Friday, October 30, 2009

Two Playcallers for the Price of Three

A Dan Snyder kind of deal

In the aftermath of the miserable game six loss to the previously winless Kansas City Chiefs, Redskins head coach Jim Zorn was stripped of playcalling authority, by the next morning that responsibility had been invested in Sherman Lewis, an offensive consultant hired by the team on Tuesday 6 October 2009, a mere thirteen days prior.

That day, Monday 19 October 2009 the new playcalling procedure was announced: Sherman Lewis would sit in the upstairs booth and relay plays down to head coach Jim Zorn who would in turn radio them in to a quarterback then to be determined, later established as Jason Campbell. captured the process perfectly here.

Coach Zorn also happened to mention at the time that no other coach on staff was considered for playcalling duties, the subtext there being obvious disappointment on the part of coach Zorn that Sherman Smith, the Redskins offensive coordinator and former NFL teammate of Jim Zorn's and who has never called plays was not selected to do so now.

It is perhaps worth noting that Sherman Smith's name first appeared in connection with the Redskins offensive coordinator position on the same day Jim Zorn was promoted from offensive coordinator to head coach on Sunday 9 February 2008. Six days later on 15 February 2008 Sherman Smith accepted the offensive coordinator position, meaning on the day Sherman Lewis was named playcaller for the Washington Redskins Sherman Smith had exactly 600 more days experience with this offense than the new playcaller.

Right here on this channel you read Curly R's opinion on this structure, that the issue of too many cooks aside, forcing Jim Zorn to relay someone else's plays in to the game would have the dual function of further humiliating coach Zorn and preventing him from managing the game as head coach when the Redskins had the ball.

Two days after Sherman Lewis was named playcaller, on Wednesday 21 October 2009 the Redskins issued a clarification, the actual procession of playcalling would be Sherman Lewis in the booth to offensive coordinator Sherman Smith on the sideline, then in to the quarterback. Jim Zorn would be able to listen in on playcalls and would have veto power in some situations, in the main coach Zorn would then be free to take care of the other business of being a head coach.

Before the ink on these stories was dry our own Rich Tandler was railing against it, calling it another abuse of coach Zorn, that by forcing coach Zorn out of the loop he would be decoupled from his quarterback and would be unable to provide the in game coaching a player like Jason Campbell needs.

I think Rich would agree with me that the massive improvement in ball protection, decision making and progression reads exhibited by Jason Campbell in 2008 over 2007 was largely due to Jim Zorn's tutelage, and Rich's worry is clearly that the umbilical cord between the sideline general and the field captain would now be severed, thus leaving Jim Zorn impotent to affect the flow of the game and Jason Campbell out on his own.

I cannot disagree with this notion directly, I will say simply that relief from the burden of calling every single offensive play should give Jim Zorn more time and freedom to counsel Jason Campbell as well as all the offensive and I suppose defensive players, at the expense of being able to advise and coach Jason on the very next play or the very next evil plan coach Zorn might have in store for the next possession.

But I digress, my published opinion was forcing Jim Zorn to relay Sherman Lewis' plays was bad and Rich's published opinion was removing Jim Zorn from the playcalling loop altogether was bad, we both encourage the reader to consider the context and draw his own conclusions.

The real story is how the playcalling actually went against the Eagles, and how we can assume it will be going forward.

There were no delay of game penalties. There seemed to be no confusion getting the play in, though as I was at the game Monday I have not yet had a chance to re watch it on NFL Game Rewind which I love and which by the way has been lowered from $50 to $25 for a year, offering high definition replays of every game from 2008 and so far in 2009. But I digress again.

We can quibble about whether the quality and variety of playcalls was any different, what is not open for debate is how the plays were actually called: Sherman Lewis called pass plays and and when Sherman Lewis wanted a run play, Sherman Smith called the run plays.

The team deemed Sherman Smith not worthy of the duty and what is the first thing anointed playcaller Sherman Lewis did? Invest calls from half the playbook into that guy.

So now we have a playcaller elevated by management delegating half the playcalls to the guy the head coach wanted to call plays after he was stripped of playcalling authority but who was not considered qualified by management, both of whom nominally report to that head coach.

And as the serpent continues eating its tail, with one game in the new playcalling configuration very little difference in the dynamism or production of the offense was observed.

Anyone else still believe who calls the plays and what plays they call is really the reason the Redskins are 2-5 at the bye?

Sherman Lewis: AP photo from here.