Redskins-Eagles: Zorn vs. Johnson, Round One

Craig Garrison SrSenior Analyst IOctober 2, 2008

Week Five of the NFL's regular season brings us yet another big time NFC East matchup, as the Washington Redskins pay a visit to the Philadelphia Eagles.

The Redskins' gracious host this week is likely to be a bit more prepared than last week's host, the Dallas Cowboys, if for no other reason than the Eagles are likely a bit ticked off. The Cowboys may have taken the Redskins lightly, but we can rest assured that the Eagles won't.

Redskins head coach and primary playcaller, Jim Zorn, has quickly earned the respect of his brethren. In three short weeks, Zorn has gone from being considered "in over his head" as head coach and playcaller to being respected for his penchant for the right playcall at the right time and being one heck of a leader.

Eagles' defensive coordinator Jim Johnson, with the team since 1999, is easily one of the best defensive coaches to ever don a headset. He is aggressive, creative, and when he is confident in his personnel, he is VERY GOOD.

Johnson is best known for his creative blitzes. Quarterbacks, running backs, tight ends, and offensive linemen will be tested ferociously by his game planning and "whenever I feel like it" blitzes.

"It's always unexpected with them," Redskins' quarterback Jason Campbell said. "There's not really any tendencies to when they blitz, which down or distance. Most teams, you can kind of prepare for it at certain times, but not with them. It's just whenever [Johnson] feels like dialing it up."

For Zorn (and his offensive staff), this week's task is a daunting one. His ability to prepare Campbell and the Redskins' offensive line to deal with most any blitz from any place, at any time in the game will be crucial.

This means as a lot of working together from play to play and being on the same page as to where to go when certain circumstances occur.

Zorn has done well recovering from a poor performance in the Week One loss the New York Giants. In the three games since, he has directed the Redskins offense into ninth-place in the NFL. He has also helped his quarterback to become the fourth-highest rated quarterback in the NFL, and the No. 1 ranking in his division.

I would be willing to bet that if a poll had been taken before the season began, regarding which quarterback in the NFC East would have the highest ranking after four games, not many votes would have gone to Campbell.

Zorn has also done a fine job of keeping his players focused, as demonstrated by the fact that the Redskins are the only team in the NFL without an offensive turnover. The only turnover from the Redskins came from a fumble during a punt return. At plus six, they are tied with the league lead in that category.

But Johnson will certainly be looking to change that on Sunday. The Eagles are currently ranked third in overall defense, but impressively, they also lead the league in sacks, with 17, and are third in the league at forcing fumbles with six, five recovered, one of which was converted into a touchdown.

They also lead the NFL in run defense, giving up only 53 yards per game, and 2.6 yards per carry, impressive indeed. They are 11th against the pass however, and have given up 13 plays of 20 yards or more, tied for fourth highest in the league.

This is a high risk, high-reward defense; plays can be made on them, but it's not easy.

The Redskins have done a good job of keeping Campbell off the ground, giving up only seven sacks through four games. The Redskins have run the ball well, too, at 4.3 yards per carry.

And while they are ranked in the middle of the league in most categories, both offensively and defensively, they have shown a knack for making plays when needed.

They have been efficient in the passing game, with Zorn calling a very balanced attack. With 125 pass attempts and 123 rushes, the balance is nearly perfect. And with Campbell completing passes at a 65 percent rate and being THE ONLY STARTING QUARTERBACK IN THE NFL WITHOUT AN INTERCEPTION, Zorn has learned quickly that he can trust his young quarterback.

Offensively, the Eagles seem dependant on the multi-talented running back Brian Westbrook. Despite the talents of quarterback Donovan McNabb, without Westbrook, this team is not the same.

This was apparent in their Week Four loss to the Chicago Bears. Rookie wide receiver DeSean Jackson has been an impressive addition to the Eagles' offense. By far, the team's leader in receptions with 22, he is also collecting yardage at sizable rate, 14.9 yards per catch, that's 19th in the league among receiver's with at least 10 catches on the season; this kid can play.

Perhaps the most important thing the Redskins have done so incredibly well during their three-game win streak is winning the fourth quarter and in overall time of possession.

Until allowing the Cowboys to score with only 1:48 remaining in the win in Dallas, the Redskins hadn't given up a fourth quarter score all season. In each of their three wins, the Redskins controlled the ball for more than 10 minutes in the fourth quarter alone.

They also hold nearly a five-minute advantage in total time of possession and took this to the extreme last week, holding the ball for over 38 minutes in the game.

This fourth-quarter dominance will need to continue if the Redskins are to keep climbing through the ranks in the Vaunted NFC East. With a win, the Redskins will have finished ALL of the road division games with 2-1 record.

Not only will they hold the advantage over the Cowboys and Eagles within the division, but their final three division games will all be played at HOME. The Redskins are the only team in the NFL to have already finished their road division games at the quarter mark.

Jim Johnson will try to make if very difficult for the Redskins to put together long, time-consuming drives. His aggressiveness is likely to interrupt the timing Campbell has achieved within the Redskins' offense, and it will be on Campbell to take advantage of that aggressiveness to create big plays.

Look for this game to come down to which team can MAKE things happen. Big plays that result in points will be key. If the Eagles allow the Redskins to keep the game close, the Redskins have the confidence that they can win it in the fourth quarter.

Another NFC East showdown, and for the second week in a row, the Redskins are involved in the game of week. Can they deliver again? A loss could spell doom for the Eagles' playoff hopes, falling to 0-2 in this division could be hole too deep from which to climb.

And not many teams have been able to recover from a 2-3 start to make the playoffs.

For the Philadelphia Eagles, the playoffs have started much sooner than anyone had anticipated.

What are your keys for these teams' success?