By Rick Maese
Monday, November 9, 2009
ATLANTA -- Casey Rabach has been the Washington Redskins' starting center for all but one game of Jason Campbell's career. In that time, he can't recall a single half of football quite like the one he and his fellow linemen put together in the Redskins' latest loss.
"Our job is to protect Jason. Our job, point blank, is to keep Jason from getting hit," Rabach said after the Redskins' 31-17 loss. "First half, five sacks. That's not doing your job. That needs to be fixed. Until we fix that, we're going to be struggling."
As the linemen in front of Campbell practically provided guided tours to help Falcons defenders find the quarterback, Campbell found himself in increasingly familiar circumstances: either running from the opposition or lying on the ground.
He was twice knocked out of the game, and the patchwork line turned in perhaps its worst half of football this season -- followed immediately by one of its best. Campbell wasn't sacked in the final two quarters and the offense was finally able to run and pass the ball effectively, a drastic improvement over a first half that netted only 69 yards of total offense.
Even as the season has become further encompassed by distractions, Rabach says Sunday's performance shows that blame still belongs on players' shoulders.
"It comes down to guys doing their job. That's what it is," he said. "This isn't play-calling, this isn't anything to do with the front office. Today, it's just us doing our job. Go out there and block the man in front of you and let Jason throw the ball downfield."
As the Redskins' season hits its midpoint, Campbell has been sacked 25 times, more than any NFL quarterback except Green Bay's Aaron Rodgers (37) and Kansas City's Matt Cassel (27). For the sake of comparison, at this point last season Campbell had been sacked only 16 times. In 2007, he was sacked just 21 times the entire season.
Campbell was sacked more than four times in a game just once a year ago. Eight games into this season, he's already been sacked five or more times on three occasions.
Linemen blamed missed assignments and poor execution for Sunday's early struggles.
"Everybody's just got to know where you're supposed to be," tackle Stephon Heyer said. "That was the case and the situation a couple of times in our first half. A lot of people were missing assignments and just weren't on the same page."
Heyer played his fourth game at left tackle on Sunday after sliding over from the right side to replace injured Pro Bowler Chris Samuels, who joined guard Randy Thomas on injured reserve earlier this month. Without those two veterans, Coach Jim Zorn and his staff have been trying to plug the gaping holes on the line but with little success.
On Sunday, the team went through eight linemen. D'Anthony Batiste replaced Mike Williams, who took over Heyer's starting right tackle spot. Tackle Levi Jones, whom the team plucked from unemployment on Oct. 20, was activated for the first time and saw his first action of the season, as did undrafted rookie Edwin Williams.
"In the second half, we had to come in, regroup and understand that it doesn't matter if backups play in the game or not," Campbell said. "We are all NFL players, and we have to fight. That's what we get paid to do."
Mike Williams suffered a sprained ankle late in the fourth quarter and said after the game that he hoped to be fine for next week's game against Denver.
But the shuffling pieces weren't the differences in the halves yesterday as much as the team's midgame attitude adjustment.
After the Falcons' fifth sack of the first half -- which tied a franchise record for Atlanta -- Campbell didn't get up. He suffered a chest contusion and missed the Redskins' final offensive play of the half. When the team hit the locker room at halftime, offensive line coach Joe Bugel was ready, calling out players for their uninspired first-half play in what players and coaches described as a passionate address.
"He just challenged us to do our job," left guard Derrick Dockery said. "This is the National Football League -- everybody has to be accountable for their own actions. We had to man up."
Said Heyer, who aggravated a lingering knee injury but kept playing, "A lot of guys were just [angry] and came out fighting."
Zorn said players involved in pass protection showed more pride in their assignments in the second half. Though Campbell wasn't sacked in the second half, the team was forced to adjust its offense, relying on three-step drops and short pass routes. The Falcons didn't have time to get to Campbell again, but the pressure was still present.
Early in the fourth quarter, Campbell was sent scrambling for a one-yard gain and hurt his ankle. He left the game for a second time but again managed to return.
"To come out the second half and . . . knowing that we can do things like that -- that was frustrating," Rabach said. "Why can't we do that for a whole game? I wish I had the answer. We just need to put two good football halves together and win a game. We just need to win a game."