NFL: Thursday News and Notes

NFL: Thursday News and Notes

Redskins coach Zorn wants his offense working fast
September 2, 2008

ASHBURN, Va. (AP) -Hardly a day goes by in which Jim Zorn doesn't dip into his full array of gestures and voice inflections to make a point. One day, when discussing how he wants Jason Campbell to play quarterback, the Washington Redskins coach put hands on hips and swiveled the head.

``I don't want him to,'' said Zorn, who then paused to deepen his voice to a growl, ``look over the field and be the field general.''

No way. Zorn is all about ``tempo.'' And when he's not all about tempo, he's all about ``pace.'' The offense he wants to run - the one he hopes will be ready for prime-time Thursday night against the New York Giants - is designed to move and move fast. Get out of the huddle in a hurry, line up and snap the ball. None of that silly pre-snap motion. No time for the defense to react to the personnel or the formation. When Campbell drops back, there should be no hesitation - from anyone.

``When the play starts, I don't want to see people watching,'' Zorn said. ``Sometimes guys either hesitate or don't quite get what they're supposed to do or where they're supposed to go, but I just want them to do something. I want them to move. Hit something. Do something. Those are the things that I'm trying to instill.''

It might take a while. Zorn is new at this, and his players are new to him. The West Coast passing attack is miles removed from former coach Joe Gibbs' conservative style, and the only continuity in the play book comes from Zorn's decision to keep most of Gibbs' running plays. All seemed well when the first-string offense put together a couple of decent drives early in the preseason, but two weeks of hitting the proverbial brick wall - the Redskins were outscored 71-6 in their last two August games - has led the coach to subtly lower expectations now that the regular season is here.

``That's the history of this offense,'' Zorn said after last week's 24-3 loss to Jacksonville. ``Basically, the passing game has been behind the run game, the defense, the special teams. As it comes on, then you start hitting on all cylinders.''

For Campbell, the adjustment is just the latest thing in his dial-an-offense career. He went through four offensive systems in four years at Auburn, then had two years of pure Gibbs, then two years of what was essentially a hybrid of Gibbs and offensive coach Al Saunders. He had to spend this offseason learning to compress his stance because Zorn doesn't believe quarterbacks should ``stand tall'' in the pocket, else they become less mobile.

At times, the rap on Campbell has been that he waits for a receiver to get open before throwing the ball, and that is the absolute worst thing he can do in the West Coast offense. Every time Campbell hesitates before throwing - and it happened twice in limited play during an uncomfortable 4-for-10 performance against Cincinnati - Zorn lets the world know in no uncertain terms that things have gone awry.

``You just want to be sound on the decision,'' said Campbell, explaining his dilemma, ``and you're more afraid of making a mistake than just letting loose. I think on those two plays - let it loose. Trust your arm and make those throws.''

Even when Campbell successfully connects, the coach's grade isn't necessarily 100 percent. Not enough tempo. Not enough pace.

``He might have a completion, but I wanted him to make it sooner,'' Zorn said. ``And it may not be that it made a difference on that particular play, but it will down the road. I just need to continue to let him know to throw sooner, and when he makes his initial move to let the ball go. He sees it and is working toward it. The hard part is to tell a guy that has made the right read, made the throw and completed it that it is not as good as I wanted it. It is good, but I want it to be great.''

While Zorn wants to use as little of the play clock as possible, Campbell does have more freedom than he did under Gibbs. Audibles are back, although Zorn hopes his play-calling is good enough so that the number of Campbell's change-ups stays in the single digits per game. Campbell also can opt for the shotgun on certain plays. As a former quarterback himself, Zorn realizes the value in having flexibility at the line of scrimmage.

Just as long as Campbell makes up his mind in a hurry.

``That's why I keep preaching speed,'' Zorn said. ``Once we get that, where every play is fast, our tempo will rise up and that's pressure on a defense.''

Just to ram home the point, Zorn went for another voice inflection.

``There's not a lot of chitchat. I expect the QB to go in there and not go, 'OK, guys, here's what coach wants,''' said Zorn, with a deep, stilted voice. ``He's just going to walk in, call the formation, call the play, call the snap count - all at one time - get out, move up to the line of scrimmage, start that snap count and go.''

Notes: DE Jason Taylor sported a new brace and took part in practice on a limited basis Tuesday for the first time since spraining his knee Aug. 23, but he did not go full speed and remains a game-time decision at best for Thursday. ``From what I saw today, he's not 50 percent yet,'' Zorn said. ... CB Shawn Springs was absent after getting kicked in the shin during Monday's practice. X-rays were negative. ``We're just taking a precaution because he was limping a little bit,'' Zorn said.

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Re: NFL: Thursday News and Notes

Giants try to end home doldrums
September 3, 2008

The New York Giants have fresh Super Bowl rings and a 10-game road winning streak, 11 if you include their 17-14 victory over the Patriots in neutral Arizona last February.

But they were 3-5 at home last season, including a 22-10 loss to Washington last December that put their playoff hopes in some jeopardy. But they won in Buffalo the next week, and took three road playoff games to set up that huge upset in the Super Bowl.

The Giants enter Thursday's season opener against the Redskins at the Meadowlands regarded to some extent as ``fluke'' champions. Everyone seems to be noting that after their previous three Super Bowl appearances, two of them wins, they failed to make the playoffs the next season - forgetting perhaps that the circumstances in 1987, 1991 and 2001 are not the circumstances of 2008.

The Giants are favored by 3 1/2 points, just a half-point more than the points awarded for home-field advantage. Although for them, home field isn't much of an advantage - they also were 3-5 at home in 2006.

That's fine with them.

``No one is giving us respect, and we like that,'' said defensive end Justin Tuck, who will replace the retired Michael Strahan at left end after getting 10 sacks last season as a rover on the defensive line. ``We're still the quiet team lurking. That's a perfect sign for me.''

Still, the pass rush that harassed Tom Brady in that Super Bowl win has lost quite a bit. Not only did Strahan call it a career, but Osi Umenyiora is out for the season with a knee injury, causing the Giants to move yet another good pass rusher, Matthias Kiwanuka, back from linebacker to defensive end.

Washington also has injury issues.

DE Jason Taylor, the defensive player of the year two years ago, is a ``game-time decision'' for the Redskins after injuring a knee two weeks ago. And the Redskins' offense is still struggling with a new system installed by coach Jim Zorn.

Another key for New York is Eli Manning, who seemed to come of age in a brilliant playoff run.

If he keeps it going ...

GIANTS, 27-20

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What bettors need to know: Redskins vs. Giants
By VIC TAFUR

What bettors need to know: Redskins at Giants (-4, 41)

Home of the champs?

The Giants were favored most of the week by 3½ points, just a half-point more than the points awarded for home-field advantage. We thought they were the Super Bowl champs?

“No one is giving us respect, and we like that,” said defensive end Justin Tuck, who will replace the retired Michael Strahan at defensive end. “We’re still the quiet team lurking. That’s a perfect sign for me.”

New York was only 3-5 at home last season, winning its rings largely due to a 10-game road winning streak. One of the home losses was a 22-10 loss to Washington last December that put the Giants’ playoff hopes in jeopardy.

Winning at home has been one of the points coach Tom Coughlin has discussed with his team.

“Quite frankly, our fans deserve us to play better at home,” he said.

In a rush, still

Both teams have question marks on the defensive line tonight.

The Giants’ pass rush that harassed Tom Brady in the Super Bowl has lost a lot. Not only did Strahan call it a career, but Osi Umenyiora is out for the season with a knee injury. New York then moved another good pass rusher, Matthias Kiwanuka, back from linebacker to defensive end.

The former first-round draft pick had been shifted to outside linebacker last season because of the team’s logjam at defensive end. The Giants also moved Justin Tuck, who developed into a top pass rusher last season as a part-time player, into the lineup full time.

“Tuck is a very good football player,” Umenyiora said during the preseason, days before his injury. “Mathias Kiwanuka is a very good football player. ...We still feel like we can have a very good pass rush and a very good defense and a very good team.”

Redskins defensive end Jason Taylor is a “game-time decision” for the Redskins after injuring a knee two weeks ago.

Taylor tried several knee braces and was able to practice some this week. “I’d say it’s easily 50-50 whether he plays or not,” Washington coach Jim Zorn said. Structurally, Taylor’s knee is fine, Zorn said, but “mainly it’s an irritation” as Taylor deals with the bone bruise. ...

Defensive end Erasmus James, coming off knee surgery, played in the Redskins’ final two preseason games in a limited role and is ready to play.

New-look rivals

The Giants won’t be facing Joe Gibbs’ Redskins anymore. Washington has a whole new approach with Zorn.

“You don’t really know what they’re going to come out in,” safety James Butler said. “We have a certain idea of what they’re going to do, but we just have to wait and see.”

In five preseason games, the Redskins have thrown the ball 21 more times than they have run it -- they threw the ball 27 more times than they ran it all of last season.

Washington running back Clinton Portis said that the trademark of the system is to find and exploit mismatches.

“Before it was, ’This is what we’re going to do no matter what they do. They have to stop us,”” he said. “And you know, fortunately for them, more than not, they had the opportunity to stop us.”

This year, the Redskins have audibles, something Portis said did not exist under Gibbs and previous offensive coordinator Al Saunders.

“Right now, if we are in a bad play, we can get out of that play,” he said. “(Quarterback) Jason (Campbell) has the opportunity to put up the audibles and change things around and get us points. So I think everybody is just excited.”

The West Coast passing attack is miles removed from former coach Joe Gibbs’ conservative style and the only continuity in the play book comes from Zorn’s decision to keep most of Gibbs’ running plays. The Redskins were outscored 71-6 in their last two preseason games and Zorn wasn‘t surprised.

“That’s the history of this offense,” Zorn said after last week’s 24-3 loss to Jacksonville. “Basically, the passing game has been behind the run game, the defense, the special teams. As it comes on, then you start hitting on all cylinders.”

The rap on Campbell has been that he waits for a receiver to get open before throwing the ball, and that is the absolute worst thing he can do in the West Coast offense.

Plaxico update

Giants receiver Plaxico Burress practiced at full speed this week for what he said was the first time since last season.

“I’m back out there doing some of the things that I wasn’t able to do over the past year or so,” he said.

Burress played the entire 2007 season with a badly sprained right ankle, and it prevented him from practicing more than a handful of times and limited what he could do on the field. Cutting to his right was very limited in his game plan.

Despite that, Burress played in every game, caught a team-high 70 passes and a career-best 12 touchdowns. The nine-year veteran added 18 more catches in the postseason, including the game-winning 13-yard touchdown catch with 35 seconds left in the Super Bowl.

“Last year I played well and had some good games, but I couldn’t do it on a consistent basis like I wanted to,” Burress said. “Granted I wasn’t able to go out and practice, but I never let my mind waver and used that as an excuse. I gave it what I had. I just expect to be consistent and great week in and week out — that’s what I want to be.”

ATS notes

The Giants have won and covered in three of the past four meetings with the Redskins. Three of the last four have also fallen under the posted total.

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Redskins-Giants Preview
By Josh Jacobs

The wait is over. We here at Vegasinsider.com have been preparing for the inevitable and with Thursday looming just over the horizon it’s time to kickoff the 2008-09 season in style.

Coming off an improbable Super Bowl victory, the New York Giants are once again feeling like the underdogs of the league. Sportbook.com has New York’s win total listed at 8 ½ as several factors are looming like a dark cloud over the champs (or at least that’s the public perception).

There’s the obvious with the Jints’ 2007 team sack leader, defensive end Osi Umenyiora out for the season. A non-contact knee injury forced Umenyiora to shut down the season during an exhibition contest with intrastate rival, the Jets.

There was the severed relationship with perennial tight end pro bowler, Jeremy Shockey which resulted in stamped walking papers and a new home in New Orleans. And finally, kicker Lawrence Tynes, who hit eight-for-eight from the 40 to 49 yard mark in ’07, opted for knee surgery with a return date still in limbo.

While it might not sound as detrimental as losing Umenyiora or Shockey, Tynes was a major solution to an ongoing, annual problem that Big Blue suffered with. The kicking game hasn’t always been kind to the Giants and now veteran leg, John Carney will be relied on to get the job done.

Meeting with Washington at 7:00 p.m. EDT inside the confines of Giants Stadium, most books have opened New York as a 3½-point home favorite. A total of 40 to 41 points can be found at most spots.

The Redskins implemented some major changes during the offseason. The most obvious is how the team will respond to new head coach Jim Zorn’s West Coast offense. If the preseason offers any insight then the final two weeks exposed the team’s ineptness to find the end zone (a total of 6 points was scored in those final two exhibition matches, while giving up 71 points didn’t prove the defense’s worth).

Writing this team off even before the first game of the season is played would be doing an injustice but there are obvious fractures in this foundation.

Washington is going to need the likes of right tackle Stephon Heyer (taking over for veteran Jon Jansen) and the rest of the offensive line to dig in for signal caller, Jason Campbell. This was a squad that allowed just 29 sacks last season and giving Campbell enough time to work with a pass oriented playbook would help alleviate much of the pressure.

Concern must be present in the capital city where the Redskins’ Campbell must not only learn his eighth different offensive format in nine years (that’s including years spent before the NFL), but recovery from a dislocated kneecap has all backers and fans on edge. He’s got the weapons around him (i.e. WRs Santana Moss and Antwaan Randle El – broken hand and all), but that front line and a solid running game needs to offset passing pressure.

With all this talk about the Redskins’ possible performers, the Jints’ QB Eli Manning has faced this divisional foe a total of seven times in his career. Manning has recorded six passing touchdowns with four interceptions in those seven, averaging 182 YPG through the air (1,276 passing yards total) with a below average 49-percent pass completion.

Ok, all the obvious points on both sidelines have been stated so what’s opening night in the NFL at the Meadowlands have in store for us financially hungry bettors?

Remember it was back on Dec. 16, 2007 (Week 15 to be exact) that the ‘Skins continued New York’s home problems with a 22-10 victory. That win, which witnessed Washington’s Clinton Portis racking up 126 yards with a score on the ground, broke a Giants’ three-game divisional winning streak over the Redskins (stretched from October of ’06 to September of ’07). In the last 10 meetings, New York has gone 6-4 straight up and against the spread.

As dynamic as Big Blue was on the road with a 7-1 record and giving up 17.8 PPG, Washington was uneventful to say the least.

Washington’s 4-4 record in ‘07 when traveling coincided with scoring 19.3 PPG versus 22.5 PPG at home. The largest discrepancy was allowing a whopping 22.4 PPG on the road versus the team hunkering down inside FedExField, allowing a tight 16.4 PPG.

With a 2-6-2 ATS record in the last 10 Week 1 games, the Redskins have been abysmal to backers in this spot. And supporting the road woes, Washington has gone 5-8-2 ATS in its last 15 games played (road games).

We’re now left with historical ATS numbers, preseason performances, injuries and hypothetical situations that either team might find themselves in. The truth of the matter is that the NFL season is finally here and Thursday will set the pace for what the rest of the weekend will bring.

vegasinsider.com.

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New Redskins present new problems for NY Giants
By ASSOCIATED PRESS

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) -Despite having played Washington at least twice a year since 1970, the Super Bowl champion New York Giants are going to be playing somewhat of a guessing game against the Redskins in the kickoff game to the NFL season.

It's one of the advantages that Jim Zorn brings to the Redskins as their new coach.

Zorn installed the West Coast offense, hired two new coordinators and has been so vanilla in the preseason that the Giants are going to have be very flexible in the nationally televised game Thursday night at Giants Stadium.

''We haven't gone out to try and reinvent ourselves and all of a sudden come up with a magic potion,'' Zorn said. ''We've been trying to work hard and prepare ourselves so we can battle.''

The Giants aren't totally in the dark.

Zorn has been a quarterbacks' coach for 10 seasons with Detroit and Seattle, so New York has an idea what he likes to use. The West Coast offense isn't new either, but Zorn will have his own wrinkles.

''They didn't show all their cards in the preseason,'' Giants middle linebacker Antonio Pierce said. ''They showed a little bit, but they are working on other things and probably game planning against us a little, just like we've been doing against them.

''After the first 15 plays we'll know what their game plan is and what their state of mind is,'' he added.

Zorn has kept the majority of running plays that Joe Gibbs had in his playbook, but he also has offered quarterback Jason Campbell more options.

''Before it was, 'This is what we are going to do no matter what they do. They have to stop us,''' Redskins halfback Clinton Portis said in describing Gibbs' offense.

More often than not, defenses stopped the Redskins, Portis said.

''We didn't have audibles before,'' Portis added. ''Right now if we are in a bad play, we can get out of that play. Jason has the opportunity to put up the audibles and change things around and get us points. So I think everybody is just excited.''

Offensively, the Giants might not have as much trouble against the Redskins defense. Greg Blache has replaced his old boss, Gregg Williams, as the Redskins' defensive coordinator. He is running a similar system that might be more player friendly.

Giants guard Chris Snee noted that Blache was the Redskins' defensive line coach last season, so the technique that the Washington linemen use is not going to change.

''When you look at your personnel and your one-on-one matchups, that's what you use to base your tape study, so that won't be very different,'' Snee said.

The Giants offense also is a veteran unit.

Super Bowl MVP Eli Manning will lead the same 11 players on offense who took the field against the Patriots in February in the stunning 17-14 win. The one change this season is receiver Plaxico Burress, who had the winning reception in the title game, is healthy and looking to build on a career-best 12 touchdown receptions.

''The good thing is they are conscientious, our guys, they work hard, they are attentive,'' Giants offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride said. ''They can solve most problems. It certainly is an uncomfortable position for me to be in because you just don't know what they are going to do.''

The coaching change won't be the only reason the Giants are wary.

New York had to rally in the second half to win the first game in Washington, and then did little against the Redskins in a 22-10 loss in East Rutherford in December - the third of four straight losses at Giants Stadium to end the regular season.

''Every time we have played them it has always been a tight game,'' Manning said. ''Last year, they jumped out to leads pretty early in the first half both times. We have to come out there and be smart with the ball, protect the ball and try to establish a running game. They are talented on their front four. They do a good job of getting a pass rush.''

The Giants come into the season as somewhat overlooked defending champions.

A lot of people don't like their chances of repeating after the retirement of seven-time Pro Bowl defensive end Michael Strahan; the season-ending knee injury to fellow Pro Bowl DE Osi Umenyiora; and the trade of former Pro Bowl tight end Jeremy Shockey to New Orleans.

Their current odds of repeating are 25-1, according to John Avello, director of race and sports operations at Wynn Las Vegas.

''There is not a lot of respect for this team out of the box,'' Avello, a New York native, Giants fan and oddsmaker for 21 years said in a telephone interview Tuesday night. ''This is not your normal Super Bowl winner. Normally people are jacked up on the Super Bowl winner, looking at them to make another run, and that's not the feeling I am getting from the team and the customers that bet these games.''

Most bettors wagering on whether the Giants will win more or less than nine games this season are taking the under, Avello said.

In addition to the Giants' personnel losses, many feel that everything aligned right for the team last season and that every club in the NFC East has improved, making their job that much more difficult, Avello said.

The last time a Super Bowl champion was this overlooked was Tampa Bay in 2003, he said. The Bucs went 7-9 and missed the playoffs.

''We love it, we love it,'' Pierce said with some deep sarcasm. ''We ask for more. Honestly, it's not enough yet. Please add on.''

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