January 5, 2010

As the Redskins Turn

With one final, predictable fourth-quarter collapse, the circus that was the Jim Zorn Era in Washington came to a close in sunny San Diego on Sunday. The only surprising thing about the latest as-if-scripted loss was that there might be anyone left out there who was actually surprised.

In the 23-20 loss to the Chargers, Zorn's Redskins were true to form.

Leading by one point and with a golden chance to go for the throat and score a potential knock-out punch touchdown with 4:37 left in the game, they called a timeout to set up a 4th-and-a-foot play from the Chargers’ 3 yard line.

Best case, they pick up a first down without scoring, run the clock down with a couple of dive plays to force San Diego to use their time outs, and either score the TD to go up eight or kick the field goal leaving backup Charger QB Billy Volek as little time as possible to drive the length of the field.

What happened, of course, was worst case. The Redskins self-immolated. LG Derrick Dockery false-started, forcing the Redskins to settle for the chip-shot field goal, leaving San Diego plenty of time and an opportunity to drive for a potential game-winning touchdown, instead of needing both a touchdown and two-point conversion to tie.

If you were a Redskins fan, you turned to whoever you were watching with and just knew what was going to happen.

Which of course it did.

Redskins Defensive Coordinator Greg Blache, as you knew he would, chose one last time to apparently “coach scared” with the game on the line. Unwilling to attack the opposing offense either with pass rush or press coverage, he opted instead to have his charges sit back passively and (this phrase actually causes me heartburn) “read and react.”

And as you knew they would, the Chargers proceeded to march methodically, inexorably and almost unchallenged to the winning score.

Along the way, as a kind of metaphoric "it figures," the Redskins defense had one last parting gift for their long-suffering fans. Even within the agony of watching the prevent defense yet again surrender uncontested chunks of yardage, they had a chance to win the game by simply making a basic play. The kind of play you expect guys at any level of football above high school junior varsity to make nine times out of ten.

Volek gift-wrapped an interception, throwing a deep out directly into the chest of a Redskins defensive back. The ball, as if knowing its role, slipped through said defender's hands, bounced off his chest and fall harmlessly to the turf.

Don’t be too hard on Justin Tryon—it’s simply what Redskins defenders do.

Jason Campbell, meanwhile, the Redskins erstwhile Franchise Quarterback, did what he tends to do. He looked okay. He threw some good balls, had decent numbers (28/42, 281 yds, 2 TD's, QB Rating 101.4) ... and ultimately, as so many times before, left the field an enigma on the short end of the scoreboard.

If you measure your QB’s purely by statistics, you were probably pretty happy with Jason, not just in this game but throughout the year (3618 yds, 20 TD's, 15 INT's, QB Rating 86.4). Not bad numbers, particularly given he played behind an offensive line we will charitably call below average.

If you like to see that undefinable “It” from your QB, however—that field generalship, that spark, that magic—you probably walked away thinking exactly what you have been thinking for at least half a season ... that on a team with a strong offensive line and running game, Jason Campbel would be serviceable, maybe even pretty good.  On a team that needs something more from the position—which when you break it down is arguably the case for all but about a half-dozen NFL teams—he is, and will probably always be, just another guy.

But none of that is news to anyone reading these words. It is what has happened since the final gun of the Redskins 2009 season mercifully sounded that is at issue now, and rightly so.

As the dust slowly settles from Jim Zorn’s dismissal early Monday morning by new GM Bruce Allen, the benefit of hindsight—and some freed-up locker room tongues—has come quickly and provided a degree of clarity hard to achieve while the footballs still fly.

Because in the end, the abysmal failure of the Zorn Era wasn’t primarily the result of schemes, in-game adjustments, injuries or even individual players’ skills. It was primarily the result of a glaring lack of the most fundamental of football cornerstones ... organizational direction, accountability, leadership.

As the Washington Post's consistently solid Thomas Boswell noted yesterday,

“In the hours after Zorn was fired, several Redskins described their own team as the "Cannot Win With Them" type. This franchise may, or may not, need many new players. But it definitely needs an entirely new attitude. The Redskins must stop thinking that they are winners-under-an-evil-star and, instead, face how far they have to travel. Until they prove otherwise, they are losers, especially their richest most self-centered players.

The Redskins' next coach needs to understand what he's getting into. Redskins fans need to understand how much patience they will need. The owner must grasp that, after 11 years, this mess is his and he needs to get out of the way of the professionals. And the players, who know exactly what's wrong with them, need to take responsibility for their own team. When they start acting like winners, instead of just talking like it, they'll have a chance.”
The reasons why such an atmosphere could come to pass are no mystery to those who follow this team. For a decade-plus, an evil brew of bad timing, bad management and plain old bad luck has seen the Redskins stumble along looking for the right formula to return them to NFL prominence ... or, to be candid, even NFL relevancy. 

And on the threshold of yet another regime change, the fundamental question remains unchanged ...

Will the hiring of “a real general manager,” as owner Dan Snyder stunned Redskins observers by doing in firing Vinny Cerrato and hiring Bruce Allen three weeks ago, coupled with the hiring of an established, championship-level head coach in Mike Shanahan (which as of this writing appears all but set in stone), finally be that formula?  Will it foretell the "change in culture" so desperately needed?

We’ll know soon enough. Two years, give or take, barring either unforseen catastrophe or instant success.

What we can't know, given recent history, is whether or not they will be given the opportunity to succeed or fail on their own merits within that time frame.

If two years from now we are still talking about discipline problems, star treatment, “off season championships” and Dan Snyder, we’ll know the only thing that really matters in the NFL (this side of lucking into a once-in-a-lifetime QB like Peyton Manning or Tom Brady) remains organizational competence and professionalism ... and that said hard reality continues to be lost on the young billionaire with the Redskins belt-buckle still presumably stuffed in a drawer somewhere.

Dan Snyder promised Redskins fans two years ago that the most precious thing he’d learned in his four-year association with legendary former Head Coach Joe Gibbs was patience. The two years since Snyder uttered those words provided fairly strong evidence to the contrary, and in the end resulted in as embarrassing a season as this proud NFL legacy franchise has ever suffered.

Only one thing really matters going forward. It's not so much about who starts at right guard this coming September, or how big a cushion the cornerbacks give receivers on 3rd-down-and-8, or even whether or not the starting quarterback is a Franchise or just a Pretty Good QB.

It's about whether or not the current owner of this football team has finally, truly set aside childish things and is permanently turning over football operations to the grownups.

The smoke signals the past three weeks have been promising, and full credit to Snyder for swallowing a ton of pride in pulling the trigger on his long-time relationship with and commitment to Cerrato.  We have seen promising smoke signals from Ashburn often enough, however, only to see them blow away in cold December winds, to allow ourselves the luxury of Truly Believing quite yet.

Finding out whether that light at the end of the tunnel is sunshine or just another oncoming train is something only time will tell.

Thanks to Jim Zorn for two years of personal class and character, and a symbolic smack to the back of his head for the key role he played in the wasteland of the past two seasons. 



By the way, one has to wonder what the oddsmakers will think of Washington's chances to walk away with the 2010 Lombardi Trophy given the sea change at the top of the organization. If you enjoy putting your money where your mouth is in regard to that kind of thing, try your luck with the pros at online sports betting.


Sasparilla Gretsch said...

As always, your knack for words always leaves me feeling a little insecure . . . I always love reading them, though.

Most Redskins fans would be wise to "stay medium" this offseason, to exercise skepticism but allow for hope, which is the only thing keeping us tethered to this careening behemoth.

It's hard, though, so very hard, to not throw up one's hands and say "I've heard it before and what else is new?" and walk away. But, I'm still here, so, I guess that's something.

Mark "Om" Steven said...

With the dismissal of Cerrato and hiring of Allen, this time certainly *feels* different. It's the single biggest shakeup since Marty Schotteheimer was hired--even bigger than Gibbs return since VC and Snyder remained joined at the hip while Joe was in the building.

What remains to be seen is whether or not Snyder has grown up since he panicked in 2001, after just one year with Marty, when he apparently felt like "his" team was being run by someone else.

If he get that feeling again in a year or two, regardless of how well the team is doing, we're in serious trouble. If he doesn't, though, and really has matured as much as I'd like to thind he has, this one has the potential to be THE demarcation point we'll look back on years from now when the Redskins became The Washington Redskins again.

AstonJay32 said...

Happy New Year, friend. :)

Couldn't agree more. Shanny just signed a piece of paper that says he'll be here for 5 years. If he is, in fact, still our head coach on January 5, 2015, I think our little Danny will have finally learned what ol' Joe was talking about.