MMQB Mailbag: Big test awaits for Redskins; more Pro Bowl thoughts
Jim Zorn performed admirably in first mini-crisis as head coach
What will happen if Jets, Giants both host conference championship games
Josh McDaniels and Matt Cassel may be a package deal for right team
One of the tests of a good young coach is how he handles his first rough patch. Jim Zorn was in the middle of it last week, the Redskins having lost two games in a row, when he told his team, in these exact words: "Keep going in the direction you're going.''
When you're in Washington, and you've got a historically impatient owner and occasionally panicky fans, and you've looked toothless in home losses to Pittsburgh and Dallas, the temptation would certainly be to shake something up, somewhere. Not Zorn. When the Redskins went to Seattle on Sunday and were struggling, Zorn looked at his team and wondered if there was a hangover from the two losses -- and if so, he was going to have to air a few people out. "I was looking for guys that were thinking is this going to be just like a couple of weeks before with Pittsburgh and Dallas,'' he said Monday. "But I saw guys into it. I saw guys really concentrating.''
This is the week of the Redskins' biggest test. The Giants come to town, the impregnable Giants, and the Redskins had better be confident in what they do.
I asked Zorn how he dealt with the first mini-crisis of his head-coaching career. "One of the things I said to the team early on is when your belief system is challenged, you have to say, 'What we're doing is right.' We lost two games, and we didn't have great pass-protection at times, and we weren't making the plays we normally make. We were just getting beat one-on-one. But I didn't allow -- and I won't allow -- our players to think we completely failed. I've been watching for fragments on our team, for defeatist thought. Is everybody lifting? Is everybody watching film? And I haven't seen those fragments.''
We still don't know if the Redskins are good enough to make the playoffs, with the Giants and Ravens looming. Can they go 3-2 at least, or 4-1 down the stretch? That'll depend on the quarterback Zorn is training. And when he had to Sunday in Seattle, Jason Campbell threw a great short cross in the red zone to Antwaan Randle El, an eight-yard touchdown throw in the clutch, in traffic, to give the Redskins a 17-10 lead on their way to the eventual win.
My take: Campbell hasn't been as good the last three weeks as he was before, but it's largely because of defensive pressure. In the first nine games of the season, Campbell threw zero interceptions while being sacked 16 times. In the last three games, he's been sacked 12 times and thrown three picks. Pressure begets mistakes, and the Redskins have to keep Campbell cleaner -- against two superb pressure teams the next two weeks -- to stay alive.
But don't expect Zorn to be thinking about the playoffs. "Everybody's asking, 'Do you think it'll take 10 wins to get into the playoffs?' I think it'll take one win. The next win,'' he said.
I love my readers. Some great mail this week. Thanks for writing. Let's bring it on.
SUDDENLY, IT'S A QUESTION ON A LOT OF MINDS. From Scott Zabinsky, of Elkridge, Md.: "What will the NFL do if both the Giants and Jets host the conference championship games?''
One team will host a game on Sunday, and the other team will host a game on either Saturday or Monday night. The New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority, which runs the Meadowlands complex, has decreed that two games will not be played on the same day under any circumstances, meaning that even a noon kickoff for one game and a 9 p.m. kick for the other would be unacceptable. Part of their reasoning is that it would be too hard to clear the parking lots, flow the traffic out and get the traffic for game two in.
Just so you know: Let's assume the Jets are the second seed in the AFC and the Giants the one seed in the NFC. For both to host conference championship games, the Giants would have to win one playoff game (not so hard there) and the Jets would have to win one playoff game and see Tennessee lose its first playoff game. So it's certainly possible.
GOOD MORNING, STEVE. From Steve Bosking, of Cedar Rapids, Iowa: "Did I read that right -- the Pro Bowl will be played BEFORE the Super Bowl? I just can't imagine that they would risk players on the Super Bowl teams getting hurt. Would they not play?''
That's right. Super Bowl players would no longer play in the Pro Bowl under the NFL's new plan, which I expect to be announced sometime before Christmas. I'm sure if they have Pro Bowl clauses in their contracts, those would be paid.
CHAD'S CERTAINLY A GLASS-HALF-FULL GUY. From Chad, of Honolulu: "Did anybody lose with the Brett Favre trade? Aaron Rodgers and Green Bay are doing well. Favre and the Jets are doing well. Chad Pennington and Miami are doing well. This might be remembered as the most mutually beneficial trade of all time.''
Wish I'd thought of that, Chad. Brilliant statement.
TOUGH CALL FOR HONOLULU. From David Gray, of Elk Grove, Calif.: "Have you noticed eight of the top nine rushers in the NFL are from the NFC? The only AFC rusher in the top nine is Thomas Jones (No. 4) and No. 10 is rookie Chris Johnson of Tennessee. If you had to choose the NFC Pro Bowl rushers, who would you leave out among Clinton Portis, Adrian Peterson, Michael Turner and Brandon Jacobs [presuming he is healthy and will play the rest of the season]?''
The NFL names one running back and one fullback starter per conference for the Pro Bowl, with two substitute running backs. You ask a great question, and my initial answer would be I'd have to leave Jacobs off. That would pain me hugely because I think the only back better than Jacobs is Peterson, and because Jacobs is first in the NFL in yards per carry (5.4) and second in rushing touchdowns (11). But you can't leave Portis or Peterson off, and it's hard to leave off Turner, who leads the league with 13 touchdowns and is third in rushing.
You know what I hate? The fact the league names the Pro Bowl rosters with two weeks left in the season. It's totally unnecessary and could rob one of these guys out or a rightful place. (Even though we all know it's the most meaningless game in all of sports.)
WHO KNOWS? From Adam Allred, of San Jose, Calif.: "Looking ahead to 2009, you mentioned that Josh McDaniels will be a head coach next year. Isn't the most likely scenario for him to end up in San Francisco and to take Matt Cassel with him? I can't think of a better fit for both of them anywhere else. And since we're talking reunions, could you see Donovan McNabb signing with Minnesota to reunite with Brad Childress? I don't think any other team would bring him in to be the starter.''
You never know. This is a going to be a weird year, a year in which there could be 10 or more coaching changes. So the 49ers could be in major competition for McDaniels. And who is to say McDaniels will be on a team with a GM who worships Cassel and wants to pay him $12 million a year? Don't laugh. Could happen.
NOW HERE'S A STUNNING DEVELOPMENT: I WAS WRONG ABOUT SOMETHING. From David Smith, of Coral Springs, Fla.: "Peter, In the offseason you mentioned that the Bears should pursue Donovan McNabb. Are you willing to say that they are better off having stayed put with Kyle Orton?''
No question about it. Orton's been better than I thought and McNabb is one of the most disappointing players in the NFL.
I GUESS I HAD THIS ONE COMING. From Stefan, of Montreal: "You might not smell like a woman, but you sound like one complaining about shampoo!''