- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 29, 2002

The importance of Stephen Davis to the Redskins offense was never more clear than in the win over the Colts on Sunday night. In the first half, when Davis was cavorting through the Indianapolis defense for 80 yards, the Fun 'n' Gun worked just the way Steve Spurrier drew it up on the blackboard. But in the second half, when Stephen was in the locker room tending to a sprained knee, the offense was "kind of sputtering," in the Ball Coach's estimation and a 20-0 lead almost disappeared.

With trips to Seattle and Jacksonville next on the agenda, Davis' health is the Story of the Week in Ashburn and maybe the story of the Redskins' season. The Seahawks have the worst rushing defense in the NFL, and the Jaguars aren't a whole lot better. You really don't want to get too fancy offensively against those teams. You basically just want to pound away at them with your running back pretty much the way the Redskins did against Indy, another club with a malleable front seven.

But right now, Davis' status is up in the air. Stephen, never one to complain, says his right knee hurts and doesn't sound all that optimistic about playing this week. The training staff, perhaps wanting to keep Seattle guessing, says No.48 is "day to day" and will be re-evaluated tomorrow, when the club resumes practice. Either way, the situation is a concern, because the offense is not the kind of offense Spurrier imagined it would be. Pedestrian play at quarterback and the lack of a big-play receiver have forced a 180-degree change in philosophy. Instead of a bombs-away attack, the Redskins have been "running and mixing in the throws," he says, with a hint of resignation. "That's the kind of team we are."

Running and mixing in the throws. How appalling. After all, isn't that what Marty Schottenheimer's offense did run and mix in the throws?

It's funny. The exact same thing happened to Joe Gibbs when he came to Washington. People Coach Joe included expected an East Coast version of Air Coryell, but Gibbs discovered soon enough that he didn't have the personnel for such pyrotechnics. So he switched to the one-back, built his offense around John Riggins and the Hogs, and went to the Super Bowl in his second season.

Spurrier probably won't go to that extreme, but he is wising up a little about the pro game. In fact, the word "balance" has come out of his mouth so much lately, you'd think it was Norv Turner talking. Yesterday he actually said, "Usually the team that runs the best wins the game." Think he ever uttered those words at the University of Florida?

With Davis iffy, the spotlight has been trained on his backup, Kenny Watson. This wasn't exactly what the club had in mind when it drafted Ladell Betts in the second round this year. No, Watson, an undrafted free agent in his second season, was supposed to return kicks and play on special teams, and Betts, a bruiser out of Iowa, was supposed to be the starter-in-waiting. But surprisingly, their roles have been reversed.

Asked what gives Watson the edge, Spurrier says, "Probably just knowledge of what to do. He's a good blocker picking up blitzes. Running, they're about even. Ladell let a linebacker run right by him [Sunday] night. Just a rookie mistake. Fortunately, Shane [Matthews] threw it away [and avoided] a big loss."

Betts hasn't been a total non-contributor. He's had a 60-yard kickoff return and a 40-yard reception. But you look at the second round of the draft and, yikes, there are so many other players who could have helped the offense more. Had the Redskins moved up just five spots, to No.51, they could have had Clinton Portis (562 yards rushing for Denver). And had they gone for a receiver instead of a back, they could have had Antwaan Randle El (26 catches for Pittsburgh), Antonio Bryant (23 catches for Dallas) or Deion Branch (37 catches for New England) who went 62nd, 63rd and 65th. (For the record, they did take a wideout in the third round, but Cliff Russell blew out his knee in training camp.)

The Redskins offensive line did a splendid job against the Colts, especially considering they'd only recently been introduced. Solid play by fill-ins Alex Sulfsted, Wilbert Brown and Tre Johnson the latter just off the street enabled the team to rack up 165 rushing yards and win the time-of-possession battle by a decisive margin. But can the offense get the same results with Watson and Betts carrying the load? The team's playoff hopes may be riding on it unless, of course, Davis makes a quick recovery.


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