Sun Tzu Week 11: Giants in the Mud

Archive: Sun Tzu Washington Commanders

Good day, Shaolin Redskins fans. It is a quiet, reflective day here on my mountain–it has rained on and off throughout the night, and mist shrouds the valley below. It is gray all around.

The Ol’ Ball Coach has brought us more lessons from Master Sun Tzu. Let us turn to them:


Sun Tzu said:

“Appraise war in terms of the five fundamental factors . . . the
second [of these factors] is weather . . . By weather I mean the
interaction of natural forces; the effects of winter’s cold and
summer’s heat and the conduct of military operations in
accordance with the seasons.”

Sunday’s game perhaps had the worst weather conditions of any game Steve Spurrier has yet coached. The worst he could remember previously was a nor’easter blowing in while he coached Duke against Rutgers at the Meadowlands in October 1987. That bad luck revisited him in spades this week. It was in the low 40s and alternated between light and heavy rain. The field was soaked, the turf peeling up in chunks.

But foul weather is a hallmark–one of *the* hallmarks–of NFL football. From all appearances, Spurrier came into this game with a smart game plan–running Stephen Davis. But the Giants had a good plan as well–stop Stephen Davis and force the Redskins to go to the air. They stacked up against the run and dared Shane Matthews to beat them with his arm, which he was unable to do. It will be intriguing to watch Steve Spurrier’s evolution as a foul-weather coach; after this week’s game, he has probably learned that he needs to be more patient with the running game in the rain and mud. Similarly, he needs to give his kicking game some practice when it’s wet; slippery conditions led to a missed field goal that had the potential of being a game-winner. Heavy and wet footballs had an impact on both the passing and place-kicking games. Just another on a list of new experiences for a rookie NFL coach.


Sun Tzu said:

“If the general is unable to control his impatience and orders his
troops to swarm up the wall like ants, one-third of them will be
killed without taking the city. Such is the calamity of these

One of Steve Spurrier’s greatest strengths is also one of his greatest weaknesses–as is so often the case with geniuses. He wants very badly to eat up yards in big chunks with the big play–it is the very nature of the system he’s brought to the NFL, the Fun ‘n Gun. He’s learning, however, that he just doesn’t have the personnel in place to run his system on a consistent basis. He’s also been confronted with the fact that defensive personnel in the NFL are much more skillful than those he faced in the college game.

Some of the more painful losses this season have been as a result of Spurrier’s gamble that the team could hit the big play. He can just see it–almost taste it–when a particular offensive play will be the knife in the heart of his opponent, so he sends in the call. And when the offense doesn’t execute properly, you can see the missed opportunity causes him an almost physical pain. The rest of the season might be a lesson for the coach on patient attacks–steady, clock-eating drives, but with a sprinkling of game-breaking plays when the opportunity is optimal. This might be the NFL version of the Fun ‘n Gun, at least until he gets the right personnel in place. In the short term, though, he needs to resist going for that game-turning bomb every time; too often the bomb has gone right into the arms of the defense, and the game has indeed turned–just the wrong way. Spurrier needs to learn to control his impatience, as Sun Tzu teaches, or the result will again be calamity.


Sun Tzu said:

“Victory is the main object in war. If this is long delayed,
weapons are blunted and morale depressed. When troops attack
cities, their strength will be exhausted.”

The Ol’ Ball Coach needs to be mindful of the mood of his team, and there are signs that he’s paying attention to this area. He has spoken this week of the need to inject some excitement into his offense. As in the past, his main route to doing so is by switching around personnel: this week, the QB duties will be divided between Danny Wuerffel and Patrick Ramsey. He also plans to rotate Alex Sulfsted in as guard, citing the excitement generated by the young man playing so well when he started for Chris Samuels. Spurrier is doing the best he can to generate some passion from a group that hasn’t displayed much.

But of course the real solution to the dispirited play lies in getting victories. This may mean a heavier reliance on the run, which the offense does well. But more likely, victory will be achieved through a combination of factors–more running, more young, excited players, more execution, better play-calling. There are no magic bullets in turning a team around. Morale improves when victories come, and victory comes when morale (especially chemistry) improves. The parts aren’t running smoothly together, and it ultimately is a question of time–in the short run, doing what it takes to win; in the long run, getting the right parts in place.

Edit: This blog was archived in May of 2016 from our original articles database.It was originally posted by Eric Johnson

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