Redskins' head coach Jim Zorn has spent the past week fielding questions about his job security, his playcalling, his quarterback, and his ability to coach at the NFL level. In order to avoid being devoured by the pressure building around Redskin Park, it's time for Zorn to tame this beast and be done with it.
Following an ugly 9-7 win over the lowly St. Louis Rams in week two of the NFL season, the Redskins' failures in the red zone led to boos from the home crowd and sharp attacks by fans and some media members. Zorn's offense was unable to score a single touchdown against the Rams, a team that lost in week one 28-0 and looked positively inept in most every football category.
The red zone issues began with the Redskins' second possession of the game. Redskins' quarterback Jason Campbell marched the team to the Rams' three yard line only to see second year wideout Devin Thomas unable to handle a Campbell pass in the endzone. Campbell had done a fine job of keeping the play alive under pressure in the pocket and finally found Thomas come open. Failure number ONE.
On the Redskins' next possession, following a Rams' punt, Campbell again guided the team down field. Looking sharp and decisive, Campbell also used his legs to keep the drive going and reached the Rams' eight yard line. Running back Clinton Portis lost two yards on a first down run, moving the ball back to the 10. Then the dropsy's surfaced again. On second and goal from the 10 yard line, full back Mike Sellers found himself uncovered in the middle of the field at about the five yard line. Campbell fires an easy touchdown pass into his chest and Sellers simply lets it bounce off of him. On third and goal, wide receiver Antwaan Randle El gets tied up with Rams' cornerback Ron Bartell...no flag on the play. Failure number TWO.
At this point, Zorn's frustrations reach their crescendo and leads me to what I think is the root of the Redskins' offensive woes. In an NFL Films video, Zorn can be heard saying into his headset(NFL video), that he's just going to run the ball in the red zone from now on, because of the dropped passes. All of the attention has been paid to the red zone failures, Zorn's playcalling in particular, but very little attention has been given to why.
Zorn showed me that he didn't entirely trust his players in the season opening loss to the New York Giants. I expected Zorn to loosen it up a bit against the Rams, and he did. With more passing on first down and seemingly trying to use the passing game to open up the running game, Zorn gave his players the opportunity to make plays. He showed some trust in them. But with two dropped passes that would have been touchdown, Zorn was consumed by the beast again, and reverted to conservative plays the next two trips into the red zone. These again resulting in field goals rather than touchdowns.
This shows up in Campbell's numbers, 23 of 35 for 242 yards. But Campbell didn't attempt another pass in two more red zone penetrations. How different a game would Zorn have called if Thomas and/or Sellers had made the play that was there to be made? Obviously, we'll never know, but the video only re-enforces my impressions of the Redskins' offensive problems. Zorn is trying very hard to minimize the potential for big mistakes with relatively conservative playcalling. His lack of trust in his players has consumed him, and his offense.
The beast to be tamed? Distrust and fear. Zorn needs to use his "whip and chair" in Detroit on Sunday or it could cost him dearly. If Zorn cannot overcome his distrust and put the game in his players' hands, another ugly win is likely, and a horrendous loss is possible. And with either of these scenarios, his job the Redskins' future will remain in doubt.
Tame the beast coach, tame the beast.