All is well in burgundy and gold nation after the Redskins rallied to beat New Orleans 29-24. The Washington Times’ Ryan O’Halloran debates with Channel 4’s Lindsay Czarniak about Jim Zorn’s first win, the special teams, Jason Taylor’s play, a pick for Sunday’s game against Arizona and NASCAR.
1. The Redskins gave Jim Zorn his NFL win with a come-from-behind victory over New Orleans. Is this the start of something big or merely a high point in what could be a season of defeats?
Lindsay: This is the start of something significant — the fact that we know there are capable receivers that can catch balls in this system, that Jason Campbell can make it work in the West Coast offense and that Jim Zorn now has a better understanding about what each of his players can do when the offense is run properly. The question now is can they play like they did in the fourth quarter against the Saints consistently?
Ryan: We’ll know more after Sunday whether the fourth-quarter rally was the start or something. As Lindsay pointed out, it was refreshing to see an offense that had tempo, moved the ball down the field consistently and didn’t have to rely on 1-2 players to make things happen. I really liked how Campbell played. He didn’t force things in the red zone when his first, second or even third options weren’t available, something he did do last year.
2. Despite winning, the Redskins’ special teams were awful. Should Durant Brooks worry about his job as the punter? Should Zorn make a change and remove Antwaan Randle El from punt returns?
Lindsay: Yes he should worry and he said himself that he’s concerned. The coaches have said he has not performed up to the level he needs to yet in the NFL and he feels like he’s on the hot seat. I’m not writing him off – he’s a hard worker and did good things in the preseason but holding was at times an issue for him and that’s part of the problem we saw on Sunday. No more punts like the one Reggie Bush returned for a touchdown. As for Randle El, it’s not like he fumbles as he did Sunday often and that’s why he’s not concerned about losing the coaches faith. However, I do want to see him take it straight up the field instead of spending so much time going side to side.
Ryan: After watching Brooks deal with us on Monday afternoon, I have doubts about whether he can bounce back mentally as quickly as the Redskins need him to. The coaching staff had to figure he would stink in a few games and had to be confident he could handle the rollercoaster ride that is being a rookie punter. If he struggles on holds but punts well, I would use somebody like Randle El or maybe even Todd Collins on holds. In the punt return game, a change should be considered not because of the fumble but because of a lack of production. James Thrash will give you the same thing Randle El does. In certain situations, I would try Santana Moss.
3. Jason Campbell looked great in the second half of the Saints game. Was the Giants game a one-week speed bump and he’s on his way to grasping Zorn’s system? And how much more freedom did Zorn give him within the offense?
Lindsay: Absolutely he’s on his way to grasping it. There were still plenty of opportunities to get seven points in the first half of the game but what sold me was the second-and-22 pass to Cooley right after Campbell was sacked in the fourth quarter. Since he’s been the starter, I’ve been impressed with his resilience and his ability to “forget” but to see that in this system gives me real hope. I think once Zorn trusted decisions Jason was making as the game went on, it allowed him to call the plays he thought would work best. This is going to sound obvious, but I think the 67-yarder in which Jason went to his second option of Santana Moss was the perfect definition of Jason finding his confidence and making the quick decision based on what he was reading.
Ryan: Freedom is the operative word. Anybody in any kind of position does better when their superiors trust them. And that’s what Zorn did — he gave Campbell more responsibility and that naturally elevated Campbell’s confidence. The only way to learn this offense is by running it against live competition. Some of the changes he made at the line of scrimmage in terms of protection and routes is an encouraging sign. Now the test for J.C. is doing it in consecutive weeks and winning those games, not just putting up good numbers in a losing effort. Campbell has won two straight starts only once in his career (last year, Weeks 1-2).
4. Jason Taylor got his first sack against New Orleans. How would you judge his impact so far in how he plays the run and rushes the passer?
Lindsay: As Coach Blache says, “I can’t read his comfort, I don’t know his sleep number bed.” In other words, go ask 55 how well he feels he’s adjusting, but from my standpoint, I think he turned a disappointing performance against the Giants into a stronger showing where he did apply sufficient pressure against Brees. I like him better rushing the passer as opposed to playing the run.
Ryan: His impact has been minimal because of his knee injury but this is the game he could break out because Kurt Warner is still a great passer but he obviously doesn’t move well and the Cardinals offensive line is a little leaky. The Redskins moved Taylor almost exclusively to left defensive end against New Orleans and they should keep on mixing it up between Taylor and Andre Carter. Watching the tape, Taylor did appear more active in the run game, keeping containment and letting the linebackers flow to the ball carrier.
5. Both of you will be at FedEx Field on Sunday. Do the Redskins make it two straight by handing Arizona its first defeat?
Lindsay: Yep — Ryan has had to endure two losses in a row from his Vikings so I think the Redskins will give him a little break with their second victory. The Cardinals, with the fifth-rated passing offense will give the secondary a run for their money, but I have faith in the Redskins D. I predict 24-17 Redskins.
Ryan: Not sure how a Redskins win will give me a break but I’m just hoping the Vikings can get into the ‘W’ column against a tough Carolina team. The Redskins will move to 2-1 – and into a tie for the NFC East because I see Green Bay beating Dallas Sunday night. The Redskins’ defense will give up some big plays but they’ll do just enough and create a couple of takeaways. The offense will continue their improvement. Redskins 34-27.
BONUS 6. The NASCAR Chase for the Championship started last week and it couldn’t have gone worse for Joe Gibbs Racing driver Kyle Busch. He is way back in the standings after finishing way back in the field. Are his chances cooked? If so, who’s the favorite?
Lindsay: If anyone becomes even more dangerous as the underdog, it’s Kyle Busch. He is, hands down, one of the top two drivers in the garage right now. The other, in case you’re wondering where I’m going with this, is Jimmie Johnson. Busch is so tough on his team, he makes them mad because even when he’s doing well, he finds stuff to criticize, but it makes his winning that much more enjoyable. The driver I want to see win is Clint Bowyer. He deserves it and he is sponsored by Ryan’s favorite beverage.
Ryan: I think Johnson will end up winning his third consecutive title because his team always seems to be geared up at the right time of the season. They were dominant in the weeks leading into the chase. Of course, I won’t rule out Busch but it will be interesting to see how aggressive he gets — and takes risks — if this week doesn’t go well for him and he falls further behind Johnson and Carl Edwards. My sleeper would be Jeff Burton. He has only one win but a key in the chase is to finish races.