- The Washington Times - Friday, November 10, 2006

Searching for their first win in Week 3, the Washington Redskins encountered a Houston Texans defense that ranked last in the NFL against the pass.

Naturally, associate head coach-offense Al Saunders called runs on nine of his team’s first 10 snaps.

The Texans adjusted by putting more players near the line of scrimmage. And, like a fisherman who reels in his catch, Saunders cashed in.

Three hours later, the Redskins had a 31-15 victory, Mark Brunell had an NFL single-game record (22 consecutive completions) and the Redskins had 495 yards of offense.

It was a perfect example of offensive balance, something nearly every team strives to achieve, a near-equal amount of run and pass plays with the same result — first downs and points.

“Anytime you’re balanced, you have more versatility and are able to do more things,” Saunders said. “If you’re one dimensional as an offense, you’re restricted.”

Balance has long been a football buzzword. Some teams, like the Redskins, want their play-calling to reflect a nearly 50-50 split between rushes and passes. Other teams, like Atlanta or Indianapolis, rely on their running and passing games, respectively.

But is balance overrated? If a team has a superstar quarterback or a Hall of Fame-caliber running back, why not lean on them more?

Saunders is a staunch proponent of balance.

“Being able to pass it and run it effectively is important,” he said. “There will be games in a season where you have to run the ball to take advantage of the personnel you’re playing, but if you’re an offense than can only run the ball, you’re not balanced and when you do have an opportunity to be successful in the passing game, you won’t be able to do it and your chances of winning aren’t as high.”

Through the first half of the season, the Redskins and Buffalo Bills are the NFL’s most balanced teams with only one more pass attempt than rush. The Redskins have 228 rushes and 229 pass attempts (not counting sacks).

But that balance hasn’t resulted in as many yards, points or victories as the Redskins envisioned before the season. They’re 3-5 heading to Philadelphia on Sunday.

Detroit has the biggest pass-rush differential (134) and Philadelphia has 90 more passes than rushes. The NFL’s average differential is 48.8.

Only six teams have more runs than pass attempts, led by Atlanta’s 77 more rushes. The Falcons are the NFL’s only team with more rushing yards than passing yards. They are one of several teams with winning records that have a significant difference between their run/pass production. Atlanta (5-3) leads the league in rushing, but is 30th in passing.

“That’s directly attributed to the quarterback,” Saunders said. “You have to play to the strengths of the players you have. Everybody in Atlanta would tell you that they wished Michael Vick was a better drop-pack passer because then the other components of the offense would have a better chance to succeed. The only way you can get your perimeter players involved, most of the time, is throwing them the football.”

On the other end of the spectrum is New Orleans (6-2), which is 27th in rushing and third in passing and undefeated Indianapolis (21st rushing, first passing).

“When the Colts had Edgerrin James, they ran it very well,” Saunders said. “They go in with the philosophy of attacking and they’re going to throw it and throw it and throw it, and then run it to get some semblance of balance. Atlanta is the opposite — they run it, run it, run it and then try to throw it.”

The Redskins fall in the middle. They don’t run it as often or as well as Atlanta and they don’t pass it as often or as well as Indianapolis.

“It all depends on the makeup of your team,” center Casey Rabach said. “If you have Peyton Manning and his receivers, you’ll obviously throw the ball a lot. We pride ourselves on running the ball and when we do that well, that opens up a lot of things for [Brunell] and our receivers.”

The Redskins have run it and passed it at least 20 times in each game this season. Because of the team’s personnel and other factors like injuries, the Redskins’ philosophy is run to set up the pass. Other teams vary more in their approaches, primarily because of their quarterbacks.

Last month, New England featured a shotgun, no-back, five-receiver offense against Minnesota. Determined to take advantage of depth problems in the Vikings secondary, Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels called 43 passes and 15 rushes in a 31-7 rout. In the first half, Tom Brady threw 25 times and the Patriots rushed only seven times.

“That’s where the balance and versatility come into play,” Saunders said. “You play 16 games with 16 totally different scenarios. Your offensive personnel is the same every week. But the opponent is different. Some teams have strengths on the line, some have strengths in the secondary. … What New England did was that they were bold enough to not live in a box and in a confined situation.”

Said receiver Santana Moss: “Balance helps you win but what really helps you win is taking advantage of a team’s weakness. You go after it. That’s better than being balanced. If you go out and try to do a little bit of everything knowing that the lacks in one area, then you’re giving them a chance to stick around.”

The Redskins faced poor rush defenses in Tennessee and Indianapolis but managed only a combined 239 yards on 50 carries, losing both games. When the Redskins fell behind the Colts, they had to abandon the run. But against a stout Jacksonville defense, the Redskins gained 152 yards on 40 attempts.

Because Philadelphia is 18th against the run and 11th against the pass, expect a balanced game plan by the Redskins.

“I hate using military references but as an offense, you need to have an Army, an Air Force and a Navy,” Saunders said. “You have to have all your bases covered because no matter the environment you encounter — one that causes you to throw it or one that causes you to run it to win — you’ll be better able to do it.”

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