Redskins, Steelers: contrast in styles

As NFL offenses evolve, Spurrier's passing system bucks run-oriented plan

Pro Football

August 18, 2002|By Warner Hessler | Warner Hessler,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

LANDOVER - The New Wave vs. the Old Guard is one way of looking at tonight's preseason game at FedEx Field featuring the Washington Redskins and Pittsburgh Steelers.

In the words of coach Steve Spurrier, the Redskins have "pitched the ball around" quite a bit in their first two games, throwing 92 times for 798 yards and running 43 times for 125 yards. Though it's unlikely the Redskins will pitch it around 68 percent of the time during the regular season, ABC analyst and former coach John Madden believes the NFL is evolving into a pass-first league with Spurrier and St. Louis coach Mike Martz leading the way.

"The NFL is evolving to where it is pass the ball all the time," he said during a recent interview on ESPN. "No longer are teams establishing the run to throw the ball. You have to come out and throw, and I don't think it will ever go back to the way it used to be." The way it used to be is the way the Steelers still do it. The old-fashioned way is to establish the run and play tough defense and, as the 2001 season demonstrated, they still do it very well. Pittsburgh led the league in rushing yards (173.4 yards per game), total defense (258.6 yards per game) and sacks (55).

Though reserves likely will take over the game in the second quarter, it's unlikely the teams' styles will change. For the Redskins, it's a chance for their offensive linemen to test their run- and pass-blocking skills, and for their defense to work on stopping the run.

What the Steelers may or may not do probably won't be of much importance to the 80,000 or so fans who show up. This is their first chance to watch the passing attack new coach Steve Spurrier brought with him from the University of Florida.

In their first two games, both victories, the Redskins have scored nine touchdowns, 75 points and gained 923 yards. Of the nine touchdowns, eight were by the offense and all were through the air.

Spurrier insists he hasn't abandoned the running game. He says his first priority is to get his passing game working smoothly. He promised that Pro Bowl tailback Stephen Davis, who set a franchise record with 1,432 rushing yards last season, will get his carries.

"In scrimmage games [in college], we never ran well," Spurrier said. "But when the season starts, people spread out more and you have a chance to run more." The preseason is all about the passing game, and nobody said it better than offensive line coach Kim Helton earlier this week.

"I'm a points guy," Helton said. "If that's 50 passes and two runs, fine, let the Kansas City Chiefs brag about their rushing yardage. I'll take our 37 points and 450 yards [per game]. If half of it is passing and half running, that's great. If all of it is passing, that's great, too."

NOTES: Danny Wuerffel will start at quarterback for the Redskins and play the first quarter. He will start next Saturday at Tampa Bay. ... Left tackle Chris Samuels (sprained ankle) is expected to miss the remainder of the preseason. Left guard Rod Jones will start in his place. Kipp Vickers and Ross Tucker will start at the guards.

Warner Hessler is a reporter for the Daily Press of Newport News, Va., a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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