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Dan Daly: Zorn may have arrived at fork in the road
Question of the Day
Joe Gibbs did it. Steve Spurrier did it, too, though he later undid it. So maybe it’s time for Jim Zorn to at least entertain the notion. Maybe the Z-Man should consider - in light of his offense’s continuing aversion to the end zone - turning the playcalling over to someone else.
It’s a radical move, obviously, for any coach - an admission of failure, really. But Zorn wouldn’t be admitting anything we don’t already know, just as Gibbs and Spurrier weren’t.
Coach Joe brought in Al Saunders and his hernia-inducing playbook less than two weeks after Mark Brunell and Co. were held to 120 yards in a playoff game. It was his way of saying: “What worked for me in the past, the first time I coached the Redskins, ain’t worth a bucket of steam these days. We need somebody to bring the offense into the 21st century.”
Spurrier reached a similar point in the middle of his second season in 2003. His Fun ‘n’ Gun attack, which had been so devastating on the college level, was generating little Fun - and even less Gun - in the pros. Mortified by back-to-back games in which the Redskins were outgained 432-169 and 400-213, he let his offensive coordinator, Hue Jackson, call the plays for two weeks. Things didn’t improve much, though, so the Ball Coach reclaimed the duties (read: went back to getting his quarterbacks killed).
Is it just me, or has Zorn arrived at the same fork in the road? His West Coast offense, after all, has been burning oil for 11 games now - the last eight last year and the first three this year. Yards are being gained (sometimes), but points have been hard to come by (only twice in this stretch have the Redskins put up more than 17).
The performance in the red zone, in particular, has been a disaster, in terms of execution and, yes, strategy. In each of the past two weeks the offense has been stonewalled at the goal line. And this is against opponents that, well… the Rams had lost 11 straight and the Lions had lost 19.
(And look who’s next on the agenda - the Bucs, who have lost their last seven. Just wondering: Has any other team in NFL history ever played three games in a row against clubs that had lost at least seven straight?)
Anyway, as he pores over game tapes this week, as he dots every X and crosses every O, Zorn might want to ask himself this: “Am I doing everything possible to get this offense turned around? I keep asking my players to pay closer attention to detail and to put team before self and blah, blah, blah, but what am I throwing into the kitty?”
Gibbs was a master in these situations. He always blamed himself first, profusely - and thus shamed his players into playing better. Zorn, on the other hand, would rather tell everybody (as he did again Monday): “We have tremendous talent on this football team.” To which I would reply: You have tremendously well-paid talent. A tremendously talented team doesn’t lose to the Lions and almost lose to the Rams.
At times it seems like all the mirrors at Redskin Park are turned to the wall. Small problems become bigger ones because people refuse to acknowledge or address them. It’s OK to be a sunny optimist, as Zorn is, as long as the glare doesn’t blind you to the needs of the team.
Right now, the Redskins need… something. It’s up to the coach, as much as anybody, to figure out what. Switching quarterbacks is always an option, of course, but that’s an extreme step - and besides, it’s not like Jason Campbell has been throwing into coverage or calling the wrong formations. Let’s be honest: The personnel around him is average at best.
But what if Zorn decided to turn the playcalling over to offensive coordinator Sherman Smith, just to get a different perspective (that of a former NFL running back rather than that of a former NFL quarterback)? It’s not like every head coach in the league calls the plays. In fact, most don’t. Others start out doing it and come to the conclusion it’s just too much.
In the Redskins’ case, it might help… or it might not. But it would be a powerful statement for Zorn to make to his players - at this critical stage of their season and his career - that he isn’t going to let anything stand in the way of the club’s success, certainly not his own ego.
But could he bring himself to do it? In Seattle, from whence he came, his mentor, Mike Holmgren, did call the plays - and rather well. Then, too, this is Zorn’s first shot at playcalling in the NFL after years as a quarterbacks coach. He might be reluctant to give it up. Something else to factor in: Smith’s previous experience, with the Titans, was as a running backs coach, not an O-coordinator.
In other words, it’s a difficult decision no matter how you look at it. But desperate times, as they say, require desperate measures. And if you don’t think these are desperate times, check out the scoreboard again at Ford Field.
About the Author
Dan Daly has been writing about sports for the Washington Times since 1982. He has won numerous national and local awards, appears regularly in NFL Films’ historical features and is the co-author of “The Pro Football Chronicle,” a decade-by-decade history of the game. Follow Dan on Twitter at @dandalyonsports –- or e-mail him at email@example.com.
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