Three days after the Washington Redskins’ offensive coaching staff endured the embarrassment of having management hand the play-calling responsibilities to a consultant, Sherman Smith clutched a laminated practice script with the game for Monday’s game against the Philadelphia Eagles.
“It’s not anything magical on this list here,” said Smith, the Redskins’ offensive coordinator. “They have to execute.”
And therein lies the difference between the view of coaches and players and the opinion of owner Dan Snyder and front office chief Vinny Cerrato.
When the duo stripped coach Jim Zorn of the play-calling, just hours after last week’s home loss to Kansas City, they attempted to re-invent the wheel by giving the duties to Sherm Lewis, who hasn’t handled the job in nine years.
But with their season on the brink of disaster, those intimately involved know why the Redskins are 2-4 and have yet to score more than 17 points in a game this year: They aren’t making plays.
Certainly, Zorn’s play calling left things to be desired, but if the Redskins turn around their season, it falls on quarterback Jason Campbell to bounce back from his first career benching, improved run blocking and protection from the patchwork offensive line and secondary production from pass-catchers not named Santana Moss and Chris Cooley.
The Redskins’ broken offense needs improvement in five specific areas (listed with league leaders; all statistics entering Sunday’s games).
FIRST DOWN PRODUCTION
1. Eagles: 7.09 yards/snap
12. Redskins: 5.91
The offense can’t stay on schedule because it find itself in second- and third-and-long situations.
Take away Clinton Portis’ 78-yard run last week against Kansas City and the Redskins gained 40 yards on 19 first-down snaps — a woeful 2.1-yard average. Eight plays went for no gain or lost yardage.
Against Carolina, the Redskins averaged 3.8 yards on 23 first-down plays and gained 2 or fewer yards on nine plays. Even when they won, the Redskins weren’t productive; they had 13 plays that went for no gain or a loss.
Failure on first down left Zorn with second-and-long calls that were obvious — draws or short passes to get a portion of the yards back.
“The call is harder but you don’t necessarily have to get it all,” Zorn said. “If you get a first down off your second-and-long play, great. I like to gain more than 1 or 2 yards on first down.”
25-YARD-PLUS PASS PLAYS
1. Packers, Giants: 16
25. Redskins: 6
The Redskins were able to stretch the field early in the season before the offensive line began to break down; the team has lost left tackle Chris Samuels and right guard Randy Thomas for the season. Washington has allowed the sixth-most sacks in the league (17).
Since Samuels was injured, the Redskins have attempted only eight passes that traveled more than 15 yards (two completions).
“It’s important, not just for the sake of running 15-play drives all the time but for the sake of having a ‘Boom!’ — and showing that we can still do this and defenses see it on film,” receiver Antwaan Randle El said. “We showed big plays early on but now we’ve kind of fall off. We have to pick it back up.”
Santana Moss’ 59-yard touchdown catch against Tampa Bay is the Redskins’ only pass play longer than 42 yards in the last three games.
“You would like to get a couple per game to be among the top offenses,” said offensive assistant Chris Meidt, who coaches the quarterbacks. “Our goal is to take four-to-five shots a game and if you hit a couple, we’re where we want to be. We’ve had some this year where things haven’t quite worked out — protection, the throw, the route.”
FIRST HALF QB RATING
1. Atlanta: 121.9
28. Redskins: 65.3
The Redskins have been outscored 52-23 in the first half this season and rarely has Campbell established the proper tempo until after halftime.
The team has many more first-half turnovers (seven) than touchdowns (two), and those two scores came on a fake field goal and a 13-yard drive following an interception.
Part of the early-season problem was the Redskins’ defense couldn’t get off the field. The offense had only one first-quarter drive against the Giants and only 19 first-half snaps at Detroit.
But there were no excuses last week against Kansas City. The Redskins had six drives and the result was two turnovers, four punts and four first downs. And that’s when Campbell got benched.
“There were a couple of plays I wish I had back but a lot of it was because I had thoughts in my head that distracted me,” Campbell said. “I was thinking that with a lot of young guys on the offensive line and the new faces, I had to make quicker decisions than usual and sometimes that gets you in trouble. Instead of trying to do those things, I’ve got to trust the guys and let them do their job.”
THIRD DOWN CONVERSIONS
1. Miami: 56.0 percent
27. Redskins: 29.7
The Redskins have held the time of possession advantage only once in six games and in the four defeats have run 20, 17, eight and 19 fewer plays.
Third down is a huge reason why the offense can’t sustain any consistency.
While the defense has gotten their third-down woes rectified, the offense is 2-of-10, 4-of-14, 2-of-9 and 2-of-14 in the last four games, a stretch where the team has compiled a 1-3 record.
The Redskins needed an average of 6.7 yards on third down last week, including seven third-and-longs (more than 8 yards).
“We have to do better on third down,” Zorn said. “That’s a critical down for us.”
1. Minnesota: 65.2 percent
26. Redskins: 40.0
The Redskins have six touchdowns in 15 red zone opportunities, including the 0-for-5 eyesore in the win over St. Louis.
Only St. Louis is worse than the Redskins in goal-to-go situations.
Last week, Portis’ 78-yard run created a first-and-goal from the Chiefs 10. First down: Throwaway. Second down: Incomplete. Third down: Pass batted down.
Shaun Suisham has five field goals on drives that stalled at the 10-yard line of closer.
“That’s the thing,” Randle El said. “First half and second half, we’ve gotten into a rhythm on some drives, but when we get to the red zone …”
Randle El didn’t finish his sentence but didn’t need to. If the Redskins can’t get their offense in order, the season is finished.
But if Lewis’ play calling creates a spark, maybe things can still be salvaged.
“Our defense is going to keep us in ball games, I absolutely know that,” Zorn said. “Once we get our offense clicking and moving, we’ll feel happy about the decision and it could be a positive decision down the road.”