Week 9: The Seahawks Brought to Roost
By: Eric Johnson 
Posted: 2003-11-12
Category: Washington Redskins News
Good day, Shaolin Redskins fans! It is a glorious morning indeed, with our army returning triumphant from the field of battle and the sun splashing burgundy and gold stripes across the dawning sky.

It was a curious week for the Ol' Ball Coach, one in which he seems to have learned some lessons about leading his troops--and in turn imparted some lessons of his own--lessons he learned from the master, Sun Tzu.

Let us examine them:

SETTING 'EM UP AND KNOCKING 'EM DOWN

Sun Tzu said:

"Now war is based on deception. Move when
it is advantageous and create changes in the
situation by dispersal and concentration of
forces."

The Fun 'n Gun reared its pretty head towards the end of the game against Seattle. At the ten yard line, after a Seattle timeout with 2:02 left in the game and a 20-20 tie on the scoreboard, Patrick Ramsey flared a lateral to Rod Gardner to the left side of the field. Gardner caught the ball and, rather than running ahead with the apparent wide receiver screen, stepped back and lobbed the ball across the middle of the field to a wide, wide open Trung Canidate in the end zone. That touchdown won the game for the Redskins.

But it wasn't an isolated play. It had been set up through the course of the entire game with a number of wide receiver screens to Gardner--some more successful than others, but all pretty standard plays from the Fun 'n Gun playbook. The Seahawks had to be expecting another such play, and they rushed as a team to keep Gardner from the end zone. They were, simply put, deceived by the long-term plan to get in their heads, and the Redskins moved when it was most advantageous.


PHYSICIAN, BENCH THYSELF

Sun Tzu said:

"In enclosed ground, resourcefulness is required."

Very little ground has been as enclosed in recent weeks as that around Redskins Park--encircled by the gleeful media, surrounded by the apparent displeasure of a supposedly impatient owner, hemmed in by expectations dashed.

And caught in the middle of this pressure cooker was the Ol' Ball Coach himself, with his heralded offensive system declared untenable and a death watch set on his tenure in professional football. "Never," said that gleeful media, "never will it work because Steve Spurrier won't set aside his ego."

And never were they more wrong. In a move that he described as "benching myself" and offensive coordinator Hue Jackson called merely "try[ing] something different," Spurrier handed the reins of his baby to Jackson and let him take over the play-calling. The result, in combination with Jackson's fieriness on the sideline and a moving speech by the OC the night before, was a balanced attack and a victory. But what it showed was that more than anything else, Spurrier is willing to do anything he can to win.

And what's more, it may bring an additional significant benefit--the clear respect of his players, who couldn't have helped but start questioning their coach during a four-game losing streak. "It's not like we didn't respect him before," said kick returner Chad Morton. "But I respect him so much for that, and I think everybody else does too. He benched himself. That's really big for him. I'm sure he has a lot of ego just because he's been so successful in college. And then for him to call those two plays says so much about him." Added guard Randy Thomas: "I've always had confidence in Spurrier, but he really showed what he's made of this week. He's a different type of coach. He's laid-back but at the same time he demands a lot from his coaches and players."

That kind of respect--borne out of resourcefulness--will pay dividends in the weeks and months to come.


TWO MINDS ARE BETTER THAN ONE, or LONG LIVE BALANCE

Sun Tzu said:

"The ultimate in disposing one's troops is
to be without ascertainable shape."

A significant side benefit of having Hue Jackson--former running backs coach and current offensive coordinator--call the game is that the ratio between running plays and passing plays was much more even than it had been in recent games (32:33). And the style of the passing game--short passes early on setting up deeper passes later, plus some roll-outs--served to keep the Seahawks' defense off-balance. Indeed, defensive guru Ray Rhodes said that the success of the Redskins' ground game (137 yards gained) was enough to make him afraid to blitz Patrick Ramsey, a near-miracle given how much pounding the young quarterback has taken.

But at the same time, Spurrier was hardly out of the picture. He made the crucial decisions to go for it on 4th-and-inches from his own 25 (unheard of) and called for the trick play from Gardner to Canidate to close out the game. It seems like this might be a very workable combination, having Jackson call the basic game so Spurrier can concentrate on the big picture to get a feel for when his biggest plays can be most effective.

The pair of coaches together will make it very hard for opposing defensive coordinators to ascertain the shape of the team--will this third-and-four play be something conservative or will it be a big strike? Will they hand it to the living bowling ball, Rock Cartwright as they have three times in a row, or will it just be a play fake for a deep bomb to Laveranues Coles? If Spurrier and Jackson can work out exactly the rhythm such a style will require, they might make some impressive noise in the second half of the season. It'll be fun to watch that partnership grow.
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