- The Washington Times - Friday, August 16, 2002

CARLISLE, Pa. NFL teams pass for show and run for dough, it is said. That may no longer be the case for the Washington Redskins.

Coach Steve Spurrier loves to "pitch the ball around," as he puts it. The Redskins threw 92 times for 798 yards in their first two preseason games, both victories. Spurrier's Fun 'N' Gun aims to become the highest-scoring Redskins offense since the one that powered Washington to the 1991 championship.

The question is, can the Redskins win throwing the ball so often? No Redskins team has won a title with primarily a passing offense. Joe Gibbs reached four Super Bowls with run-oriented teams. George Allen ran more than he passed six times during a seven-year tenure that included one Super Bowl loss and five playoff appearances.

Conversely, coach Norv Turner passed 53.7 percent during seven seasons, making the playoffs only once before being fired in 2000. Coach Marty Schottenheimer rebounded from an 0-5 start last season by giving the ball to running back Stephen Davis, producing an 8-3 finish.

There's no question that the Fun 'N' Gun can be adapted from the college level, where Spurrier dominated for 12 seasons at Florida. It's not radically different from the St. Louis Rams' spread offense that has produced one championship and two Super Bowl appearances over the past three years

However, running long has been an essential in the smashmouth NFC East, where cold-weather games late in the season can put passers in a deep freeze. The Redskins won't play at a warm-weather site after their Nov.10 date in Jacksonville.

John Madden, the former Oakland Raiders coach and current "Monday Night Football" analyst, sees Spurrier's offense as a continuation of the NFL trend of preferring 30-yard passes to 3-yard runs a preference that also produces higher TV ratings.

"The NFL is evolving to where it is pass the ball all the time,'' Madden said on ESPN.com. "No longer are teams establishing the run to throw the ball. You have to come out and throw the ball. And I don't think it will ever go back to the way it used to be."

Still, balance is unavoidable in the NFL, which makes it very unlikely the Redskins will maintain their preseason 63.4 percent passing ratio when the regular season begins in September.

"Scrimmage games [at Florida], we never ran well,'' Spurrier said. "But when the season starts, people spread out more and you have a chance to run more. It's whatever you do best. A lot of teams work on their run game, [but] it's hard to run if they have eight or nine guys in there. If you announce, 'We're going to run it down your throat,' these defenses are going to put eight, nine guys in there."

Not that Spurrier leaves his running backs in the locker room. The Gators ran more often than they passed in four of 12 seasons under Spurrier, including the 1996 national championship year.

"The passing game under Spurrier is the one to get highlighted, but the running game is a key part of it," said Redskins running back Robert Gillespie, who played four seasons at Florida. "We just accept our role in the offense and realize one can't work without the other."

Redskins defensive coordinator Marvin Lewis, whose record-setting defense led the Baltimore Ravens to the Super Bowl championship two seasons ago, sees offenses leaguewide remaining versatile.

"Most successful teams still run. You have to be able to control the clock and take the pressure off the quarterback at some point," he said. "[But] you have to be able to make first downs, so whatever's your niche is what you have to do. The key is first downs. If they can't run to make them, they throw."

Offensive tackle Jon Jansen said opponents force the Redskins to maintain offensive balance because of ever-changing defenses.

"There's just so many styles of defense, shuffling guys in and out. It will be first-and-10 and somebody will have a nickel package in there," he said. "You have to be able to throw the ball now to win, and that's what this offense is all about. Coach Spurrier is going to call what works. If that's running the ball, we'll run it. If it's throwing the ball we'll throw it."

What Davis' role will be is a mystery, one that hasn't been made any clearer in two preseason games.

Davis has been the hub of the offense in recent seasons, setting the team's single-season rushing record twice in three seasons, including a 1,432-yard effort last year. The Redskins didn't risk playing him in the Aug.3 opener against the San Francisco 49ers, and Davis ran only five times all on the opening series against Carolina last week. He gained a mere eight yards, partly a result of carrying the ball on two short-yardage conversions.

Davis expects a larger role come the regular season.

"If you have a passing game and a running game, what can they do?" Davis said. "It gives you a lot more offense. You have to have both of them to win championships."

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