- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 10, 2003

Washington Redskins coach Steve Spurrier acknowledged yesterday he can’t run the pure Fun ‘n’ Gun offense he used to dominate the college level, perhaps signaling he is settling on an NFL version of the scheme after nearly two seasons of experimenting.

Spurrier’s comments came two days after he called for 48 running plays — the most in his NFL career — in a road win over the New York Giants. His previous high was 46 runs in a win over Houston late last season. This year he had not topped the 34 he called in the opening win over the New York Jets.

Although Spurrier emphasized Sunday’s nasty weather conditions — freezing temperatures and a bitter, swirling wind — dictated his game plan, he said his offense has changed over time and indicted he has come to terms with those changes.

“Is this the offense that I ran at Florida and Duke? Of course not,” Spurrier said. “Maybe the defenses are a heck of a lot better at this level. You have to adapt to what you can do out there.”

Spurrier’s comments could be significant as the Redskins look ahead to 2004. After a rookie year in which Spurrier’s scheme vacillated between a run-based attack and one that threw even in a driving rain storm at Giants Stadium, the coach has remained unsettled about the best way to attack defenses in the NFL.

This year’s fluctuations followed a sterling start in which the Redskins opened 3-1 but couldn’t keep quarterback Patrick Ramsey protected. Ramsey threw for more than 300 yards at Atlanta and in the first Giants game but was sacked regularly — 15 times in the first four contests. As the hits piled up, Spurrier curtailed some of his aggressive calls.

First the coach had Ramsey audible to more running plays and quick throws, but offsides and delay-of-game penalties followed. At times defenses faked a look and forced unnecessary audibles. So Spurrier trimmed his audibles and called more conservative plays. Three straight losses, the last an ugly one at Buffalo in which Ramsey completed eight throws, left the coach convinced he deviated too much from the Fun ‘n’ Gun’s fundamentals.

During the bye week in late October, Spurrier vowed “to get back to our original plan of offense.” He said he felt “handcuffed” by three-step drops and the problem could be solved by opening things up and firing downfield.

An ugly loss at Dallas followed. The Cowboys blitzed frequently, occasionally sending nine defenders after Ramsey when Spurrier kept in eight to block (so-called “max” protecting). Ramsey was sacked four times and took several wicked shots.

Offensive coordinator Hue Jackson then asked for and was given oversight of the offense. Using Spurrier’s plays, Jackson drew up and executed a game plan that had Ramsey rolling out and getting rid of the ball quicker. The Redskins beat a good Seattle team, but the offense struggled the following week in a loss at Carolina. Spurrier reassumed the reins.

Including the Panthers game, Washington grabbed three straight fourth-quarter leads but couldn’t hold them. In the third contest, a loss to New Orleans in which the Redskins averaged 6.2 yards a carry but rushed just 26 times, offensive linemen Jon Jansen and Randy Thomas were animated on the sideline telling Spurrier to run the ball more often.

He did Sunday. In lousy conditions at the Meadowlands, Spurrier called 21 passing plays to 48 runs. A year earlier in a Nor’easter at the same stadium, he dialed up 37 passes and 21 runs. The contrast illustrated Spurrier, at the least, has learned there are times to lean on the run.

“We shoot for balance, but the weather and conditions sometimes dictate what you can do,” Spurrier said yesterday. “We felt like with the weather, we had to keep pounding the ball. And we didn’t expect the Giants to go very far. They’re really struggling on offense right now.”

But based on other comments yesterday, Spurrier finally seems to realize that a pure Fun ‘n’ Gun can’t work at this level. When asked where he is in the spectrum of philosophies he has used in the NFL, he made it clear he is no longer as committed to seven-step drops and deep attempts.

“You’ve always got to sort of adapt,” Spurrier said. “That’s what we’re trying to do. We’re not smart enough to throw the ball 40 times a game. The game dictates how it goes.”

The question now is whether Spurrier will use the final three games to refine his offensive philosophy for 2004, or in an admitted make-or-break season he will go back to experimenting. Yesterday, he conceded he still doesn’t have an ideal for the NFL version of the Fun ‘n’ Gun.

“We’ve just got to wait and see where we are,” Spurrier said. “As coaches we’re trying to use our talent and players as best we can.”

Note — A day after the Redskins declined to give specifics on quarterback Patrick Ramsey’s upcoming foot surgery, agent Jimmy Sexton said there probably aren’t any specifics to give at this point. Sexton said Ramsey’s foot had been evaluated with the intent of him playing again this season; now it will be evaluated with the plan of immediate surgery. Thus, details on what surgery might entail should follow an upcoming meeting with Dr. Robert Anderson of Charlotte, N.C.


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