- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 5, 2006

Every time Stan Hixon hears the play called through his headset, his eyes light up and his imagination begins to run roughshod.

“It’s a beauty in progress,” said Hixon, the Washington Redskins receivers coach. “When it’s called, I think, ‘Here we go — here comes a score.’”

The play is the receiver screen pass to Santana Moss. And twice, Hixon has been right — a 78-yard touchdown at Kansas City and a 17-yard score against the Giants. It undoubtedly will be a big part of the game plan when the Redskins play at Tampa Bay on Saturday in an NFC wild-card contest.

“We’ve had comments from people we’ve played — that play was the one that really scared them,” coach Joe Gibbs said yesterday. “Teams blitz a lot, and if you catch that thing and there’s one mistake by the defense, it’s all over.”

Moss, who has nine receiving touchdowns and will make his first Pro Bowl appearance next month, said his punt return background has helped him break the play.

“It plays a big role because you have to dodge in and out of blocks and you have guys coming to take your head off,” he said. “If you weren’t a punt returner, you wouldn’t know how to run that play.”

The Redskins ran it occasionally last season with Laveranues Coles, but Moss’ instincts have given the play an entirely new dimension.

“It does lend itself to a guy who has tremendous quickness and burst,” offensive coordinator Don Breaux said. “Coles ran it pretty well, too, but sometimes being quick enough to burst by a guy is the difference.”

The play works only if the timing on the part of Moss, quarterback Mark Brunell and the blockers is precise.

Against the Giants on Dec.24, the Redskins faced a second-and-10 from the New York 17.

The Redskins were in a two-tight end, two-receiver formation. Moss was the lone receiver to the left of Brunell. At the snap, Brunell took a couple of steps to his left. Moss took a few steps back to the 20-yard line and caught the pass.

As he made the catch, Chris Cooley, lined up as the tight end, and left tackle Chris Samuels hustled into position and made their blocks. As Moss hit the hole, center Casey Rabach leveled defensive end Osi Umenyiora, and it was off to the end zone.

“At the snap, you can tell if it’s going to be good or bad,” Hixon said. “I’ve never had anybody run it as well as Santana does, and his open-field running skills are better than anybody I’ve been around.”

If the defense calls a blitz on the play, that makes it more likely Moss is in single coverage, which means the cornerback has given a larger cushion.

“From a scheme standpoint, some teams leave themselves vulnerable when they isolate and don’t put double coverage on him,” Redskins assistant head coach-defense Gregg Williams said. “Some people probably have not [done] as good a job defending the play because they’re so afraid of Santana’s deep speed. You can’t take away both.”

Moss said he didn’t run the play much at the University of Miami, where he primarily was a deep threat, but scored two touchdowns on the play with the New York Jets in 2003.

During Gibbs’ first tenure (1981-92), Breaux said the Redskins preferred to run 5-yard hitch plays to Art Monk instead of the receiver screen. But as soon as the coaches got a glimpse of Moss, they used it once against Dallas (for no gain) and then in Kansas City.

“It’s one of those things when you have success with it, you believe in it and go back to it,” Gibbs said. “It went all the way against Kansas City, and from that point, we’ve been in love with it.”

Said Moss: “We’ve been running it up a storm.”

Even though the play occasionally fails, the coaches will continue to use it even though teams have game-planned to stop it.

“It’s a fine line,” Breaux said. “Coaches get into a quandary of, ‘They’re going to expect it, so we better not use it too much.’ But it’s something we do well, and that’s where the chess game comes in. Do we not use it because we do it so well? That would be stupid. You pick and choose, and hopefully it’s at the right time.”

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