- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 13, 2003

Know the protection scheme. Figure out your guy. If more than one guy comes, get the inside one and hope the quarterback sees the other. If it’s a safety, use his speed against him and ride him outside. If it’s a linebacker, be ready for the bull rush. And even if you do everything right, don’t expect any pats on the back. Just do it again.

“If they’re not talking about it, consider your job done,” running back John Simon said yesterday.

The challenge, of course, is picking up the blitz. Although the offensive line gets most of the attention for keeping the quarterback clean, the Washington Redskins’ key issue in recent weeks has been protection from the less scrutinized blockers on offense, the running backs and tight ends.

Things hit bottom two weeks ago at Dallas, where the Cowboys brought constant pressure and sacked quarterback Patrick Ramsey four times — twice with linebackers, twice with safeties. Last weekend against Seattle, Ramsey went unsacked for the first time this season as Seattle put considerably more defenders in coverage.

Conventional wisdom remains that heavy pressure is the best way to beat Steve Spurrier’s Fun’n’ Gun offense. Thus on Sunday, there’s a good chance Carolina might turn up the heat at Ericsson Stadium despite not being a big blitzing team.

“I’m sure they’ll blitz because Seattle didn’t blitz us too much,” said Rock Cartwright, a fullback who could make his first start at tailback Sunday. “But we picked it up. A lot of people probably didn’t see that. If Carolina brings pressure, I think we’re ready to get it picked up.”

Cartwright’s ability as a pass-blocker is one reason he might start at Carolina. In Spurrier’s offense, the focus is getting the ball downfield to the wide receivers, and the first priority of the tight ends and running backs often is to block.

That’s why, for example, tight end Byron Chamberlain hasn’t been active the past two weeks. Chamberlain might have made the Pro Bowl in 2001 with 57 catches for Minnesota, but in his first start as a Redskin (Oct.19 at Buffalo), he let defensive end Aaron Schobel put several hits on Ramsey. Spurrier since has started Zeron Flemister and activated rookie Kevin Ware.

“In our offensive scheme, those guys better be very good run-blockers, very good pass-protectors,” tight ends coach Lawson Holland said. “If we do that well, we may get a few thrown to us if we run our routes and get open.”

Tight ends generally find themselves blocking defensive ends or linebackers. Washington’s blocking scheme went under scrutiny after the Oct.12 loss to Tampa Bay when starting tight end Robert Royal fractured his hip while trying to block defensive end Simeon Rice. Rice had four sacks that day and now is tied with Carolina’s Mike Rucker for the NFL lead at 11.

Holland said his tight ends “very seldom” are asked to block defensive ends one-on-one, but it can happen if they’re in a certain protection and a linebacker blitzes on the interior, forcing the offensive tackle to pick him up. That leaves the tight end in a potential mismatch.

“Most of those guys are 40 pounds heavier than me,” Flemister said. “And most of the time they’re stronger, so I’ve got to rely on quickness and techniques.”

A similar mismatch can occur when a 245-pound linebacker like Seattle’s Chad Brown is left one-on-one with a 205-pound running back like Washington’s Trung Canidate. In the second quarter last weekend, Brown pushed past Canidate to hit Ramsey, who threw a bad pass that was picked off by safety Damien Robinson. If Laveranues Coles hadn’t stripped Robinson at the goal line, Washington would have been down 21-3 and perhaps en route to a loss.

“The guy put pressure on my man Pat,” Canidate said. “That’s something I pride myself on. I haven’t given up a sack all year.”

The running back also could be up against a safety or a cornerback, a scenario with problems of its own.

“You’ve got to understand usually when somebody’s blitzing, they’ve got a lot of space to make a move on you,” said currently injured running back Ladell Betts. “You’re not right up next to them like the linemen are. They’re getting a running start. It’s tough.”

The biggest key to beating the blitz, a variety of Redskins said, is simply knowing who to block. More often than not, a blitz succeeds when the defense floods one side of the field or the blocker turns the wrong way.

“Communication is so helpful in pass protection it’s ridiculous,” Cartwright said. “People see us out there pointing fingers and talking and moving; basically we’re just communicating. The key is to get everything picked up.”

After that, running backs and tight ends have two instructions when it comes to technique: stay low and stay square.

Low means have a low center of gravity. The oft-repeated mantra of NFL players is “low man wins.”

“That’s something I’ve been battling with since I got in the league,” Flemister said. “I play tall a lot of the times. I don’t have that luxury of playing tall against [defensive ends].”

Square means staying directly between the rusher and the quarterback. Players are told to keep their rear end pointed at the passer.

“You always want to have your butt pointing at the quarterback and your chest pointing at the guy,” Simon said. “You want to square him up. Once you get in great position, just be physical with him.”

The Redskins have put extra emphasis on running backs and tight ends blocking in recent weeks to compensate for the scheme’s perceived weakness. Offensive coordinator Hue Jackson said Monday he was eager to prove the unit can pick up the heavy blitz.

On Sunday, the Redskins will learn whether Carolina will give them that chance and whether they’re up to it.

“Bottom line, you’ve just got to get the job done,” Canidate said. “However it may be, you’ve got to keep that pressure off the quarterback.”

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