Redskins to practice patience vs. Bucs

Offense looking to use safe formula to solve Tampa Bay's rugged `D'

NFL Week 6

October 12, 2003|By Edward Lee | Edward Lee,SUN STAFF

ASHBURN, Va. - Short, safe passes. An emphasis on running the ball. Willpower to avoid going for the spectacular yet risky play.

These are hallmarks that would seem to conflict with Washington Redskins coach Steve Spurrier's Fun 'N' Gun offense.

But it's a formula that might be Washington's best option against the defending Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2-2) and their vaunted cover-2 defense at 1 p.m. today at FedEx Field.

Indeed, the keyword for the offense this week was patience.

"If you try to force things, you'll kill yourself," said Redskins quarterback Patrick Ramsey. "They're an exciting defense. I think we're going to have a challenge ahead of us."

Today's game will be a classic chess match between Spurrier's eighth-rated passing attack and Tampa Bay defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin's sixth-ranked pass defense.

The cover 2 - or the Tampa 2 as some pundits are calling it - has become the defense du jour, but the cover 2 has been around the NFL for almost three decades. It entails using two safeties to split the deep parts of field in half and keep every pass in front of them. The underneath areas are divided by two cornerbacks and three linebackers.

But Kiffin has modified the scheme. His cornerbacks don't jam the wide receivers at the line of scrimmage, playing off them by as much as 10 yards. That forces the quarterback to wonder whether Tampa Bay has shifted into a soft zone.

When the ball is snapped, the linebackers drop back in coverage and the cornerbacks force the receivers toward the interior of the field, daring the quarterback to squeeze a pass into the cramped space.

This coverage is possible only if the front four can generate a rush, and even though the Buccaneers' Warren Sapp, Anthony McFarland, Simeon Rice and Greg Spires have combined for just four sacks in four games this season, they collected 26 1/2 of the team's 41 sacks during the team's championship run.

That type of pressure - Tampa Bay has recorded at least one sack in 64 consecutive games, the second-longest streak in league history - usually leads to turnovers. The Buccaneers, who led the NFL in interceptions with 31 last year, have seven interceptions this season and have registered a take-away in 45 straight games - the NFL's second-longest streak.

But the Indianapolis Colts pierced Tampa Bay's defense, scoring 21 points in the final four minutes Monday night en route to a stunning 38-35 overtime victory.

The Colts, who are coached by former Buccaneers coach Tony Dungy, ran the football when the Tampa Bay safeties were deep and threw the ball when they played short.

Spurrier wasn't quite ready to stamp Indianapolis' method as a blueprint against the Buccaneers.

"What happened to them the other night was a very, very rare occurrence," he said. "They somehow or another got on their heels. Everybody gets on their heels occasionally. It seemed like the first time their defense was sort of like that."

It will be up to Ramsey and the Redskins (3-2) to take advantage of a secondary that will likely play without cornerback Brian Kelly (torn left pectoral muscle). Ramsey enters today as the NFL's leading passer in yards with 1,307 and the NFC's fifth-rated quarterback (80.9).

Laveranues Coles is tied for the NFC lead in receptions (33) and second in receiving yards (513), while fellow wide receiver Rod Gardner is tied for 11th (22) and 17th (219) in those respective categories.

But how will the Fun 'N' Gun, which aims for deep passes, cope against a defense that limits those opportunities? That won't be answered until today, but Spurrier might be wise to lift a page from Buccaneers coach Jon Gruden's West Coast playbook.

"We're going to have to work on some shorter routes and hit them," said Washington wide receiver Darnerien McCants. "If we've got to nickel and dime them down the field and that's what it takes to win, that's what we've got to do."

THREE KEYS FOR REDSKINS

1. Happy feet

As daunting as the Buccaneers' defense is, perhaps the unit's only Achilles' heel is stopping the run. Opponents are averaging 98.8 yards a game against Tampa Bay, which is 12th in the NFL against the run. Trung Canidate and Ladell Betts aren't the Carolina Panthers' Stephen Davis - the only back to gain 100 yards against the Buccaneers this season - but Washington would be wise to employ them to wear down Tampa Bay and keep its linebackers and safeties honest.

2. Ground the air game

Tampa Bay's top-ranked pass offense is averaging 269.3 yards a game, and former Redskin Brad Johnson boasts the highest passer rating (92.9) in the NFC and is completing more than 64 percent of his throws. Washington's secondary could be in for a long afternoon.

3. Forget the mystique

Yes, the Buccaneers are the reigning Super Bowl champions. And yes, Tampa Bay hasn't dropped two straight games since the 2001 season. But the Redskins can't allow Warren Sapp, Derrick Brooks and the rest of the Tampa Bay crew to intimidate them.

Redskins today

Matchup: Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2-2) vs. Washington Redskins (3-2)

Site: FedEx Field, Landover

Time: 1 p.m.

TV/Radio: Chs. 45, 5/WNAV (1430 AM), WJFK (106.7 FM)

Line: Buccaneers by 3

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