Week 10: Bitten by the Panthers
By: Eric Johnson 
Posted: 2003-11-18
Category: Washington Redskins News
Ah, Shaolin Redskins fans--it was not meant to be! Our gritty army, arrayed in its burgundy and gold, came close to defeating a foe that had beaten almost all its opponents. Alas, we could not pull it out in the end--or so the judges decided.

In any case, controversy aside, this contest was an opportunity for the Ol' Ball Coach to learn some more lessons from Master Sun Tzu. Let us see what this week showed him:

AERIAL ATTACKS

Sun Tzu said:

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

This was the week of Stephen Davis. The Redskins knew it was the week of Stephen Davis. They were prepared for the week of Stephen Davis. They knew he would be coming like a battering ram, and were physically and psychologically prepared for him and the big plays he had the potential to make. Indeed, they managed to hold him to a total of 92 yards in 28 rushes--a 3.3 yard average. Especially impressive when he'd gotten well over 100 yards in six of his previous eight starts.

What they couldn't do, what they couldn't prevent, were the big plays Jake Delhomme made to Panthers receivers--Muhsin Muhammad, Steve Smith, and Davis out of the backfield--at crucial junctures of the game. Just as the Redskins thought they might have the Panthers back on the ropes, looking at a three-and-out or a good defensive stop, Delhomme would make a beautiful deep throw at *exactly* the wrong moment. They'd find seams and make spectacular catches, or find Davis uncovered out in the flat. The Panthers had *eight* passes for more than 20 yards. The quick, deep strikes kept them in the game--and must have driven Spurrier mad, since those are the plays he'd like to see his team make. For his part, Patrick Ramsey was held to a mere 3.3 yards per attempt himself--nothing like the Fun 'n Gun Spurrier wants to see.

The art of the quick strike--when timed right, it can absolutely break the body of the opponent.


THE BALL COACH RIDES AGAIN?

Sun Tzu said:

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

Last week, Spurrier received a great deal of praise from near and far for his decision to step aside to allow offensive coordinator Hue Jackson call the plays. In this very space, it was observed how the biggest positive was the respect he would begin to earn for setting his ego aside in the name of improving the team.

A second week of a Jackson-led offense sheds more light on the situation--perhaps the Ol' Ball Coach shouldn't remove himself too far from the equation. He has expressed a little frustration at his inactivity on game days. I believe that the OC should continue to have a stronger role in the offensive play-calling than he has had for the bulk of the season, but it is indeed true that the one thing that Spurrier distinguished himself in during his long, successful tenure in the college game was his prowess--and near mystical ability--at calling plays during games.

Spurrier has said that he'll make an announcement later this week as to how the play-calling will be handled--I hope that it ends up being an even greater integration of Spurrier's daring and Jackson's relative (and it's only relative) conservatism. Each week is a minor experiment, to be tweaked and reworked in the days between games.

But the *right* blend of direct and indirect involvement (through the intercession of Jackson) will indeed be victorious.


IMPROVEMENTS

Sun Tzu said:

"In good order, [the troops] await a disorderly
enemy; in serenity, a clamorous one. This is
control of the mental factor."

Perhaps lost amid the anguish at the defeat in Charlotte is the good news about two aspects of the game that have shown marked improvement.

The first is the fact that the Redskins had zero--count 'em, ZERO--penalties this week, and only had four last week. This is a stunning turnaround when compared to the earlier weeks that saw double-digit penalties each game. This might be attributable to the kind of offensive play-calling being done by Hue Jackson, either in style or substance (in other words, either he just gets the plays in more efficiently or the plays he's calling don't lend themselves to penalties). Or it might have been a coaching decision on the part of the Ol' Ball Coach to cut down on audibles or make some other adjustment. Or the players have simply finally settled down. It truly doesn't matter--so long as they continue to keep up the good work.

The other improving aspect of the game--despite the final outcome--has been the improved and aggressive play of the defense, and in particular the ability to generate turnovers. Four last week and five this week are impressive numbers. The next step, of course, is to start generating more points from turnovers--getting a single field goal off of five turnovers is no way to win a game. The quick-strike capability mentioned above (and shown by the Redskins earlier this season) is just the kind of response we should have once we take the ball away from our opponents.

But both of these are examples of the fact that--contrary to popular belief--we can see the effect coaching is having on this team. Perhaps we have a few more problems than we realized during our 3-1 start, but it is clear that steps are slowly but surely being taken to improve the play of this team. The only problem, from the impatient fan perspective, is that we only get to see the results of any improvements once a week, so it is hard for us to gauge the results of the coaching. Luckily, they're there day in and day out and have a better handle on what's going on.

But even the impatient fan can see that the team is correcting its mistakes one at a time (and more than one at a time) and seems to have a grasp on the mental factor--and a certain serenity is the result.

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