- The Washington Times - Friday, December 3, 2004

The gunslinger is learning when to take his shots.

Washington Redskins quarterback Patrick Ramsey has changed his game since the first time he faced the New York Giants this year. In a Sept.19 relief appearance, he gunned the ball all over the field and nearly rallied Washington to victory, but also threw three interceptions as the Redskins lost 20-14.

Ramsey since has scaled back his attacking tendencies. Now he tries to hit big plays within the framework of coach Joe Gibbs’ offense. Some observers argue that the Redskins aren’t taking enough chances. Regardless, Ramsey clearly is a different passer heading into Sunday’s rematch with the Giants at FedEx Field.

“Absolutely,” Ramsey said yesterday. “Just in the way I approach the game, and my mind-set going out there. It’s totally different. It’s a transformation.”

Ramsey earned praise during his first two NFL seasons, both with coach Steve Spurrier, for his willingness to stand in the pocket and wait for big plays to develop. But that courage has a downside — sacks and interceptions. Under Gibbs, a much higher premium is put on avoiding bad plays.

“We’re asking him to play a real grown man’s game,” quarterbacks coach Jack Burns explained. “We’re not interested in throwing for 450 yards and having four turnovers and losing the game. That’s not what we’re about.”

The Redskins’ vision for Ramsey is evident in the way he is coached. Rather than focusing on mechanics and technical issues, coaches press Ramsey on his leadership, ability to control the huddle and knowledge of his role. The club envisions the “gunslinger” evolving into a different model.

“We want to be more like a paid hit-man, I guess you’d say,” Burns said. “We’d like to be more precise, more pinpoint, more scientific. We’d like to hit our big plays, but always [be] protecting against the turnover, paying attention to our protection, avoiding the sacks and playing as efficiently as we can.”

Ramsey’s numbers through two starts, compared with what he did in two relief appearances earlier this season, illustrate how differently he is playing.

The past two weeks at Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, Ramsey threw just two interceptions and took five sacks — not great statistics but not bad considering the talented competition. In two relief spots (Sept.19 at Giants Stadium and Nov.14 against the Cincinnati Bengals), he threw five picks and took seven sacks in only about four quarters of play.

Gibbs praised Ramsey’s recent composure in loud, hostile environments, and noted that headset communication went out briefly at Pittsburgh and plays had to be signaled in. Saying Ramsey threw just one “legit” interception in his two starts, the coach expressed pride in the way his young quarterback is developing.

“That’s managing the ballgame,” Gibbs said. “That’s understanding what kind of team you have. That’s understanding that you have a good defense.”

A larger issue, however, remains the wisdom of Gibbs’ offensive approach. Ramsey’s longest completion as a starter is just 20 yards; in the first Giants game, when he was still in gunslinger mode, he needed just five dropbacks to hit a 51-yard bomb to Rod Gardner.

As the Redskins have sunk to a pace that would establish their lowest scoring average since the franchise moved to Washington in 1937, observers wonder whether Gibbs needs to open things up. But the feeling inside the team is that the plays are there.

“We’ve put the ball down there a few times,” Ramsey said. “Sometimes [the plays are] there and we don’t hook up on it. And sometimes they’re not there and you have to check the ball underneath.”

Still in considerable flux is the future of Washington’s quarterback position. Gibbs hasn’t given up on veteran Mark Brunell, who signed a seven-year, $43million contract during the offseason. And Ramsey, despite his progress, has only a 54.0 rating — lower even than the 63.9 that got Brunell benched.

The final five games, according to Gibbs, will be instrumental in evaluating whether Ramsey can complete the adjustment to this offense and become the 2005 starter.

“What we’re doing is working through a process and playing games,” Gibbs said. “Every game is a learning experience for the players and for us as coaches. What’s hugely important for us is these last games.”

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