Campbell said. "No one is harder on myself than I am, and I know I can do better and I have to do better.
"I'm not the type of guy who points fingers and says: 'Well, that guy's not doing his job. Look at that guy.' I take responsibility because that's what a man does. But it's not as simple as some people want to think it is. If I felt like I was the only thing holding this team back right now, I would say it, but that's not the way it works as a team. It's not just about one person. We all have to take responsibility."
Staff writers Jason La Canfora and Barry Svrluga contributed to this report.