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Merril Hoge Breaks Down the Skins

With all the questions about whether the Skins have too much talent to be playing like this, or are actually playing up to their talent level, I figured I should ask some people who actually spend their time breaking down game tape. First up: ESPN analyst Merril Hoge. I told him that some fans were wondering whether this team actually has sufficient talent.

"I think something that isn't always understood by the fan is everyone in football has talent," Hoge said. "Sure, you can grade some teams' talent level higher than others, but still, everyone in the NFL has good, elite talent. Now, are you maximizing that talent and using it in the best ways?"

His answer for the Redskins? No. Not just yet, or at least, not on offense.

"You have a philosophy, a West Coast philosophy, and nobody fits that mold," said Hoge, who comprehensively reviewed the Tampa game on tape. "I don't think they try to take advantage of their strengths. It's like they've got a philosophy and they want to run it regardless. Shoot, I'd run the ball, run a lot of run action, stack receivers, bunch 'em coming off the line. I'd use a different philosophy to take advantage of their strengths. The West Coast is not their strength. That doesn't mean you can't do it some of the time, it just shouldn't be your staple....That, to me, is the biggest way to fail as a coach. Just watch the Tampa game. They did nothing to help their guys. The quarterback has nowhere to throw the ball, so then he gets sacked and looks like an idiot."

Specifically, Hoge said the Bucs--once famous for the Tampa-2 zone--were running man concept stuff in their secondary for the majority of the game. He said the Redskins were countering with pass routes that would be most effective against zone schemes. He cited one 3rd-and-10 play in which the Skins ran three curl independent curl routes.

"Man, you're never gonna win a curl route against man, ever," Hoge said. "Give 'em an option route. Stack your receivers. Run them across the field. You just can't run zone concept stuff and think you're gonna win [those battles]. You're not."

His assessment of the talent vs. execution question was thus a mixed bag; "it falls on both, quite honestly," he said. He'd like to see the Redskins rely more on the run game and play-action deep balls, and he'd like to see them take advantage of Jason Campbell's arm strength. He said the biggest problems with the offensive line against the Bucs came on mental errors, not physical breakdowns, except for several plays when Gaines Adams "took the tight end and just slapped him out of the way." But he said once the linemen got their "heads out of their rears" after the first half, the Redskins ran the ball quite effectively.

Of course, Hoge's concern about running the West Coast system with smurfs would be alleviated by performance from the Devin Thomas/Malcolm Kelly slot, but he said he just hasn't seen it yet from those guys.

"All I can tell you is it's been long enough," he said. "We should have seen it. Something should have popped up by now. Time is running out on those guys."

And so, final thoughts?

"The great demise for any coach is when he's unwilling to adapt his philosophy to the strengths of his personnel," Hoge said. "I don't care what level you're at, eventually you have to evaluate the strength of your personnel and adjust your philosophy to those strengths."

By Dan Steinberg  |  October 9, 2009; 12:29 PM ET
Categories:  Media , Redskins  
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Next: Hunter "Hamster" Hobson and the Ironman


That seems to as reasonable and as thoughtful as any analysis I have heard of the Redskins problem to date. Of course, it is indictment of the Management who either failed to get the right talent for Zorn or got the wrong coach for the talent they had. Regardless, something has to give and it would seem if Zorn wants to have a job here next year he had better adapt and quickly or Sherman Lewis is going to be running the offense and Blache will be head coach as we enter the bye week.

Posted by: mjwies11 | October 9, 2009 1:01 PM | Report abuse

Hoge: "Square peg, meet round hole."

Posted by: walkdwalk | October 9, 2009 1:08 PM | Report abuse

Everything before Sunday is an indictment of management. But on Sundays, it's all Zorn's fault. Snyder isn't calling 3 WR curl routes against man coverage, is he? Sometimes, I think maybe, just maybe, it's not a case of Zorn being obstinate but a case of him not knowing any better. Dude's never called plays in the NFL before so how's he supposed to know? Maybe he just isn't seeing those things in real time. He's too focused thinking of the next play to call for him to realize what the defense is doing and how to counter it.

Posted by: tundey | October 9, 2009 1:19 PM | Report abuse

Great job Steiner... Way to be our insider... I think you and the insider should switch titles since you seem to have more insider stuff that the "blogger" who calls himself the mayor/insider. Great stuff and this is the best breakdown I've heard all week. Frankly, I'm sick and tired of the negativity speak. BTW, isn't today Friday? Should we be excited to kick some Panther butt on sunday? I'm sure the insider will blog more about his trip to Carolina and how old the Sherm looks. But then again, it wouldn't take a normal person to see that.

Posted by: dimatuma | October 9, 2009 1:19 PM | Report abuse

I think Hoge did an excellent job of analyzing what's wrong with the offense. Maybe they should have brought him in instead of another Sherman. Hoge and Jaws are the best at breaking down teams. I hope someone at Redskin Park is paying attention.

Posted by: ralston21 | October 9, 2009 1:41 PM | Report abuse

I don't think the Skins need anyone from outside the organization to break down. They'll do that on their own.

Posted by: false_cause | October 9, 2009 1:46 PM | Report abuse

Great analysis. Thanks.

Although I missed the obligatory parens of "Malcolm Kelly, who had knee problems that management was aware of before drafting him, ....."

Posted by: AdamCr | October 9, 2009 1:50 PM | Report abuse

Thanks Dan, this is a great post. Outside opinions from people like Hoge and Casserly who offer well-reasoned analysis is refreshing compared to the typical superficial perspectives you see reported so often. Keep up the good work!

Posted by: goose33 | October 9, 2009 2:06 PM | Report abuse

If a genie popped out of my bottle, I would wish the Washington Redskin's ownership, management, coaches, and stadium would switch places with the Baltimore Ravens.

I want my stable, consistent, and competent Redskins back.

You remember them, right? The had great lines, could run the ball, played like a team, threw the occasional bomb, built up the team through the draft, thought long-term, and didn't view their product as simply marketed entertainment.

Posted by: clandestinetomcat | October 9, 2009 2:06 PM | Report abuse

This is great analysis. Thanks steinz.

Posted by: mja712 | October 9, 2009 2:14 PM | Report abuse

Any Madden football gamer will tell you the same thing. Heck, I couldn't even tell you an option route from a curl route until I started playing Madden in earnest (10+ years now). Maybe we should buy Zorn an X-box?

Posted by: biffgrifftheoneandonly | October 9, 2009 2:28 PM | Report abuse

Wow, usually Hoge seems to be talking out of his ear, but he sounds on the money here.

The question might not be so much why Snyder hired Zorn, but why he hired a West Coaster at all. Schot to Spurrier to Gibbs to Zorn is about as wacky a back and forth of philosophies as it gets... and it's not like the personal didn't chase those philosophies.

I think the Buges running + Zorn passing from season 1 just isn't panning out. I'd like to pretend Buges was responsible for the 6-2 and Zorn's over-confidence afterwards gave us 2-6, put that's a bit too simplistic.

Posted by: WorstSeat | October 9, 2009 2:39 PM | Report abuse

Correct me if I'm wrong but aren't the QB and WR's supposed to see whether the defense is in man or zone from presnap motion and audible/adjust accordingly? I agree that the play calling is a indictment of Zorn but shouldn't Campbell bear some responsibility? Although as I recall from one of the earlier games JC isn't allowed to audible in the redzone or somesuch.

Posted by: skinswest | October 9, 2009 2:59 PM | Report abuse

If Hoge is right and the skins don't have WCO personnel I wonder how much Lewis would be able to help anyhow.

Posted by: skinswest | October 9, 2009 3:01 PM | Report abuse

That was what made the hiring of Zorn so odd in the first place -- we had a power running team in place with a QB whose stregths were in deeper drops/throws not quick reads/throws. But about 20+ years after Bill Walsh beat defenses with the WCO, Snyder got religion about it. I look forward to when we convert to the 3-4 like it's a new idea, and have to move our $100 million DT to NT. It's like when we went from Martyball to the fun n gun and had none of the right personnel, then back to a power running game.

Posted by: beatkal | October 9, 2009 4:17 PM | Report abuse

This is a really great post. It summarizes so well why, until the Redskins finally hire a GM who knows how to build a team rather than having ace "recruiters" at the helm like Snyder/Vinny, this team's potenital will be capped at mediocre.

Posted by: hapster | October 9, 2009 4:46 PM | Report abuse

Good to have some OUTSIDE EYEZ on this one. Hoge is one of the few ESPN'ers who are more than a talking head

Posted by: JDP_ | October 9, 2009 7:52 PM | Report abuse

Appreciate this valuable analysis (no sarcasm) - I wish we would get more useful insight rather than rampant 'he said she said' dramatics.

Posted by: SupremeWu | October 9, 2009 9:26 PM | Report abuse

"That was what made the hiring of Zorn so odd in the first place -- we had a power running team in place with a QB whose stregths were in deeper drops/throws not quick reads/throws."

AMEN. The problem is Danny gave Viiny all the power and Vinny is a WCO guy. Doesn't know squat about NFC East FB, and it shows.

Posted by: jandlml | October 9, 2009 9:55 PM | Report abuse

So I guess Blache's zone defense and Zorny's zone offense coagulated just enough in the the 3rd quarter to eeek out a W last Sunday.

Couldn't agree more with Hodge about play-action stuff. It's gotta be there on 1st and 2nd down all day. Even if that means hitting Cooley underneath. At least his YAC will improve because the LBs get sucked in to the line of scrimmage.

Posted by: elfreako | October 9, 2009 11:23 PM | Report abuse

Play action is very effective -- if you can sell it, block for it and throw the ball before you take a 10 yd sack. Oh, and you have to drop back, rather than line up in shotgun. None of those requirement play to the "strengths" of THIS team.

Posted by: Kenbeatrizz | October 10, 2009 8:58 AM | Report abuse

"Doesn't know squat about NFC East FB, and it shows."

I agree with this statement about Ceratto, especially the first three words...

Posted by: mw11385 | October 10, 2009 10:13 AM | Report abuse

Vt Duffman, this has been mentioned numerous times on the blog before, but you really are the single dumbest human being I've come across on any blog. Ever. It's not even close between you and the second dumbest guy (Petecard over at Terps Insider). Let's take a look at some of your absolutely absurd statements, shall we:

"We traded away all of our draft picks."

Actually, we've had 16 draft picks in the last 2 years...2 more than the average NFL team. And while we have certainly traded some picks, your above statement is simply ridiculous

"All of our players are old."

75% of players are either still in their prime or haven't entered their prime. Get. A. Clue.

"Most of our players suck."

If you really believe this, you are even dumber than I originally thought.

"And when you're 2-2, against 4 teams with a combined total of...3 wins? That's not good."

Our opponents have 5 wins, not 3.

"When your only wins are against two teams with a combined 0-8 record, that's not good."

You can only play the teams that the NFL puts on your schedule. When teams are allowed to choose who they play, let us unbelievable moron.

"When those wins are by a combined 5 points, that's *really* not good."

Oh, I forgot you get extra credit for winning big in the NFL. I forgot the BCS was now a part of the NFL and margin of victory counts for something. Thanks for pointing this out.

"What do you think is going to happen when we play teams that actually have winning records and stuff?"

Well, since everyone knows that when Team A beats Team B and Team B beats Team C then Team A will always beat Team C, we are clearly doomed. Thanks for pointing this out.

"He refuses to fire Vinny Cerrato and hire a real football GM."

Vinny Cerrato IS a real football GM. The guy was in charge of the the 49ers scouting and player personnel for NINE years, including helping build a super bowl winner and some other very very successful teams. Clearly, he has all the experience necessary, and clearly he is well respected around the league for having an eye for talent.

"People like you are the reason that nothing will ever change."

People like you are the worst fans in sports. You know absolutely nothing about the teams you attack and base everything on emotion instead of logic. It's beyond pathetic.

Please for the love of god go root for some other team. Trust me, the Redskins do not need you.

Posted by: Barno1 | October 10, 2009 1:53 PM | Report abuse

Barno, the Redskins do need fans who take off the rose colored glasses. The current management team SUCKS!

Look at the draft last year. You know, the one what was soooooo awesome that every player made the team (proof that Zorn is a puppet and a tool). Durant Brooks was a terrible punter and so bad that he was gone after a month. Our awesome 2nd round picks have still done jack squat. We picked the first WR of the draft. Nice pick huh? We get Thomas and Kelly while Royal and Jackson play fantastic in Denver and Philly. And what a great move to draft Davis when you have a Pro Bowler in Cooley. Tryon and Rhino are mediocre. The only player to make an impact, Horton, was benched in favor of Doughty. Brennan had a terrible 2nd preseason and went on IR. Every team must be envious of Kareem Moore and his 1 tackle this year. Nice job Vinny!

And lets look at all the failed 4th down runs. The issue isn't Portis vs Sellers. Its that our line sucks and has been miserable for 2 years. The Skins consistently run to the left because the right side has been awful since last season. I think Portis was even quoted as saying the Lions had an extra defender over where they are running. No duh! I am just a fan but I can tell you that the Skins will run behind Samuels and Dockery way more than they will behind Rhino and Heyer. (OK, Detroit stats were 6 vs 7 to the side but they will run left whenever they really need to get yards).

Do we even need to talk about the Mike Williams experiment? Dude wasn't good before he weighed 5 bills... the Skins acted like he was/is going to slim down and become some sort of Pro Bowler.

Posted by: calhokie | October 11, 2009 12:27 AM | Report abuse

There's another team we just gave their firt win to, that makes three.

In sorry Barno, you were saying?

Please, continue to tell me how dumb I am.

Posted by: VTDuffman | October 11, 2009 5:30 PM | Report abuse

I have been saying it for a few weeks now fire jim " mr.greenjeans" zorn NOW. Let sherman lewis become the offensive coordinator and make the necessary adjustment's even toning back on the so-called west coast offensive. blache maybe could be the interim head coach. and release a couple of player's who can't or won't do their jobs. maybe lewis can get this offensive to score more than 17ppg. mr. greenjeans is too much of a idiot and weakling. I understand snyder and cerrato are incapable of putting a winning team together, only thing fans can do is stop supporting this insanity.

Posted by: wathu19 | October 11, 2009 5:51 PM | Report abuse

Seriously, Barno where are you? I need a refresher on this team and how awesome it's players, coaching staff and management are.

Posted by: VTDuffman | October 11, 2009 6:54 PM | Report abuse

"Vinny Cerrato IS a real football GM. The guy was in charge of the the 49ers scouting and player personnel for NINE years, including helping build a super bowl winner and some other very very successful teams. Clearly, he has all the experience necessary, and clearly he is well respected around the league for having an eye for talent.

People like you are the worst fans in sports. You know absolutely nothing about the teams you attack and base everything on emotion instead of logic. It's beyond pathetic.

Please for the love of god go root for some other team. Trust me, the Redskins do not need you."

Posted by: Barno1 | October 10, 2009 1:53 PM

Barno1, this one is for you. Let's take a look at some unpleasant numbers, starting with the 2-3 record:

The Redskins 2 wins came against currently winless teams.
2 losses came against previously winless teams.
3-9 dating back to last season.
Team is averaging 14.6 points a game this season. Offense is averaging 13.2 points a game (i.e. throw out the Hunter Smith TD against Giants).
Not a single 100 yard rushing game by any back on the roster this season.
Have not scored 30 points at any time during the Zorn "era."
Campbell sacked 4 times; hurried 4 times; hit 3 times today against Carolina.

Now, Barno1 might say that the problem is the coach, not the "GM," as he calls Ceratto. Alright, so who hired the coach? More specifically, who hired the coach who had no previous head coach OR coordinator experience?

Personally, I agree with what others have said: this team's offense has been built from the outside in with an emphasis on skill position players over the offensive line. Campbell might not be a great QB, but he was running for his life today because of that Oline. And I think that is really the biggest weakness for the offense - the worst possible weakness in fact, especially as we march towards November and December with games in the NFC East.

But you believe what you like Mr. Barno1, by all means. Go on and curl up on Ceratto's lap while he whispers WCO nothings in your ear.

Posted by: hithere1 | October 11, 2009 8:12 PM | Report abuse

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