By Jason Reid
Tuesday, October 27, 2009
Television cameras showed new play-caller Sherman Lewis scanning his sheet for something that could help to jump-start the Washington Redskins' moribund offense against the Philadelphia Eagles on Monday night. Coach Jim Zorn probably could have told Lewis the answers he sought were not on paper.
Although Redskins owner Daniel Snyder and Vinny Cerrato, Washington's executive vice president of football operations, were hopeful that Lewis's calls could provide a spark, it again was clear that the Redskins have much bigger issues on offense -- most notably along the line -- than who selects the plays as the Philadelphia Eagles raced to a big halftime lead and cruised to a 27-17 victory at FedEx Field.
"We're handicapped if we can't get protection for the quarterback," wide receiver Devin Thomas said in response to quarterback Jason Campbell being sacked six times and hit often. "Me, Malcolm [Kelly], Fred [Davis], the second-year guys everybody wants to see us make plays. We can't do that if we're not getting the ball. When we're getting the little chances we do, sometimes they're big plays, sometimes they're not. But we just got to be fed the ball. It's everybody -- all the playmakers on the offense."
Many on defense agreed with the essence of Thomas's analysis.
"Doesn't matter who calls the plays, doesn't matter what's called, you got to block somebody," defensive tackle Cornelius Griffin said. "You got to move somebody off the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball."
The absences of injured left tackle Chris Samuels and right guard Randy Thomas contributed to another disappointing night for the Redskins and many in a crowd of 88,241 in Washington's last game before the bye week. In addition to those injuries, Washington played most of the final three quarters without Pro Bowl tight end Chris Cooley, who suffered a broken bone in his right ankle in the second quarter and could be sidelined for the remainder of the season.
"I can tell you this for sure: He's got a break in his ankle," Zorn said. "It's on the inner side of his tibia, it's right on the end there. I haven't seen the X-ray myself but we're quite certain it's broke or fractured in some way, and we'll make a better diagnosis tomorrow, but he'll be out for a while until this thing can heal up. I don't know if it's a season-ending injury."
Thomas was lost for the season in Week 2 because of a triceps injury and Samuels -- the Redskins' top offensive lineman -- has been sidelined since suffering a severe neck injury on Oct. 11 and will miss the remainder of the season and plans to retire, league sources said, because of the threat of paralysis. The line is in tatters, and now an offense that has sputtered for months spanning two seasons likely will be without Cooley, one of Washington's few proven playmakers, for at least a considerable stretch.
On Cerrato's recommendation, Snyder stripped Zorn of play-calling duties after last week's loss to the lowly Kansas City Chiefs. But with Lewis -- who came out of retirement three weeks ago to join Washington as an offensive consultant -- in charge of the plays Monday night, Washington (2-5) was often overmatched against the Eagles (4-2).
"Well, the result was the same," Zorn said. "We got 17 points."
So having shaken up play-calling, now what? On his radio show Friday, Cerrato said Zorn would remain in his position for the rest of his season. The Redskins stumble into their bye week facing even more questions about their direction on offense, and with the exception of a roster overall during their break, it seems there are no apparent short-term solutions.
"We knew coming into the season depth [along the offensive line] was going to be an issue for us, and it's kind of catching up with us a little bit," said Campbell, who was under duress throughout from Philadelphia's effective pass rush. "The guys are trying to fight as hard as they can, but with all these different looks that Philly was doing tonight, we had backs trying to block their [defensive] ends. That's a tough position."
Playing on a sore right ankle, Campbell often was unable to elude the rush on seven-step drops or wait for longer patterns to develop. He complete 29 of 43 passes for 284 yards and teamed with Thomas and Davis on their first career touchdown receptions. But Campbell also had a tipped pass intercepted and returned for a touchdown, and Philadelphia recovered a ball Campbell lost while being sacked and produced a field goal on the ensuing possession. Philadelphia produced 13 points on three Redskins turnovers, but pass protection again was the biggest problem for the Redskins' offense, players said.
"It was just a lack of being able to physically protect," Zorn said. "It wasn't just one guy. One guy would slip off and then he would never have another mistake. Another guy would slip off and never have another mistake. A tight end would slip off and never have another mistake, a back would you know what I'm saying? It was just a mix. It was a mixed bag."
Said center Casey Rabach: "Jason took a beating tonight and it falls on our shoulders."
The Redskins were unable to contain dynamic Philadelphia wide receiver-punt returner DeSean Jackson. The second-year player had a 67-yard touchdown run and a 57-yard touchdown reception, respectively, in the first two quarters as the Eagles raced to a 17-0 lead. They led 27-10 at halftime.
As for Washington's play-calling, coaches and players said the new system -- with the plays going from Lewis to offensive coordinator Sherman Smith to Campbell -- worked as well as could be expected. Lewis called the passing game, Smith handled most of the running game and Zorn got in the mix, too.
"Well, I could get up here today and I could be real critical because I didn't get to call the plays and I could, 'Wah,' I could whine about it and stuff like that," Zorn said. "I could also be real critical, or I could also say it was the best game anybody's ever called in their lives, you know. I don't want to do any of that because it's just unfair. It's unfair because I have been the play-caller and I don't want to have anybody look and have me complaining about what happened or what didn't happen. And I stuck my nose in there a couple times and got a few plays called myself."
Players also are searching for answers.
"I have no idea, no idea," cornerback DeAngelo Hall said, when asked what needs to change. "Different day, same results."
For the second time in as many games, Campbell struggled in the first half and the Redskins were booed off the field going into the locker room at halftime. But unlike at halftime of the 14-6 loss to the Chiefs the previous week, Zorn did not make a change at quarterback. He decided to stick with Campbell instead of again turning to longtime backup Todd Collins.
In the opening quarter Monday, Philadelphia lost all-pro running back Brian Westbrook for the game after he suffered a concussion. Cooley's injury occurred on the first play of the second quarter.
Although Philadelphia quarterback Donovan McNabb threw several balls short, he completed 15 of 25 passes for 156 and one touchdown, a 91.4 rating. Quarterback Michael Vick, who has been used sparingly by the Eagles to this point this season, completed his only pass attempt for five yards and rushed three times for nine yards.
Thomas, recently promoted to the starting lineup, teamed with Campbell on a two-yard touchdown pass -- his first touchdown reception in 23 career games -- in the second quarter. Thomas scored on a reverse as a rookie last season.
Punt returner Antwaan Randle El's fumble in the second (the ball caromed off his face mask) led to Eagles place kicker David Akers's second 40-plus-yard field goal of the first half. Washington place kicker Shaun Suisham made a 47-yarder just before halftime.
Through the first two quarters, Philadelphia outgained Washington in total net yards, 202-128.
The Eagles and Redskins received a scare in the first quarter when Westbrook was injured on the Eagles' second drive of the game. At the end of a five-yard rush, Westbrook's neck collided with the right knee of Washington middle linebacker London Fletcher.
The versatile running back was motionless on the field for several minutes as team trainers tended to him. As officials motioned for players to give Philadelphia's medical staff room to work, Philadelphia Coach Andy Reid permitted Byron Westbrook, a Redskins cornerback, to remain near his brother.
Brian Westbrook eventually moved his legs, stirring applause from the crowd, sat up and walked off the field under his own power. It was announced Westbrook had a concussion and he did not return to the game.
Philadelphia increased its lead 14-0 late in the opening quarter on middle linebacker Will Witherspoon's nine-yard interception return for a touchdown off a tipped pass. The play came when Washington took over on its 9 and Portis gained two yards on first down. On the following play, Philadelphia safety Quintin Mikell squeezed past Rabach, got into Campbell's passing lane and tipped the ball, which Witherspoon grabbed and ran in for the score. Because of injuries at linebacker, the Eagles last week acquired Witherspoon in a trade with the St. Louis Rams.
Witherspoon and Mikell also teamed on another turnover Campbell committed on the Redskins' next possession. Unable to locate a receiver, Campbell scrambled around left end. As Campbell began his windup, Witherspoon sacked him from behind and Mikell recovered the ball.
Cooley was injured on the play and limped off the field. He was later carted off to the locker room with what was announced as an ankle injury. The Eagles capitalized on the turnover as Akers connected on a 47-yarder to give them a 17-0 cushion.
The Redskins were caught off guard at the start. The Eagles received the ball to begin the game and gained a first down on three plays from scrimmage. On Philadelphia's fourth play, Washington was burned for an early big play.
McNabb faked a handoff to Westbrook, who rushed into the middle of the line as Jackson, who came in motion from right to left, took the ball from McNabb and raced down the left sideline for a 67-yard touchdown. Free safety LaRon Landry was drawn in on the faked handoff and couldn't recover in time to catch Jackson, who is among the league's fastest players. The Eagles had a quick 7-0 lead and Redskins fans had another reason to be frustrated.
"What we're doing right now ain't working for us," defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth said. "Maybe urgency, heart, want-to. Whatever. I don't know. We're lacking a lot of stuff. The last few weeks have just shown, I guess, maybe our true colors."