Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Zorn, Redskins should embrace winning ugly

To put it mildly, the Redskins (particularly the offense) have struggled in the first four games of the season. They lost on the road to the Giants by six, beat the Rams at home by two, lost to the Lions by five, and beat the Bucs by three, meaning they're 2-2 even though they've been outscored by six points. The loss to the Giants is understandable: They're 4-0 and look like one of the NFL's best teams. But the other three teams are a combined 1-11 on the season.

In the next two weeks, the Redskins play at Carolina and at home against Kansas City. By the way, those two are a combined 0-7. But as the Redskins' early play has indicated, opposing teams' records don't really mean a whole lot. The Redskins have played down to their competition (unless they're just a bad team too), but they were also an onside kick away from getting the ball back against the Giants and potentially having a chance to score some more points. They were outplayed in New York, but they still lost by less than a touchdown. So, while the Redskins could have lost all four of their games if they didn't make a few key plays, all of their games have been winnable and have at least been competitive in the fourth quarter.

Anyway, here's the point: The Redskins have flaws. Every team in the NFL does, but the Redskins' flaws are more obvious than most: the offensive line is pretty bad; they can't (or haven't been able to) run the ball effectively; besides Santana Moss and Chris Cooley, other receivers haven't stepped up and haven't scared opponents; Jason Campbell sometimes holds the ball too long and doesn't make quick decisions; and the defense can't always get pressure on the quarterback and until recently has struggled to force opposing offenses off the field on third down. I know I left some out, but those are the major concerns.

As you probably have noticed, most of the correctable problems are on the defensive side of the ball. Rookies Brian Orakpo (15 tackles, two sacks) and Jeremy Jarmon (three tackles, one forced fumble) seem like they can get pressure on the quarterback and should keep improving. Albert Haynesworth has been criticized harshly at times, but he's doing a pretty good job occupying blockers inside. Chris Horton, LaRon Landry, and Reed Doughty have, so far, formed a solid group of safeties. Even Justin Tryon showed in the win over Tampa Bay that he's making some strides, taking over the nickel corner role for Fred Smoot and recording a sack. And, of course, London Fletcher is a tackling machine (leads the NFL with 52 tackles).

Obviously, though, the offense has been awful -- 27th in points scored (14 points per game). Jason Campbell has been about average, ranking 16th in quarterback rating (85.5), ninth in completion percentage (65.3), 11th in passing yards (963), and t-11th in touchdowns (five). But after his three-interception performance on Sunday, he's tied for the fourth-most interceptions with five and has been sacked eight times.

As for other individual performances on offense, Moss has 17 catches for 293 yards (10th among wide receivers) and two touchdowns. Cooley has 22 receptions for 254 yards (third among tight ends) and two touchdowns. Portis has the 10th-most rushing yards among running backs with 281 yards, but his 3.9 yards-per-carry average isn't even in the top 25 among qualified rushers. Part of that is certainly due to the lack of running room, but not every offensive line in the NFL is that much better than Washington's line.

But besides those three skill players, the Redskins really don't have any other weapons. No other running back has done much of anything, and Malcolm Kelly, Devin Thomas, and Fred Davis have a combined 10 catches for 82 yards. That's it. Oh, and Antwaan Randle El had a good first game against the Giants (seven catches, 98 yards), but since then he only has six catches for 60 yards -- and he didn't catch a single pass against the Bucs.

It's also worth noting that Rock Cartwright is 18th in kickoff return average (23.9) while Randle El has returned only four punts for 35 yards (an 8.8-yard average).

So, again, here's what the Redskins have:
  • a defense that can certainly play better even though it's allowed only 15.5 points per game (against bad teams -- but still);
  • an offense that has struggled to score points even against bad defenses;
  • a lack of playmakers on offense besides Moss and Cooley (and sometimes Portis);
  • an average (at best) offensive line and a group of inconsistent wide receivers who cannot be relied upon;
  • and kickoff and punt returners who haven't set the offense up with a short field.
Even with all of this going down, though, Jim Zorn is still striving for perfection on offense:

"I'm just going to keep pushing. It's my responsibility. I feel like I'm the one it's reflecting on as well. It's reflecting on all of us, but I'm the focal point and it should reflect on me. I'm not going to be happy with that and we're going to keep pushing. . . . It's just been something that we're going to continue to push toward. We demand perfection out here during practice, but you really do have to take . . . you have to look at what's being given during a game and that's hard to take. It really is. I still want that perfection in a game as well."

I'm pretty sure the Redskins aren't getting perfection in practice out of many of their offensive players, but statements like that are fine. Coaches are supposed to say stuff like that. But there's basically nothing that this offense will be able to do perfectly. So far, they've seemingly had to struggle for every yard and every point. And that's fine -- improvement, at least some signs of it, should be coming soon. But deep down, I'm sure Zorn knows that this offense will never be a powerhouse and won't start scoring tons of points against anyone. But there's nothing wrong with winning ugly games, even against bad teams -- the key is actually winning. Whether or not the Redskins can actually keep doing that will depend mostly on how well the defense plays.

But a few more deep touchdown passes to Moss sure wouldn't hurt.

1 comment:

  1. Being a Giants fan we've seen plenty of the Redskins, and I agree that winning ugly is the only strategy. With no threat of a deep pass though, teams are going to keep loading up 8 in the box on Portis. It's too bad because Jason Campbell isn't that bad of a quarterback, but Zorn isn't giving him a chance. Check out my sports blog at dmsportsnation.blogspot.com