Going into this season, I thought the Giants game would be a barometer of the Redskins offseason preparation and their readiness to contend this year. After the first game, I am confident this team can compete at a high level, but they can also stay mired in a mechanical style of offensive play.
What’s most interesting to me to see today, from a tactical perspective (from my very limited viewpoint, of course) is whether they will change their committment from “establishing the run” to “establishing the pass.”
Before the season started, I saw this upcoming 5 game stretch as key to the Redskins season, if they are to finally break through and establish themselves as an elite team. After last week, I believe that more than ever. And if they are to break through, the answer as I see it is very simple: Allow and encourage Jason Campbell to let it fly out there.
The Redskins defense has been the strength of this team since Campbell’s arrival in Washington. And when I look at Greg Blache, I think he is another guy who has greatness in him at his role as a defensive coordinator. I love his mentality and approach to make the defense even better as a group, despite the relatively lackluster performance last week.
This Washington Post story on Blache today is another indicator of the tough, team-first approach he takes:
Entering the second game of the season, Blache is feeling out his defense and its personality, learning how it drives…Much of the focus after last week’s loss was on quarterback Jason Campbell, on Coach Jim Zorn and the play-calling, on how the Redskins would score enough points to win games.
But the defense, on paper, is easily the strength of the team. The formula is simple: Take a unit that gave up the fourth-fewest yards per game in the league a year ago, add all-pro defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth and promising rookie linebacker-defensive end Brian Orakpo, and how could there not be improvement?
“Doesn’t mean anything,” Blache said.
That’s old school. He knows it takes time for a defense of many potential playmakers to gel on the field and get a feel for each other. You can’t force it. It has to happen on the field of battle. The sports media coverage may not get that, but it’s true. Blache clearly gets that.
No wonder Blache has little patience for the short-term, narrowly-focused mentality behind the barrage of questions he gets from the media. Ask Trevor Matich.
The same principles of “gelling together” hold true on offense. However, I think there also needs to be the clear assertion of a team’s personality through the leader most responsible for putting points on the board. That can be the running back, if a team is really a dominant running team. It seems this has been the Skins approach for its history.
But in this case, I think this team needs to gel around the quarterback position. This is a passing league, Clinton Portis is getting worn down a bit, the Skins need to be more unpredictable, and, most of all, Jason Campbell showed last week that he is ready to go.
But he needs a rhythm established early in the game for him to get in position to take charge. Consider this game and the following 4 games against lesser opponents as the time for him to establish his rhythm for the entire season.
In this 5 game stretch, I believe the best thing the Redskins can do is to allow Jason Campbell to BE the leader only he can be. He seems poised to unite several things together now: all the years of learning, the offseason of being slighted, the reality of this pressure-cooker season for his long term career, and even the spiritual reality of being a Christian leader in our society.
But he can’t be thinking about all this. He simply needs to let it fly. Then all these things will be like the wind in his sails. He needs to be post-cognitive. He needs to be allowed to fail and succeed, pick himself up again, and over these next 5 games turn this offense into a reflection of him and his unique personality.
This is a relatively low-risk, high-reward proposition, and the benefits of it will become clear in the close moments of games throughout the second half of the season.
“Let your hands go” is something that boxers are told to do in the grind of a fight. All the tactical and technical components developed in prep time are important to guide a boxers decision-making over the course of a fight, but when two men go toe-to-toe, those components can be a barrier to success of the boxer is too mechanical. He needs to let his hands go. Yes, this will open him up to taking punches–even a knockout punch–but you can’t win a fight strictly with your mind locked on what you prepared for. You have to land your biggest and best blows fully focused on your opponent in the field of battle.
This is exactly what I think Jason Campbell needs to be allowed to do over these next five games. Trying to revert to a run-first team will be a big mistake, in my view, because this really is a pass-first league. The Skins have great weapons in the passing game, given that Campbell is very accurate and can make every throw. He does not need elite receivers to make plays for him. Also, Clinton Portis is getting older. He is better suited to being the hammer that comes in after the defense is on their heels. If the Skins want to “run downhill” with Portis, I think Campbell needs to be the first option.
No more run on first down, run on second down, short pass on third down, punt. That is the bad muscle memory built up from the Brunell years (and yes, from ultra-conservative Joe Gibbs–whom I still love as a coach). The players on this offense are ready to be unleashed.
Jason Campbell being allowed to let it fly can absolutely change the direction of this organization. I am not sure that this will happen, but I hope it does. Because I think that the current configuration of this Redskins team would quickly gel behind this man and follow his lead to a new plateau, into the elite teams in the NFL.
I really believe that can happen, and until it does not, I believe it will. I believe this is the new state of play this team has been building towards since Gibbs returned. But, ultimately, it can only happen on the field. No weaknesses or strengths in the front office can ultimately hold this back, if the players and coaches are determined to make it so. And now, with this five game stretch, starting with the game today against the Rams team that overturned the Skins’ promising 2008-09 campaign, they have a chance to set a new tempo and direction.
I will be on the edge of my seat hoping and praying for signs of breakthrough. We needs it. Time to let the hands go. Eye of the tiger. HTTR.