Jason Campbell: The Maturing of a Quarterback

October 26, 2008 | Brian Billick

This week I have the Washington Redskins vs. the Detroit Lions game for Fox. Consequently, I have had an entire week to look at the tape on both teams and I can’t tell you how impressed I have been with Redskins QB Jason Campbell. It has been fascinating to see his growth and maturation in Coach Jim Zorn’s version of the West Coast Offense.

Much has been made of the fact that he has yet to throw an interception. He is the only QB in the league (with 30 attempts or more) without a pick. What I thought I would see when I looked at the film was a QB who was being overly cautious with the ball, willing to take a sack rather than take a chance with a tight throw, a low completion percentage and few big plays.

To the contrary, thus far in the season, Campbell has completed 129 of 202 pass attempts (64%) with 1,426 yards and seven touchdowns. The true sign of his maturation in the system is evidenced by the fact that he is the only QB in the NFL who has three receivers with 30 catches or more. He has used Santana Moss, Antwaan Randle El and Chris Cooley very effectively and the Redskins are currently 8th in the league in explosive plays (plays of 20 yards or more).

There were many people who questioned whether Campbell’s abilities were suited to the style of offense that puts a premium on quick drops, quick decisions and quick releases by the QB. In the past Campbell, who at 6-foot-5, 240 pounds was more likely to sit high in the pocket, stare down his primary receiver and take the hit while holding on to the ball too long.

Jim Zorn has done a great job of what he calls “just speeding up every little thing he does so as to create a better rhythm in the pocket.” As Jim told me, “I want him to be quick but not hurry.”

A true test of a quarterback comes in the fourth quarter and this has been when Campbell has been at this best. Campbell has displayed poise, accuracy and the ability to make the big play in the final period when it counts. He ranks third in the NFC and fifth in the NFL in fourth quarter efficiency as he has completed 32 of 46 passes at close to 70% for 444 yards and three touchdowns.

I did the Redskins vs. the New Orleans Saints game early in the year when in the fourth quarter Brian Baldinger and I commented on seeing what may have been a key turning point in Campbell’s maturation in this league. The Redskins were trailing and late in the game the Saints were showing pressure. Campbell changed the play at the line of scrimmage, avoided a rush by stepping up in the pocket and delivered a 70-yard TD throw to Santana Moss that won the game for the Redskins, 29-24.

Certainly, having the leading rusher in the NFL behind you, in Clinton Portis, doesn’t hurt. However, I am anxious to see if Campbell can continue to maintain this pace for the remainder of the year. If so, the Redskins should be I the thick of the playoff race in late December.