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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."

By Jason La Canfora  |  November 20, 2008; 8:15 AM ET
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Next: Of Pro Bowls and Holmgren


1st or 2nd

Posted by: poolman1200000 | November 20, 2008 8:29 AM | Report abuse

MUST get back to being the dominators on the ground we were earlier this season.

I think this week we do. 34-10 Skins.

Posted by: Rypien11 | November 20, 2008 8:31 AM | Report abuse

I do not do it often but I do agree with JLC, that the Skins abandoned the run to early in the Dallas game with a 10-7 lead we should have pounded them into the ground.

Posted by: Flounder21 | November 20, 2008 8:34 AM | Report abuse

From the previous post:

Flound, yeah they reported it on the NFL Network last night. I tortured myself by attending, and then re-watching the Redskins game from Sunday night.

From re-watching it, the play calling was pretty bad on Zorns part, as well as Blatch's. But hindsigh is what it is..

Jansen really got moved around, he was using good form, and leverage too, but guys just kept getting under his pads.

Posted by: BeantownGreg | November 20, 2008 8:35 AM | Report abuse

I thought Zorn called the game well early. But once he got his 7-0 lead, it was like Joe Gibbs, trying to run the clock out.

Doesn't Zorn script the first 20 plays? Maybe he should script the whole game.

Posted by: talent_evaluator | November 20, 2008 8:45 AM | Report abuse

Skins need to revert back to the run game. I had noticed that in both the Steelers and Cowgirls games that they moved away from their strength and it cost them. They definitely gave up on the run too early against Pittsburgh. But Zorn goes against the grain and does his own thing based on game situations rather than working to keep things balanced. I think he should leave the West Coast on the East Coast before going back to the West Coast where the SeaDogs know and understand that offense pretty well considering they practice against it every day.

Posted by: redpitbull98 | November 20, 2008 8:47 AM | Report abuse

Killer post to start the day, JLC.

And regarding Brownwood26's question on why JLC checked up on candidates: why not? He's a reporter. It's what he does. It was interesting. It gave us something to read. It's just a blog, dude. Don't get all wigged out...

Posted by: Cobain | November 20, 2008 8:59 AM | Report abuse

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).

JLC brings up a good but point (albeit in a negative fashion). Under Gibbs, the offense had more max protection schemes, which hid some of the deficiencies in the o-lines pass protection techniques/abilities. Going forward, if Zorn wants to run his ideal WCO, the skins will have to draft/sign people with better skill set. Otherwise, he has to commit more to running the ball even while he has the urge to throw it in certain down and distances.

Posted by: TWISI | November 20, 2008 9:02 AM | Report abuse

And regarding Brownwood26's question on why JLC checked up on candidates: why not? He's a reporter. It's what he does. It was interesting. It gave us something to read. It's just a blog, dude. Don't get all wigged out...

Posted by: Cobain | November 20, 2008 8:59 AM

Because that's an offseason type question. There are games being played. Injuries, subplots (especially in this matchup), player comments, etc. That post ranks dead last among posts that are "interesting" for this time of the season.

And I'm not "wigged out" over it. If you thought that was, you must not be a regular here...

Posted by: brownwood26 | November 20, 2008 9:04 AM | Report abuse

Don't you think the record number of passes in the Pittsburgh game resulted from being down by more than 2 scores for most of the game?

Do you just look at numbers with no thought of their context?

I think a better question to ask Zorn is why the passing game has become increasingly lateral as opposed to Vertical.

Posted by: keino83 | November 20, 2008 9:07 AM | Report abuse

JLC how dare you take down my comments. Thought something was past called freedom of speech.

Posted by: poolman1200000 | November 20, 2008 9:09 AM | Report abuse

Agreed Keino. I hope that Barack Obama's first order of business is to legislate that damn bubble screen to Moss out of the Redskins playbook.

Posted by: brownwood26 | November 20, 2008 9:10 AM | Report abuse

That was very tame for brownwood, who I have had many battles with over the last year.

But I do agree the coaches post can be done when the season is over.

Posted by: Flounder21 | November 20, 2008 9:12 AM | Report abuse

haha, poolman, you're such a tool.

Anyway, keino, thats a GREAT question regarding lateral versus verticle. They only throw to Thomas within 5 feet of the LOS it seems like.

Posted by: BeantownGreg | November 20, 2008 9:13 AM | Report abuse

burp, burp.

Posted by: BeantownGreg | November 20, 2008 9:14 AM | Report abuse

Watch it keino83. You will be called a hater for bring up good points. Remember JLC can question the FO and call them to task about stuff. Howerver, the same can't be done to him.


Posted by: icetotalpackage | November 20, 2008 9:14 AM | Report abuse

But I do agree the coaches post can be done when the season is over.

Posted by: Flounder21 | November 20, 2008 9:12 AM

I hope it will be done AGAIN when the season is over but personally I thought it was interesting and I'm glad Jasno took the time to write it up.

Urgent or timely? No. But is was certainly more interesting (to me) than that article that led the Sunday Sports section on Doc Walker and Brian Mitchell.

Posted by: talent_evaluator | November 20, 2008 9:18 AM | Report abuse

In theory I agree with JLac but in reality it all depends on how healthy your runners are. Portis and Betts were playing injured and were not as effective. Given that your healthiest back is Alexander then the chance of making yardage by throwing 3 yard passes is probably a better option. It all boils down to how many yards you get on first down. If you are looking at 2nd and 9 then your options for sustaining a drive get narrowed--you do pass or draw play. At third and 5 you have to have a receiver that is clutch for making the hard grab in traffic. I have not seen that from ARE or Thomas this year at all. If Kelly can start and do that than the offense cures itself. So this is just a round about way of saying that a clutch third down receiver makes the running game function by sustaining drives.
Remember that in the Pittsburgh game we were at least 0 for 9 in third down efficiency for three quarters of the game--that was the key statistic.

Posted by: driley | November 20, 2008 9:19 AM | Report abuse

Look, by signing Alexander, we had to know that we Just might have to rely on him. Which is why I absolutely despised this signing with Marcus Mason sitting on the Ravens practice squad at the time. One player in football shape, the other not. One player, having spent the entire pre-season here, the other bouncing around to various cities looking for work. My point.....Portis/Betts injuries are not an excuse to be one dimensional. You have to keep defenses honest. Competent front offices plan for these sorts of issues. Think the Giants would stop running the ball with an injury to Jacobs and Bradshaw?

So in spite of my other comments, because I do believe that Jasno ignored the context of the Pittsburgh numbers to make his point, the lack of competent runners is the result of poor planning on the part of the Front Office carrying a 3rd RB who is a Special Teamer only and not carrying a RB who you feel comfortable putting in the game in the event of the 1st 2 runners going down.

I mean really, Cinci passed on Alexander and signed Cedric Benson. I never thought the Bungles could look more competent than us......

Posted by: keino83 | November 20, 2008 9:47 AM | Report abuse


You're ignoring the fact that our running backs were so beat up during the Steelers and Cowboys game that Zorn had no choice but to pass more. Portis played well at first but it's obvious he was still hurting. And then Betts got a setback in the game, so all we had left was Alexander and Cartwright, who couldn't do anything against those defenses.

So Zorn passed more because he had to in those situations, not cause he's starting to abandon the run. He's not stupid enough to forget what our strength is.

Posted by: tl87 | November 20, 2008 10:19 AM | Report abuse

great work JLC.

Didn't realize the diparity. I get the Steelers, but man, what happened with Dallas.

I don't buy the health of your running backs. Sean Alexander should be capable of at least pretending to be a RB, and Rock is serviceable. We abandoned the run waaaaaay to early against Dallas.

Posted by: gortiz1 | November 20, 2008 10:22 AM | Report abuse

The Redskins need to throw the ball down the field. 5 yard passes doesn't get it done. If they can stretch the field, then Portis will have lanes to run. Use the pass to set up the run and the Skins will win.

The Redskins have to score TD's, not field goals.

Posted by: cspwoods3 | November 20, 2008 11:36 AM | Report abuse

In order for the Skins to go downfield, they need to pass block. Not only is Jansen being exposed but Rabach too, especially Sunday night. We need to get Heyer in for Jansen before Campbell goes down for the year. We could only use that quick two yard hitch to Moss so many times.

Posted by: joeboggs | November 20, 2008 11:50 AM | Report abuse

PASS PROTECTION! We need it. That, and run the ball more.

Posted by: bryan2369 | November 20, 2008 12:15 PM | Report abuse

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