After the Washington Redskins became the first team in 21 months to lose to the Detroit Lions, it's clear that Zorn, who had never been more than a quarterbacks coach in the NFL, is in over his head. Calling plays, working with quarterback Jason Campbell(notes), managing timeouts ,challenges and strategy, it all seems too much for Zorn.
But, even worse than that, the second-year head coach seems to have lost the faith of his players. The former is fixable. The latter isn't as easy.
It's not Zorn's fault that the Redskins defense couldn't stop Detroit in the first half or that the secondary gives ten-yard cushions on third-and-short or that the team's front office drafted three pass catchers in the second round of last year's draft instead of getting some much needed help on either of the two lines. But it is Zorn's fault that two key first-quarter decisions shifted the momentum of the game and forced the 'Skins to play catch-up for the rest of the afternoon.
On the Redskins' first drive, the offense moved with ease into the red zone. The first and second down plays gained little. On third-and-goal, Jason Campbell threw a short pass caught by Clinton Portis(notes) on the 4-yard line. He turned upfield for the endzone, but was stuffed on the 1. It was the exact kind of play call for which Zorn had been eviscerated in the Washington media this past week. The team needed to get into the endzone, but the pass was thrown four yards short of the plane.
Now it was fourth-and-goal from the 1 and Zorn had a decision to make. Do you kick the field goal and take a disappointing 3-0 lead or go for the touchdown? It's not much of a decision at all, you take your lumps and kick the field goal. It would have hurt the psyche of the team following its abysmal red zone showing against St. Louis last week, but not nearly as much as failing on fourth down.
The call should have been a no-brainer. But, a no-brainer is what Zorn seems to be, and he went for the endzone and the run he called to get there was, expectedly, stuffed. That play was a microcosm of the Redskins' season. It also might have been the beginning of the end of it.
The Lions took over, marched down to the 'Skins 33-yard line and faced a third-and-three. On a play that saw a Matthew Stafford(notes) pass fall incomplete, officials also flagged the Lions for offensive pass interference. Another decision for Zorn: To decline the penalty and force Detroit to kick a 50-yard field goal, or push the Lions back 10 yards, hope to stop them again on third and force a punt? Again, it's not much of a question, especially considering the Redskins' third-down defense has fared about as well as the team's red zone offense. But, again, Zorn made the opposite call and, of course, the Lions got the first down and later scored the first touchdown of the game on the extended drive.
Those decisions have nothing to do with the front office or personnel or bad defense or dropped passes, they're both on Zorn and he made the wrong calls on both. Instead of (at worst) a 3-3 tie, the Redskins were down 7-0. The team was noticeably deflated after those first two calls and sleepwalked through the rest of the game. Zorn had lost them.
Teams usually don't quit in football, that's more of an NBA thing thanks to guaranteed contracts and more of a revolving door practice in the coaching ranks. It sure looks like the Redskins did that today though. It's hard not to blame them. When your coach single-handedly blows two important calls in a must-win game against the worst NFL team of the past quarter-century, how is one expected to stay motivated?
Washington Redskins owner Daniel Snyder has a decision to make. He can keep a coach that he never wanted in the first place, thus alienating both players and fans alike. Or he can make the move he'll inevitably make at the end of the season anyway and fire Jim Zorn. Unlike his head coach, I expect Snyder to choose wisely.
- Jim Zorn