Tuesday, December 16, 2008

A day after another bad loss lowlighted by another poor offensive performance that kept the Washington Redskins in the NFC East cellar, coach Jim Zorn identified himself as a key reason for the team’s second-half struggles.

“I just feel like the worst coach in America to have to lose the way we’re losing,” said Zorn, who added that he’s not rattled by the 1-5 second-half record. “But I’m deeply concerned, and I want to look internally, and it starts with me.”

Zorn said the early part of the week would be spent simultaneously game-planning for Philadelphia and evaluating his role in the 7-7 season. That he criticized himself represented a radical departure for the first-year coach.

In previous losses, Zorn contended player execution was at the core of the defeat, not his West Coast passing game, not the holdover running game and certainly not his playcalling.

But with speculation swirling about his job security, Zorn praised the players’ effort instead of bashing their performance, saving the negativity to characterize his own productivity.

“Even before this juncture but certainly now, I have to look at myself,” he said. “To me, it’s all about me. I need to check my plan of attack, and all of our staff needs to re-evaluate what we’re doing to see if we’re going in the right direction.

“I really believe we’re building a good foundation, but certainly when these things [happen], I certainly have to take and I do take the responsibility for some of these games that are just not turning out how we’ve planned.”

In the lobby of Redskin Park following the 20-minute press conference, Zorn said the decision to call himself out wasn’t a calculated attempt to ease the pressure that comes with working for team owner Dan Snyder and executive vice president of football operations Vinny Cerrato.

“I don’t know about tactics, but … the hard part for me is to not take away from the Bengals [because] they earned the win, but that was a team we could beat,” Zorn said. “I just look at it and think, ‘OK, what have I asked of the players?’ I’ve asked them to give me everything, and then the next week, I say, ‘OK, listen, we lost that game, and I’m sorry to ask you this, but I’ve got to have more.’ And I keep demanding.

“When it’s the same result, I want to make sure I look at me.”

The league looked at Zorn and heaped praise on him for wins at Dallas and Philadelphia and for his work with quarterback Jason Campbell during the Redskins’ 6-2 start. But the offense has wilted against tough defenses, the injuries have mounted, and against the previously one-win Bengals, the Redskins were a no-show.

And the longer Snyder and Cerrato remain silent - Cerrato’s radio program was canceled, the team said, because he was attending an NFL-related meeting in Dallas - as the losses continue to mount, the more chatter will intensify that the franchise is plotting a change.

Zorn said he has the full support of Snyder and Cerrato.

“I have conversations with them all the time,” he said. “It’s not like I’m getting the silent treatment. That part is not dysfunctional. We’re all trying to work to win, but we’re working out those things internally, not externally, and we’re trying to move along. I feel we have tremendous support from both those guys. They’re very passionate about this football team and want the best. I can say that emphatically. I can tell you that honestly.

“They’ve done a tremendous job of trying to get everything we can get personnel-wise to put this team together, and really it’s up to me to coach it. There’s nothing [else] to be said.”

Discussion about Zorn’s future has crept into the Redskins’ locker room, creating another possible distraction a week after Clinton Portis bashed him in a radio interview. The team had an awful start for a third consecutive game, receiver Santana Moss committed a careless 15-yard celebration penalty, cornerback Carlos Rogers was puzzled as to why he didn’t start, linebacker Rocky McIntosh was benched for poor play and afterward players said it would be tough to report to work for the final two games knowing there is nothing to play for.

“Obviously, when you lose, there’s going to be a lot of questioning about situations and things like that,” said linebacker London Fletcher, one of six team captains. “We feel like Coach Zorn is the right person for the job. We feel like we’re building a really successful football team. … He can’t go out and catch for us. He can’t run, he can’t block and he can’t tackle. What he can do is get us prepared to do that and give us a great plan and let his assistant coaches provide great game plans. They’ve done that for us.”

Several veterans embraced the continuity that came with Zorn keeping the previous regime’s running game and ownership’s call to promote Greg Blache to run the defense.

But if Snyder opts to torpedo the coaching staff after just one season and spend millions to hire Bill Cowher, it would mean wholesale personnel changes to account for a switch to Cowher’s 3-4 defense and yet another new offense for Campbell to master. Cowher declined a chance to interview for the job after Joe Gibbs’ sudden retirement in January.

One veteran player said Cowher would never consider the Redskins job if Cerrato remained in the building.

While the locker room doesn’t appear to be divided offense vs. defense or Zorn guys vs. non-Zorn guys, the coach’s 180-degree turn might have to do with veterans expressing displeasure that Zorn accepted credit for the 6-2 start but little of the blame for the current troubles.

That approach changed Monday.

“I always ask the players to be very honest when they look at the game and be very self critical, so that’s what I’m going to be to myself,” he said. “That’s what I’m going to be to myself - just criticize my overall coaching of this football team. Where do I need to improve?”

Where the Redskins need to improve in order to secure a winning or even a .500 year is on offense. They rank 29th in scoring and haven’t scored three touchdowns in a game since the Week 3 win against Arizona. Zorn praised the toughness and improvement of Campbell, who was not available Monday after the team canceled the media’s open locker room session; the quarterback also did not make his weekly appearance on Comcast SportsNet. But Zorn refused to acknowledge that his quarterback’s play is limited by injuries on the offensive line and the inability of anybody besides Moss and Chris Cooley to get open.

The defense, while ranked seventh in fewest points allowed, has an aging front four that can’t get to the quarterback. The unit’s 21 sacks rank 29th in the NFL.

With the playoffs likely out of reach, Zorn said he would use the final two games as a chance to get two wins, not evaluate young players.

“Those players are already participating, and we can do some of that, but I’m not going to throw in the towel ever,” he said. “We’re going out to win. I feel just sick that we started out so fast and the progression we started with and then to run so flat. We owe it to everybody to win, and however we can do it, we will.”

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