Zorn a Little Pass-Happy Lately?
Over the last three years, we've mulled how running the ball, time of possession, and being an elite football team are related time and again.
But in the last few games Jim Zorn has strayed from the Midwest Coast Offense and leaned a little more West Coast, with more short passes, three-step drops and spread formations. And we've seen more passes overall, especially odd given the lack of productive receivers and the pass protection problems that have flared up.
The Redskins played what was generally a very tight game against the Steelers -- the league's top defense and its second-best pass rush -- on "Monday Night Football," yet were more pass happy than ever before under Zorn (with a season-high 43 pass attempts versus a season-low 15). The problem was that Zorn abandoned the run too soon and Jason Campbell was running for his life.
Zorn entered the Dallas game with serious questions about how well backs Clinton Portis and Ladell Betts would hold up. With both having to leave the game at various times, it was difficult to establish a rhythm in calling plays for the ground game, much less actually running the ball. But, still, the Redskins deviated a bit too much from their strengths, especially with an offensive line that is so much better drive blocking than pass protecting (a failure of personnel that predates Zorn's arrival by years).
The Redskins ran the ball just 18 times in what was a nip-and-tuck, down-to-the-final drive, 14-10, loss to Dallas, while throwing 35 times.
So in the last two games, the Redskins have attempted 78 passes and run the ball 33 times -- just 30 percent of the time in these losses.
In their six wins, the Redskins ran the ball 212 times and passed just 179 -- running the ball 54 percent of the time in their victories.
That's quite a disparity and, yes, playing with the lead and the strengths of individual opponents have something to do with it, but I think it also became clear to most what the strength of the team is (and to no one more than Zorn, because he was calling the plays).
The Redskins have won only once this season when they passed more times than they ran the ball (in Week 2 against New Orleans).
So I wanted to get Z-Man's thoughts on all of this, because to me running 55 percent of
the time plays more to the strengths of this team, especially the offensive line. You can't be too one-dimensional, of course, but even against some of the more tenacious run defenses you need to stick with it a fair degree and keeping the clock running and grinding defenses down. (It's not like the Skins have been blown out of a bunch of games, to the point where it makes no sense to run the ball).
"I definitely will be more balanced," Zorn said. "But we have to have a score on the board in the fourth quarter that allows me to run the clock out. There's where you get some of those runs.
"I think most of the game of balance is played in the first three quarters, and then, in that fourth quarter, if you're behind you end up throwing more than you ran. If you're ahead you end up maintaining that good balance. That's usually the way it works, and it's worked that way for me all year."
Actually, though, it didn't quite play out that way against Dallas. The Skins led, 10-7, at the half (11 runs/15 passes at that point) and they got the ball to open the second half. On that opening drive, Zorn called seven passes on the final eight plays, with Terence Newman, who did an excellent job on Moss all night, finally jumping another short route to get an interception.
Overall, by the end of the third quarter, Zorn had called 15 runs to 31 passes in the game, even though the Redskins led, 10-7, through the quarter. Zorn called four rushes to 16 passes in the third quarter itself. There's nothing balanced about that, and it started with his team in the lead and well before the fourth quarter.
Against Pittsburgh, the Skins trailed, 10-6, again at home, at the half. They ran the ball 10 times in the first half and threw it 15 times. Now, in this case, the Steelers struck for a touchdown on the opening drive of the second half, making it a two-possession lead, but to me, with 25 minutes still to play, you didn't have to abandon the run (the Skins were averaging a solid-enough four yards per carry).
The Skins still maintained decent balance through the third quarter (three runs to six passes in that quarter), with the last pass attempt of the quarter an interception that forced Zorn to totally chase the game. And naturally he did what he had to do, calling 26 pass plays in the fourth quarter, which explains the massive disparity between the run and the pass in that game.
So that game certainly held true to the dynamic he was speaking about in terms of clock and score dictating the playcalling. Going on the road against a rowdy crowd and a team that still can rush the passer would seem like the perfect opportunity to re-establish the run.
I'll give Zorn the final word.
"I haven't really tried to be 50-50 on anything," he said. "I've really tried to call the play based on the situation and the mix. Does that make sense? I haven't tried to be 70-30, or, 'What did I do last time? Did I run or pass?' I don't try to call plays like that. I'm trying to call plays within the series, and some of the stuff is forced on us based on time, field position and score."
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