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Sun Tzu Week 12: Catching the Ram

By Eric Johnson | November 26th, 2002

Shaolin Redskins fans, it is a time for rejoicing! Not only did our troops defeat a skilled enemy; not only is it a week for family and feasting in much of our land; it is the week when we confront our most hated foe! The only thing to make it sweeter would be defeating that enemy.

This week, the Ol’ Ball Coach dished out some lessons originally taught by Master Sun Tzu. Let us take a moment to look over his teachings:


Sun Tzu said:

“He who knows the art of the direct and the indirect approach will
be victorious. Such is the art of maneuvering.”

Steve Spurrier called perhaps his best game of the year. He mixed passes and runs to perfection with maybe only one or two questionable decisions. The team–led by Danny Wuerffel–executed his plays to near perfection, which is what allowed him to get into the rhythm of the game and make the right calls at the right time.

And Wuerffel gets some of the credit, too–he audibled runs when he saw the Rams defense jump into a zone blitz, thereby keeping drives alive and himself upright. The balance of run and pass was established in favor of the Redskins’ strengths. Attacking first up the middle with a run, then through the air for a quick hit, then going for it with a sweep on 4th down into the endzone, maybe mixing in a trick play here and there–Steve Spurrier knows the art of the direct and indirect approach, and victory is the final result when the plan is executed.


Sun Tzu said:

“Generally, in battle, use the normal force to engage; use the
extraordinary to win.”

Here Master Sun Tzu is addressing the cheng–the normal, direct force–and the ch’i, the extraordinary, indirect force. Said one commentator: “When Sun Tzu said to engage with the cheng but to win with the chi’i he was implying that distractive effects are necessary to ensure that decisive blows may be struck where the enemy is least prepared and where he does not anticipate them.”

So it was that an extraordinary, indirect force led to the victory over the Rams. The defense had been doing what it could, to slow the Rams’ advance during their final drive. But it wasn’t until LaVar Arrington left his opponent grasping for air when the latter went for his face mask (as he had most of the game) and then “swam” past him and swung around the line to knock the ball from Kurt Warner’s hand that the victory was sealed. LaVar’s play was an extraordinary display of personal effort–and the battle was won.


Sun Tzu said:

“Throw the troops into a position from which there is no escape
and even when faced with death they will not flee. For if
prepared to die, what can they not achieve?”

While the Redskins’ season is not literally a matter of life and death, figuratively it has become so–every game is a playoff game. But the sense that this situation creates isn’t one of desperation–it’s instead an opportunity to perform–to achieve–at the highest of levels. When athletes dig deep like that, they pull their games to a higher level.

This is exactly what transpired against the Rams. With everything on the line and the Rams marching steadily towards a tie or a victory, the Redskins players individually and collectively laid it on the line. Darrell Green comes up with a monster pass block in the endzone reminiscent of so many he’s had in the past; Jessie Armstead catches up with Trung Canidate at the six after a 22-yard rush to prevent a touchdown; and LaVar Arrington knocks the ball out of Warner’s hand for Daryl Gardener to recover and preserve the victory. This kind of team unity of effort is tempered from the fire of their situation–what can they not achieve?

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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