By Jason Reid
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, August 23, 2009
His work finished after a disconcerting performance, Washington Redskins quarterback Jason Campbell walked slowly to the sideline Saturday night to speak with Coach Jim Zorn. It seems they have a lot to talk about.
Campbell appeared shaky throughout three series in a 17-13 victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers, stirring more concern about the team's unproductive first-team offense and No. 1 quarterback. Although it's only the preseason, Campbell completed one of seven passes for 10 yards.
"I don't worry about numbers," Campbell said. "A quarterback would like to get in a rhythm, but tonight is just about trying to take shots."
The performance of rookie quarterback Chase Daniel, however, was a positive development for the Redskins. Daniel made the most of his extended opportunity and led a second-half comeback. He threw touchdown passes of three yards to impressive rookie wide receiver Marko Mitchell -- the team's first touchdown of the preseason -- in the third quarter and an 18-yarder to second-year tight end Fred Davis early in the fourth a play after Davis forced a fumble on special teams.
Daniel completed six of eight passes for 58 yards. And in the process, he might have turned up the heat on Colt Brennan in their competition for the No. 3 quarterback job. Brennan, who achieved cult-hero status with fans as a rookie last season, has been considered the favorite to again play behind Campbell and longtime No. 2 quarterback Todd Collins. But Daniel, in his first appearance of the preseason, showed a lot.
Brennan did not fare as well against the Steelers. With the Redskins driving late in the fourth, Brennan tried to force an ill-advised pass into an area of the end zone well covered by four Steelers, and linebacker Tom Korte intercepted the pass.
As for injuries, running back Ladell Betts strained his back in the first and did not return. Fullback Mike Sellers bruised his right knee in the second and did not play after halftime. Pro Bowl defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth made his Redskins debut, and defensive end-tackle Phillip Daniels, who sat out last season because of a major knee injury, played in his second game since the end of the 2007 season.
But it's all about the big picture for the Redskins, and Campbell still is the focus. He missed receivers with a variety of poor passes.
"I didn't know that it was 1 of 7 for 10 yards. I thought he stood in strong," said Zorn, who added that he wanted to try more vertical passes. "Overall there was not a lot of production, but I thought he was in command of what we were trying to do."
During five series in the preseason spanning about two full quarters, Campbell has completed four of 13 passes for 48 yards with no touchdowns and no interceptions. He has a 43.10 quarterback rating.
"Overall, for myself, we wanted to try to come out and take some shots," Campbell said. "Either you hit them or you don't. Against a team like Pittsburgh, you know it's going to be a challenge even in the preseason."
Many Redskins fans in an announced crowd of 68,243 at FedEx Field -- who came out despite the rain to attend the Redskins' preseason home opener -- groaned and occasionally booed as Campbell sailed passes over the heads of receivers, left balls short of their intended targets or threw wide. And unlike what often derailed Campbell last season, pass protection was not the problem.
The first-team offensive line provided Campbell with time to progress through his progressions, but he failed to capitalize on the effective pass blocking. With a 23-0 shutout loss to the Baltimore Ravens and another ineffective showing on offense against the Steelers, the Redskins still are seeking encouraging signs on that front with two preseason games remaining.
The Redskins have significant areas of concern on offense as the regular season draws closer, and Campbell's performance against Pittsburgh undoubtedly is on the list.
Although the Ravens shut out the Redskins, Washington's coaching staff expressed optimism about the play of the first-team offensive line, which did not give up a sack in its brief outing. The unit was intact against Pittsburgh as right guard Randy Thomas made his preseason debut after sitting out against Baltimore because of lingering knee problems, and Zorn, Washington's play-caller, showed confidence in the group from the opening snap of the game.
He called a long passing play for second-year wideout Malcolm Kelly, and Campbell had plenty of time to take his drop and wait for Kelly to break open deep down the middle of the field. Campbell's pass hung up too long, providing Steelers All-Pro safety Troy Polamalu with enough time to close on the play and break up the pass.
From that point, things would quickly worsen for Campbell and Washington's offensive starters.
Campbell's next pass fell incomplete near Clinton Portis's feet. On third down and 10, Campbell overthrew Santana Moss. In the week leading to the game, Zorn was candid about his desire to see progress from the first-team offense, and going three-and-out on the game's first possession was not what he envisioned.
So Zorn took a chance. When the team lined up to punt from its own 35-yard line, Zorn called for a direct snap to Rock Cartwright, who gained a first down. Campbell completed his only pass in the game later in the drive -- a short pass in the middle of the field to Chris Cooley for a 10-yard gain. And that was Campbell's highlight for the game.
The drive stalled at Pittsburgh's 3-yard line and place kicker Shaun Suisham, who is competing with Dave Rayner, connected on a 20-yard field goal for Washington's first points of the preseason.
On the Redskins' second possession starting at their 11-yard line, Campbell overthrew Moss deep down the left sideline. Betts was stopped for no gain and Campbell's pass to Betts fell incomplete, leading to another appearance for punter Hunter Smith, who has punted 14 times in two games.
Staff writer Barry Svrluga contributed to this report.