This week I spent a few minutes with Ben over the great Redskins blog The Curly R. Ben has tons of great insight on what's up the Skins as well as a unique perspective on the Eagles/Skins rivalry... He's been to 19 of the past 20 meetings between these two teams in both cities.
I have some more specific questions about the situation in DC... but first I want to simply ask WTF is going on down there? You guys were rolling just a month or so ago!
It looks like the entire Redskins organization hit the wall around game nine against the Steelers. Jim Zorn showed a lot of promise early, then other coaches got tape on him and figured him out. From watching the games I think coach Zorn kept the playbook pretty slim, he has said on numerous occasions this season that he was more interested in getting players to execute on the core offense before he expanded it, and I think other teams figured out Washington's offense before Washington did.
Limitations in the roster did not help, for the fourth year in a row there was no real receiving complement to Santana Moss. Teams knew if they could shut out Santana on second down then the Redskins were probably punting. None of the heralded ball catching rookies, receivers Devin Thomas and Malcolm Kelly nor tight end Fred Davis, whom coach Zorn does not even trust to remember the play, have done shit. This has forced the offense to get shorter which is why Chris Cooley is the team's leading receiver. That of course is a death spiral since the shorter an offense you play the shorter the defense needs to be to stop it.
Injuries and age played a role in this fall as well, Clinton Portis, left tackle Chris Samuels, right tackle Jon Jansen were the hardest hit, but I really lay the decline on Jim Zorn, he simply was not ready to be the head coach of an NFL team. He wanted to do too much and I think fell victim to the busy not productive trap. Trying to coach quarterbacks, call plays, devise offenses and manage all the coaches and players, he just was not ready. It can be done, I think it will take coach Zorn some time to work into the role, he will come back next year with an increased capacity and appetite for power running.
In case you didn't talk about this in your answer to the last question, what has happened to Jason Campbell in the second half of this year? Early this year it looked like things were clicking for him and that he really was flourishing in Zorn's system... However, since the start of November he hasn't looked like the same player.
As ever in football there is rarely one reason for anything, and Jason Campbell's decline is no different. For the first eight games of the season he was throwing comparatively few times per game, about 19 attempts for about 220 yards, keeping it tight. He was not throwing many touchdowns, but had also thrown no interceptions. Three things conspired to harm Jason's confidence and performance as the season wore on:
1) the offensive line began to sag and not block as well in the run game or passing game. Without a power running game, Jason was forced to throw more and begin to worry about footsteps in the pocket, which pushes a quarterback to hurry where he can get caught staring down a receiver. His line let him down leading to...
2) limitations in personnel. Antwaan Randle El has not proven to be a chain mover, he is a third receiver in the number two spot. And I love ex Redskin ex Eagle rerun Redskin James Thrash as much as the next guy but James is good for one catch and two drops per game. Chris Cooley is a good outlet but predictable and with teams gameplanning against Santana Moss, he has all but disappeared as a deep threat. Complicating matters is...
3) uninspired play calling. Whether coach Zorn is trying to do like I said above and focus on the core offense, or whether he got skittish and went too conservative as the season wore on, I have seen too many four yard routes on third and five and too many fire zone blitzes pouring through the offensive line eliminating the hot read or revealing that play did not have one.
A good rule of the NFL is look at the upside of a player and try to develop that, when Jason Campbell has some blocking and a run game he can be excellent and maybe can become a top performer. Without that he is just another harried quarterback with crappy fantasy points.
Another Jason.. Jason Taylor. You guys gave up a lot for him and you're paying him a ton and have gotten very little in return. Do you think Taylor is just a bust or do you think he could get healthy and redeem himself next year?
The Jason Taylor experiment pissed off a lot of Redskins fans when it happened, the absence of a big free agent move in the 2008 offseason and stockpiling then using ten draft picks left Redskins fans, stung from years of crappy signings and overpaid players, worrying there was another shoe to drop. Losing defensive ends run stopper Phillip Daniels and undersized pass rusher Alex Buzbee on the first day of camp was a shock, but replacing them with a guy that is basically exactly like fellow pass rushing defensive end Andre Carter made no sense, the team needed a ditch digger at that spot to stop the run and they went out and got a ballerina.
Maybe if Jason had not had a serious injury and needed the better part of eight weeks to get better things might have been different but probably not. Washington has no beef to stop the run when teams are trying to close out games and Jason was not able to change that, now he has been demoted to third downs and often plays linebacker at that. He has not helped this team. I guess you keep him and see what happens in the offseason.
Who do you think will get the wildcards in the NFC?
The Redskins being out in all ways but the mathematical aside, this season is ending in a terrific playoff hunt. I think Philadelphia is out. The Eagles need to win out and get help and whether it is the Redskins or the Cowboys, I think they will lose one of those games.
I think the Vikings are out as NFC North division leaders, Tarvaris Jackson will remember he is Tarvaris Jackson, and they have to play the Falcons and the Giants, two teams that need to win for their own reasons, the Falcons to keep the wild card pace and the Giants to fend off the Panthers for top seed. That should put the Bears in the division but the Vikings will not earn a wild card, meaning there will be no wild card from the North.
Dallas has a tough ass row to hoe, with Baltimore and Philadelphia to go, they will lose one of those games.
Atlanta, they have a shot to win out against Minnesota and St. Louis, that would put them in.
The lock though is Tampa Bay, they play San Diego and Oakland to end the season, they cannot harm their division and NFC records against AFC teams, the Chargers are dispirited and the Raiders might lose to Bowling Green.
I think it will be Tampa Bay and Atlanta with Dallas the stand in.
Which Eagle do you think would make the biggest impact on the Skins if you were you to steal him away?
There are a lot of Eagles I would want if I could have them. For years now I have joked with lifetime Eagles fan, season ticket holder and Curly R reader/lurker Wilbert Montgomery that Donovan McNabb would look good in burgundy and gold, and he still would, he would not represent the future but the now. Ditto for Brian Westbrook, I love the guy's game, Brian is the kind of guy that could tempt you into moving away from a power running game, which is exactly what Philadelphia did when they realized what they had. Unfortunately Brian has all city miles and his warranty is expired.
If I could get a healthy Shawn Andrews at guard, I would take him in a minute. If.
Or a young Tra Thomas at tackle, I would be all over that. Alas Tra is 34, two years older than the 32 year old Redskins tackles I have been bitching all season about.
The guy, the guy I would take right now is DeSean Jackson, he has sparked the Eagles' passing game and would make an excellent complement to Santana Moss (see above for lack thereof), would open up the offense and give Jason Campbell another surehanded target. And he is young, 22 years old, he would be here and become the deep threat long after Santana Moss was gone.
BUT, I would never let DeSean throw out of the Wildcat!
Thanks again to Ben over at The Curly R.