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DVOA Matchup: Redskins at Seahawks

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One of Jim Zorn's first public appearances after being named the Redskins' head coach was the Scouting Combine in late February. The annual gathering of college prospects is also a place for the national football media to catch up with NFL coaches and execs in a relatively informal setting. I was one of about 20 reporters talking to Zorn during his press conference, and I asked him what he learned as the Seahawks' quarterbacks coach from 2001 through 2007 that he hadn't already learned as the Seahawks' quarterback from 1976 through 1984. Specifically, what he learned from Seattle head coach Mike Holmgren, one of the more renowned quarterback developers in NFL history.

"What I wanted to do was make sure he never had to tell me something that I wasn't doing right or I needed to change," Zorn said. "I wanted to make sure I was open to things that he said to the quarterback that could help me understand how he was coaching quarterbacks as well. There were a lot of times he'd watch the play, I'd watch the play and it didn't happen the way we wanted it. I'd step in and Mike would be like, 'OK, let's see what he says.' He'd hear me say something and then we'd both go back and he wouldn't say a word. He knew I was right on."

Zorn learned when to simplify for overall effectiveness, as opposed to having plays go "here, here, and here," as he put it, from Holmgren's insistence that an offense should be more about execution and timing than complexity for its own sake. This is the root philosophy of the West Coast Offense that the Redskins currently run. Holmgren's mantra has always been, "Tempo, tempo, tempo!" and that is now the way in Washington as well.

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The tempo for the 2008 Seahawks has been off all year - injuries and personnel missteps have raided Holmgren's formerly lockstep offense and left it a shadow of its former self. When Holmgren leaves his current position at the end of the season and coach-in-waiting Jim Mora takes over, it's difficult to know what sort of fight this team will be able to mount. At 2-8, Holmgren's Heroes are in the unusual position of spoiler. Zorn, leading his 6-4 Redskins in a must-win contest, has an unusual inside knowledge of what the Seahawks are doing.

Washington offense vs. Seattle defense

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The real story for the Redskins is how the offense has turned since the season's first half. Injuries have limited Clinton Portis' effectiveness since Week 8, and the Redskins' 35/18 pass-run ratio against the Cowboys last week was certainly interesting. Most of those passes were dumpoffs, Campbell spent far too much time trying to avoid Dallas defenders, and Washington had trouble navigating the red zone. Campbell was sacked three times against the Cowboys and seven times against the Steelers the week before (a number that probably explains all the short passes on Sunday).

Still, the best antidote to a focused pass rush is a dominant running game, and the Redskins haven't had that recently, dropping from second in Rushing DVOA for weeks 1-9 to 23rd since. As a result, the passing game has fallen as well, going from 11th to 28th. The good news for the redskins is that there isn't a better defense to recover against than the one they'll be facing at Qwest Field. .

Seattle defensive DVOA vs. receivers

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In 2007, pass defense was Seattle's strength. Seattle ranked first in touchdowns allowed (15), tied for third in interceptions (20 with Jacksonville), fourth in sacks (45), and 14th in pass defense DVOA. In 2008, they have already allowed 15 touchdowns (ranking them down with juggernauts lime the Bengals, Rams and 49ers), have picked off exactly five interceptions, put up only 24 sacks, and you can see the passing DVOA above. The sack numbers look to decrease now that 2007 NFC sack leader (and 2008 team leader with 5) Patrick Kerney has been placed on injured reserve. The pass rush will be in the hands of linebacker Julian Peterson, and three young ends drafted by current team president Tim Ruskell: Darryl Tapp, Lawrence Jackson, and Baraka Atkins. Between them, the three kids have totaled five sacks all season. Campbell's tempo has looked a bit slow of late, but this will be as good a game as any to get back on track.

The Seahawks' pass coverage relies heavily on pressure, which is one reason it isn't working this season. Another reason is that young cornerbacks Kelly Jennings and Josh Wilson are left on islands far too often, as defensive coordinator John Marshall dials up Cover-1 schemes that bring a safety in the box. The safety most frequently in coverage, Brian Russell, won't exactly live up to what the Redskins are used to when it comes to safety help. If the Seahawks stay with this idea, Campbell will do well to avoid the simple swing passes - if he can wait that extra split second for a man to get open, odds are it'll happen.

Washington defense vs. Seattle offense

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One could say that injuries have depleted Seattle's offense, but that's not the whole story. Teams have won with witness protection receivers before, and it will happen again. After ranking third in Offensive DVOA in 2005 (their Super Bowl year, the Seahawks dropped to 27th in 2006 and 14th in 2007. Ruskell's inability to correctly assess and rebuild the offensive roster has left his team in a bit of a poke. Bruising running back T.J. Duckett is a prime example of the current disconnect between Ruskell and Holmgren. While Ruskell saw the use for Duckett during his time in Atlanta as the Falcons' assistant GM in 2004, Holmgren likes different kinds of backs. Duckett is an inside third-down specialist, but he's asked to run outside in rather ineffective fashion too often.

Running back Julius Jones gained 19 yards on 10 carries against the Cardinals last week; he seems incapable of putting up a three-digit day against any team not named the 49ers or Rams. Seattle's two leading receivers are rookie tight end John Carlson, and longtime reclamation project Koren Robinson. Receiver Deion Branch, acquired from the Patriots in 2006 for a first-round draft pick and then signed to a huge contract, has been injured more than he's been on the field. Branch did catch four passes against Arizona, but he could just as easily trip over a blade of FieldTurf against Washington and be gone for a few more weeks. Branch was supposed to be Seattle's slant slasher and constant deep threat (Santana Moss is basically what they wanted), but it hasn't happened, and Seattle's need to validate the deal has left them behind the curve when it comes to acquiring new receiver talent.

Washington defensive DVOA vs. receivers

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How will the game go?

The Seahawks scored 20 points on three touchdowns against the Cardinals last week. That was the most they'd scored in a month, but before you put that down to some sort of offensive rebirth, consider that their three touchdown drives started from the Arizona 19-yard line, the Arizona 11-yard line, and the Arizona 14-yard line. Unless Greg Blache's defense spots these guys a head start, there shouldn't be much to worry about.

The real questions for Washington are internal, not opponent-based. Can the offense find balance again with or without Portis, and can Campbell regain the touch that made him the leader of a dangerous offense to start the season? As long as those can be answered in the affirmative, Jim Zorn should win this battle with his old mentor, going away.

(Note: If you have any questions about the stats used in this article, the answers can be found here.)

By Doug Farrar  |  November 21, 2008; 10:38 AM ET  | Category:  NFL Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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