What I saw last night only served to confirm the feeling I've had since the Pittsburgh game a month ago. These Redskins are just good enough to break your heart.
Breaking from convention by writing on the day after a game, here's a quick point-by-point look at the specific areas on which I said I’d focus:
"I’ll be watching for signs that Jason Campbell is progressing as Coach Zorn says he is, and as my intellect, if not my gut, still believes."
Jason Campbell continued to look pretty good when he had time to throw, and out of his depth when he did not.
He continued to look like a seven-step-drop, play-action square peg being hammered, with limited success, into a quick-read, quick-release West-Coast-offense round hole.
He continued to peel himself off the turf, dust himself off and go back for more, playing the silent lead-by-example field general on a team desperately lacking offensive fire—literally and figuratively.
In short, his stock neither rose nor fell. In light of how vital progress at the quarterback position is to this team's immediate and long-term success, however, the fact he stayed even is cause for little rejoicing.
Coach Jim Zorn’s biggest offseason priority—beyond convincing Vinny Cerrato to finally, mercifully, draft some big people—will be deciding if Campbell is his long-term solution at QB. If so, my inner clock tells me Jason has until about midseason of next year to prove the coach right. By that point I suspect I will know…and Zorn will as well.
Based on what I’ve seen to this point, I’d put it about 50-50 that Jason Campbell will be the starter heading into 2010.
"I’ll be watching for signs that the receiving corps can threaten defenses with anything other than a double-covered Santana Moss downfield and Chris Cooley underneath."
With a passing game as dysfunctional as the Redskins are fielding these days, it’s not just the receivers, the quarterback, the line, or the play calling. It’s all of them. But the receivers certainly didn’t help the cause much last night.
It’s not so much that they did bad things; They just didn’t do enough good ones. Antwaan Randle El’s late touchdown was definitely big, and it might have proven a whole lot bigger if the defense hadn’t immediately collapsed afterwards.
As has been the case for several weeks, there were no jump-out-of-your-chair big plays—the kind that flip the field and get an entire team going. The day a Redskins receiver goes up and takes a deep ball away from a defender again, or simply blows by someone and hauls one in for seven, I promise to jump out of my chair again.
Until then…fingers tapping.
"I’ll be watching for signs that Zorn has answers to the answers that other teams have come up with for his offense."
When the head coach tells the press after the game that the chief problem offensively early was “communication,” i.e, players knowing protection schemes and being able to adjust them at the line of scrimmage, there’s a problem.
By game 13 of an NFL season, you pretty much need to have figured out who is supposed to block whom and how to get them the word. If you haven’t, and you can’t, it doesn’t particularly matter how good or bad your offensive line is in one-on-one matchups. Going none-on-one is going to lose you games and quarterbacks.
And one “yeah but” plus:
For the first time in several weeks, the Redskins made a concerted effort to get the ball downfield. They gave their quarterback a chance to drop, set and throw deep a handful of times, which was a good sign physically and philosophically. That they were unable to connect on any was a major factor in the game, but it was a damn sight better than not trying at all.
Perhaps we have come out the other side of Coach Zorn’s recent head-scratching affair with Martyball.
"I’ll be watching for signs that defensive coordinator Greg Blache can squeeze blood from a stone and get a hit on the opposing quarterback once in a while."
Ravens QB Joe Flacco woke up this morning, swung his feet to the floor, stretched, yawned, scratched himself and said, “Damn—I feel great.”
The Redskins defense reprised its performance from the Dallas game two weeks ago. They played solid football for 50 minutes, more than making up for the disastrous first series allowing an easy touchdown drive after Ravens safety Ed Reed’s interception, with two late turnovers of their own that gave the Redskins a chance to steal a game they really had no business winning.
Between the first backpedalling series that gave Baltimore a quick 7-0 lead and the last touchdown drive they allowed the Ravens after Campbell hit Randle El to cut Baltimore's lead to 17-10, the defense did this:
3 plays, 9 yards, punt
3 plays, 4 yards, punt
3 plays, 2 yards, punt
3 plays, 1 yard, punt
4 plays, 35 yards, punt
3 plays, 9 yards, punt
14 plays, 65 yards, FG
3 plays, -3 yards, INT
2 plays, 10 yards, fumble
For those scoring at home, that’s 38 plays for 132 yards (3.47 avg.), six punts, three points allowed and two turnovers.
But then, with their team suddenly back in the game with 11:27 left, they were not up to the task, unable to stop the basic running plays everyone in the stadium and watching on TV knew were coming.
12 plays, 83 yards, 7:52 time of possession, TD
(11 runs for 55 yards, one pass for 28)
Just good enough to break your heart.
"And, agonizingly, I’ll be watching the Redskins linemen, on both sides of the ball, continue to get pushed around against the NFL’s big boys.That last part, in my view, is easily the Redskins' biggest problem going forward."
Later this week I’ll post the results of research comparing how the Redskins have approached building their lines of scrimmage as compared to the other NFC East teams, and time permitting, against a few other teams known for physicality as the foundation of sustained success. Pittsburgh and Baltimore spring quickly to mind.
Based on what the numbers have shown so far, my early sense is it will be painfully obvious how and why we have arrived at a point in time where the Washington Redskins are simply not competitive in the trenches against the NFL’s better teams.
I’ll leave it at that for now.
More when the bile settles, the head clears and I can assure myself I’m writing from the latter.