To just about anyone you ask who knows something about the situation surrounding the Washington Redskins, they will tell you that the right course of action is to replace Jim Zorn as the head coach of the Burgundy & Gold. Some people will tell you that it’s not even a decision of whether he should be fired or not, but it’s a matter of when it will take place.

All season, I’ve been something of an apologist for the way things have been transpiring with my beloved home-team.

  • People point to the team starting slow against the New York Giants?  I say that the Redskins nearly won that game – a road trip to a divisional opponent who recently won the Super Bowl – I chalked that game up as a loss before the season started.
  • The Redskins just barely defeat the St Louis Rams, who are still without a win after the first five games?  I point to the fact that the Rams didn’t score a touchdown in that game, and their head coach – defensive minded Steve Spagnuolo, has seen the Redskins twice a year since the 1999-2000 season, spending time with the Eagles and the Giants.  He’s very familiar with the Redskins Running Game and Passing Game, having spent time as a Defensive Assistant, Linebackers Coach, Defensive Backs Coach, and Defensive Coordinator over those years.  I would’ve been surprised if he didn’t find a way to gameplan against Washington to slow the Redskins offense.  The Rams don’t play any other NFC East team this year, though if they were to have the Giants, Eagles or Cowboys on the schedule, I would anticipate the Rams to play well against them as well.
  • The loss to the Detroit Lions?  Don’t look at that as the Redskins losing to a team who didn’t have a victory the previous year – the Lions replaced the majority of their roster from last year, including a new starting Quarterback and a new Tight End from the first round of the draft.  They also have a new headcoach in Jim Schwartz who has been a very successful Defensive Coordinator for the Tennessee Titans for the past 7 years, and spent time with the Baltimore Ravens prior to that.  His Assistant Head Coach / Defensive Coordinator is the highly respected and accomplished Gunther Cunningham, and former Rams head coach Scott Linehan as the Offensive Coordinator.  They fired Matt Millen as the General Manager and put Martin Mayhew in that position.  This is a much different franchise this year, and although they won’t get into the playoffs (or even reach 8-8), the Lions should be respectable barring any serious injuries.
  • The loss to the previously win-less Carolina Panthers drops the Redskins to below .500 (winning percentage – their record now at 2 wins and 3 losses), so how could Jim Zorn NOT be on the hot-seat – especially since he has a record of 4 wins and 9 losses over his last 13 games?  First of all, the Carolina Panthers under-produced in their first three games this year.  They should’ve done much better against the Eagles when playing in Carolina;  a close loss to the Falcons in Atlanta is understandable; the week 3 Monday Night game against Dallas where they lost by 2 touchdowns was another example of under-producing.  Even if you disagree that the Panthers should be better this year than they’re showing, I will argue that it’s typically tough to defeat a team after their bye week – which the Carolina Panthers had in week 4 prior to playing the Redskins on October 11th.

That takes me to another big part of people’s argument:  the fact that Jim Zorn lead the Redskins to a 2-6 record to end the 2008/09 Season.  I maintain that although Washington should’ve finished out 2008 with a better record than 8-8, it shouldn’t have been too much higher than that given their schedule:

  • Game #9 – LOSS – by 17 – Pittsburgh Steelers – I don’t care that the game was played at FedEx Field, I still think that a loss to the team who wins the Super Bowl is a loss that just about anyone should be able to understand
  • Game #10 – LOSS – by 4 – Dallas Cowboys – This one could’ve / should’ve been a win.  You have to go into the season expecting to beat divisional opponents on your homefield if you expect to make the playoffs, especially since the Redskins beat The Cowboys IN Dallas earlier in the season.
  • Game #11 – WIN – by 3 – Seattle Seahawks – Travelling across the country to play on the West Coast typically produces losses for East Coast teams (which is part of the reason why the Seahawks usually has a good record playing in Seattle), but the Redskins stole a victory that I wasn’t counting on.  That kinda evens out with the Dallas game.
  • Game #12 – LOSS – by 16 – New York Giants – Repeat my comments about the Dallas game (the part about divisional foes at home, not the part about winning the road game earlier in the year, because that didn’t happen).  Should’ve been a victory.
  • Game #13 – LOSS – by 14 – Baltimore Ravens – Several analysts have stated that last year’s Ravens team was probably the 2nd best team in the NFL that year behind only Pittsburgh, and that if the Ravens had gone to the Super Bowl against any of the NFC playoff teams, that Baltimore probably would’ve won the Lombardi Trophy.  Understandable loss, especially given that it was a game played IN Baltimore.
  • Game #14 – LOSS – by 7 – Cincinnati Bengals – This was a tough loss, even though it was played in Ohio, because the Bengals finished 4-11-1 last year.  Cincinnati had previously tied the Philadelphia Eagles in Week 11 and came within a touchdown of beating the Ravens (in Baltimore), the Giants (in New Jersey), and the Browns.  The Bengals won their final 3 games of last year, so they must’ve started doing something right.  Still not a loss that you want to see.
  • Game #15 – WIN – by 7 – Philadelphia Eagles – As I said before, you expect to win divisional games at home, so this one went right for Zorn & The Redskins.
  • Game #16 – LOSS – by 3 – San Francisco 49ers – Having made a change to Mike Singletary at head coach, the 49ers won 5 of their last 7 in the 2008/09 season, so a close loss to them – while frustrating – might be more indicative of what the 49ers were doing RIGHT than what the Redskins were doing wrong.

At best, the Redskins should’ve finished out the season with a record of 5-3 over that 8 game span, which would’ve left them at 11-5.  That would’ve included a season-sweep of the Cowboys, Eagles, and splitting with the Giants – a scenario which isn’t entirely pheasible against your entire division (at most, you should hope for one sweep and two splits).  There were injuries that should be accounted for, not to mention the growing pains that first-year coach Jim Zorn obviously felt as other teams started to change how they approached the Redskins based on analysis of what Zorn had done in the first half the season, while he attempted to do the same for other teams.

If the Washington Redskins decide to fire Jim Zorn, I’ll be okay with their decision, but I’m frustrated by people who call for him to be replaced as head coach simply because of his record this year and his record since the mid-point last season.

In the past few days, there have been two things I can point to which have convinced me that the Redskins don’t necessarily have to give Jim Zorn a third-year as head coach.

  • Before the games on Sunday, I was watching the NFL Network where Steve Mariucci, a guy who knows something about coaching Quarterbacks gave his analysis on what options a Quarterback has when facing pressure in the pocket.  It was a simple segment which lasted probably no more than 6 or 7 minutes, but it went through what a QB should do when facing pressure from one side, both sides, up the middle, and what to do situationally.  As I watched games on Sunday afternoon, evening, and then Monday night, I kept those lessons from Mariucci in mind, and it occurred to me that Jason Campbell was one of the only Quarterbacks I was watching who didn’t seem to have learned those fundamentals.  This is something that Jim Zorn should be on top of.  This is something that the Redskins’ coaching staff should ENSURE that Jason Campbell knows how to do instinctively.  Jim Zorn is a former NFL Quarterback, a former NFL Quarterbacks Coach, and so if nothing else, his Quarterback – Jason Campbell – should have the fundamentals of his position ENGRAINED into his head.  He shouldn’t even have to think about where to step-up based on pressure from the opposing defense.  He should just KNOW, and it should be something that Jim Zorn should make sure he knows.  Think this is just a little problem?  Keep in mind that if Jason Campbell would’ve stepped up in the pocket as soon as he started feeling pressure in the Giants game – and there was a huge opening at the time – then he wouldn’t have been stripped of the ball, a fumble which was returned for a touchdown by the New York Giants in a game which was decided by 6 points on opening day this season.  How bad would Jim Zorn look right now if the Redskins were 3-2 and had beaten the Giants?  Would Jason Campbell have been sacked as much by the Carolina Panthers this past week if Zorn had forced Campbell to KNOW how to handle pressure?  This is a big failure on the part of Jim Zorn.
  • A team emulates its head coach.  For the most part, I’ve heard that the players on the roster like Jim Zorn and they want to win for him.  While listening to a couple rants by the host of  The Lavar Arrington Show with Chad Dukes on Monday afternoon, I came to understand that Jim Zorn is not doing his job of motivating the roster to give it 100%.  I heard Zorn comment (in either a press conference or in a radio interview, can’t remember which) that he doesn’t feel like he needs to yell at the men on his roster to tell them what to do.  He takes the approach of showing them what they did wrong and challenging them to fix it next time.  Sure, that might bring about respect from his players, but they don’t seem to fear the reprocussions of doing something wrong.  When Jason Campbell took the Redskins’ final timeout against Carolina, Jim Zorn didn’t get in his face and yell at him about it.  They had a seemingly mild-mannered discussion about what Jason saw in the defense that caused him to decide that the play Zorn had called wasn’t going to work.  ARE YOU KIDDING ME?  Saving that timeout could’ve helped the Redskins get the ball back at the end of the game, which could’ve helped flip the outcome.  I’ve seen Mike Singletary – head coach of the 49ers – YELL at his players for using a timeout too early or in a bad situation, and I can guarantee you that the chances of it happening again is very slim.  Zorn treats his players with respect – there’s no question about that – but there is something to be said for firing up the players to get them to play harder for you.  Lavar Arrington questioned how much the Redskins coaching staff is challenging the players on the 53-man roster, going so far as to say that Zorn probably didn’t run the training camp hard enough – because players don’t seem to have the fire they need to win games, and in some cases they don’t seem to have the conditioning to play as many plays as necessary (especially Albert Haynesworth).  The failure to demand more out of players and hold them highly accountable for their actions and decisions is a huge failure on the part of Jim Zorn.

I would like to see if Zorn improves in these areas over the remainder of the 2009/10 season, so I hope he’s not replaced before the end of the year, and if he can improve on those two areas, I believe the Redskins could be a much better team, in contention to put themselves into a playoff spot.  With three losses already, there’s not much room for error, though, and for Zorn, the time to make a change in the way he does things is NOW.

What could he do to breathe new life into the Redskins right away?

Have the defensive starters practice with the offensive starters this week.  I can’t claim to be the originator of this idea, because it was something that Lavar Arrington said he’d do if he were there.  In fact, he said that if he was part of the defense, he would TELL the coach that he wanted to practice against the offensive starters.  His idea was that this offensive line – comprised of guys who would be backups if it weren’t for injuries – would HIGHLY benefit from practice time against one of the best defenses in the league.  The only problem with this idea is that the Redskins can’t really afford another injury at this point, but they do need seasoning.

Create competition at RB and WR in practice.  Malcolm Kelly might have the SKILLS to get it done, but how many catches does he have this year?  Not enough.  I’ve yet to see Marko Mitchell get into the game in the regular season (and I think I’d remember seeing it if they threw it to him), but in the pre-season, he looked like a gem.  Instead of waiting until next pre-season to see if Marko was just a fluke this summer – put him into the game against the Chiefs.  Throw him the ball.  If he’s productive, then that’s HUGE.  If he’s not, then I have to wonder if you really lost anything, since Devin Thomas and Malcolm Kelly aren’t too productive in their own right.  Why do I think this would work?  Look at what happened at Safety.  Reed Doughty was able to win his starting spot away from Chris Horton – and now whenever Horton gets into the game he looks HUNGRY.  I’d also give it a shot at runningback, giving Marcus Mason and Anthony Alridge a chance to show what they’re made of, especially Alridge – who could be a great change-of-pace runningback because of his speed and different running style when compared to Clinton Portis.

If nothing else, it would give the Redskins fanbase some hope, and if the 90,000+ at FedEx are cheering, I’m sure it’s a lot easier for the 53 guys on the sidelines to want to give it 110%.

What’s Jim Zorn have to lose at this point?  Everyone is assuming that ownership has already decided to replace Zorn.  Get some excitement going, start a buzz, and The Z Man might be able to salvage his job.  At this point, I don’t believe he’s done anything that’s going to make another team’s owner want to consider him as their starting coach… or even offensive coordinator.