- The Washington Times - Monday, September 28, 2009

DETROIT

Dan Snyder originally hired Jim Zorn as Washington’s offensive coordinator in January 2008. Zorn became the Redskins’ head coach the next month more by attrition than by the owner’s design as other candidates pulled out of the running.

Zorn had never called a play as an NFL assistant. But he had been a good NFL quarterback and had helped develop Matt Hasselbeck into a Pro Bowl passer while working for Seattle’s Mike Holmgren, considered one of the league’s best offensive coaches.

However, 19 games into his gamble on Zorn, Snyder is coming up empty.

Zorn has yet to oversee a game in which his team has scored 30 points. And Sunday’s 19-14 loss to the Detroit Lions, who hadn’t won a game since before President Obama won his first caucus, was a new low for Zorn and his offense.

The Redskins wound up outgaining the formerly lowly Lions 390-381, but 127 of Washington’s yards and one of its two touchdowns came in desperation mode in the final six minutes of the game.

It was the same story in the opening loss at the New York Giants, when Chris Cooley scored Washington’s only offensive touchdown with just 1:42 left.

Through three weeks, the only touchdown Zorn’s offense has produced in the first 57 minutes of a game was Santana Moss’ 57-yard catch-and-run that opened Sunday’s second half with a bang.

And the Redskins have already faced two of the weakest defenses they’ll see all year, those of the St. Louis Rams and the Lions.

“I don’t dwell on the fact on who you are and who you have,” said Moss, who had 10 catches, 178 yards and the touchdown to ultimately no avail. “It’s about who’s ready.”

The Redskins looked ready on the opening drive. With Campbell and Moss leading the way, Washington reached the Detroit 9-yard line in just five plays. But like last week against St. Louis, Washington came up short.

This time, running back Clinton Portis - behind the left side of an offensive line that tilts that way minus injured Randy Thomas - was stopped about a foot shy of paydirt on fourth-and-goal.

Chris Samuels, a six-time Pro Bowl left tackle, didn’t think that failure was the reason for the loss. But Campbell thought it changed everything, especially after the young Lions responded to the goal-line stand by marching 99 yards for the lead.

“I think if we score on the fourth-and-1, it’s a knockout punch,” Campbell said. “It seemed like after that play, they felt stronger about what they could do. They had confidence.”

Ah, confidence. The Redskins weren’t a very good offense during Zorn’s debut season, especially in the second half as injuries wore down Portis and the line. But hopes were high coming into this year because all the starters, except left guard Derrick Dockery, had learned Zorn’s scheme in 2008.

“There’s not a lot of confidence here right now,” tight end Chris Cooley said in the visitors locker room. “The only way to gain confidence is to go back and work harder.”

There’s only so much hard work can fix. And Portis, Cooley, Samuels, Moss and fullback Mike Sellers all went to Hawaii during at least one of the past four years, so the offense must have some talent.

Ultimately, the fingers get pointed at the quarterback and the coach.

“It’s definitely not on one person,” Campbell said of the pressure Zorn is under. “We got to have more production. We moved the ball last game. We just didn’t finish in the red zone. Today, we come up short on a couple third downs. It seems like every game is something [different]. We got to find a way to get this turned around and turned around quickly. It’s not going to get any easier. It’s just going to continue to get harder and harder.”

It certainly will if the offense continues to struggle to find the end zone. Even against the likes of the Rams, Lions and this weekend’s hapless foe, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, a cardinal rule still applies: You can’t win if you can’t score.

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