- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 20, 2009

The Redskins have never had much sense of timing during the Dan Snyder years. They either do things too early or too late - one of the marks of a mismanaged franchise.

Snyder, after all, is the guy who held Norv Turner hostage at Texas Stadium - demanding an explanation for a disappointing loss - after just his sixth game as an NFL owner. (Too early.)

He’s the guy who brought in Bruce Smith and Deion Sanders (combined age: 70) the next year, convinced it would make the defense even more superduper. (Too late.)

He’s the guy who fired Turner with a 7-6 record that season (too early, Part 1) and got rid of Brad Johnson over the winter… so Johnson could help the Bucs win the Super Bowl in 2002 (too early, Part 2).

He’s the guy who let Stephen Davis go in 2003… and watched him have a Pro Bowl year and carry the Panthers to the Super Bowl. (Too early.)

You could go on and on.

The past two seasons, Snyder has had a severe case of the Too Lates. He took his sweet time hiring a coach in 2008, saw Mike Smith go to the Falcons, John Harbaugh to the Ravens and Tony Sparano to the Dolphins, and somehow wound up with Jim Zorn, whom he originally wanted as his offensive coordinator.

In July, he took Jeremy Jarmon in the supplemental draft - even though the club wasn’t desperate for a defensive end - when what he should have done was taken Maryland offensive tackle Jared Gaither in the supplemental draft two years earlier. (Think Gaither might have come in handy, given the current state of the offensive line?)

And now we have Snyder forcing a new play caller on Zorn - after the Redskins have completed the soft part of their schedule with a 2-4 record.

Too late, too late, too late.

The time to make this move, if you were so inclined, was three weeks ago, after the loss at Detroit - and I wrote as much. It was clear then the offense wasn’t working - and hadn’t been since early last season. So why not see whether another play caller might have better luck? Isn’t that what Joe Gibbs did the second time around when Mark Brunell and Co. had trouble finding the first-down marker? Isn’t that what Steve Spurrier did - at least for a spell - when his Fun ‘n’ Gun jammed?

The timing was also right because the Redskins had the Bucs, Panthers and Chiefs coming up, and none of them had won a game. The offense would have had three weeks to iron out its problems - if, indeed, they were iron-outable - before taking on tougher competition.

But because Snyder and Vinny Cerrato waited until Sunday night, after the 14-6 loss to the Chiefs, to “ask” Zorn to give up the playcalling, well, there’s no saving the season now. Unless newly arrived Sherman Lewis, who will run the offensive show in Z-Man’s stead, starts channeling Bill Walsh, the Redskins are looking at more of the same. (In other words, before the season is over, we may have a second punter pull a groin.)

Actually, it isn’t entirely the owner’s fault. Zorn could have headed this off after the Lions debacle by voluntarily stepping down as play caller and handing the job over to someone on his staff. That might have bought him a few more weeks to get the offense sorted out. But because of pride or stubbornness or (fill in the blank), he kept dialing up the plays until the owner ran out of patience. And now the duties have been given to a Total Stranger, a coach who had been retired for four years when the Redskins sent out their frantic SOS.

I asked Zorn at Monday’s postmortem why he never reached the point Gibbs and Spurrier did - and just had another coach handle the playcalling. His reply: “I have confidence in my play calls.”

Me: “Even with how things have been going?”

He: “Yes.”

So there you have it, folks. The Redskins might be averaging 13.2 points a game this season, but Zorn, in his mind, certainly isn’t a 13.2-points-a-game play caller. The problem, according to him, lies elsewhere - with the players, perhaps, or with the people who procure the players.

And maybe he’s right. Maybe there isn’t a coach alive who could make chicken salad out of this offensive group - especially with Randy Thomas out for the year and Chris Samuels possibly done, too. But even if Zorn feels that way, it was bad form to give an answer like that, one that failed to acknowledge any shortcomings on his part. It was - how shall I put this? - very un-Gibbsian.

“You can’t blame it all on Z,” Antwaan Randle El said in his coach’s defense. “We’ve gotta make plays.”

Nobody’s trying to blame it all on Z. The buck stops, as always, with Snyder’s too early/too late management.

You know, it’s funny. Dan the Man loves to talk about being a lifelong Redskins fan, but his memory bank seems to have some gaps. In particular, he appears to have forgotten the ‘92 season, when injuries on the line simply shut down the offense for six weeks - an offense that had scored 485 points the year before and won the Super Bowl.

This, moreover, wasn’t with Jim Zorn calling the plays; it was with Coach Joe, in his prime, calling the plays. This wasn’t with Devin Thomas and Malcolm Kelly running pass routes; it was with Gary Clark and Ricky Sanders running pass routes.

I just looked up the gory details. In those six weeks - weeks in which the Redskins were trying to survive without two starting linemen (and, toward the end, a third) - the offense generated 66 points (three touchdowns, 15 field goals), or 11 a game. That’s fewer than this year’s offense has been scoring. And it’s not like the ‘92 team didn’t have quality backups. Ray Brown and Ed Simmons went on to become darn good players. The line just took so many hits that Joe Bugel ran out of (NFL-ready) bodies.

The moral: It all starts with the line on offense. If the line can’t protect the passer, can’t open holes for running backs, it doesn’t matter what kind of personnel you have - or what kind of play caller, either. But Snyder ignored that lesson in the offseason, paid little attention to an O-line that had depth issues - what with Samuels and Thomas coming off surgery - and we can all see what this neglect hath wrought.

Only 10 more games to go.

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