By Barry Svrluga
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, August 24, 2009
Washington Redskins quarterback Jason Campbell has played five series this exhibition season, has a completion percentage of 30.8 and enters perhaps the most important week of the preseason coming off a statistically dismal 1-for-7 performance in Saturday night's 17-13 victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers. Still, Coach Jim Zorn provided a positive assessment of the situation.
"I thought Jason did a nice job getting us into the right play," Zorn said.
A day after the Redskins' first offensive unit failed to score a touchdown for the second consecutive preseason game, Zorn played down any disappointment in Campbell's performance, concentrating more on the fifth-year quarterback's decision-making process than on the execution of his passes. Campbell, too, said the game plan called for the Redskins to try some deeper throws, including the game-opening play in which Campbell missed second-year wide receiver Malcolm Kelly on a long post route that was broken up by Steelers safety Troy Polamalu.
"I heard him say it last night," Zorn said Sunday, after he had gone over the film. "He wished he had thrown the first pass further. We always teach the receiver picks his angle, and you've got to throw it to the receiver, and it was just a little off.
"I liked the effort. I'd like more accuracy."
Each Redskins quarterback, particularly in the 18 years since the team last won the Super Bowl, has had his performances picked apart weekly, even in the preseason. But Campbell enters his third full season as a starter under even more scrutiny given the fact that the Redskins have not signed him to a contract extension, as well as the fact that the club tried to trade for Jay Cutler, then with Denver, and considered trading up in the draft to select Southern California's Mark Sanchez.
Headed into Friday's game against New England -- in which the starting offense will play at least the entire first half, the most in any of the four preseason games -- Campbell has played five series, completed 4 of 13 passes for 48 yards with neither a touchdown nor an interception. He has failed to lead a touchdown drive.
"To me, it's what we have to do -- take shots," Campbell said late Saturday night. "I can't worry about my stats and everything, because we're trying to do something to help us out during the year."
Of Campbell's seven passes, two were screens that he threw away because Pittsburgh, which has one of the league's top defenses, broke up the play. Zorn called those "good decisions," the kind he would like Campbell to make during the regular season rather than have him take an unnecessary risk.
But other throws caused more concern. On the Redskins' opening drive -- after Campbell missed Kelly deep and then threw at the feet of running back Clinton Portis on the first ill-fated screen -- Campbell had plenty of time on a third-and-10 play to find wide receiver Santana Moss over the middle. Moss had a step on his defender, and had the ball been thrown accurately, he would have easily gained a first down. But Campbell threw well over Moss's head. The ball fell incomplete, and the Redskins needed a fake punt to sustain what would end up being a 14-play drive.
"The only throw that I thought was poor was the high throw to Santana Moss for the first down," Zorn said. "Really, he should've just pulled that ball down and we should've got an easy completion. But he'll see. He'll see what the problem is."
A six-yard completion by Campbell to wide receiver Antwaan Randle El was called back because of a penalty, and Campbell's lone completion that counted was a 10-yarder to tight end Chris Cooley on third and 10 that kept the opening possession alive. The last seven plays of the 62-yard drive, which ended in Shaun Suisham's 20-yard field goal, were running plays, including a pair on which reserve back Ladell Betts was stuffed inside the Pittsburgh 5-yard line.
"An excellent drive, just what we're looking for," Zorn said. "But we're looking to finish. We had our chance on that drive, too. When we went back to look at it, you just go, 'Oh! If only.' So there's a couple things in there, blocking, that we can improve on, and we'll get it in. We'll get it in."
Zorn opened the second drive by calling another deep shot for Campbell, this one to Moss on the left side. The ball caused Moss to twist as he tried to find it, and it wasn't close to being completed.
"He read Santana going outside," Zorn said of Campbell. "Santana actually came back inside. We've got to communicate better, that's all. It wasn't anything about the throw."
That possession ended with the second broken screen play, this one to Betts. Campbell's final throw of the day was a third-and-three effort to tight end Fred Davis. Another miscommunication, Zorn said, and another incompletion.
"Fred turned inside and didn't think anybody was inside, so he kept going," Zorn said, "and so [Campbell] tried to throw it to where he was going, and then Fred stopped. It was sort of like miscommunicating on what each guy was going to do."
Asked about his accuracy late Saturday night, Campbell concentrated on the opening throw to Kelly.
"The first play of the game, one thing I was impressed by was his speed," Campbell said. "I didn't know he was that fast. When I let it go, I thought it was going to hit him in stride. Actually, I wish I could've thrown it maybe a yard, two yards deeper. . . . Now, you get a feel for a guy."
But on a night when the offensive line, for the most part, provided adequate protection, and when the Redskins ran the ball fairly well, Campbell didn't appear to have the right feel. On Friday, he will play more than he will in any other preseason game prior to the Sept. 13 opener at the New York Giants. Zorn, for one, said he believes the performance then -- and in the regular season -- will be better.
"I think once he sees what happened, I think his psyche should be pretty good," Zorn said. "He's got challenges ahead of him for completing the pass when it's there and things like that, but that's part of what we're doing here in our preseason. We're trying to get him honed up so he's perfect."
Redskins Notes: Zorn said tackle Chris Samuels nearly didn't play because of a sore right knee. The knee, on which Samuels had surgery in the offseason, will have to be managed throughout the season, Zorn said. "Once we get into the season, where you're playing on it once a week and the practices are not as physical, they're more technical, I think that will really help him," Zorn said. . . . Zorn said injuries to Betts (strained oblique muscle) and fullback Mike Sellers (bruised knee) were not serious, and that both players would be "fine."