The second half of the season has turned into a worst-case scenario for the Redskins. All the questions raised about them in This Space at the end of October are being answered in the negative - and that’s not good. Let me refresh your memory.
Question No. 1: Will the veteran offensive line hold up for 16 games?
Answer: No. Chris Samuels is out for the season with a torn triceps, and the other offensive tackle, Jon Jansen, might miss a chunk of time with a sprained knee. Anybody got a phone number for Todd Wade?
Question No. 2: Can Jason Taylor be the force he was in Miami playing on the left side of the line instead of the right?
Answer: Not even close. Yes, he’s been dogged by injuries and is just now getting healthy but … not even close.
Question No. 3: What are the odds the Redskins will turn the ball over only six times in the next eight games (as was the case in the first eight)?
Answer: After committing zero offensive turnovers in their first five games, they’ve turned it over in every game since. In their last five, they’re averaging almost two turnovers.
Question No. 4: At some point, doesn’t Jim Zorn’s playcalling become less mysterious to opponents?
Answer: We seem to be at that point, folks. Only once in the second half of the season have the Redskins scored more than 10 points - when they “exploded” for 20 against the 2-11 Seahawks. You can talk all you want about Opportunities Missed and the quality of the opposing defenses (Steelers, Cowboys, Giants, Ravens), but clearly teams have a better read now on Zorn, who benefited from being an unknown quantity in the early going.
This is how a 6-2 club with dreams of a division title can quickly morph into a 7-6 club that has lost its grip on the final wild card berth. Sunday’s 24-10 defeat at Baltimore left the Redskins in last place in the ultracompetitive NFC East. And the club above them, the 7-5-1 Eagles, just knocked off - no, slapped around - the defending Super Bowl champion Giants on the road. (Shudder.)
The Snydermen aren’t officially dead yet, but they’re definitely in intensive care, hooked up to a heart monitor. Their best hope, in Pete Kendall’s estimation, is that “We were able to hold it together last year and find a recipe for success in a similar situation” - and perhaps they can do it again this year.
But there are some differences between the two situations, too. When Jansen and Randy Thomas went down last season, the line had a couple of months to adjust before the Redskins made their mad December dash. And let’s not forget, they had some rough patches - such as the three-week stretch when they failed to rush for 100 yards in a game. By December, though, Jason Fabini had settled in at right guard, Stephon Heyer had taken over for Wade (Jansen’s initial replacement) at right tackle, and the unit was run blocking and pass protecting well.
It isn’t now. The running game has been shut down of late by the Ravens et al, and Clinton Portis hasn’t been the same since stringing together five 120-yard rushing games. Just as bad, Jason Campbell has been getting hit too much, enough to make you wonder whether, one of these times, he might not get up.
That’s another difference between last year and this, by the way - the quarterback spot. Down the stretch last season, the offense was led by a 36-year-old veteran, Todd Collins, who knew the system as well as he knew Casey Rabach’s rump. Campbell doesn’t have nearly that familiarity with the just-installed West Coast attack. In fact, says Zorn, defenses have begun to take advantage of this by jumping around before the snap and forcing him to change plays, slowing down the unit’s tempo more than the coach would like.
So if the Redskins are to make the playoffs - and it’s an awfully crowded field at the moment - the offense will have to plot a different course than the one last year … or even in 2005, when Mark Brunell basically just put the ball in Portis’ belly for five straight games. No, it figures to be much more complicated than that.
Indeed, it wouldn’t be going too far to say: Jason Campbell, your career is calling. This is, after all, his fourth year in the NFL, the third in which he has started games, and there comes a time for every quarterback when he needs to develop into more than just a guy who “drives the car” - that is, if he wants to be considered part of the upper crust.
For Campbell, that time would appear to be now. Joe Bugel will patch up the offensive line as best he can - and Joe’s best is usually pretty good - but nobody will have more of an impact on whether the Redskins pull out of this nosedive than the quarterback.
To borrow Gordon Gekko’s famous line to Bud Fox, the eager-beaver broker, in “Wall Street”: “This is your wake-up call, kid. Go to work!”