By Rick Maese and Jason Reid
Monday, October 19, 2009
As the Washington Redskins reached a new low, losing for the fourth time this season to a winless team, Jim Zorn breathed a deep sigh of frustration and insisted the blame fall on his shoulders.
"Nobody has any more responsibility than I do," the embattled coach said. "That's the way I look at it. I've got to come up with answers. And I will."
Starting this week, he'll have some help doing it and a little less responsibility to worry about. Following the team's dreary 14-6 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday, Zorn met with Vinny Cerrato, the team's executive vice president of football operations, and was asked to give up his offensive play-calling duties, according to Zack Bolno, the Redskins' executive director of communications. After some discussion, Zorn agreed, and the two were expected to meet again Monday at Redskins Park to decide who might call plays moving forward. Two sources late Sunday night said recently hired consultant Sherman Lewis is expected to assume those responsibilities.
As they try to recover from Sunday's embarrassing loss, the team has a big question to answer. It begins the week unsure who will start at quarterback next Monday against Philadelphia. Jason Campbell's job security was yet another casualty of Sunday's loss, as Zorn benched him at halftime in favor of Todd Collins.
Campbell said Sunday evening he was surprised by the news that Zorn would no longer call the offensive plays.
"Right now, I can't tell you where the issues start at and what to do about them," Campbell said. "It's the most awkward position to be in as a team. We've all talked about it as teammates and we all can't put a finger on it. You can't point to any one person. Right now, it's just a crazy situation, a tough situation, and I don't think anyone knows how to" fix it.
Reached at his home Sunday evening, Zorn declined to comment on the change.
It's the second time this month management has weakened Zorn's standing as head coach. On Oct. 6, the team brought in Lewis, a longtime NFL coordinator well-versed in the West Coast offense. Reached Sunday evening, Lewis said he had not heard about the move.
"I'm just sitting here watching the game film, trying to correct it," Lewis said. "I haven't heard anything."
According to Bolno, owner Daniel Snyder was aware of the decision.
The team was not told about the decision after the game, but as news leaked out Sunday evening, players said they were surprised.
"He hasn't been a terrible play-caller," wide receiver Antwaan Randle El said. "He's been a pretty good play-caller. It's not, you know, all him. You know what I mean? He's made some great calls and he has some good ideas."
Regardless of who calls the plays, the team will have to make a decision about its quarterback. With his offense continuing to struggle and his team trailing 3-0 at halftime, Zorn made his first quarterback change since taking over as Redskins coach in February 2008, hoping to salvage the game and making perhaps a final desperate move to make sure his run as head coach doesn't end in the coming days or weeks. But even with Collins under center, the Redskins' offense sputtered. Kansas City place kicker Ryan Succop nailed a 46-yard field goal with 3 minutes 36 seconds remaining in the game, snapping a tie and giving the Chiefs their first win.
Zorn cautioned that Sunday's quarterback switch didn't signify a "wholesale change" at the position and that he intended to review film of the game before choosing next week's starter.
"I still have confidence in what Jason can do," Zorn said.
It might've been the only ounce of confidence anywhere near the home team's solemn postgame locker room Sunday. "There seems to be no confidence offensively -- for good reason," tight end Chris Cooley said.
While Collins provided a nice spark -- his first pass was a 42-yard completion to Santana Moss -- the Redskins failed in their only visit inside Kansas City's 20-yard line, struggled to convert third downs and posted only seven first downs against a Chiefs defense ranked worst in the league.
"Until we score some touchdowns on Sunday, we're not going to be that confident," Collins said.
As the play-caller and team's quarterbacks coach, Zorn knows much of the blame will come his way. But as they've said repeatedly, players insisted accountability should be spread to all corners of the locker room.
"I feel bad for Coach Zorn," Cooley said. "I think in a time of crisis, which we're definitely in, I think you have to look at players. "I think you got to look at guys like me and say, 'They have to make big plays for us.' You can't look at coaching and play-calling and say 'this is what's costing this team.' "
While management continues to be frustrated with the offensive production, the defense managed five sacks and held Kansas City to 265 yards of offense. But the Redskins' own offense, regardless of who was at quarterback, struggled. It converted only 2 of 14 third-down attempts, was on the field for less than 23 minutes and totaled just 147 yards passing. On the ground, excluding Clinton Portis's 78-yard run in the third quarter, the longest of his career, the Redskins had just 40 yards running the ball.
"This offense is better than six points. 100 percent. And that's on me," Zorn said. "I've got to find the play selection when we get down there. We're deep into the red zone and to not be able to score, it's awful, and it's my fault. I gotta be better. It really irritates me."
As the team begins preparing for the Eagles, speculation will turn to Campbell and Collins. Though Zorn said he told Campbell during the second quarter that a change could be imminent, players in the locker room said Campbell appeared distraught when the coach informed the team of the change at halftime.
"I'm just going to take it stride," Campbell said. "Everyone always wants to point the finger at me, and that's why I always say you have to keep your head up, keep going, keep moving. Because you know what's going on. You know what's really happening. You can't let it get you down and you can't let it distract you."
Campbell's offense had just one first down until the Redskins' final drive of the half. In the closing minutes, trailing 3-0, Washington reached the Chiefs 36-yard line, but Campbell threw an interception to end the half.
Collins last saw action in 2007, when Campbell suffered a knee injury late in the season. Collins played in the team's final four games of the regular season, all wins, leading the Redskins into the playoffs.
Against the Chiefs, Collins completed 6 of 14 passes for 75 yards and a 60.1 passer rating. Campbell was 9 of 16 for 89 yards with a 46.1 rating.
Thanks largely to the big pass to Moss, the Redskins managed a game-tying field goal -- their first points -- on Collins's first drive in the second half. Portis's long run set up their second field goal, but in five fourth-quarter possessions, Collins couldn't once get his unit across midfield.
There weren't a lot of answers to be found in the Redskins' postgame locker room.
"I really don't think everybody's putting their best effort into getting this thing done," said defensive end Phillip Daniels. "Everybody got to get this done. Everybody got to work harder."
As coaches and team management gather Monday at Redskins Park to review film and contemplate the team's quarterback and play-caller, there's at least one certainty: Life at Redskins Park isn't about to get easier.
"Last week, I thought that was as hard as it could get," Zorn said. "It just got harder."