More Questions Than Answers

It's normal to think that the first regular-season game is the time when we start getting answers about a football team. After all, it's the first time that the regulars are on the field for four quarters, the live-fire debut for your draft picks and free agents, the first time the coaches prepare a serious game plan. Those looking for definitive answers in an opener, though, are bound to be disappointed.

All you get is a few pieces of the puzzle, a tease. In fact, more often than not, more new queries are generated than old ones resolved.

Among the questions stemming from Thursday night's game:

How will George Edwards' defensive scheme, allowing more freelancing by the players, work out?

Jeremiah Trotter was not supposed to be four yards deep in the Jets' backfield when he dumped LaMont Jordan for a loss on a critical third and one play in the late going. He was supposed to be patrolling the middle just behind the line of scrimmage. Trotter sniffed out the play, however, and blitzed, making the key defensive play of the game.

Such freelancing would have drawn a stern reprimand from Marvin Lewis, Edwards' predecessor, regardless of the result. Edwards, however, offered cautious praise. "Great play," he told Trotter. "Don't get too comfortable doing it all the time. But you made a great play when we needed it."

Of course, it was a great play because it worked. Had Trotter guessed wrong, though, New York could ripped off a big gainer and put themselves in a position to win the game. We'll see how judiciously Trotter, Arrington and company use their new-found freedom.

Can the Ballcoach continue to go with the running game when it's called for?

Last year, Spurrier called 28 runs in the season opener against Arizona. By midseason, he was lamenting that the team wasn't throwing the ball more often, even after wins.

It's unlikely that the ratio of 34 runs to 25 passes that we saw on Thursday night will hold up over the course of the season. There will be games where the opposition puts up more than 13 points and the Redskins will need to throw early, often, and effectively to win.

But in situations like the one in this game, with the opposition not getting any scoring opportunities that you're not giving them, the wise thing to do is keep in on the ground. Will Spurrier remain wise if the same situation comes up in November?

Can a running back by committee approach be effective?

Of course, Spurrier could commit to calling runs all he wants, but if there's nobody who can lug the ball it's an exercise in futility. Ladell Betts got 18 carries in the game, starter Trung Canidate got 10. The Redskins traded for Canidate due to his breakaway speed and the fact that he's a home-run threat every time he catches the ball. Betts has decent speed, but he's more in the power-back mold. Spurrier plans on playing it by ear when it comes to playing time.

"I don't know if we have an exact plan," Spurrier said. "But certainly if one back seems to be running a little bit better than the other, he will probably get more carries."

It would seem to be an ideal combination, but it doesn't always work that way in practice. It can be difficult to establish an offensive rhythm. Linemen have to think about who they're blocking for, how fast he might be hitting the hole, and thinking taking over for instinct can be an dangerous thing.

Rich Tandler is the author of The Redskins From A to Z, Volume 1: The Games. This unique book has detailed coverage of every game the Redskins played from 1937 through the 2001 season. For details, go to RedskinsAtoZ.com


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