HERNDON, Va. -- It's point-counterpoint time for June Jones and Richie Petitbon on the subject of the run-and-shoot offense.
Jones, the Atlanta Falcons' offensive coordinator, has been a true believer in the run-and-shoot since he played quarterback for its originator, Mouse Davis, at Portland State in 1975-76.
"Richie is like most NFL conservative people who have bad-mouthed the offense over the years. The bottom line is that three [Atlanta, the Houston Oilers and Detroit Lions] of the final eight teams in the playoffs are run-and-shoot teams. We're obviouslyon the right track," Jones said.
Petitbon, the assistant coach who runs the Washington Redskins defense, is steeped in NFL tradition. He played for George Halas' last championship team in 1963 in Chicago, and you can't get any more traditional than that.
Petitbon doesn't think you can win a title with the offense because he says it runs into trouble outdoors in bad weather in the playoffs.
Petitbon's Exhibit A was the Redskins' 24-7 victory over the Falcons Saturday in a rainstorm that turned the grass field at RFK Stadium into a quagmire.
"How could they [Falcons] win that game unless they were going to do it on special teams or defense? You're certainly not going to do it on offense. If ever a case was made why not to run that type of offense, I think that was it," Petitbon said of the four-wide-receiver offense.
Jones is quick to point out the Lions won in Green Bay and Buffalo last month and notes that the Falcons were still in the game late in the third quarter against the Redskins. The Falcons trailed, 17-7, and were driving when a Monte Coleman sack, caused by a missed block, turned the game around.
Jones knows, though, that until a run-and-shoot team wins a Super Bowl, Petitbon will have the upper hand in the debate.
"Until you do that, you're not going to be accepted. That's just part of the deal. Until one of us wins the whole deal, the Richie Petitbons will criticize what we do. We accept that, but we have a brand of football that's fun and exciting and you can win with it. We've proved it on every level," he said.
Jones also must live with the theory that Washington has somehow solved the run-and-shoot offense.
At halftime of the Houston Oilers-Denver Broncos game Saturday, NBC-TV commentator Will McDonough said that Joe Bugel, the former Redskins assistant who's now the Phoenix Cardinals head coach, told him that in the "off-season," coach Joe Gibbs brought in "run-and-shoot experts from all around the country" to help him defend against it.
McDonough then said to "look at the results" and showed a graphic that run-and-shoot teams averaged 22.7 points, overall but only 9.3 in four games against the Redskins.
"There's nothing magical about what they're doing," Jones countered. "They're just playing with great chemistry on defense. They're not doing anything scheme-wise that's different from anybody else. It's identical to what New Orleans and San Francisco do."
Basically, the Redskins pull linebacker Matt Millen on first downs, which are often a running down, for a linebacker who can cover the pass, such as Kurt Gouveia, and then switch to more defensive backs and pass-rushing specialists on passing downs.
The Redskins agree with Jones that they don't have the answer to the run-and-shoot and said that the "expert" came in before the 1989 season, not last year. He was Tim Rossley, the SMU coach who was then at Holy Cross. A Redskins aide also produced a copy of Gibbs' schedule showing that the meeting took place on May 24, 1989.
"The only thing he told us was you can't stop it. He helped a lot," Petitbon said with a smile.
Petitbon even concedes it's a good offense if you can play indoors or in good weather.
"It's a scary offense. You can move the ball quickly, but weather can stop it," he said.
As far as his strategy against the run-and-shoot, Petitbon said: "Just lucky, I guess. You ought to ask June Jones why they didn't score more. We just have our little deal and it's done OK so far. We have one big one left. You never know."
The "big one" is the NFC title game Sunday against the Detroit Lions, another run-and-shoot team.
In fact, Jones was the Lions' offensive coordinator last year when they scored 38 points against the Redskins, but lost, 41-38, in overtime.
He and Davis left at the end of the season when coach Wayne Fontes indicated that he was ready to bring in tight ends and try to run Barry Sanders more. It didn't work out that way. The Lions run much the same run-and-shoot, and without tight ends. With Erik Kramer, they're throwing well and still getting Sanders his yards on the ground.
Naturally, Jones will be rooting for the run-and-shoot team against the Redskins.
"I put on my Lions hat Sunday," Jones said. "My loyalties are still to the offense."
The Lions would become the first run-and-shoot team to make the Super Bowl if they upset the Redskins, but Jones isn't convinced that even that would make Petitbon a believer.
"Richie will never come to our side," he said.
How it works
In the run-and-shoot offense, a team uses 4 wide receivers and a running back, compared to the pro-set offense, which uses 2 running backs, a tight end and 2 wide receivers, or the Redskins' 1-back offense, which uses 2 tight ends and 2 wide receivers.
Sending 4 wide receivers out on every play puts pressure on the secondary, but also can open up running lanes because the defensive players are spread out covering the wide receivers.
The key: The wide receivers don't always run specified routes but react to how the defense plays. The quarterback and wide receivers must learn to read those defenses at the same time.