- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 25, 2003

Defensive guru Bill Belichick is devising strategies to ground the Fun ‘n’ Gun. Beefy nose tackle Ted Washington is out. And Ted Johnson, the New England Patriots’ 253-pound inside linebacker, won’t play either.

So maybe the best way for the Washington Redskins to attack the Patriots is right up the gut.

Not that the Redskins are plotting a return to “Believe in Stephen” days. The pass is serving coach Steve Spurrier and his top-ranked offense well. But the offense also has rushed for more than 100 yards in each of three games, and Spurrier has surprised by returning repeatedly to the interior run.

Whether he’ll do so Sunday remains a secret, of course. Offensive coaches yesterday acknowledged that the run must be a part of this week’s game plan but not the only element.

“We’re going to pick our spots to throw, because that’s who we are,” offensive coordinator Hue Jackson said. “We’re a team that leads with the pass. But we also know we have to run the ball to minimize some of the opportunities that their defense will have.”

Said offensive line coach Kim Helton: “[Belichick has] been a defensive guru for a long time. You can’t just give him one dose of something and he won’t get it stopped. You’re not just going to run up the middle all the time. You’ve got to maintain some balance.”

Still, on paper the Patriots seem susceptible to an inside attack. They traded for the 365-pound Washington in the preseason (the Redskins had a shot at him but didn’t want to give up a third-round pick) to shore up the biggest concern on last year’s No.31 run defense. He has helped New England rank No.14 against the run, but now he is out with a broken leg.

“Obviously, Ted is a very large guy,” guard Dave Fiore said. “He takes up the center and maybe the guards all at one time. If we were going to come off the ball and try to move him, it would be a very difficult thing. Whether we’re going to see any more run success, I don’t know. Maybe they’ll have more movement in there, and you have to adjust to that.”

Replacing Washington is 285-pound Rick Lyle, who in the Redskins’ opinion poses problems of his own.

“I think the guy who replaced him has better pass rush, quickness, things of that nature,” Helton said. “There’s some give and take.”

Said center Larry Moore, who matches up against the nose tackle: “It’s not any easier. They’ve still got quality guys backing him up.”

Johnson’s absence with a broken foot isn’t considered as significant because of Roman Phifer’s 163 career starts. But Johnson is still a starter and a big body who helped make the Patriots a deep team at inside linebacker.

“They’ve got other guys in there who can fill the job,” Redskins tackle Jon Jansen said. “And who knows what Belichick’s going to show up in. It might be a completely different defense that we’re going to have to attack a different way. We’re going into it with expectations that we’re going to have to shift on the [fly].”

The Redskins remain in a two-headed tailback mode, splitting duties between Trung Canidate and Ladell Betts. Despite differing styles — Canidate is a quick back who looks for holes, Betts a stronger, north-south rusher — both have generated solid numbers. Canidate’s average is 5.3 yards; Betts’ is 4.1. The NFL average this season is 4.0.

If Washington were to go with some power running this weekend, the expectation might be for Betts to get more carries. But Canidate has shown more decisiveness in recent weeks, and the Redskins have been committed to mixing up each back’s plays, not typecasting either.

“I don’t think you can,” Jackson said. “They’re paid to do a job, and you put them in there and see if they can do that job. If they can’t, then you’ll have to find somebody else to do it. But so far they’ve both done a good job.”

Spurrier doesn’t consider Canidate and Betts battling for the starting job, and he has no plan to go necessarily with one full-time, though Jackson said Betts might at some point get a start.

“We don’t consider it a problem,” Spurrier said. “They’re both doing well. And we feel like playing both of them is probably the way to go.”

Certainly the Redskins won’t run a power game all day Sunday. But Spurrier has leaned on the run at times as Redskins coach (think Weeks 7-9 last year, when he averaged 33.3 handoffs a game), and he has been balanced this year save for playing catch-up the past two games.

And players, frankly, know they must be able to run the power game.

“I hope [we can],” Moore said. “Because if we don’t, it’s going to be a long year.”

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