October 9, 2009

Jason Campbell, Speed, Defense & Hope

Some general, getting-back-in-the-saddle thoughts, heading into the second quarter of a dispiriting start to the 2009 Redskins season:

The game is still moving too fast for Redskins QB Jason Campbell. On the rare occasions he drops, reads and throws on rhythm, he’s pretty good—not Aikmanesque in accuracy, but certainly NFL caliber. Problem is, Jason doesn’t throw on rhythm very often.

Whether the offensive line gives him time or not, he is pretty much always a beat late, or even worse, has developed a dangerous habit of pulling the ball back down, double-clutching and starting to drift in the pocket. The young quarterback’s distinct lack of progress—and, arguably, regression—in his second year in Jim Zorn’s offense has been the 2009 season’s biggest disappointment to date.

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I had hoped to see more team speed on display this year, an area in which the Redskins have been sorely lacking for years. I haven’t seen it .

Offensively, the Redskins look slow from the time they break the huddle to the time the whistle blows each play dead.

WR Santana Moss has great speed but doesn’t get the ball in space often enough to show it.

Sophomore WR’s Malcolm Kelly and Devin Thomas don’t get the ball at all.

Pro Bowl TE Chris Cooley gets open, catches well and is a deceptively good open field runner, but couldn’t outrun a congressional health bill.

Veteran RB’s Clinton Portis and Ladell Betts are efficient at best, plodding (by NFL standards) at worst. The “speed back” option the team entered the offseason looking to add turned out to be one RB Anthony Aldridge ... who has yet to see the ball.

The starting offense is running in sand.

On punt returns, the potentially dynamic three-headed monster of Antwaan Rangle El (4 returns, 8.8 avg., long of 15, NFL rank: 23), Santana Moss (2 returns, 2.5 avg., long of 4, NFL rank: 48) and DeAngelo Hall (no returns) has effectively pulled its own teeth, opting to use Randle El’s admittedly good hands to make safe fair catches, regardless of field position or game situation.

While the result has limited negative plays, it has also bypassed a major opportunity to put pressure on the opposition and give Redskins playmakers, sorely missing in action, a few more chances a game to touch the ball and actually make plays. On an offensively challenged team, this strikes me as a serious oversight.

Oh, and one of my favorite Redskins “character guys,” RB Rock Cartwright, bless his heart, continues to field kickoffs, run straight upfield into the pile, and fall down. Love ya Rock, but geez.

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The same frustrating pattern we have seen over the past few seasons from the Gregg Williams/Greg Blache defensive philosophy has emerged again, despite lip service paid in the aftermath of DT Albert Haynesworth’s arrival, that the scheme would be tweaked in 2009 to allow more aggressive upfield pass rushing.

The reality through four weeks is that the team still cannot pressure the passer ... partly due to the bizarre decision to use the sole true speed rusher on the roster, rookie DE Brian Orakpo, as a run-stopping SAM linebacker, and the limited opportunities afforded promising rookie DE Jeremy Jarmon.

But mostly, what this observer has seen is the same thing that has been the case for the past few seasons—the NFL has long since figured out the Williams/Blache pass rushing scheme.

The linemen are not aggressive or effective going upfield, be it by design (directed to stay in their lanes at all costs), physical limitations or both.

And if anyone can remember the last time a Blache-schemed blitzer came free up the middle for a cheap sack and even (gasp) the occasional resulting forced turnover or even momentum-swinger, as other teams seem to do week in and week out, please let me know.

I may still have it on tape somewhere and could go back and relive it come bye week.

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Pretty negative stuff, I admit. But, given the expectations (again), it’s hard to get excited about a team pretty damn lucky to be 2-2 and struggling mightily to field an offense that can even be deemed NFL competent.

Hope remains, however ... squarely on the shoulders of two men, Jason Campbell and Head Coach Jim Zorn.

Campbell could still have a "Eureka!" moment. The light bulb could still come on and the game could still slow down, allowing Jason to see the field and make his throws when they’re supposed to made, to the guys they’re supposed to go to, in the spots the twain are supposed to intersect. 

I’m just not counting on it. Until I see otherwise, I’m 98% convinced the nice young gentleman has maxed out.

The second man, therefore, is Head Coach Jim Zorn. He’s the only guy in Washington (this side of owner Dan Snyder, who I know some of you are convinced will do so himself) who can pull the trigger and sit Campbell down in favor of the only other option at the moment, veteran Todd Collins.

That Zorn opted not to pull Campbell at halftime last week against the Buccaneers, with his quarterback conjuring echoes of Heath Shuler, was a bit stunning given his team was looking at 1-3 ... trailing arguably the worst team in the league by ten points at home, his offense was ten games into the highly dubious streak of not scoring a first-quarter touchdown, was averaging less than 15 points a game, and, candidly, was well on its way to redefining NFL awfulness.

Campbell did have a brief stretch in the third quarter when he looked like a pretty good NFL quarterback, however ... which is why I’m holding on to the missing 2% noted above.

He seemed to catch a spark, throwing two TD passes to rally the team to a lead ... but then promptly handed the momentum, good vibes and potentially the game back to the moribund Bucs with an awful interception—his third of the day. Had they had a quarterback, we would in all likelihood be talking today about a 1-3 team looking a whole lot like Chuck Wepner after his brief dance with destiny.

The short third quarter renaissance did show one thing clearly, though, and that’s the impact real NFL-level quarterbacking has on not just on an offense, but an entire team and the thousands watching.

When Campbell hit Moss on the 59-yard TD bomb to take the lead the entire Redskins universe—from the owner to the coaches to the players on both sides of the ball to the fans—were uplifted, energized, rocking.

That is what a big-time NFL quarterback brings to a team in the 2000's. And it’s the single most glaring missing ingredient—as it has been for many, many years—keeping this team from breaking out of the rut they’ve been in so very long.

We saw The QB Effect not that long ago in the 2007 stretch run. Campbell went down, and an offense that had been stuck in neutral, and an entire team (at 5-7) that had lacked energy, focus or synergy in a fading season suddenly caught fire, won four straight in impressive fashion and stormed into the playoffs. There are those convinced the reason for the surge was the tragic death of S Sean Taylor.

With respect, I have never agreed.

Todd Collins was, and is, no superstar—he was not and is not the kind of QB who can put a team on his shoulders. But he was, in 2007, and may well still be, a steady, smart veteran who can read the field, get rid of the ball quickly, efficiently and accurately, and jump start a unit stuck in neutral.

In short, he was, and may well be, everything I’m afraid we have seen Jason Campbell is not .... at least not today, not in this “modified West Coast Offense” he appears so miscast running.  This offense isn’t about arm strength, it’s about timing, savvy, precision.

So I will watch Campbell hit the field Sunday against the Carolina Panthers, hopeful as always this will be the week he turns it around ... but expecting to see what I have seen over the past couple of years—a gifted athlete with a big arm and decent mobility, struggling to orchestrate an offense badly suited to his strengths. A quarterback who does not process the field fast enough, and is, as a result, holding his team back.

I don't buy into the argument you don't bench your starting quarterback for fear of ruining his confidence.  If my starting quarterback can't or won't take a benching as a challenge and come back chewing nails, ready to show me the error of my ways, and instead sulks and lets it get the best of him ... I don't want him as my quarterback anyway.

But, I fully expect to watch Jim Zorn, for whatever reasons he might have, continue to hang his own head coaching career over the precipice, unwilling to “make the move” to Collins.  Even if only temporarity ... and even if for no other reason that to see if he can breath life into an offense currently bereft of speed, pace, rhythm, dynamism, success. 

I would dearly love to write a humble pie entry next week, however, so please, gentlemen ... feel free to prove me wrong.  I'll be big enough to admit it.

8 comments:

Anonymous said...

Great article really good

LizKauai said...

Om speaks what we thinks...

And "there is another Skywalker..."
But that will have to wait for the next chapter...

HTTR!!!

Anonymous said...

Looks like finally you have put the fork into Jason's back. Better late than never.

Anonymous said...

Interesting article. On Jason Campbell, you should listen to an interview with Antonio Freeman and what he sees as some of the problems with the offense. (Freeman played in WCO and knows it to a tee.) In particular, he noted issues with spacing and the wide receivers not moving into position soon enough. That directly results in Jason tapping the ball (the very problem Om just noted) and disrupting his reads. Also, there's a more fundamental issue, one which was raised by Merril Hoge: is our personnel really a good fit for the WCO? Hoge doens't think so, and that's yet another problem with our offense and why Jason isn't progressing.

Anonymous said...

But what is the right offense for JC? when Gibbs was here and we had a power running game with play action, the complaint was that JC was being handcuffed and not allowed to throw it.

JC has had every chance to make his mark, he just isn't good enough. That's not on JC, it's not because he's not trying hard enough or because of his work ethic, it just is.

Time to move on...

Anonymous said...

Campbell is a physically gifted QB who doesn't have the head or the savvy to lead an NFL offense. Sorry. Franchise QBs want the ball in their hands at crunch time - when I see Campbell in crunch time - he looks like he'd almost rather be anywhere else.

The Jason Campbell experiment has been buoyed by fan hope but it needs to end. I understand the pain in 'starting over'...again....but turning this train wreck around has to start somewhere, and ditching Campbell is the first step.

Piyush Arora said...

I absolutely love your blog. This is genius!

AstonJay32 said...

Welcome back to the blogsphere, friend!

Great summary, this somehow slipped past my radar last week, and seeing as how this was written before the Carolina loss, I'd suggest taking JC's chances of meeting Eureka down to 1%.

I think the speed of the team (or lack thereof), is symbolized both literally and metaphorically through Campbell. He's slow in his drop, his reads, his decision making, and his release. I'm disappointed in Zorn's inability to get more out of him, but in his defense, I'm afraid there just not be much there. Maxed out, as you said.

I'm ready to admit that Collins gives us the best chance of winning today, but with the current state of the o-line, I don't think it'll make much difference.