Spotlight on Spurrier

Found: One running back, wearing #48, answers to the name of Big Country. He was located traveling along his accustomed North-South route. After much speculation that Stephen Davis, the NFC's leading rusher in 2001, would have a very light workload in Steve Spurrier's Fun ‘n Gun offense, the Redskins running back turned out to be one of the best secret weapons ever. He racked up 150 yards of offense (104 rushing, 46 receiving) to pace the Redskins pass the Cardinals.

Spurrier talks about having his quarterbacks go out and "pitch it around". Everyone thought that this meant passes deep downfield. It did to an extent—TD passes to Rod Gardner and Kevin Lockett being good examples—but also included was a backwards pitch, a toss to Davis.

Said Spurrier, "The weak side toss to Stephen, a play we certainly haven't used all year, seemed to set up well against them. Kim Helton and Hugh Jackson, our running game coaches, certainly convinced me to run that a lot."

In fact, the Redskins' very first play was a handoff to Davis, even though the coach hadn't intended it that way.

"(Quarterback Shane Matthews) checked to that, we had a pass scenario.and he checked at the line. They were playing a zone, so we went with the run instead of the man-to-man pass."

Had he ever called a running play on his first play as a head coach? "I don't think so."

One debut tradition that Spurrier did manage to keep intact was opening in the no-huddle offense.

"Like I told Jon Jansen and our offensive guys, I've done it every opening game my whole coaching career, so why not this one. It's pretty good if you can audible everything and it gives you a little extra time if you need to change the play."

The hurry up offense certainly caught the Cardinals off guard. They were making audibles and moving people around to try to cover the formations and Matthews would immediately counter with another audible.

Arizona, not sure when the ball might be snapped, wasn't able to substitute; the Redskins were. A couple of times during the opening drive Spurrier ran a five-wide formation with three receivers, Davis, and Brian Johnson.

A field goal at the end of Spurrier's initial NFL drive was greeted with muted enthusiasm by the Ballcoach as he greeted the players on the sideline.

When the Washington defense was on the field, Spurrier assumed the role of interested spectator. For the most part, the only difference between the head coach and, say, a spectator who might have been snatched out of Section 111 and been given a black Redskins shirt and white visor to wear while prowling the sidelines was the occasional huddle that Spurrier would have with an offensive assistant coach.

Spurrier's first fourth-down decision came on Washington's next series with a fourth and one at the Cardinal 41. Not only did the Skins go for the first, they did so without a huddle. "Yeah, we probably just jumped up there and tried to run a play," Spurrier said as though it was normal for NFL teams to go for it on fourth down in the second quarter without a huddle.

Said Spurrier, "If you execute plays it's smart to run the no-huddle, if you're three and out, it's not so smart." Davis made the coach look smart by finding a crack of daylight and slithering through it for the first down.

The drive resulted in a TD pass from Matthews to Kevin Lockett.

With 44 seconds to go in the first half, the Redskins faced another fourth-down decision, this time fourth and two at the Arizona 35. This time here was a huddle, but not in the conventional sense as most of the offense gathered between the sideline and the hashmark during a timeout to listen to Spurrier's instructions. The result was an incomplete pass on a seam route to tight end Zeron Flemiester.

The math that Spurrier has talked about frequently worked perfectly. Two field goals in those situations (assuming that gimpy kicker Bret Conway cold have made them) would have equaled six points. The two fourth-down attempts yielded seven.

During the second half Spurrier did nothing that turned the NFL upside down. Matthews threw just 13 passes, completing 11 of them, including two touchdowns. Davis carried 16 times.

Spurrier was trying to run Davis more, especially in the fourth quarter with his team trying to preserve an eight-point lead, but his plans were thrown off by a couple of holding calls that set the team back. After the second one created a first and twenty situation, the offense went to an empty backfield setup with Kenny Watson lined up wide.

Still, it was almost Gibbs-like in the attempt to milk the clock. "You can't believe everything you hear," said Spurrier in response to a question about his reputation for running an aerial circus. "When we get ahead, we're going to try to win the game."

What a revolutionary concept.

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