December 8, 2008

Ravens Morning After: Assessing the Damage

I wrote last week that for the rest of the 2008 season, I would be studying the Redskins for certain indicators—both in terms of their chances of qualifying for a wildcard spot, and more importantly, with a critical eye toward the future.

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 teams’ immediate and long-term success, however, the fact he stayed even is cause for little rejoicing.

Coach Zorn’s biggest offseason priority—beyond filibustering Vinny Cerrato to finally, mercifully, draft some big people—will be deciding if Campbell is his long-term solution at QB. If so, my own inner clock tells me Jason has until about midseason of next year to prove him 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 presumptive 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."

Ouch.

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 playcalling. It’s all of them. But the receivers certainly didn’t help the cause much last night.

It’s not so much 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. But beyond that, the 13 catches for 133 yards turned in by the wideouts and tight ends had little impact in the flow of the game.

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."

One ouch:

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 who 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 Marty Ball.

"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.

But as happened against Dallas, they couldn’t close.

Between the first backpedalling series that gave Baltimore a quick 7-0 lead and the last touchdown drive they allowed after Campbell hit Randle El to cut it 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.), 6 punts, 3 points allowed and 2 turnovers.

But then, with their team suddnely 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, 1 pass for 28)


Game over.

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.

3 comments:

Sean said...

Last week I criticized Campbell.

This week it's no different.

I too think that Campbell can be a good QB. He's got an arm. No doubt about that. I think he could be decent-to-good in a pound-the-ball, play-action offense.

But I would agree that he is definitely not a west-coast QB. He doesn't seem to do quick reads, and he definitely does not have a quick release.

A girl who doesn't even watch football regularly was watching the game with me last night and commented that Campbell looked slow all over.

I told her that Flacco was a rookie, but she said he looked way better than Campbell. I thought that was pretty telling. I laughed at the time. But she's right.

Maybe that has to do with the pressure, but more on that later.

Everything about Campbell these days looks awkward. His pocket presence especially. He just seems like he is thinking too much. Like he doesn't seem comfy in the pocket.

And it's no surprise that he may not have felt comfy in the pocket. The Ravens got constant pressure on him. But that's going to happen against good defenses. It's he and Zorn's job to beat that pressure. If you beat that pressure, they'll stop blitzing.

The Redskins have been piss poor against good defenses. Defenses that can get pressure on the QB.

I want Campbell to succeed as the Redskins QB, but more than that, I want a quarterback to succeed for the Redskins. I hope Campbell can be that man, but as time goes on, I become less and less convinced that Campbell can be that man.

I don't think it will take until the middle of next season for the plug to pulled on Campbell. The pressure is too much.

LizKauai said...

Madden pointed out several times how the offense was crafted to nurture and protect the rookie Flacco.
It's different for Campbell- who is expected to be paying some dividends this year.
I'm glad he's a big, resilient guy that doesn't complain much. A blaming and whining attitude is a team-killer.
Go Skins!

Mark "Om" Steven said...

Sean,

You may be right about the midseason '09 "deadline" I've put on Campbell making his case. If he doesn't show marked improvement in the pocket awareness and reads we've seen from him lately between now and the end of the season, Zorn may decide he's seen enough.

Just not sure he's seeing the same things we are. I would kill to sit with him and go over some actual coaches film, where I can see the whole field and know what the progression was supposed to be. Because w/o actually doing that, there's no way for anyone to know the actual extent to which the passing game's disappearance is primarily on the QB.

Tell you one thing I DO know--it's going to be an interesting off season.

Liz,

True that. Jason's steady demeanor is one of the things I liked about him from day one. There's still something to be said for class.

What would be sweet is to have class AND Pro Bowl productivity. Maybe someday.