- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 24, 2006

ST. LOUIS. — If the Redskins learned anything from yesterday’s 37-31 overtime loss to the Rams, it’s that the education of Jason Campbell is going to take a while, probably longer than they had hoped. All you had to do was glance at statistics afterward, at the disparity between Campbell’s numbers (13-for-26 for 160 yards and a touchdown) and Pro Bowler Marc Bulger’s (25-for-38 for 388 yards and four scores). That’s a pretty big gap at the most important position on the field.

And frankly, that’s about all Campbell is capable of right now, a half-dozen starts into his NFL career. Oh, he’ll make a play here and there, but he’s hardly the engine that drives the offense. Ladell Betts is.

Betts ran the ball, by my count, on 18 of the Redskins’ 30 first-down plays. T.J. Duckett and Antwaan Randle El ran it five other times. Al Saunders’ entire strategy these days revolves around, as Betts put it, “trying to take some of the pressure off” the young quarterback “by running the ball and keeping us in short down-and-distance on third down.”

Going into New Orleans last week and beating a club that could be the NFC’s No. 2 playoff seed was the high point of Campbell’s apprenticeship so far, the proverbial Watershed Game. Yesterday, though, was one of his lower points. As the Rams rallied from a 28-14 deficit in the second half, the Redskins desperately needed their quarterback to right their sinking ship. Campbell, however, wasn’t much of a factor after the first series of the third quarter. When called upon, he couldn’t convert a third-and-8, a third-and-3 or a third-and-7. Unfortunately for the Redskins, Bulger could, down the stretch, convert a third-and-9, a third-and-5 and a third-and-6.

Campbell’s difficulty getting the ball to his wideouts — the group’s only catches were the three by Santana Moss — was reminiscent of Mark Brunell’s final days.

“They kept dropping back in a zone,” he said, “which made it hard to get Santana the ball.”

On one play, which sent out only two receivers, there were “five guys on him,” he claimed.

Flooding the secondary with seven or eight defenders — as the Rams often did — can make it hard for a young quarterback to sort things out. And it didn’t help that Campbell once again struggled with his “location,” missing receivers he should have hit.

“That’s the way it’s going to be with a young quarterback,” offensive boss Al Saunders said. “He’s getting better every week, but he’s not at the level he will be down the road, when he will be in position to make us very successful.”

Getting better every week? Only if you’re watching through burgundy-colored glasses. No, in some games Campbell makes strides, and in others he either treads water or, occasionally, regresses. That’s the way it is with a young quarterback.

Of course, had Shawn Springs not exited early with a broken shoulder, the Redskins probably wouldn’t have needed Campbell to do any more than “drive the car.” Once Springs left, though, the secondary was at the mercy of Bulger and his arsenal of receiving weapons. You see, as much of a fuss as we media types make about the defense’s lack of a third cornerback, what has really killed the Redskins this season has been their lack of a second cornerback. When Springs has been out — an all-too-frequent occurrence — they’ve been easy prey for any quarterback worth his flak jacket.

Campbell, on the other hand, can’t prey on any secondary yet, can’t exploit weaknesses to nearly the extent the Bulgers can. And the Redskins are being so ultracareful with him — as they should — that it limits the offense further. Let’s face it, it’s difficult to attack a defense when you’re keeping so many guys in to block. But Saunders was very concerned about the Rams’ pass rush, particularly about its potential for rattling his kid QB. So his playcalling yesterday, he said, he was “more conservative than we had been in the past [few games].”

You can only go to the well so many times — usually. After gaining 76 yards in his first 16 carries, Betts was held to 26 in his next 11. That might not have been the case had Campbell been further along in his development, capable of punishing a defense in certain instances for overplaying the run.

The silver lining — and that’s basically what the Redskins are reduced to with a 5-10 record, looking for silver linings — is that Campbell “got a chance to play in an overtime game,” Joe Gibbs said. “That’s the only way you learn how to do it.”

The next time he’s in this situation, maybe he’ll get a different result.

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