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  • Week 4: A Strong Defense


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    Greetings, Shaolin Redskins fans! On my little mountainside farm, the breeze is blowing cooler though the sun’s rays remain warm. Soon the leaves will begin to change. Our burgundy and gold army was once again victorious in a close-fought battle–and some unexpected approaches by the Ol’ Ball Coach are what allowed us to take the day.

    Let us see what new lessons from Master Sun Tzu he took to heart this week:

    WHAT’S THIS??

    Sun Tzu said:

    “He who is prudent and lies in wait for an enemy who
    is not, will be victorious.”

    Who’d-a thunk it? Steve Spurrier showed he’s learned another lesson about being an NFL coach–and it’s a most unexpected development: he coached a conservative brand of football. More specifically, he relied on defense–and the ground game–to bring him the victory. It was a game that might’ve brought tears to Marty Schottenheimer’s eyes. The Fun ‘n Gun was outgained 387 to 250 yards, and the field general behind the NFL’s top offense, Patrick Ramsey, went only 10 of 22 for 134 yards. This is Steve Spurrier, architect of the unstoppable air game? Steve Spurrier has never coached an NFL game–or perhaps any game–with so few pass attempts.

    His approach was one of prudence, as Master Sun Tzu indicated; Spurrier decided the best thing to do was to wait to see exactly what exactly defensive master Bill Belichick would give him. When the Patriot’s coach crafted a plan that relied on subduing the passing game–he smothered the Redskins’ ace receiver Laveranues Coles and kept the pressure on Ramsey–Spurrier made sure Ramsey didn’t turn the ball over, and he gave the rock to his running backs. That passing stat, 22 attempts, was *less* than the number of rushing attempts–29. One scoring drive in the third quarter went without a single passing *attempt.* “It seems like when we run more and pass less, we win the game,” the coach said Monday. “Obviously, that’s what we were trying to do.” And he was content to use all that rushing to help preserve the lead, rather than trying to run up the score with spectacular–but dangerous–passing plays.

    But we mustn’t ignore the other half of Master Sun Tzu’s equation: lying in wait for an imprudent enemy was George Edwards’ defense. They showed some ball-hawking of which we haven’t seen much. Three interceptions came from the defensive secondary, including a pretty spectacular catch by Champ Bailey (who has a broken wrist). Bailey also forced a fumble and, while he danced in celebration, Matt Bowen scooped the ball and just barely missed getting into the endzone. So, too, did the defense step up: when the Patriot’s got the ball on the Redskins 45 with 1:39 left in the game, a nice play on the ball by Ifeanyi Ohalete prevented them for converting on 4th down–a strong defensive effort to save the game.

    It just goes to show that Spurrier will surprise people by concentrating on the one thing that is most important in NFL football: being victorious.

    NICE TRY

    Sun Tzu said:

    “Do not gobble proffered baits.”

    In the opening drive of the second half, the Patriots tried some trickery. On 3rd and four on their own 26-yard line, the center snapped the ball into a shotgun formation–not to QB Tom Brady, but directly to RB Kevin Faulk. Despite Brady’s attempt to sell the pass, Champ Bailey sniffed out the play immediately and knifed through the line to tackle Faulk for a five-yard loss. Bailey forced the fumble and, as mentioned above, he fiddled a bit while Bowen burned–burned the Patriots by planting the ball on the 6-inch line and setting up an easy Redskins touchdown.

    But that little bit of humor doesn’t take away from the fact that Bailey wasn’t fooled for an instant–he didn’t gobble the proffered bait of Brady’s “pass.” He made a big defensive play that knocked the Patriots back on their heels.

    READ AND REACT

    Sun Tzu said:

    “These are the strategist’s keys to victory. It is not
    possible to discuss them beforehand.”

    And:

    “Determine the enemy’s plans and you will know which
    strategy will be successful and which will not.”

    One of the great pleasures of this season has been watching Steve Spurrier, OC Hue Jackson, and DC George Edwards’ approach to the game. Many NFL coaches have the first ten or fifteen plays scripted out beforehand and will go with that first set no matter how successful (or not) they are. Not so Steve Spurrier and the Fun ‘n Gun, nor the defense of George Edwards. They’re much more interested in seeing what the opponent does and in adjusting to that, so that the plays they call have a better chance of succeeding. It is of course a hallmark of the Fun ‘n Gun that the quarterback is expected to audible into a better play once he gets a chance to look over the defense.

    But on a broader philosophical level, Spurrier does that as well–he will test an opponents’ plan as far as coverage or pass rush goes and then make adjustments to attack their weaknesses. We haven’t seen the kind of half-time adjustments that Spurrier and Edwards makes since the days of Joe Gibbs, and that ability to read the opponent makes the Redskins all the more dangerous. If one thing doesn’t work, they’ll try another and another until weakness is exposed.

    Mei Yao-ch’en, in his commentary on the first quote above, said, “When confronted by the enemy, respond to changing circumstances and devise expedients. How can these be discussed beforehand?” That’s exactly right. Steve Spurrier said, before matching wits with defensive guru Bill Belichick, “Sometimes as an offensive coach, you just have to go to the ballpark, try to figure out what the other guys are trying to do and go from there.”

    And it worked against the Patriots: “[Belichick] gave us the run,” receiver Laveranues Coles said. “Coach Spurrier was taking advantage of whatever the he gave us, and that’s what we’re about. Matching wits with a guy like that, Coach did that and came out on top.”

    So far, so good.

    Edit: This blog was archived in May of 2016 from our original articles database.It was originally posted by Eric Johnson

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    Week 3: Close to Giant


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    Ah, Shaolin Redskins fans–we came close this week to eking out another come-from-behind victory; alas, it was not meant to be. But I was seated high on my mountainside and watched the battle unfold below me, and I could see that the Ol’ Ball Coach learned more from Master Sun Tzu.

    Let us examine how:

    FLYING LAUNDRY

    Sun Tzu said:

    “When his flags and banners move about constantly
    he is in disarray.”

    And:

    “Now gongs and drums, banners and flags are used
    to focus the attention of the troops. When the
    troops can be thus united, the brave cannot
    advance alone, nor can the cowardly withdraw.
    This is the art of employing a host.”

    Much ink has already been spilled in the media about the team record-tying *seventeen* penalties incurred by the Redskins in this week’s competition. The only other game the Redskins were flagged as many times was played in 1948–that’s FIFTY-FIVE years ago.

    But what do those flags signify? To me, it primarily stems from one thing–this team is still young and is seeking it’s identity. They haven’t played much together, so players are thinking about their individual assignments rather than their unit-oriented jobs. I believe that they’ll straighten this out. So yes, the team is in disarray–but this is a temporary condition.

    Instead of dwelling on the mistakes as such, I think the players and coaching staff can use these flags as an opportunity much as Master Sun Tzu has stated–to focus the attention of the troops. The team has not been notably disciplined in its play so far this season or in the whole of last season. It is a matter that has been addressed proactively by the coaching staff in the off-season. The victorious nature of the first two games of the season covered the sins that were committed (18 penalties in the two games combined); however, now that the penalties have led directly to a loss, the players will–MUST–begin to believe that only through discipline can victory be assured. This Giants team did not beat these Redskins–the Redskins beat themselves through penalties. They can compete with any team in the NFL if they straighten up.

    And once they unify–both through the gradual process of playing together and the intentional process of addressing these discipline issues–the brave will advance together. No cowards will be seen. The host will be victorious.

    YOUNG WARRIOR

    Sun Tzu said:

    “[A]t first be shy as a maiden. When the enemy
    gives you an opening be swift as a hare and he
    will be unable to withstand you.”

    While few professional football players would ever want to be described as “shy as a maiden,” it is perhaps a fitting if poetical way of describing the play of our offense under young quarterback Patrick Ramsey. He has now started eight NFL games. Of those eight games, fully half–against New Orleans and Philadelphia in 2002 and Atlanta and New York this year–have seen Ramsey and the Redskins battle back from at least 17-point margins.

    He only won two of those games, but in a third–against the Giants–he managed to tie the game. The team is coming to realize that with Ramsey at the helm, they are never truly out of a game, and that’s a powerful weapon for a young team. In week two, his ability to step it up after being down by 17 assured us a victory. In the Giants game, only the flip of the overtime coin gave the enemy a shot at beating the Redskins–there is little doubt that, if the coin had landed on the other side, that Patrick Ramsey would have marched the offense down the field for a game-winning score.

    It is remarkable to see his growth before our eyes. Again, Ramsey has started EIGHT games, and had significant time in all of two others. But he plays with a poise of a seven-year veteran. He’s got a rifle for an arm and a truly sharp mind. After his maiden-like start to the Giants game (5 of 15 in the first half for 80 yards and no TDs) he needed only shrug it off: “Early, it’s going to be an adjustment. If they come out doing a lot of the same things, then it makes it a little easier. But they didn’t today. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to get going early.” Hidden is the unspoken statement that the young quarterback (and his coach) *was* able to make those adjustments and to get going later–in the second half, Ramsey went 18 of 30 for 268 yards and two TDs. This ability to pick up his game gives his team hope at all times, and that is a commodity for which–and with which–teams will fight their way to victory.

    He is able to start recognize the opening his enemy gives him, and he then moves swift as a hare–and they are, simply, unable to withstand him.

    Edit: This blog was archived in May of 2016 from our original articles database.It was originally posted by Eric Johnson

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    Week 2: Fluttering Falcons


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    FLUTTERING FALCONS

    Good day, Shaolin Redskins fans! It is a glorious day indeed–our troops return victorious from the field after a close-fought battle. The sun has been shining in these cooling days, as it has shone on our army.

    The Ol’ Ball Coach continues to show that he has taken to heart a number of Master Sun Tzu’s lessons. Let us see how he has done so this week:

    MAKING ADJUSTMENTS

    Sun Tzu said:

    “Now an army may be likened to water, for
    just as flowing water avoids the heights
    and hastens to the lowlands, so an army
    avoids strength and strikes weakness.”

    Against Atlanta, we saw the team get knocked back on its heels in the first quarter, falling to a 17-0 deficit. But they were unwilling to give up, fighting and clawing their way to a 33-31 victory. Yet it is *how* they went about that fighting and clawing that is so instructive.

    Early in the game, the Falcons were using their 3-4 defense (and the crowd noise) to great effect, overwhelming the offensive line and running backs with blitzes and sacking Ramsey four times in the first half alone. But adjustments were made–seemingly an art lost with Joe Gibbs–and that bought the Redskins the time and means to mount their comeback. Spurrier started calling for short slants and three-step drops to keep the Falcons’ defense at home. And it worked, so that the Redskins could mix those short throws with runs and the occasional bomb, seizing the momentum again, knocking the crowd out of the equation, and generating scoring drives that eventually put the Falcons down and out for the count.

    The Redskins avoided the strengths of the Falcons’ defense–their successful blitz packages, for example–and attacked its weaknesses, such as the exposed secondary. The result was, as Master Sun Tzu predicted, victory.

    QUICK STRIKE

    Sun Tzu said:

    “When the strike of a hawk breaks the body
    of its prey, it is because of timing.”

    With 0:19 left in the third quarter and the Falcons pinned back against their endzone by a fine Redskins special teams play, Atlanta QB Doug Johnson took the snap and dropped back into the end zone, beginning a play-action fake to dump the ball off to tailback Warrick Dunn. Redskins linebacker Jessie Armstead had seen that play in the first half and had covered Dunn, knocking down the pass. But he made a mental note to himself to keep an eye out for the same play–because it had presented an opportunity.

    This time, with less than a minute left in the third quarter and a 24-24 tie on the scoreboard, Armstead watched the play unfold and instead of covering Dunn again, he knifed through a gap in the line and crushed the unprotected Falcons quarterback for a safety. And those two points were critical as they provided the margin of victory for the game.

    This is the second week in which the Redskins linebacking corps has shown the instinctive play that has set this season apart already for them. Last week it was Jeremiah Trotter bursting through the line to drop LaMont Jordan for a critical 4-yard loss. Instead of adhering to Marvin Lewis’ rigid defensive scheme, the linebackers are permitted by new DC George Edwards to play with more freedom. And with that freedom comes more opportunity for all three linebackers to wreak havoc as the center of the defense. Timing, instinct–and the breaking of the body of their prey.

    LAVAR-SAN

    Speaking of instinctive linebacking, our cousin across the sea in Japan, Miyamoto Musashi, has these words of instruction for our samurai linebacker, LaVar Arrington. From the Book of Five Rings:

    “Or, if the enemy attacks calmly, you must
    observe his movement and, with your body
    rather floating, join in with his movements
    as he draws near. Move quickly and cut him
    strongly.”

    Twice within three minutes of each other in the fourth quarter, LaVar managed to bat down passes near the line of scrimmage, showing how he watches the play develop and–with his body rather floating–spikes the play in question. The same thing happened last week against the Jets–LaVar making a play on the ball like a cornerback. There is simply no question that LaVar-san moves quickly and cuts his enemy strongly.

    Edit: This blog was archived in May of 2016 from our original articles database.It was originally posted by Eric Johnson

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    Week 1: Flying High


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    Greetings, Shaolin Redskins fans! It has been many months since last we spoke, but now the campaign season is upon us and our army in burgundy and gold has been well-rested and -trained. I hope the quiet months have treated you well; I am glad you have come back–or if you are new to our village, it is good to have you here among us. I myself have been busy in my mountain retreat, working my garden and lengthening the stone wall–ah, but you aren’t here to listen to the prattling of an old man.

    You want to know if Qiu Lei Yun Dong Jiao Lian–the Ol’ Ball Coach–learned anything from his experiences last season. If the battle last Thursday is any indication, he has taken Master Sun Tzu’s lessons to heart.

    THE OFFSEASON

    Sun Tzu said:

    “It is a doctrine of war not to assume the enemy will not
    come, but rather to rely on one’s readiness to meet him;
    not to presume that he will not attack, but rather to
    make one’s self invincible.”

    The 2003 offseason was dedicated to preparation: Steve Spurrier wanted to be able to rely on the Redskins’ own readiness to meet the enemy, and to make sure that they were indeec themselves invincible. The 2002 season was useful in to primary ways–it helped the Ball Coach to figure out how best to run his system in the NFL, and he had sixteen games in which to evaluate the players he had. That way, he could go into the offseason with a particular plan of attack in mind for improving the team.

    So as soon as the offseason began, Spurrier and the FO started making determinations about who to keep and what kind of players they needed to acquire. Two characteristics stand out: 1.) speed, speed, and more speed, on both sides of the ball. 2.) Hard-working lunch-pail types, guys who are willing to do what they need to for the good of the team without worrying about individual accolades. And no player better embodied both than Laveranues Coles, who has unreal speed that is perhaps only matched by his off-the-field preparation.

    With a team like this, Spurrier won’t have to hope the enemy won’t show up that day–he can be confident in going out positively with victory on his mind.

    LANDING THE JETS

    Sun Tzu said:

    “Having paid heed to the advantages of my plans, the
    general must create situation which will contribute to
    their accomplishment. By ‘situations’ I mean that he
    should act expediently in accordance with what is
    advantageous and so control the balance.”

    The Ball Coach startled his critics this week with a 34/23 rush-pass ratio. Wait–this is Steve Spurrier, author of the Fun ‘n Gun aerial assault. In the first half, Patrick Ramsey could do virtually no wrong in the air, completing 12 of 13 pass attempts.

    But the story behind the stats is the interesting thing. The ground game was used both to set up the pass and to relieve the pressure on Ramsey in the second half when an INT and a fumble rattled the young QB. Spurrier has made some revisions of his Fun ‘n Gun–it has, in effect, grown up a bit so it can go against legitimate NFL opponents. The early returns show a system that is much more balanced in execution, and perhaps even more importantly, Spurrier is showing a willingness to be flexible in his play-calling. He’s going with what works, instead of insisting on going bombs away no matter what the conditions are on the field. He’s even relying on his defense to protect a lead.

    He critically examined the advantages of the Fun ‘n Gun and is now working on creating situations which will contribute to their accomplishment–he’s paying attention to what works, and what works right now (and worked against the Jets) is balance.

    (And now, a bonus from our cousin in Japan, Miyamoto Musashi:)

    SAMURAI LINEBACKER

    Miyamoto Musashi said in the Fire Book, heeded by Arrington-san:

    “Advance with as strong a spirit as possible, and when you
    reach the enemy move with your feet a little quicker than
    normal, unsettling him and overwhelming him sharply.”

    Edit: This blog was archived in May of 2016 from our original articles database.It was originally posted by Eric Johnson

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    Week 15: The Expected Eagle Strike


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    Good day, Shaolin Redskins fans. It is a crisp dawn here outside my little hut, but the fish are biting in the deep pools edged with ice. It has been some days since our army returned from battle; the loss was perhaps anticipated, but there is excitement nonetheless at the skills and leadership exhibited by our new, young field commander.

    This week, the Ol’ Ball Coach has found himself both tutor and tutored in the ways of Master Sun Tzu. Let us examine some of the lessons:

    YOUNG ARM

    Sun Tzu said:

    “There are five methods of attacking with fire. The first is to
    burn personnel; the second, to burn stores; the third, to burn
    equipment; the fourth, to burn arsenals; and the fifth, to use
    incendiary missiles.”

    The fifth method of attacking with fire is the one that has so many Redskins-watchers–both on the field and in the stands–abuzz this week. Against the Eagles’ talented secondary, rookie quarterback Patrick Ramsey showed off the arm strength for which he is known–zipping passes through the eye of a needle in a manner that neither of the other QBs on the roster could hope to match.

    In one particular play, Ramsey threw an absolute bullet past three Philadelphia defenders in the endzone, j-u-u-s-t past the fingertips of one of them, for a touchdown. And he showed a nice touch on a deep lob, hitting Rod Gardner in stride down the left sideline for another TD–a great sign of his ongoing improvement, as he had missed a throw like that out of bounds just a week before.

    But his frozen ropes–they are incendiary missiles indeed!

    THE SEASON OF GIVING

    Sun Tzu said:

    “Should one ask: ‘How do I cope with a well-ordered enemy host
    about to attack me?’ I reply: ‘Seize something he cherishes and
    he will conform to your desires.'”

    Alas, this lesson is one taught to the Redskins by many teams this year, including the Eagles. How have teams coped with the Redskins’ attack? So often, they seize the object we most cherish–the ball–and we are forced to conform to their desire for victory.

    In short, we’ve turned the ball over way too much. There is a clear pattern: in every game that we’ve lost the TO battle, we’ve lost the game, and in all but one game where we’ve been even or won the TO battle, we’ve won the game. It is the best predictor of our success, and a brutally obvious category for improvement in the offseason. Luckily, Spurrier-coached teams have generally been heads-up about these matters, so we can expect some changes on this front.

    COMEBACK

    Sun Tzu said:

    “Do not press an enemy at bay.”

    As commentator Tu Yu relayed: “Prince Fu Ch’ai said: ‘Wild beasts, when at bay, fight desperately. How much more is this true of men! If they know there is no alternative they will fight to the death.'”

    This mistake almost led to a comeback for the Redskins in Philadelphia. The Eagles were up 31-7 at the end of the third quarter, and the Redskins were pressed back into the corner. And for perhaps the first time this season, they came out fighting in the fourth quarter, twice marching down the field for touchdowns while holding the Eagles to only one field goal. One gets the feeling that if the game were only a little longer, perhaps some real magic might have happened.

    Steve Spurrier must have been pleased at the fight exhibited by his young players–it is a good sign for the seasons to come!

    Edit: This blog was archived in May of 2016 from our original articles database.It was originally posted by Eric Johnson

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    Week 14: A Giant Step Back, a Giant Step Forward


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    Greetings, Shaolin Redskins fans. Our army returns again to our little valley with heads down, swords dragging in the dust. They know that they can only now fight to salvage some personal pride and to cause problems for other contenders.

    But at the same time, the Ol’ Ball Coach has spent the past few weeks getting back in touch with his “inner Sun Tzu,” reminding himself of the style of play and type of team that has gotten him where he is. Let us see what he has heard from the master of late:

    A TRUE HEAD COACH

    Sun Tzu said:

    “Now the general is the protector of the state. If this
    protection is all-embracing, the state will surely be strong; if
    defective, the state will certainly be weak.”

    It is the role of the general-in-chief, argues Sun Tzu, to protect and defend the state. He must concern himself with all aspects of offense and defense and not let any detail escape his notice. If he focuses on all these matters, he will succeed and the state will be strong; if he pays attention only to a certain subset of matters or fails to effectively meet his responsibilities in any area, he will fail and the state will be weak.

    So too with the professional football head coach. And indications are growing that Spurrier is stepping up his overall control of the team. When defensive coordinator (and assistant head coach) Marvin Lewis was dancing with Michigan State this week, Spurrier didn’t seem too broken up at the notion of his possible departure. Said Spurrier: “We’re prepared to carry on if that would happen, sure.” He also indicated on his radio show that he’s planning on taking a much more active role next year in defense and special teams as well as offense–from personnel moves to actually working with the team through the year.

    These are good developments. If Spurrier’s sphere of influence truly becomes all-embracing, the state of the Redskins team is sure to strengthen.

    RETURNING TO HIS ROOTS

    Sun Tzu said:

    “Know the enemy and know yourself; in a hundred battles you will
    never be in peril.”

    and

    “When campaigning, be swift as the wind; in leisurely march,
    majestic as the forest; in raiding and plundering, like fire; in
    standing, firm as the mountains. As unfathomable as the clouds,
    move like a thunderbolt.”

    As has been observed in this column of late, Spurrier is returning to the form of coaching that has garnered him such success in the past. It is critical that he know–and trust–himself as he makes decisions, whether they be game-day decisions or personnel decisions in the offseason.

    His style of play is well described by the second quote above, something he should return to again and again: Speed is at the heart of the program–whether it’s footspeed or brain speed. But the right balance looseness and order is a part of it, too. A strong defense is critical. And out of the unfathomable reaches of his offensive mind, strike swiftly in unexpected ways.

    Every professional must find that center that reminds them of why they do what they do, and for Steve Spurrier, it is of paramount importance that he not lose sight of that. From such a wellspring flows victory.

    A NEW DAWN

    Sun Tzu said:

    “During the early morning spirits are keen, during the day they
    flag, and in the evening thoughts turn toward home. And
    therefore those skilled in war avoid the enemy when his spirit is
    keen and attack him when it is sluggish and his soldiers
    homesick. This is control of the moral factor.”

    The sun set on the team this year for all intents and purposes with the defeat against the Giants. The thoughts of some veterans turned toward home–the offseason, avoiding injury, etc. But with the introduction of younger players onto the field of play, a new spirit sparked through the team–this is not something that Spurrier would miss. Indeed, rookie QB Patrick Ramsey almost single-handedly brought the team back from defeat. A new spark of youthful energy is being felt throughout the organization.

    Spurrier is now in the midst of evaluating his current personnel as to whether they fit into his style of offense–not just the actual route-running but the *type* of player (attitude, work ethic, and more) that best fits his team. Young guys–like Darnerian McCants, Ladell Betts, and Carl Powell–are playing to see if they have the right make-up to stay with the team next year.

    This keen, early-morning spirit might yet surprise some people *this* year–particularly the crusty veterans who don’t want to try a new way. Their time is perhaps short–but it is the youth, and youthful-hearted, who will see the sun rise on the B&G again.

    Edit: This blog was archived in May of 2016 from our original articles database.It was originally posted by Eric Johnson

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    Week 13: ‘Twas a Turkey


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    Ah, Shaolin Redskins fans, our little village lays smothered under the forlorn detritus of our day of thanksgiving. We were feasting on so many wonderful dishes–and then disaster struck. Our troops, after an early domination of our sworn enemies, collapsed and their defeat was secured. It is a dark time for all of our peoples.

    The one sliver of silver lining in all this is that the Ol’ Ball Coach had the opportunity to draw some more lessons from Master Sun Tzu. Let us see what this week’s struggles taught him:

    TEN TIMES IN A ROW

    Sun Tzu said:

    “Now an army may be robbed of its spirit and its commander
    deprived of his courage.”

    This is perhaps the simplest explanation of the Redskins’ inability to defeat Dallas. Though he said on his radio show that he feels like he’s been the coach at every one of the last ten defeats we have experienced against the Cowboys, Spurrier only coached the most recent one. The blame is not solely his: Norv Turner and Marty Schottenheimer also oversaw grievous losses to our eternal enemy during that span. Coaches may come and go, but the team–and the outcome–remains the same.

    So to what can we attribute the Redskins’ inability to defeat the Cowboys? The Cowboys simply, somehow, rob us of our spirits. The first few defeats were probably just vagaries of the game–but now the team is so keyed up about the series and the losing streak, and Dallas is so confident of victory, that we end up defeating ourselves as we showed this week. The solution, then, isn’t external–it is internal. We allow them to rob us of our spirit–by robbing ourselves of our spirit. This must stop, and stop now.

    THAT ALL-IMPORTANT CHEMISTRY

    Sun Tzu said:

    “If troops are punished before their loyalty is secured they will
    be disobedient. If not obedient, it is difficult to employ them.
    If troops are loyal, but punishments are not enforced, you cannot
    employ them.”

    The Ol’ Ball Coach is walking a fine line with regards to his relationship with his players, and it is something to watch over the next few weeks. In general, his award/punishment system is very clear, as I have mentioned before: if you perform up to the coaching staff’s standards, you play; if you don’t, you don’t.

    But this week in particular has shown what a keen edge that can sometimes be. The loss at Dallas had personnel repercussions, when PK James Tuthill and P Bryan Barker were replaced. Many read into his actions–particularly cutting Tuthill–as knocking the heads off of players with essentially minor roles in the loss. The kind of action often ascribed to Norv Turner–a rather ineffectual showing of pique. There were grumbles of surprise among his players. While the performance-based move was consistent, it struck them and some observers as perhaps heavy-handed.

    Luckily, however, Spurrier also has an example of how that approach can benefit some players: Darnerian McCants rejoins the line-up after having been effectively benched for sloppy practices and blocking poorly in the Seattle game. But now he understands the lesson he was taught: “By midseason, I pretty much understood his style. They want you to know everything about everything. Before, I knew my position and what to run, but now you have to know all positions. It’s a lot more detail. He’s searching for perfection.”

    The more players that understand that, the more success Spurrier will have. However, he has to be careful not to alienate his players in the process.

    BACK TO HIS ROOTS

    Sun Tzu said:

    “On the day the policy to attack is put into effect, close the
    passes, rescind the passports, have no further intercourse with
    the enemy’s envoys and exhort the temple council to execute the
    plans.”

    It appears Steve Spurrier’s internal struggle might be over. In the past weeks, he has been criticized for not running the ball enough; for poor play-calling; for relying on a deep game that isn’t (or can’t be) there; for a myriad of mistakes in his approach to the professional game.

    But these concerns aren’t truly his–these aren’t the things that make him tick. He plays a different game, and has remembered that fact. “You need balance,” Spurrier said. “. . . But I was maybe wrong in worrying about it [the criticism of the number of passes the Redskins were throwing] too much. You have to coach your way. . . . Our fans, even the players on our team, they want to run more. I want to do what they want to do. But Mr. Snyder didn’t hire me to run the ball 45 times.”

    This recommitment to “playing within himself” will provide dividends in the long run. I expect we’ll see a more wide-open game for the remainder of the season as he tests both his younger players and reminds himself of the style of play that got him here. It might fail, but it will very likely be an exciting month–and a precursor of Redskins football to come!

    Edit: This blog was archived in May of 2016 from our original articles database.It was originally posted by Eric Johnson

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    Week 12: Catching the Ram


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    Shaolin Redskins fans, it is a time for rejoicing! Not only did our troops defeat a skilled enemy; not only is it a week for family and feasting in much of our land; it is the week when we confront our most hated foe! The only thing to make it sweeter would be defeating that enemy.

    This week, the Ol’ Ball Coach dished out some lessons originally taught by Master Sun Tzu. Let us take a moment to look over his teachings:

    MIXING IT UP

    Sun Tzu said:

    “He who knows the art of the direct and the indirect approach will
    be victorious. Such is the art of maneuvering.”

    Steve Spurrier called perhaps his best game of the year. He mixed passes and runs to perfection with maybe only one or two questionable decisions. The team–led by Danny Wuerffel–executed his plays to near perfection, which is what allowed him to get into the rhythm of the game and make the right calls at the right time.

    And Wuerffel gets some of the credit, too–he audibled runs when he saw the Rams defense jump into a zone blitz, thereby keeping drives alive and himself upright. The balance of run and pass was established in favor of the Redskins’ strengths. Attacking first up the middle with a run, then through the air for a quick hit, then going for it with a sweep on 4th down into the endzone, maybe mixing in a trick play here and there–Steve Spurrier knows the art of the direct and indirect approach, and victory is the final result when the plan is executed.

    EXTRAORDINARY

    Sun Tzu said:

    “Generally, in battle, use the normal force to engage; use the
    extraordinary to win.”

    Here Master Sun Tzu is addressing the cheng–the normal, direct force–and the ch’i, the extraordinary, indirect force. Said one commentator: “When Sun Tzu said to engage with the cheng but to win with the chi’i he was implying that distractive effects are necessary to ensure that decisive blows may be struck where the enemy is least prepared and where he does not anticipate them.”

    So it was that an extraordinary, indirect force led to the victory over the Rams. The defense had been doing what it could, to slow the Rams’ advance during their final drive. But it wasn’t until LaVar Arrington left his opponent grasping for air when the latter went for his face mask (as he had most of the game) and then “swam” past him and swung around the line to knock the ball from Kurt Warner’s hand that the victory was sealed. LaVar’s play was an extraordinary display of personal effort–and the battle was won.

    DIGGING DEEP

    Sun Tzu said:

    “Throw the troops into a position from which there is no escape
    and even when faced with death they will not flee. For if
    prepared to die, what can they not achieve?”

    While the Redskins’ season is not literally a matter of life and death, figuratively it has become so–every game is a playoff game. But the sense that this situation creates isn’t one of desperation–it’s instead an opportunity to perform–to achieve–at the highest of levels. When athletes dig deep like that, they pull their games to a higher level.

    This is exactly what transpired against the Rams. With everything on the line and the Rams marching steadily towards a tie or a victory, the Redskins players individually and collectively laid it on the line. Darrell Green comes up with a monster pass block in the endzone reminiscent of so many he’s had in the past; Jessie Armstead catches up with Trung Canidate at the six after a 22-yard rush to prevent a touchdown; and LaVar Arrington knocks the ball out of Warner’s hand for Daryl Gardener to recover and preserve the victory. This kind of team unity of effort is tempered from the fire of their situation–what can they not achieve?

    Edit: This blog was archived in May of 2016 from our original articles database.It was originally posted by Eric Johnson

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    Week 11: Giants in the Mud


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    Good day, Shaolin Redskins fans. It is a quiet, reflective day here on my mountain–it has rained on and off throughout the night, and mist shrouds the valley below. It is gray all around.

    The Ol’ Ball Coach has brought us more lessons from Master Sun Tzu. Let us turn to them:

    WATER WATER EVERYWHERE

    Sun Tzu said:

    “Appraise war in terms of the five fundamental factors . . . the
    second [of these factors] is weather . . . By weather I mean the
    interaction of natural forces; the effects of winter’s cold and
    summer’s heat and the conduct of military operations in
    accordance with the seasons.”

    Sunday’s game perhaps had the worst weather conditions of any game Steve Spurrier has yet coached. The worst he could remember previously was a nor’easter blowing in while he coached Duke against Rutgers at the Meadowlands in October 1987. That bad luck revisited him in spades this week. It was in the low 40s and alternated between light and heavy rain. The field was soaked, the turf peeling up in chunks.

    But foul weather is a hallmark–one of *the* hallmarks–of NFL football. From all appearances, Spurrier came into this game with a smart game plan–running Stephen Davis. But the Giants had a good plan as well–stop Stephen Davis and force the Redskins to go to the air. They stacked up against the run and dared Shane Matthews to beat them with his arm, which he was unable to do. It will be intriguing to watch Steve Spurrier’s evolution as a foul-weather coach; after this week’s game, he has probably learned that he needs to be more patient with the running game in the rain and mud. Similarly, he needs to give his kicking game some practice when it’s wet; slippery conditions led to a missed field goal that had the potential of being a game-winner. Heavy and wet footballs had an impact on both the passing and place-kicking games. Just another on a list of new experiences for a rookie NFL coach.

    GRINDING IT OUT

    Sun Tzu said:

    “If the general is unable to control his impatience and orders his
    troops to swarm up the wall like ants, one-third of them will be
    killed without taking the city. Such is the calamity of these
    attacks.”

    One of Steve Spurrier’s greatest strengths is also one of his greatest weaknesses–as is so often the case with geniuses. He wants very badly to eat up yards in big chunks with the big play–it is the very nature of the system he’s brought to the NFL, the Fun ‘n Gun. He’s learning, however, that he just doesn’t have the personnel in place to run his system on a consistent basis. He’s also been confronted with the fact that defensive personnel in the NFL are much more skillful than those he faced in the college game.

    Some of the more painful losses this season have been as a result of Spurrier’s gamble that the team could hit the big play. He can just see it–almost taste it–when a particular offensive play will be the knife in the heart of his opponent, so he sends in the call. And when the offense doesn’t execute properly, you can see the missed opportunity causes him an almost physical pain. The rest of the season might be a lesson for the coach on patient attacks–steady, clock-eating drives, but with a sprinkling of game-breaking plays when the opportunity is optimal. This might be the NFL version of the Fun ‘n Gun, at least until he gets the right personnel in place. In the short term, though, he needs to resist going for that game-turning bomb every time; too often the bomb has gone right into the arms of the defense, and the game has indeed turned–just the wrong way. Spurrier needs to learn to control his impatience, as Sun Tzu teaches, or the result will again be calamity.

    DULLED ARDOR

    Sun Tzu said:

    “Victory is the main object in war. If this is long delayed,
    weapons are blunted and morale depressed. When troops attack
    cities, their strength will be exhausted.”

    The Ol’ Ball Coach needs to be mindful of the mood of his team, and there are signs that he’s paying attention to this area. He has spoken this week of the need to inject some excitement into his offense. As in the past, his main route to doing so is by switching around personnel: this week, the QB duties will be divided between Danny Wuerffel and Patrick Ramsey. He also plans to rotate Alex Sulfsted in as guard, citing the excitement generated by the young man playing so well when he started for Chris Samuels. Spurrier is doing the best he can to generate some passion from a group that hasn’t displayed much.

    But of course the real solution to the dispirited play lies in getting victories. This may mean a heavier reliance on the run, which the offense does well. But more likely, victory will be achieved through a combination of factors–more running, more young, excited players, more execution, better play-calling. There are no magic bullets in turning a team around. Morale improves when victories come, and victory comes when morale (especially chemistry) improves. The parts aren’t running smoothly together, and it ultimately is a question of time–in the short run, doing what it takes to win; in the long run, getting the right parts in place.

    Edit: This blog was archived in May of 2016 from our original articles database.It was originally posted by Eric Johnson

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    Week 10: At the Mercy of the Spotted Cat


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    Greetings, Shaolin Redskins fans. The hunters have returned from the jungle in the south, saddened by the loss of a few of their party. It appears that a spotted cat unexpectedly made an appearance and dragged some men into the undergrowth. The hunters, though they searched long and hard, were unable to find them. Our little village is very sad.

    The Ol’ Ball Coach has unfortunately gone back to learning from his peers; let us examine this week’s lessons:

    ON THE OTHER SIDELINE

    Sun Tzu said:

    “He who is prudent and lies in wait for an enemy who is not,
    will be victorious.”

    This is, of course, the philosophical underpining of Coughlin’s victory over Spurrier. The Jaguars’ coach formulated a plan of attack and stuck with it–furthermore, he had to know that Spurrier would imprudently want to create some fireworks in front of his old home crowd.

    Eddie Pells of the Associated Press had it right: “Coughlin looked good in almost every comparison to Spurrier. He was, in fact, everything Spurrier was not on Sunday – disciplined, patient and, most importantly, in tune with his team’s strengths and weaknesses. . . . Coughlin stuck to his game plan. He played defense and field position and ate up yardage on the ground, never giving up on his running game, even though it struggled at times.

    “‘You have to stay with it,’ [Coughlin] said. ‘It’s not always going to be automatic right off the bat. If you play the game the way you want to play it, and can stay with the run and keep the good mix, eventually you have to believe you’re going to get some opportunities.'”

    A lesson that I expect Spurrier is beginning to take to heart.

    KNOWING YOURSELF

    Sun Tzu said:

    “If I know that the enemy is vulnerable to attack, but do
    not know that my troops are incapable of striking him, my
    chance of victory is but half.”

    The enemy was certainly vulnerable–they were reeling from a four-game losing streak, and their coach was under fire for not being, well, Steve Spurrier. But the Ol’ Ball Coach thought he could go in on “a beautiful day for passing” and keep the ball in the air. He chose to ignore the fact that that was *not* the way that his troops were capable of striking the enemy–the passing game just hasn’t been clicking. His chance of victory was not good, as we learned. We can hope though that he’s learned his lesson, and comes at his next opponent in a manner calculated to improve his chances of victory.

    TIME IS GROWING SHORT

    Sun Tzu said:

    “Ground in which the army survives only if it fights with
    the courage of desperation is called ‘death.’. . . . In
    death ground I could make it evident that there is no
    chance of survival. For it is the nature of soldiers to
    resist when surrounded; to fight to the death when there
    is no alternative and when desperate to follow commands
    implicitly.”

    Now is the time for Spurrier to appeal to the team–their backs are against the wall. They could actually still make the playoffs, if they run the table. The day grows short. The hour is desperate and nobody can help them but themselves–but even now they have the players to pull it off, if they but recognize it.

    Edit: This blog was archived in May of 2016 from our original articles database.It was originally posted by Eric Johnson

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