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The play-calling trapezoid's finest hour

Look, I'll grant you that the Redskins' play-calling trapezoid is bizarre as hell, with Jim Zorn not calling plays except for the times he does, and Chris Meidt helping Sherm Lewis call plays from the booth, unless he wants to run, in case Sherm-on-Sherm communication leads to a different call for Jason Campbell, who reportedly hardly speaks with Sherm II during the week.

All that said, I don't know how you complain about the results. In six games before Sherm II arrived, the Skins' reached 300 yards just twice; they've now done it five straight times under the Trapezoid Plan. The Skins never topped 17 points without Sherm; with him, they've scored 27 and 24 in recent weeks. Course, they're just 1-4 since he arrived, but that's being picky.

Anyhow, Sunday's game marked at least the third time in five weeks the TV broadcast included a funny diagram demonstrating just how kooky this system is. Plus, there were words.

"You see that wristband Jason Campbell's wearing?" Moose Johnston asked. "Now, he's got almost the entire game plan on that wristband, and that was put together by offensive assistant coach Chris Meidt, who Jason Campbell refers to as his quarterback coach. And it helps with this convoluted way of calling the plays in this Redskins offense, and I give Jason Campbell a tremendous amount of credit, because they have not had one delay of game penalty during this entire transition of Sherm Lewis to the coordinator.

"And let's take a look at how this happens. All right, during the course of the week Chris Meidt and Jim Zorn are gonna come up with the game plan. And then they're gonna have that game plan up in the booth, and these two are gonna talk. Now if they want to run a pass play, Sherman Lewis is gonna call play down to Sherman Smith and he's gonna give it to Jason Campbell. If he wants a run he's gonna tell Sherman Smith to call the run, he'll pick the run, and then he'll send it in to Jason Campbell.

"But the crazy thing is, these two don't talk much during the week, Jason Campbell and Sherm Lewis don't talk much during the week. A lot of that conversation during the course of the week is Jason Campbell with Chris Meidt and Jim Zorn, and even on the night before the game, they'll sit down and they'll script their first 15. Now everything comes through Sherman Smith, that's coming from Sherm Lewis up top down to Sherman Smith. If it's a run, Sherman Smith is the one who's responsible for calling it, so he's got to be ready on every snap with a run in his mind, because of all the processes that have to go on, and to prevent that delay of game penalty from happening. It's amazing to watch this thing function as smoothly as it does."

Of course, questions come up during the two-minute drills, for example. Zorn has said in the past he still keeps his hand in the game on those numbers, and he said on Sunday that he called the play that led to the Jason Campbell interception.

"You know, what's not funny is my play call on the interception, right?" Zorn told Mike Wise. "And then soon after that we called it again--the EXACT same play--and that was the play that Fred Davis ran right up the far sideline. So it was EXACTLY the same play, just a different situation. That's what I look at in those situations, we have sound concepts, we have sound plays, and one resulted in an interception--bad call, man, bad call. And one results in a 25-yard gain--great call, awesome. But it's the exact same play."

I mean, I guess. But if I plot a strategy to cross the street -- both feet in front of each other, walk in a straight line -- and I do it on a green light and it works, and then I do it on a right light and I get smashed into the windshield of an 18-wheeler, I'm not sure I'd chalk that up to bad luck. Maybe the situation has something to do with the call.

Also, why the heck you calling plays, man? You lost that right.

"Jim Zorn's been put in a tough situation," Kenny Albert said, "but you really have to admire the class and dignity with which he has handled himself this season."

Is calling plays after you've been fired as the play-caller really classy and dignified?

Anyhow, clearly there's still some confusion here, because here's what the Fox folks said on a third down early in the fourth quarter.

"We're trying to figure out who's making this decision right now," Johnston said. "Is it up there in the booth or is it down on the field with Zorn?"

"Coach Zorn said it was him on third and short, or any third-down call," Tony Siragusa (I think) chimed in.

So Wise asked Zorn whether that was true.

"That's not correct," Zorn said.

So what's the deal on third down, then?

"We have our third-down package," Zorn said. "Sherm Lewis did an excellent job making the third-down calls as we went along. You know, we had 47 percent conversions on third down again."

And yes, that was the extent of his answer. So I have no idea how the Fox folks got the idea that Zorn was involved, or whether he actually was involved, or whether the trapezoid might one day implode upon itself in a burgundy bloodbath.

By Dan Steinberg  |  November 30, 2009; 11:41 AM ET
Categories:  Media , Redskins  
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"... So I have no idea how the Fox folks got the idea that Zorn was involved, or whether ..."

Have you thought of using the MUTE button? You will be less confuse and might enjoy the game.

Posted by: hock1 | November 30, 2009 12:14 PM | Report abuse

Great job covering the Skins Steinz.

J.Reid must be working on a big story cause he hasn't posted anything of substance on his Redskins "insider" blog.

Posted by: jonthefisherman | November 30, 2009 12:19 PM | Report abuse

Hate to say this, but this system eliminates the opposing team's coaches from stealing play calls. The Skins seem to be doing okay with play calling since the change and the other team never knows who is actually calling each play.

Posted by: jdumb | November 30, 2009 12:24 PM | Report abuse

If the goal of the Redskins front office was to turn this once-proud franchise into an NFL punchline, then they can break out the champagne and celebrate their success.

Posted by: skinssox01 | November 30, 2009 12:37 PM | Report abuse

I got the impression that Siragusa was just confused (pretty typical) and meant to say any fourth down calls--Zorn does make those decisions, right?

Posted by: TheFingerman | November 30, 2009 12:40 PM | Report abuse

Look, there's been too much made of the play calling. They still haven't had a single delay of game with the new scheme. Sure it's unconventional and it's a hard way to do things but that hasn't been the problem. The problem the last 2 games has been that the headcoach has been playing scared in key situations. Going for FGs instead of taking shots at TDs. In both cases, he guessed wrong and the Cowboys and Eagles scored the go ahead TD/FG to win the game.

Like Sally Jenkins said in her last column, the front office will do well to look at the guys playing the last few games. They've been non-stars and have maximized their talents (little as it may be). Meanwhile, we did squat with the big-money-big-ego guys.

Posted by: tundey | November 30, 2009 12:43 PM | Report abuse

Fox pbp and commentary has gone downhill the past few years. CBS is a lot better now. Too bad they're AFC.

Posted by: sitruc | November 30, 2009 12:50 PM | Report abuse

What IS extremely annoying is this announcer crew not giving injury updates. They showed Jackson going back to locker room, but never followed up to say that he had concussion and was out for rest of game. Same w/other injuries. What does fat Siriagousa(sp?) think his job as a sideline reporter is? He gives no info ala Pam Oliver. They just show in game shots of him attempting to grab a bite of some kid's hot dog.

Posted by: nojunk4me | November 30, 2009 1:00 PM | Report abuse

Got Trapezoid?

Posted by: Irishone1 | November 30, 2009 1:53 PM | Report abuse

I don't understand why the media is making such a big deal that Zorn is not calling the plays during the game. Plenty of head coaches in the NFL use their coordinators to call the plays - incluidng the mighty Joe Gibbs. The real issue is that because of poor management (i.e. Vinny & Danny), the issue wasn't handled in house.
Vinny: " Hey, Jim we think/insist that we have someone help you call the plays...and we'll tell the media it was a mutual decision."
Zorn should have, given his aptitude for deep thought, realized that making this his decision would have saved him and the team from the media melee.
Since they are clearly playing a little better now, he could have goten credit for being insightful enough to recongnize this and for putting his ego aside. Instead, they and we have to hear about this ad nauseum.

Posted by: chezfloyd | November 30, 2009 2:08 PM | Report abuse

Why is Jason Campbell wearing Chris Cooley's jersey in that middle screen shot? Is that some incredibly complicated play? And who calls that one, one of the Shermans or Zorn?

Posted by: section309 | November 30, 2009 3:01 PM | Report abuse

Got Trapezoid?

Posted by: Irishone1

This. This is the new slogan of the Burgundy Revolution.

Posted by: ncromcr | December 1, 2009 12:46 AM | Report abuse

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Posted by: sallyworking2006 | December 1, 2009 7:41 AM | Report abuse

If you're including Meidt and Lewis as two different vertices, this is a "play calling pentagon." Sorry, the former math teacher in me had to make that statement.

Posted by: catalogbohemian | December 1, 2009 8:43 AM | Report abuse

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