- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 27, 2009

Following a game in which the Washington Redskins managed to win despite scoring zero touchdowns on four trips inside the St. Louis 7-yard line, it was the topic du jour all week but a touchy subject nonetheless.

Does coach Jim Zorn trust quarterback Jason Campbell in the red zone?

The normally unflappable Campbell seemed caught off-guard when asked Wednesday at Redskin Park. He didn’t exactly provide a healthy endorsement.

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“I don’t know if it’s a matter of trust,” he said. “As a quarterback, you’re always prepared.”

The similarly unfazed Zorn wasn’t caught by surprise when asked after practice Friday, when he unequivocally said he trusts his quarterback.

“Yes. It really is a one-word answer,” he said. “It can be answered that way because he’s proving it. He’s playing faster, he’s playing with more confidence, we’re protecting him better and he knows where he’s going with the ball because of the rhythm of the offense and the plays that we’ve got.

“He’s on his way.”

But to where? The answer will develop more clearly Sunday when the Redskins play in Detroit.

Campbell, who was sharp against the Rams and threw two potential touchdown passes that were dropped, is on the way up if the Redskins can reach 30 points and he can reach three touchdowns.

Campbell, who was allowed to throw only four times in 17 red zone plays last week, is on the way down - and maybe out - if he’s not allowed to finish drives that were kick-started by his passes.

Win impressively, and the roars about Zorn’s playcalling and his faith in Campbell will subside; win another low-scoring squeaker or, goodness, actually lose to the Lions, and it will be another tumultuous week.

The stakes are high, and maybe former Redskins quarterback Joe Theismann is right when he said this week that Detroit represents the biggest game of Zorn’s tenure.

Campbell’s best two games have come against the Lions. Detroit’s defense could be without four starters. There aren’t any excuses.

“It’s an important week for us,” Campbell said. “It seems like we find ourselves playing to impress the people on the outside and not doing what we need to do to get the next level and have fun doing it. Us on the inside, we know what’s going on and how to get to the next step. We can’t focus on things being said about us as a team and individuals, because then you’ll start to believe it.”

‘Unbelievable’ game

Zorn and Campbell were wired for sound by NFL Films last week, and the final product was an insightful glimpse of the Zorn-Campbell dynamic.

Zorn refers to Campbell as “son” and “buddy.”

Neither man swears, though Zorn used “helluva” and Campbell said “freaking.”

A call in the Redskins’ playbook is “Double Right Double Sluggo Zebra Quick Break.”

And Zorn is huge on tempo. When the Redskins walked to line of scrimmage, he exploded: “What is happening? Look at how we’re walking! What are you guys doing? Let’s go!”

Zorn viewed the two packages, which were shown on NFL.com and Showtime’s “Inside the NFL,” to get final approval, so negative things could have been deleted. But the interaction between coach and quarterback comes across as positive.

“Pretty natural,” Zorn said of the final video. “You don’t think, ‘Hey, I’m miked up.’ ”

What was displayed is how sharply Campbell played - 23-for-35 for 243 yards. Devin Thomas and Mike Sellers dropped touchdown passes, and a protection breakdown contributed to Campbell throwing the ball away instead of hitting Santana Moss for a score.

“Really sharp - unbelievable,” offensive assistant Chris Meidt said. “He played great, maybe the best since we’ve been here in terms of third down, the way he moved around the pocket, the way he scrambled, the throws he made across his body.”

From the St. Louis 20-yard line to the Washington goal line, Campbell was 22-for-31 for 239 yards. In the red zone, Campbell was 1-for-4 for 4 yards.

This is where Zorn has been in the cross hairs this week instead of the normal target, Campbell. The first two trips inside the 10, Campbell threw twice on third down, signaling Zorn thought he could make the play.

But on the third trip, the NFL Films piece revealed that Zorn made the decision to run because of the Thomas and Sellers drops.

“I don’t think they’ve stopped us yet,” Zorn told his coaches on the headset. “I’m going to run the ball in the red zone right now just because we seem to not be able to hang onto the ball in the red zone.”

The result: Portis no gain, Portis 2-yard run, Portis incomplete pass. The Rams snuffed out the third-down pass play when the Redskins failed to properly fake the run. Shaun Suisham’s third field goal provided the winning points.

“As a quarterback you can’t get frustrated or distraught, because you still have to execute the play,” Campbell said of the gadget play. “When you [call] those plays, everybody says it’s a gutsy call. When you don’t, everybody will be on you. That’s pretty much how this business works.”

All about execution

The Redskins work on red zone plays Friday in practice and during Saturday’s mock game, then discuss the plays Saturday night at the team hotel.

The bottom right section of Zorn’s playcalling sheet each week is devoted to the red zone and includes 25 plays plus a goal-line package.

“Some teams go in with 50 plays they could call down there,” Zorn said. “I try to go with plays we can actually practice.”

Citing the two drops and poor sell job by the offensive line on Portis’ pass, Zorn said additional red zone practice this week wasn’t required even though 17 snaps gained 23 yards.

Since the start of last year, the Redskins in the red zone rank 31st in points per trip (4.5), 30th in scoring percentage (78.2) and 28th in touchdown percentage (45.4, 25 touchdowns in 55 trips).

The common theme among the Redskins this week is that’s about everybody doing their job and not the playcalling.

“Poor execution,” center Casey Rabach said. “Nothing special, that’s for sure.”

The 0-for-5 total (including a kneel-down series) was by far the worst of Zorn’s tenure, topping two 2-for-6 games last year.

Campbell isn’t the issue, so it falls on the running game to start getting things done in goal-to-go situations. That will become more difficult without right guard Randy Thomas, who is out for the season with a triceps injury. Portis is questionable with ankle problems but is expected to play.

“Some teams make it look easy - they get into the red zone and strike,” Portis said. “Right now we’re not playing the way we feel we should be playing. It’s only a matter of time before that changes.”

While his teammates and coaches join Portis in saying the Redskins will get it figured out, it will remain an issue until the 10-, 11- and 12-play drives end with Suisham kicking extra points, not setting up for chip-shot field goals to a chorus of boos.

“Yardage isn’t the issue,” Campbell said. “It’s the same thing that ended the season for us last year - not scoring touchdowns. That’s something we have to focus on, finishing drives. We’re a good offense, but people say we’re a bad offense when we’re not scoring touchdowns.”

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