28 Sep 2009
by Vince Verhei
The linked article focuses on the defensive strategy the Redskins used against the Lions and Matthew Stafford, and why it was so unsuccessful. It does not discuss the controversial coaching decisions Jim Zorn made in the first quarter of the game that have some Redskins fans up in arms.
On Washington's first drive of the game, the Redskins had a fourth-and-goal from the 1-yard line. Zorn turned down the go-ahead field goal and sent his offense back on the field. A Clinton Portis run gained no yards, and Detroit took over. In hindsight, it's easy to say that Zorn should have taken the automatic points, but in reality Zorn made the correct decision. He called a safe play and asked his offense to pick up one yard; the onus for the failure is on the players, not Zorn. More importantly, "failing" on that play had a hidden benefit, as it set the Lions up with a first-and-10 at their own 1-yard line. While Zorn would doubtless have preferred a touchdown, I'm sure he was comfortable having the Lions pinned so deep. That Washington's defense promptly committed an encroachment penalty -- handing the Lions five free yards before the ball had even been snapped -- is also on the players, not Zorn.
On the ensuing drive, the Lions marched down the field, until an incomplete pass left them with a fourth-and-3 at the Washington 33-yard line. Jason Hanson would have been attempting a 50-yard field goal, but Detroit's Casey Fitzsimmons was called for offensive pass interference on the play. Zorn accepted the penalty, moving the Lions back to the 42 and out of field-goal range, but giving them another down to play with. Hanson was likely to make the kick; for his career, he is 25-of-41 (61 percent) from 50 yards or more when kicking indoors. By accepting the penalty, Zorn effectively took points off the board, while also giving his defense a favorable third-and-13 opportunity. That the Redskins allowed Matt Stafford to scramble for 21 yards is again a failure of the players, not of Zorn.
In two crucial scenarios, Zorn made two unusual decisions. Just because they did not work out does not mean the decisions were wrong.
15 comments, Last at 30 Sep 2009, 12:21pm by AG
"Last team with the ball wins" is a cliche, but sometimes cliches are the best way to get across the central narrative of an important game. If you like great quarterback play, you have to watch the NFC Championship Game.