- The Washington Times - Friday, December 22, 2006

Joe Gibbs wants his quarterback to throw an accurate deep ball.

“That’s the most important thing he can do for your team,” he said.

Al Saunders wants his quarterback willing to take chances downfield.

“You’d rather have an aggressive quarterback you have to [rein in],” he said.

And Jason Campbell wants to be a quarterback who takes his drop, sets his feet and throws the bomb.

“It’s a low percentage throw but you have to take those shots,” he said.

Gibbs, Saunders and Campbell all want the Washington Redskins offense to be physically dominating in the run game, but also a team that makes opposing safeties think twice about helping in run support.

Five starts into Campbell’s career, the offense continues to take shape, and last week against New Orleans, the Redskins aired it out.

Campbell attempted seven passes that traveled 20 or more yards. Although he completed only one of the throws — a 31-yard touchdown to Santana Moss — the fact that the Redskins are beginning to employ more vertical plays represents a philosophical shift from the days of Mark Brunell.

“If it works, it makes sure you’re not one dimensional,” Campbell said. “That’s what will make us a great offense. It’s tough to do each week but it’s good to see us doing it well.”

Campbell has 10 pass plays of 20-plus yards, including five in the last two games. Helping the deep-ball game is the improvement on the ground. Clinton Portis was banged up during Brunell’s tenure and the Redskins averaged 115.8 yards rushing a game. Thanks to Ladell Betts’ emergence, that average has climbed to 136.6 yards a game.

“The shots down field are directly correlated to what we’ve been doing in the run game,” center Casey Rabach said. “We’ve been running it pretty well and that has forced teams to bring that eighth or ninth player into the box. That opens up the passing game and especially the deep throws.”

And it makes defenses respect the play-action fakes. Campbell used play action seven times against the Saints, including on Moss’ touchdown.

A perfect example of what the fake can do came on a 23-yard completion to tight end Chris Cooley. Campbell moved to his left and faked the handoff to Betts, which lured Saints middle linebacker Mark Simoneau in that direction. Cooley caught the ball in stride for the first down.

“On some of the play actions we ran, I could see the safeties starting to run up and the linebackers were already playing in tight,” Betts said.

Above all, the difference between Campbell and Brunell comes down to arm strength and desire to take chances.

“If I was going to pick one thing for the quarterback to do, it’s throw the deep ball,” Gibbs said. “Mark Rypien’s sideline throws would wobble and didn’t look all that pretty. But that man could throw the deep stuff.”

Said Saunders: “Trent [Green] was that way in Kansas City — he was very, very aggressive. His first year with the Chiefs, he threw 24 interceptions.”

Translation: The Redskins won’t mind the occasional interception by Campbell if the ability to cash in downfield becomes a consistent facet of the offense.

This year, the Redskins’ 35 passes of 20-plus yards are tied for 14th in the NFL and their nine passes of 40-plus yards are tied for fifth. But with Brunell as quarterback, several of those throws were short passes that turned into big gains.

Brunell simply isn’t the kind of quarterback to roll the dice. In 2,738 career completions, 73 have gained 40-plus yards (2.7 percent); by comparison, Kansas City’s Green has 67 career completions of 40-plus yards in 2,117 total completions (3.2 percent).

“Whatever your history is, you tend to fall into that pattern,” Saunders said of Brunell. “Mark was completing [62.3 percent] of his passes and wasn’t turning the ball over. But with Jason, we’re doing some different things and the running game is doing better.”

With Campbell’s mentality as a starting point, the Redskins’ coaches have begun the process of teaching him the correct process: Look deep and don’t be afraid to throw deep. But when he looks deep and it isn’t there, make the right decisions by throwing to an underneath receiver.

“It’s easier to get a guy to back off and understand to check down off the deep throws than to get a quarterback to become aggressive in his throws and take the ball up the field,” Saunders said. “We’d rather have a guy that has Jason’s mentality.”

And when Gibbs finally pulled the plug on Brunell after a 3-6 record, that’s what Saunders got with Campbell, whose first NFL regular season play was a 50-yard, perfectly-thrown bomb to Brandon Lloyd, who dropped it.

“He throws the first long ball against Tampa and people have to start saying, ‘We have to honor that,’ ” right tackle Jon Jansen said. “All of a sudden, you start running the ball well, they have to bring another guy into the box and Jason starts throwing the long ball.”

Campbell’s completion percentage (50.7) is lower than Brunell’s and he already has one more interception (five) than Brunell. But the touchdown play to Moss showcased why the Redskins are urging Campbell to challenge teams downfield.

“The throw to Santana was a great example of the way we want to throw the football down the field,” Saunders said. “You’d like to be able to put the threat into the defense that you can throw deep. If you don’t, they don’t have to play it. Typically, you like to do it early in the game and do it as often as you can. If you want to be an aggressive play caller, you can call those kinds of plays because you trust the quarterback to throw to the check-down receivers and make good decisions.”

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