- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 2, 2003

Steve Spurrier yesterday defended his play-calling during the Washington Redskins’ 24-20 loss to New Orleans, even as the coach was questioned by some of his players regarding his reluctance to run the ball on a consistent basis.

“We call the plays based on what we think is the best at the time,” said Spurrier, whose team passed 42 times and ran 26 in Sunday’s loss. “We have a gameplan, and we try to go with it. [Offensive coordinator] Hue Jackson and I are involved with it, and I’m the main play-caller, and away we go.”

Some Redskins offensive players were not happy with Spurrier’s run-pass ratio against the Saints, particularly during the second half when Washington held leads of 17-10 and 20-17. Observers spotted tackle Jon Jansen and guard Randy Thomas on the sideline pleading with Spurrier to call more running plays — the Redskins ran the ball only 10 times in the second half (compared with 21 passes) despite averaging more than 6 yards a carry.

Thomas yesterday said the sideline confrontation was “just a heat of the moment thing.” Jansen did not appear in front of reporters at Redskin Park, but following Sunday’s game he hinted at the players’ mounting frustration over Spurrier’s choice of plays.

“What was our average per run?” Jansen asked reporters. “You earn [the right] to do things in this league. You earn the right to run the ball. You earn the right to do whatever it is. And then you’re not allowed to. It’s frustrating. It’s extremely frustrating.”

Spurrier, who re-assumed play-calling duties from Jackson two weeks ago, bristled yesterday when questioned about his pass-heavy gameplan.

“Of course, every time you lose, you can look back and say you should have thrown more or you should have run more, one or the other,” he said. “So I guess we should have, what, run more? Yeah, every time we throw incomplete, we should have tried to run, that’s for sure.”

Spurrier has been criticized before for passing too much — it happened on several occasions last season. But this instance is particularly notable because the Redskins were having so much success running against the Saints.

New Orleans entered the game with the NFL’s 27th-ranked run defense, giving up 139.5 yards. Washington has struggled to get consistent yards on the ground all season, but against the Saints, tailback Trung Canidate had a breakout performance.

Facing heavy criticism for his struggles since returning from a high ankle sprain, Canidate burst through the left side of the line in the first quarter for a 38-yard gain (the club’s longest run of the season) and finished the day with 115 yards (the most by a Redskins rusher this year). But he was given the ball only 16 times, seven in the second half, and said afterward he wished he had more opportunities.

“As a running back, you always want touches,” Canidate said. “The offensive line was doing a heck of a job. And that was something we felt good about doing. We were rushing the ball on them pretty good. It kind of got stagnant there at the end.”

Washington led 14-10 midway through the third quarter and had the ball at its 48. Quarterback Tim Hasselbeck, making his first career start, then to dropped back to pass on five straight plays — the Redskins wound up settling for a 45-yard field goal from John Hall.

Later, with New Orleans ahead 24-20 midway through the fourth quarter, Washington faced third-and-2 from its 36. Hasselbeck tried to connect with receiver Laveranues Coles on a deep fade pattern. His pass was well overthrown, and the Redskins were forced to punt. By the time Washington got the ball back, there were two minutes on the clock. Spurrier had no choice but to call passing plays.

Still, Hasselbeck was surprised that ultimately he was called upon to throw the ball 42 times in his first career start. (He said he can’t remember ever attempting that many passes in his football career, dating back to Pop Warner days.)

The quarterback wasn’t alone in his astonishment, especially given the Saints’ well-documented struggles stopping the run.

“We took advantage of it early in the first half and a little in the second half, but we just didn’t continue to run the ball,” fullback Rock Cartwright said. “I think if we had continued to run the ball, it would have been a little bit better. … But Coach didn’t think we needed to run the ball. He wanted to throw the ball, so that’s what we did. I don’t think it hurt us; I don’t think it helped us either. But that’s not my call.”

The Redskins’ insistence on passing wasn’t limited to Sunday’s game. In the previous game at Miami, Washington clung to a 23-17 lead in the fourth quarter and had the ball near midfield. Hasselbeck misfired on two straight deep passes, then was sacked on third down. The Dolphins got the ball back and drove down the field to score the game-winning touchdown.

Spurrier insists his gameplan calls for balance between the run and the pass. “We don’t always get it,” he said, “but that’s what we’d like to have.”

Still, the Ball Coach’s preference for the pass is well-documented. He was hired by owner Dan Snyder precisely for his unique Fun ‘n’ Gun offense, which produced a slew of victories and a national championship at Florida.

And in attempting to shoot down the criticisms yesterday, Spurrier made a slip of sorts, perhaps revealing his true passion for the passing game.

“When you run and you don’t go very far, you wish you’d thrown,” he said. “And when you throw and don’t go anywhere, you wish you’d passed.”

Spurrier clearly meant to say “run,” not “passed.”

Some detractors of the Ball Coach may be tempted to believe otherwise.


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