Washington Redskins: Where Are the Playmakers?

Craig Garrison SrSenior Analyst INovember 30, 2008

As the New York Giants wrapped up the season sweep of the Washington Redskins in Week 13 of the NFL regular season, it became painfully clear what's missing from the Redskins: playmakers.

Santana Moss, Clinton Portis, and Chris Cooley all have steadily become invisible over the past six weeks of football. Clinton Portis get's a bit of a pass. He has sacrificed his body all season and paid for it with a multitude of injuries.

Santana Moss, however, is supposed to be the Redskins' big-play guy. But when the opportunities have presented themselves, he has NOT come through the way other "big play" players do.

This point was brought home to me as I watched Steve Smith of the Carolina Panthers make a catch that as close to an exact duplicate of a catch that Moss did NOT make against the Dallas Cowboys two weeks ago.

Difficult catch? Absolutely.

But Smith made the catch, and his team went on to win their game against the Green Bay Packers. Moss didn't, and his team lost. By four points.

The Redskins' defense played relatively well against the Giants. Holding them to only 23 points, the defense slowed down the Giants in the first half very nicely, thank you. The stats wouldn't show this, but the scoreboard would.

Giants' quarterback Eli Manning had a career half, with over 200 yards, but only one touchdown. The stat that counted the most in the first half was that the Redskins held the Giants to only 28 yards rushing.

But that wasn't enough, as the Redskins also had difficulty running the ball with only 47 yards rushing. That number included a 29-yard touchdown run on a reverse to rookie wide receiver Devin Thomas. Thomas and Redskins quarterback Jason Campbell would finish the game as the Redskins' top two rushers, with 29 and 38 yards respectively.

The point that finally hit home to me was the fact that the Giants were able to stay completely focused on stopping the Redskins' rushing attack because Campbell and the Redskins could not make plays in the passing game.

I cannot offer definitive "answers" to any of the "questions" facing the Redskins' head coach Jim Zorn and the Redskins' offense, but I can offer my own thoughts. And I ask, very simply, where are the playmakers?

Moss has disappeared. This seems largely due to the fact that there are no other "threats" in the passing game for defenses to worry about. A defense can key on Portis (or whichever back is in at the time) and double Moss. Done. No more to be afraid of.

Sure, Chris Cooley is a Pro-Bowl player. But he's not a "dangerous" player that puts fear into defenses as a guy who can "beat you" with a big play. The Redskins drafted two wide receivers in this past April's draft, they also included an athletic tight end, too.

This move was obviously intended to provide a boost to the Redksins' offense, and offense that's been sleep walking for many, many years. The only real question with these draft picks was: When will they contribute?

Well, they haven't done much to this point. Malcolm Kelly has been sidelined with a knee injury since preseason and is only now getting to see playing time. Devin Thomas was very raw coming out of college, with limited college experience in a very limited passing offense.

Were the Redskins counting on their rookies to make a difference THIS year? I don't know. But I do know that their time has come. Jim Zorn has actually played out the scenario I anticipated this season.

Zorn brought with him the "West Coast offense". This meant that young Jason Campbell had to learn the third offense in his four years in the NFL. Along with a new playbook came many very different philosophies in regards to the passing game as well. Campbell tweaked, adjusted, and re-made his techniques, both physically and mentally.

Most of us expected growing pains from the offense. The Redskins would need to play great defense, keep games close, and hope that the offense would catch up as the season progressed.

This is what I anticipated. What I did not anticipate was the absolute disappearance of the so called "playmakers". And with Campbell's apparent unwillingness (whether from coaching or a lack of understanding the offense well, or his own mindset) to take chances, calculated risks, the offense cannot score enough to help the defense.

Risk taking is as important a part of the game of football as any other. Two weeks ago, we saw a prime example of what this. Cowboys' quarterback Tony Romo is down 10-7 to the Redskins. It's late in the game. Both defenses have been stifling. Romo drops back, looks right, sees his favorite target, Jason Witten well covered close to the goal line.

He looks left, hesitates for just one moment, as he sees that his second read on the play is also very well covered. Rookie tight end Martellus Bennett is covered like a blanket by fellow rookie, Redskins' safety Chris Horton.

But Romo throws the ball anyway. A little behind Bennett, and a bit too high. But Bennett turned, lept in the air, and made the catch as Horton struggled to adjust to the ball. Touchdown Cowboys. Game-winning touchdown.

This is such an excellent example because given the exact same scenario, Jason Campbell likely doesn't throw the ball at all. He may hit a check down, or scramble for decent gain, but there's no game-winning touchdown.

Rookie wide receiver Malcolm Kelly had an opportunity to "make a play." With about 13 minutes left in the third quarter, Campbell threw a pass he probably shouldn't have. Kelly was running down the left sideline with a defender in tight coverage and a safety on the way to help.

When the ball got there, both defenders missed it, and the ball reached Kelly's hands, and went right through them in bounced off of his chest. Incomplete. Another play NOT made.

It's not just the "skill" players who are NOT making plays when their needed. The offensive line, once the strength of the Redskins, seems to have become a liability. Is it their age? There are many linemen who play well into their 30s, so maybe not entirely.

Is Campbell simply not the answer at quarterback? Many critics would say that he is nothing more than your typical "game manager" type of quarterback. What that means is that he will play well as long as everyone around him is also playing well. But he won't "make plays." He won't raise the level of play of his teammates.

There are other possibilities of course.

The Redskins' struggles of late could simply be that their "playmakers" are all nursing some type of injury. The offensive line's best player and leader, Chris Samuels, has been nursing a bad knee for several weeks and hasn't participated in practice during that time.

Moss has been trying to recover from a pulled hamstring and Portis has been fighting with a sprained knee and countless other "minor" ailments. With the slow development of Devin Thomas and Malcolm Kelly within the passing game, there have been few alternatives for Campbell.

So is the end of what has been an unexpectedly good run early in Zorn's tenure? The Redskins should get no less than two more wins, that would leave them at 9-7 in Zorn's rookie year. In March, I will likely look back at that number and feel good about the team, Zorn, and the future.

But right now, as December approaches, I am just wondering: Where are the "playmakers?"


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