- The Washington Times - Monday, January 10, 2000

See if you can figure out the connection between these three quarterbacks: Doug Flutie, Erik Kramer, Sean Salisbury.

Give up? Here's the answer: They all started playoff games against the Redskins with virtually no NFL experience. Flutie was starting just his second NFL game when he led the Bears against the Redskins in 1986. Kramer was starting for only the 11th time when the Lions met the Redskins in the '91 NFC title game. And Salisbury had just five starts under his belt when the Vikings and Redskins squared off in '92.

All three of them were badly overmatched. The Redskins beat Flutie 27-13, Kramer 41-10 and Salisbury 24-7. Moral: Inexperience at the quarterback position is usually fatal in the playoffs. You can get away with a novice QB in the regular season but not in January, when you're going up against the best teams week after week. Dan Marino, great as he was as a rookie, couldn't win his first playoff game in '83. He completed 15 of 25 passes for two touchdowns, but he also threw two interceptions as the Dolphins were upset by the Seahawks.

I mention all this because the Redskins figure to be facing another neophyte quarterback in their second-round playoff game Saturday rookie Shaun King of Tampa Bay. King, the Buccaneers' second-round draft pick, was expected to spend the season as the third-stringer behind Trent Dilfer and Eric Zeier, but fate and injuries intervened. He wound up starting the last five games and, miraculously, won four of them to help the Bucs capture the NFC Central title.

Still, you have to ask yourself: Tampa Bay is going to ride this kid to the Super Bowl? Granted, King's stats are pretty impressive 61 percent completions, 82.4 passer rating, seven TDs and just four INTs but he's still a baby. It's a wonder he doesn't chomp on a teething ring during the game instead of a mouthpiece.

The Redskins probably can't believe their good fortune. Yes, they have to play on the road this week and, yes, the Bucs have a scary defense, but who wouldn't want to play a lesser-experienced quarterback in the playoffs? I mean, look at how Buffalo's Rob Johnson played Saturday against Tennessee (10 of 22 for 131 yards and no touchdowns, plus he was sacked six times, once for a safety). It was a far cry from his performance in the season finale the performance that moved Wade Phillips to bench Doug Flutie and it was totally predictable. Johnson, after all, was starting just his ninth NFL game.

The main reason Tampa Bay has been able to get by with King is that it doesn't ask him to do too much. The offense basically revolves around running backs Mike Alstott and Warrick Dunn, who touch the ball on 56 percent of the plays. As Redskins defensive boss Mike Nolan puts it, "They have a different offensive approach from other teams very smash-mouth, hard-nosed, running the football. It's not finesse like a lot of teams."

No, it isn't. The Bucs don't get very fancy at all. They try to control the ball with Alstott and Dunn and by throwing short, high-percentage passes. Jacquez Green is their only real downfield threat. It's a "good offense for a young guy," Nolan said. "If you spread your receivers all out and run 'em every place, that's tough on a quarterback. But they don't do that."

And King, who led Tulane to that magical 12-0 season in '98, is unusually composed for a rookie. He doesn't take off running at the first sign of trouble the way a lot of young quarterbacks do. (In fact, he has only 18 rushing attempts for 38 yards in six games.) Instead, he bobs around in the pocket and keeps looking downfield, waiting for an opportunity to present itself.

"He keeps plays alive," Norv Turner said. "And people talk about his [questionable] arm [strength], but he made a throw against Detroit on third-and-19 on a seam route that was as good as you're going to see. It pretty much won the game for them."

Still, the Redskins' game plan is pretty obvious. "The whole key," Turner says, "is we've got to do a great job of playing the run, and then the pressure goes on the quarterback."

Make the rookie beat you, in other words. You'd be crazy to approach the game any other way. But that's easier said than done because playing the run isn't exactly the Redskins' forte. As recently as three weeks ago, the 49ers tore through them for 250 yards on the ground.

And remember: The Bucs don't need to score many points to win; their defense has allowed more than 17 points only once in their past eight games (seven of them victories). So they're not going to panic if you stop their offense for a while as long as Warren Sapp and Co. are holding firm. They've already won one 6-3 game this season; they would be perfectly content to win another.

If I were Nolan, I'd take away King's two security blankets. I'd put Darrell Green on Jacquez Green all over the field, and I'd have Champ Bailey, a terrific tackler, shadow Dunn whenever he went out for a pass. Either Jacquez Green or Dunn has been the leading receiver in every game King has started. Force King to go to Reidel Anthony, Bert Emanuel or tight end Dave Moore, and he might have problems.

By matching up Bailey on Dunn, Nolan would be freeing his linebackers to concentrate on Alstott. This also makes a lot of sense. The Redskins' tackling hasn't been the greatest this season, and the more people they can get around the ball, the better.

More than anything, the Redskins need to keep reminding themselves that King is a rookie and that rookies are, well, rookies. In Week 15, he and the Bucs went to Oakland and got their helmets handed to them 45-0. At some point, he's probably going to have another game like that. The Redskins would love to be there when he does.

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