Having doubts about M. Lewis is indefensible

Pro Football

September 26, 2002|By MIKE PRESTON

SOME OF THE Washington Redskins players are as obnoxious and impulsive as owner Daniel Snyder and their fans. Only in Washington would there be doubts about Marvin Lewis, the NFL's best defensive coordinator, and Steve Spurrier, one of the best head coaches in the history of college football, after only three games.

That's it. Three games. A 1-2 record while allowing nearly 27 points and 358 yards a game. Launch impeachment proceedings. Here's one of the top rumors already circulating out of the nation's capital (and no, it's not about the invasion of Iraq or a new color added to national security level):

Keep Spurrier, fire Lewis.

It sounds absurd, but not when Mr. Impulsive is the owner. He already has had three head coaches in less than four seasons. Just two days ago, he gave the new head coach a vote of confidence.

Neither Spurrier nor Lewis should purchase a house.

But if Snyder were smart, he'd stand back, be quiet and let Lewis coach. As for the players, quit whining. There are few things worse than whining millionaires.

Maybe the Redskins should break out Ravens game film from 1998 and 1999, when the Ravens were still as selfish as the current Redskins and Lewis was still the defensive coordinator in Baltimore. Then check out the film from the Ravens' 2000 and 2001 seasons, when they had the best defense on the planet.

What's the difference?

"What's tough is depending on each other, and that's difficult to learn," said Ravens Pro Bowl middle linebacker Ray Lewis. "When you're supposed to be in a certain place, you better be there, or your defense is in trouble. It's all about discipline.

"Guys like LaVar Arrington and Jessie Armstead have certain assignments, and they want to do a spin move, get off the block and go make a play, but that leads to long runs. We didn't always have great players at every position, but we implanted in every guy that he had a role, and if we all did what we were supposed to do, then we couldn't get beat."

The Redskins wanted Marvin Lewis to work similar magic. He will, given the time, but the scenario is much different. Marvin Lewis grew up with the team in Baltimore. He was the franchise's first defensive coordinator, and the Ravens drafted players such as linebackers Lewis, Jamie Sharper and Peter Boulware and cornerbacks Duane Starks and Chris McAlister.

In Washington, Lewis has inherited veterans such as defensive linemen Bruce Smith and Dan Wilkinson, cornerback Darrell Green and linebackers Jeremiah Trotter and Armstead. Some veterans don't adapt well to change.

Right now, all Smith cares about is sacks. Wilkinson and fellow tackle Daryl Gardener are in the Sam Adams mold - they like to free-lance and take plays off. There is no Tony Siragusa to handle the grunt work of stuffing the run. Green? Nice guy, but it's time to retire. Cornerback Fred Smoot can cover, but doesn't like to hit.

Arrington has the potential to become a great player, but is still a "me" guy. He has complained that Lewis has him as an end as opposed to rushing the quarterback off the edge from the outside linebacker's position.

Poor LaVar.

Boulware had to make the transition from college defensive end to NFL outside linebacker, and he has been to several Pro Bowls. Sharper played strong- side linebacker at Virginia, but weak-side with the Ravens. When he left Baltimore in the offseason, he was one of the best at his position.

The Ravens were so truly dedicated to the scheme that end Michael McCrary stayed on the outside to contain instead of trying to work underneath for sacks. (How about that, Bruce Smith?) There were others who made adjustments. Starks stopped trying to read the quarterback and jump passing routs. Safety Rod Woodson stopped shifting toward the middle of the field and stayed where he belonged.

That's what the system is all about. It's gap control and bringing pressure with zone blitzes. It's about players who seldom got knocked off their feet and pursued as well as any in league history.

But not before fulfilling their assignments. They had chemistry.

"As a staff, we probably didn't get Marvin's system down until two or three games into the first season," said Ravens secondary coach Donnie Henderson, who joined the team in 1999. "I guess, overall, it took us about six or seven months.

"Is it that complicated? No," Henderson said. "At some point, those Pro Bowl players have to give in for the betterment of the team. At some point, the players have to become accountable to the scheme."

It's going to take time. This scheme worked well when Lewis was in Pittsburgh and later in Baltimore. But how much time does he have with Snyder and the fans?

The city was so dazzled by Spurrier's charm and Fun 'N' Gun offense during the preseason that some fans had predicted a Super Bowl victory. Some of the national media predicted the Redskins' defense would be even better than the one Lewis built in Baltimore.

They all got ahead of themselves. Preseason rarely matters and charisma is great for politicking, but it doesn't win football games. As for comparing the Redskins with the Ravens, that's still a way off.

The Redskins are too selfish and too slow.

Hopefully, Snyder won't be too impulsive in running Lewis out of town before he can get the job done.

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