- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Still reeling from another defeat by another winless team, Jim Zorn was hit with more adversity Sunday in the hours after the Washington Redskins’ 14-6 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs.

In charge of an offense that ranks 29th in scoring and is the chief culprit in the team’s 2-4 start, Zorn said it was “strongly suggested” by executive vice president of football operations Vinny Cerrato that he hand playcalling responsibilities to offensive consultant Sherm Lewis.

“Just added frustration,” Zorn said Monday of Cerrato’s request. “I was angry for the loss. I was angry for the lack of production on our football team. The suggestion - that was just another issue.”

After what he called time for “soul searching,” Zorn acquiesced. Lewis will try to kick-start the offense starting Monday night against the Philadelphia Eagles.

“We can’t continue going on scoring six points in a game,” Zorn said. “I don’t want that. The players don’t deserve that. If it’s me [who is the problem], if it’s really the play caller, I’m willing to try it and go. I’m willing to go hard and see how this thing [develops].”

Gripping the podium and looking fidgety during a 16-minute news conference at Redskin Park, Zorn tried to appear positive but instead seemed shaken by what essentially is a demotion. Zorn said he could have turned down Cerrato’s request but didn’t “because I want to stay here and win.”

Asked whether he still would be the coach had he rebuffed Cerrato, Zorn said: “I don’t have that answer for you.”

The Redskins’ offense has failed to reach 30 points in all 22 of its games with Zorn as the play caller - his first stint in the NFL in that position.

“I’m sure he’s not happy with it,” quarterback Todd Collins said. “Since he came here, he’s wanted to call the plays, and now it’s been taken away from him. We’re all waiting to see how this works out.”

Said receiver Santana Moss: “All you can do is be positive about the situation because, right now, it doesn’t seem like anything positive is coming out of our play. You need to look for something.”

Cerrato declined interview requests, and Lewis was not made available to reporters. Offensive coordinator Sherman Smith and assistant head coach-running backs coach Stump Mitchell were not considered for the position, Zorn said.

Out of the NFL since 2005, Lewis, 67, was set to call a bingo game when he accepted the Redskins’ offer Oct. 6 to serve as what Cerrato called a “fresh set of eyes.” Lewis’ observe-and-report role lasted nine practices and two games.

The Redskins are the fourth team to make a playcalling change this season. Kansas City, Tampa Bay and Buffalo fired their offensive coordinators in the preseason. Those teams are a combined 3-15.

A lack of execution allowed Cerrato to justify the switch. Zorn had been one of eight head coaches to call the plays, and he may have bought himself more time to turn the season around by giving up the job.

But former Indianapolis Colts coach Tony Dungy said Sunday on NBC that Zorn should have responded to Cerrato with an ultimatum - remain the play caller or be fired.

“This is not a good thing,” Dungy said. “If you’re Jim Zorn, you have to say, ‘I’m in charge of this team on the field. If I’m not, then get rid of me.’ … Otherwise, you’re just fighting uphill.”

Said Zorn: “I tried to soul-search all those things, but there are a lot of people involved. This is a big organization. It has some strong leaders, and I hope I’m one of those strong leaders. Sometimes we have to do things that are uncomfortable. My comfort level is not there, but I also look at the production. This is not an easy thing. The production hasn’t been there.”

In the first half against Kansas City, the offense produced no points, and Zorn replaced quarterback Jason Campbell with Collins after halftime. The backup struggled, too. Zorn said he will announce a starter for Monday’s game by Thursday but is expected to stick with Campbell because of his mobility against Philadelphia’s blitzing defense.

“I want to really make sure I do the right thing,” he said. “It’s a hard decision.”

The Redskins have been unable to generate much in the passing game, which is Lewis’ specialty from his experience in the West Coast offense. He doesn’t have a vast playcalling resume - 1999 in Green Bay and 2000 and 2001 with Minnesota. The Packers finished ninth in yards and 10th in points with Lewis in charge. According to a league source, Lewis strayed from the traditional West Coast passing game and tried to stretch the field with Brett Favre.

Because of injuries on the offensive line, the Redskins’ chances to go deep have been minimal, but Zorn said he expects to see some new ideas.

“The mix of the play call will be different because Sherm will see it differently than I will,” he said. “Will we install a whole new strategy of plays? Probably not.”

The decision to bench Campbell was a bold move, and agreeing not to call the plays is probably Zorn’s last gasp, but he remains confident the Redskins can turn it around.

“We have four losses, but we still have a bright future,” he said. “Our defense is going to keep us in ballgames - I absolutely know that. 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.”

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