- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 31, 2002

The Fun'n'Gun is becoming the sexy version of "Martyball."

The Washington Redskins figure to regularly test the NFL's worst-ranked run defense at Seattle on Sunday regardless of injured running back Stephen Davis' readiness. The Redskins have steadily evolved from a pass-first offense to a traditional NFC East smashmouth scheme where yardage comes more in short chunks than downfield land grabs.

Washington has run more than thrown in two straight games and shortened many downfield routes into quick slants for first downs. The one-time pass-happy preseason offense has grown increasingly conservative as coach Steve Spurrier realized, as he conceded yesterday, that NFL defenses have proven more perplexing than those his Florida teams faced.

"We've learned that we must run as much as we throw and try to pick our spots," said the first-year NFL coach. "That's true of almost all teams. Earlier in the year, there were teams throwing every down beating everybody and now those teams are slumping. It comes back to balance."

The most telling example of Spurrier's conversion was the final drive of last week's 26-21 victory over Indianapolis. The Redskins ran on 12 of 14 plays to thwart the Colts' comeback with a time-consuming drive of 6:28 that netted a field goal. They even ran twice on third downs.

"I never called as many runs on third downs in my life," Spurrier said. "It was encouraging."

The Redskins' steady reliance on the run isn't surprising given that few NFL teams rush or pass more than 55 percent. The return to quarterback Shane Matthews signals Spurrier's willingness to utilize the veteran's dump-off skills after earlier benching Matthews for failing to await more downfield opportunities. After 13 sacks in two games with rookie quarterback Patrick Ramsey, Matthews' quicker delivery suddenly seemed an asset.

"Having Shane lets you not worry about things a rookie wouldn't identify," receiver Chris Doering said. "He has a feel for what's going on that only comes from being out there."

The Fun'n'Gun's preseason success proved misleading. After scoring a team-record 161 points during a 4-1 preseason, the Redskins found those downfield patterns shut down come September.

"I knew it wouldn't be nearly as easy as it was in the preseason," Matthews said. "You've [now] got coaches who've been in their meeting rooms 48 hours scheming things up for you."

The offensive woes forced Spurrier to re-examine the scheme during the Sept.29 bye week. Matthews was benched for Danny Wuerffel, who gave way to Ramsey after one drive when he was injured. Receivers have been shuffled along with guards.

"[Spurrier] has developed a little more patience," Doering said. "If we have to do it running a little more one day, that's fine. If we have to throw a little more, that's fine."

Players weren't surprised over the offensive changes, saying they are simply a reaction to defenses. They felt Spurrier would adapt after scoring 10 or fewer points in three losses, including 30-9 at Green Bay on Oct.20 a game in which the Redskins' only scoring came on field goals. They had an NFL-low nine points in the first quarter for the season until jumping to a 10-0 lead over the Colts.

"A lot of the same [offense] is still here from last year and we were a physical offense, so you're not going to just take that out of us," tight end Walter Rasby said. "It's not as glamorous, but if we have those plays and the defense knows we have those plays and we can still run downhill, then you're really at our mercy. "

Running more frequently also has countered blitzing defenses that overwhelmed the interior line in several losses. Instead, defenses are respecting the run, giving Matthews more time.

"When all the defense cares about is pass rushing, it's hard to stand up against that for 60 plays a game," Rasby said. "Now they have to respect us because if they [blitz], we'll hit them in their mouth."

Said Doering: "We have been banging in there more and taking underneath routes. You have to take the big plays when they're there and not try to force them. You have to realize maybe the 4-, 5-yard gains are better off and keep you out of the third-down, long-yardage situations that are hard to convert."

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