Redskins game big test for Oilers and quarterback


November 03, 1991|By Vito Stellino | Vito Stellino,Sun Staff Correspondent

Washington -- Warren Moon has five Grey Cup rings -- emblematic of the championship of the Canadian Football League -- in a drawer at home.

Now, the Houston Oilers quarterback wants to add another piece of jewelry to his collection -- a Super Bowl ring.

"That's definitely a goal," Moon said last week. "It's the biggest one left to accomplish. I've done some things as an individual and as a team, but any player who plays this game wants to go and get one of those rings before his career is over. That's one of the reasons why I came down from Canada, for a chance to go to the Super Bowl."

Moon, who went to Canada in 1978 because the NFL scouts weren't impressed with his arm strength, even though he had won a Rose Bowl at Washington, won five Grey Cups in six seasons in Edmonton.

Then the scouts were impressed, and there was a bidding war for him that the Oilers won when he came to the NFL in 1984.

In 14 seasons -- six in Canada and eight with the Oilers -- he's passed for 46,500 yards. In the history of pro football, only two quarterbacks -- a CFL legend named Ron Lancaster, who passed for 50,535 in 19 seasons, and Fran Tarkenton, who passed for 47,003 yards in 18 seasons -- have thrown for more yards.

That helps explain why the Super Bowl ring means so much to Moon. He's done pretty much everything else in football, and, at 34, he's not going to have many more chances.

He seemed to have a shot last year, but dislocated his thumb late in the season.

"I was really low at that point. This team relies on me for a lot of things. To not be here for them at that point in the year was devastating," he said.

With Cody Carlson at quarterback, the Oilers were routed by the Cincinnati Bengals, 41-14, in their first playoff game.

Moon has come back to lead the team to its best start (7-1), and he'll get a reading today on just how good his chances are of getting that Super Bowl ring.

In a matchup of contrasting styles and philosophies, the Oilers will take on the unbeaten, ball-control Washington Redskins (8-0), who are the favorite to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl in Minneapolis, in what could be a Super Bowl preview.

If the Oilers can beat the Redskins on grass in Washington today, they should be able to do it indoors on turf in Minneapolis in January.

Although the Oilers have a three-game lead in the AFC Central Division, this game is important to them in their battle for home-field advantage in the playoffs. They're tied with the Buffalo Bills at 7-1, and they'd much rather play the Bills in the Astrodome than outdoors in Buffalo in January.

"We're thinking about home field. We want to stay on track with Buffalo," Moon said. "We're looking at the bigger picture."

The Redskins game is a litmus test in several other ways for the Oilers. They're trying to pull off a first in two categories. They want to become the first dome team and the first run-and-shoot team to make it to the Super Bowl.

Even Moon said he was somewhat skeptical about using the run-and-shoot full time when Jack Pardee became the head coach a year ago.

"I was concerned about short yardage and bad weather," Moon said. "People say you can't control the ball, but we've shown we can. We've proven things as we go along. As a result, the players have confidence in it."

Basically, the run-and-shoot is a fancy name for a four-wide-receiver offense with one running back and no tight end.

When you have a quarterback such as Moon to run it and four prolific wide receivers in Haywood Jeffires, Drew Hill, Ernest Givins and Curtis Duncan, it can be an explosive offense. It's no surprise the Oilers have the No. 1 passing offense in the league.

Richie Petitbon, the assistant coach who runs the Redskins defense, is skeptical whether a team can win the title with the run-and-shoot. But he concedes: "If anybody can do it, I think this Houston team can. This is a heck of a football team."

It also poses a unique problem for Petitbon, who usually relies on having cornerback Darrell Green cover the opposing team's top receiver. That allows double-teaming on the other wide receiver, helping out cornerback Martin Mayhew, who has been burned at times.

But with four receivers on every play, it'll be tougher for Petitbon to double-cover receivers. He may bring in Anthony Johnson and Alvoid Mays and play with six defensive backs.

Against the Detroit Lions' run-and-shoot in the opener, Petitbon pulled Matt Millen for Monte Coleman at linebacker and started out with the normal complement of four defensive backs, because he was fearful of Barry Sanders' running. It turned out Sanders didn't play and Rodney Peete was rusty, so it was difficult to tell if the 45-0 victory was a true test of the defense.

"I don't want to go into why it worked. It just worked," Petitbon said of that game. He won't tip his hand on how many defensive backs he'll go with against the Oilers.

"You'll have to buy a ticket," he said with a smile.

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