<
>

THE NFL DEPARTMENT

PANIC ATTACK

Read the headlines coming out of DC, and you think Jason Campbell and Washington's new West Coast offense are doomed. But despite the team's struggles in its seasonopening loss to the Giants, I'm telling you that all the Skins need is a little patience (with apologies to Axl).

In his first three seasons, Campbell showed flashes of accuracy (60.0% completion rate in 2007), along with pocket presence and composure. He just needs to shorten his long delivery to complete the timing routes and short passes the West Coast requires. New coach Jim Zorn has taken care of the rest, asking his QB to take more three- and five-step drops, while also installing more packages from the shotgun. That's meant to simplify things for a signal-caller who's had three coordinators in four years. And while Campbell completed only 55.6% of his passes in Week 1, the passing game showed moments of cohesiveness. Let me take you to late in the second quarter. Campbell took five steps back and immediately fired to Santana Moss, crossing underneath. If Campbell had been even a quarter of a tick late with that throw, the Giants DBs would have smoked Moss. Instead, the vet caught the ball in stride and ran 12 yards untouched for a TD.

Of course, for the offense to click like that more consistently, Washington's quick receivers must adjust too. You'll notice that both Moss and Antwaan Randle El are motioning more before the snap to create mismatches with a safety or linebacker. You can also look for the wideouts to run more option routes, in which they choose to move either inside or out on defenders, depending on the matchup. For that type of play to develop, however, quarterback and receiver must be on the same page. That kind of rhythm doesn't happen overnight, especially in a new scheme.

Until Campbell and his receivers sync up, the team can at least ride a healthy Clinton Portis. Zorn has carried over Joe Gibbs' power scheme from last season, utilizing stretch plays to take advantage of Portis' elusiveness to the outside. That didn't translate to much production in the first half against the Giants, but Portis did break a 23-yarder off left tackle in the third quarter en route to a 84-yard night. Nothing great, but it's a start.

And it will only get better from here.


TARGET PRACTICE

At the unforgiving cornerback position, untested youngsters and aging vets often find themselves in a starring role—of the opposing offensive coordinator's play-calling production. Here are four guys who could sink their teams if they don't hold up early on.

BRANDON MCDONALD, BROWNS
He excelled in a part-time role as a rookie last season. But now that he's a starter, there's no hiding McDonald's lack of strength in man coverage. Look for Pittsburgh's Santonio Holmes in Week 2, Baltimore's Mark Clayton in Week 3 and Cincy's Chad Ocho Cinco in Week 4 to try to outmuscle him.

DRAYTON FLORENCE, JAGUARS
He was banished from San Diego in large part due to his supreme struggles against wideouts (11.3 YPA in 2007). Unless he's suddenly figured out how to play with better technique and make quicker, smarter decisions, he'll be dead meat over the next three weeks with matchups against
Buffalo's Lee Evans, Indy's Reggie Wayne and Houston's Andre Johnson. JACQUES REEVES, TEXANS As a Cowboy last season, this shaky five-year vet was the NFL's second-most-targeted CB. Now he's paired with whiz kid Fred Bennett. Add those two up and it equals a bull's-eye on Reeves' chest. Only the weak passing attacks of the Ravens (Week 2) and the Titans (Week 3) might spare him burn marks.

ASHTON YOUBOTY, BILLS
Thanks to a solid preseason, the agile but unpolished Youboty won the No. 3 CB job. Even so, since he's paired up with standouts Jabari Greer and Terrence McGee, the 2006 third-rounder is certain to be in the crosshairs of the Jags, Raiders and Rams the next three weeks.