- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 25, 2003

Steve Spurrier is regarded by many as the greatest offensive mind in football. Bill Belichick is generally considered the game’s premier defensive genius.

So what happens when Spurrier’s Washington Redskins play Belichick’s New England Patriots on Sunday at FedEx Field? Ty Law already seems to know the answer.

“If Coach Belichick has his mind on taking one facet of the offense out of the game, it’s going to happen,” the Patriots’ Pro Bowl cornerback said. “You’re going to have to beat the defense with something else. If he wants to take one particular player out of it by using a combination of defenses or whatever, he can do that. And there’s nothing that any offense can do about it.”

Spurrier and his top-ranked Fun ‘n’ Gun offense might prove otherwise, but history says Belichick almost always gets the last laugh, no matter how daunting the challenge.

The fourth-year New England coach is credited with devising two of the greatest defensive game plans in football history, each of which won a championship. In Super Bowl XXV, Belichick, then the New York Giants’ defensive coordinator, shut down the Buffalo Bills’ vaunted offense (his game plan is now on permanent display at the Pro Football Hall of Fame). Two years ago, he pulled off an equally stunning upset as the Patriots’ coach, stopping the St. Louis Rams’ “Greatest Show on Turf” in Super Bowl XXXVI.

Now he will face the Fun ‘n’ Gun for the first time in the regular season, and the Redskins (2-1) don’t know what to expect. Will Belichick, whose team has opened 2-1 despite a host of injuries, try to rattle Patrick Ramsey with blitzing linebackers and safeties? Or will he instead look to confuse the second-year quarterback by dropping eight defenders into pass coverage?

“That’s his trademark as a coach: He doesn’t do the same thing every week,” Spurrier said. “He has a different game plan for everyone he plays.”

Or, as Redskins offensive coordinator Hue Jackson put it, “it’s going to be a long week for us.”

Which is not to say that Belichick’s job is going to be easy. The 51-year-old coach has devised game plans for just about every offense imaginable. But he says he’s never had to prepare for one quite like Spurrier’s, which in its second season in Washington has skyrocketed to the top of the NFL rankings. Through three weeks, the Redskins are averaging 406 yards a game (136.3 rushing, 269.7 passing).

“I can’t think of another one that I’ve played that has a lot of similarities to it,” said Belichick, who has limited Spurrier’s offense to 27 total points in two preseason games. “I think that Steve has a real good understanding of defenses and defensive coverages. He tries to attack those coverages where they’re the weakest. … He’s just got a good, solid system.”

The Redskins also have a surprisingly well-balanced system. Their tailback-by-committee of Trung Canidate and Ladell Betts is averaging nearly 5 yards a carry. Ramsey is completing more than 60 percent of his passes. And while Laveranues Coles, the league’s leading receiver with 23 catches for 391 yards, is getting all the attention, teammate Rod Gardner isn’t far behind with 17 for 175.

The Patriots are well aware of the many ways Washington might try to attack them.

“An offense like the Redskins, they’re so diverse, you can’t just pick and choose one or two things that you can take away from the game,” Law said. “You want to try to keep things to a minimum, but they have a pretty good offensive coordinator in Coach Spurrier. He knows how to beat pretty much any coverage if you let him know what it is.”

It won’t be easy for Spurrier and his staff to formulate a plan this week, not with seemingly half of New England’s roster battling injuries.

Three key starters on defense have been declared out for Sunday’s game: linebackers Rosevelt Colvin (hip) and Ted Johnson (foot) and nose tackle Ted Washington (leg). Linebacker Mike Vrabel has a broken right arm, but is listed as doubtful (meaning there’s a 25 percent chance he could play). And Law, one of the NFL’s premier cornerbacks, is questionable with a sprained elbow.

Belichick could be forced to rely on some lesser-used players to fill the void, and he might have to alter his trademark 3-4 defense into a traditional 4-3 at times to compensate.

“It’s been a challenging week,” he said. “We’ve got a bunch of guys banged up, and we’ve got a big challenge in front of us in playing the Redskins down there. We’ll have to make some adjustments and changes in what we do.”

Spurrier and his staff have been watching tapes of New England’s defense all week. But given the uncertainty surrounding the injured Patriots, plus Belichick’s propensity for showing a new look every week, the Redskins might be better off simply showing up at FedEx Field on Sunday and flying by the seat of their pants.

“Sometimes as an offensive coach, you just have to go to the ballpark, try to figure out what the other guys are trying to do and go from there,” Spurrier said.

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