Sunday, September 27, 2009

2009 Redskins Report Card: Week 3 vs. Detroit Lions

Lions 19, Redskins 14

Leading up to this game, we all felt like we were giving the Lions sufficient credit, acknowledging the fact that any team can beat any other team, and understanding that Detroit has got some talented players.

Even still, once the game started, we all just knew the Washington Redskins wouldn't lose. And then they did, and everyone should be afraid of what might be coming next.

Offense: C

Running back Clinton Portis came into the game with a nagging ankle injury, and it was doubly obvious, with Portis not rushing effectively, and with the Skins rushing just 14 times versus 41 passing attempts. Backup Ladell Betts got just one carry, and the whole team earned just three rushing first downs.

When you can't run the ball, you can't extend drives. The Redskins' longest drive of the day went for just three minutes, fifty-nine seconds. Of their ten drives, only two of them took more than three minutes off the clock. The Lions (the freakin' Lions) meanwhile had three great drives in the first half to put Washington on their heels from the get-go. They held the ball for over 22:00 in that first half, and the Washington defense just couldn't get off the field. Detroit was 10/18 on third down, whereas the Redskins were 2/10. Detroit was simply more efficient and more effective on offense than the Redskins.

In case you think that the passer rating statistic isn't flawed, Jason Campbell's rating on the day was 97.6. But you'd be hard-pressed to find many people who watched the game that wouldn't say that his opponent, rookie Matthew Stafford, didn't outplay him, despite having a passer rating ten points lower.

I didn't have any real problem with the play-calling last week, putting me in the vast minority among Washington fans last week. I did, however, have two problems with the play-calling today. The final play of the game was a little mystifying. Relying on a series of pitches is a surefire way to blow any chance of success. There's got to be something better in your playbook than that. I do concede that they were in a bad situation, so I don't hold Zorn too accountable for that play.

My bigger problem is with the decision to go for it on 4th down on the one their first drive on the game. There are two main philosophical problems I have with the call. First, I don't think you take points off the board in the first half. An 18-yard field goal attempt is as close to a sure thing as you're going to find. Second, and perhaps more importantly, the game was scoreless. Any time you can go for a chip shot field goal to take a lead, you take it. Points haven't been that easy for this team to come by under Jim Zorn, so you'd better take them when you can.

Perhaps the most disconcerting thing about the call is that it seems like exactly what you'd do if you were responding directly to all of the local criticism this week. I don't want the Washington Redskins to be run by the fans. I want the team to be run by the head coach (whoever that might be on Monday morning). The moment your head coach changes his strategies based on public perceptions, he's no longer a head coach, and he needs to be removed. If Zorn had his own reasons for making that call, okay, but most coaches who haven't scored 30 points in their entire careers would be happy to take points when they're available.

Defense: C-

While the offense didn't do the defense any favors, this defense wasn't the squad that kept Washington alive in the first two weeks. After the aforementioned fourth down play, the defense had Detroit at first and ten on the one yard line. An offsides penalty on first down brought the Lions out of the danger zone, and Stafford orchestrated a 12-play, 99-yard drive that culminated with a 21-yard touchdown pass to Bryant Johnson.

I do think that the one huge pass interference by Chris Horton play might have been an overreaction by the referees, as he didn't seem to make much contact with Calvin Johnson, and he definitely defensed the ball. I've tried to look at the play again with as little bias as possible, but it's not unreasonable to think that I'm still seeing the play with burgundy and gold shades. Still, it looked like it was just a really good defensive play.

Unfortunately, that's not the big problem with the Redskins' defensive performance. Stafford was consistently able to make big throws, taking advantage of lapse after lapse by Redskins defenders. Their high-priced cornerbacks, Carlos Rogers and DeAngelo Hall, seemed to always be on the wrong end of big plays. Detroit had six turnovers in their first two games, but Washington couldn't generate a single takeaway.

Special Teams: B

Once again, the Redskins had solid kickoff returns and solid kickoff coverage. You'd like more of a breakaway possibility out of your return guys than the Redskins have with Rock Cartwright and Antwaan Randle El, but they've been able to count on solid field position out of kickoffs, which is about the only thing the offense has been able to count on.

Shawn Suisham made both of his kicks, both mere point-after-TD attempts. I wish he had taken one field goal attempt, but I can't fault him for the decisions of the coach. Hunter Smith did a great job punting, got four of his five punts inside the Lions' 20-yard line. It's just a shame the Redskins' defense couldn't take advantage of Smith's performance.

Overall: F

The Washington Redskins lost to the Detroit Lions, the Lions' first win since December 2007. Maybe they played better than an F, but you just can't lose this game.

Should a change be made? I don't know if I've ever said it here, but I think firing Zorn would be a terrible idea. There's no advantage of firing Zorn during the season, because no team has ever responded well to their coach getting fired. If firing the coach will undoubtedly result in a losing season (which it will), then let's let Zorn finish out the season, see if he can't right the ship.

Previously, I'd suggested that replacing Campbell with backup Todd Collins might be a good idea. I'm still not averse to that idea, but when Campbell has been able to make his own decisions and act quickly in hurry-up scenarios, he's been fairly effective. I wonder if Zorn is handicapping his own quarterback with his play-calling.

One thing's for sure: something's gotta change if this team is going to make something out of this season.

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