Redskins' Spurrier hardly in rush to pass

Coach makes adjustment to pro game, mixes in ground attack on offense

Pro Football

October 03, 2003|By Edward Lee | Edward Lee,SUN STAFF

ASHBURN, Va. - The change is undeniably noticeable.

Yes, the Washington Redskins are 3-1 for the first time since 1999, which is also the last time the team went to the playoffs.

And yes, quarterback Patrick Ramsey - in just his second year in the league - leads the NFC with 1,036 yards passing.

But the most stunning transformation has occurred on the sideline. It turns out that coach Steve Spurrier, the architect of the pass-happy Fun 'N' Gun offense, likes to run as much as he likes to pass.

"The object is to win the game," Spurrier said earlier this week. "Passing yards and all that are nice for looking at all the offensive statistics. But whatever it takes to win the game is what we're all about here. Giving the running game a good opportunity is what it seemed like we needed to do."

Spurrier's willingness to alter his style is as responsible for Washington's early success as the much-ballyhooed changes in personnel or Ramsey's acclimation to the NFL.

It's an adjustment that opposing coaches have recognized.

"I guess the most noticeable thing is he's sticking to the run a little bit more than he did last year," said coach Andy Reid, whose 1-2 Philadelphia Eagles will welcome Spurrier and the Redskins to Lincoln Financial Field at 4:15 p.m. Sunday. "I think the thing about Coach Spurrier is he will do whatever it takes to win the game and to be effective in the offense."

No one would confuse Spurrier with ball-control advocates like Bill Parcells or Marty Schottenheimer.

But the statistics are hard to ignore. Through the first four games last season, Washington passed 139 times and ran 96, ranking 18th in the NFL in total offense (320 yards a game).

Through four games this year, Spurrier has called 129 passes and 116 rushes for an attack that is ranked fourth and averaging 367 yards a contest.

The difference lies in the tenor of the games. In three-point wins against the New York Jets and the New England Patriots, the Redskins nursed slim leads and tried to milk the clock by running the ball.

But even that is a departure for a coach who once called 51 passes among 69 plays in a loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars last season.

"At times last year, I kept thinking we can hit these passes because it looked like from where I was watching, we could hit them," Spurrier said. "But we weren't [hitting them]. I guess you learn."

Added Ramsey: "I think he's more experienced. I think he knows what to expect more this year, and therefore, he's a better play-caller."

Of course, this is not a sign that Spurrier is ditching a style he has championed since his college days. Indeed, the team did not give wide receiver Laveranues Coles the largest signing bonus in franchise history or spend its first pick in last spring's draft on wide-out Taylor Jacobs to run the ball.

Still, it's an indication that Spurrier is not as stubborn as people thought he was. In fact, Spurrier is perhaps demonstrating that he has evolved as a coach and understands what it takes to win in the NFL, according to his players.

"Coach Spurrier never had a problem with adjusting and making changes," said wide receiver Rod Gardner. "But now that he's mixing the pass and the run, you never know [what to expect]."

A change of philosophy

In his second season with the Redskins, coach Steve Spurrier has done a better job of balancing the run and the pass.

Date Opponent Runs Passes Result

Sept. 4 N.Y. Jets 34 23 W, 16-13

Sept. 14 Atlanta 31 39 W, 33-31

Sept. 21 N.Y. Giants 22 45 L, 24-21

Sept. 28 New England 29 22 W, 20-17

2003 totals* 116 129

2002 totals* 96 139

* -After four games

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