Sun Tzu Week 4: A Strong Defense

Archive: Sun Tzu Washington Commanders

Greetings, Shaolin Redskins fans! On my little mountainside farm, the breeze is blowing cooler though the sun’s rays remain warm. Soon the leaves will begin to change. Our burgundy and gold army was once again victorious in a close-fought battle–and some unexpected approaches by the Ol’ Ball Coach are what allowed us to take the day.

Let us see what new lessons from Master Sun Tzu he took to heart this week:


Sun Tzu said:

“He who is prudent and lies in wait for an enemy who
is not, will be victorious.”

Who’d-a thunk it? Steve Spurrier showed he’s learned another lesson about being an NFL coach–and it’s a most unexpected development: he coached a conservative brand of football. More specifically, he relied on defense–and the ground game–to bring him the victory. It was a game that might’ve brought tears to Marty Schottenheimer’s eyes. The Fun ‘n Gun was outgained 387 to 250 yards, and the field general behind the NFL’s top offense, Patrick Ramsey, went only 10 of 22 for 134 yards. This is Steve Spurrier, architect of the unstoppable air game? Steve Spurrier has never coached an NFL game–or perhaps any game–with so few pass attempts.

His approach was one of prudence, as Master Sun Tzu indicated; Spurrier decided the best thing to do was to wait to see exactly what exactly defensive master Bill Belichick would give him. When the Patriot’s coach crafted a plan that relied on subduing the passing game–he smothered the Redskins’ ace receiver Laveranues Coles and kept the pressure on Ramsey–Spurrier made sure Ramsey didn’t turn the ball over, and he gave the rock to his running backs. That passing stat, 22 attempts, was *less* than the number of rushing attempts–29. One scoring drive in the third quarter went without a single passing *attempt.* “It seems like when we run more and pass less, we win the game,” the coach said Monday. “Obviously, that’s what we were trying to do.” And he was content to use all that rushing to help preserve the lead, rather than trying to run up the score with spectacular–but dangerous–passing plays.

But we mustn’t ignore the other half of Master Sun Tzu’s equation: lying in wait for an imprudent enemy was George Edwards’ defense. They showed some ball-hawking of which we haven’t seen much. Three interceptions came from the defensive secondary, including a pretty spectacular catch by Champ Bailey (who has a broken wrist). Bailey also forced a fumble and, while he danced in celebration, Matt Bowen scooped the ball and just barely missed getting into the endzone. So, too, did the defense step up: when the Patriot’s got the ball on the Redskins 45 with 1:39 left in the game, a nice play on the ball by Ifeanyi Ohalete prevented them for converting on 4th down–a strong defensive effort to save the game.

It just goes to show that Spurrier will surprise people by concentrating on the one thing that is most important in NFL football: being victorious.


Sun Tzu said:

“Do not gobble proffered baits.”

In the opening drive of the second half, the Patriots tried some trickery. On 3rd and four on their own 26-yard line, the center snapped the ball into a shotgun formation–not to QB Tom Brady, but directly to RB Kevin Faulk. Despite Brady’s attempt to sell the pass, Champ Bailey sniffed out the play immediately and knifed through the line to tackle Faulk for a five-yard loss. Bailey forced the fumble and, as mentioned above, he fiddled a bit while Bowen burned–burned the Patriots by planting the ball on the 6-inch line and setting up an easy Redskins touchdown.

But that little bit of humor doesn’t take away from the fact that Bailey wasn’t fooled for an instant–he didn’t gobble the proffered bait of Brady’s “pass.” He made a big defensive play that knocked the Patriots back on their heels.


Sun Tzu said:

“These are the strategist’s keys to victory. It is not
possible to discuss them beforehand.”


“Determine the enemy’s plans and you will know which
strategy will be successful and which will not.”

One of the great pleasures of this season has been watching Steve Spurrier, OC Hue Jackson, and DC George Edwards’ approach to the game. Many NFL coaches have the first ten or fifteen plays scripted out beforehand and will go with that first set no matter how successful (or not) they are. Not so Steve Spurrier and the Fun ‘n Gun, nor the defense of George Edwards. They’re much more interested in seeing what the opponent does and in adjusting to that, so that the plays they call have a better chance of succeeding. It is of course a hallmark of the Fun ‘n Gun that the quarterback is expected to audible into a better play once he gets a chance to look over the defense.

But on a broader philosophical level, Spurrier does that as well–he will test an opponents’ plan as far as coverage or pass rush goes and then make adjustments to attack their weaknesses. We haven’t seen the kind of half-time adjustments that Spurrier and Edwards makes since the days of Joe Gibbs, and that ability to read the opponent makes the Redskins all the more dangerous. If one thing doesn’t work, they’ll try another and another until weakness is exposed.

Mei Yao-ch’en, in his commentary on the first quote above, said, “When confronted by the enemy, respond to changing circumstances and devise expedients. How can these be discussed beforehand?” That’s exactly right. Steve Spurrier said, before matching wits with defensive guru Bill Belichick, “Sometimes as an offensive coach, you just have to go to the ballpark, try to figure out what the other guys are trying to do and go from there.”

And it worked against the Patriots: “[Belichick] gave us the run,” receiver Laveranues Coles said. “Coach Spurrier was taking advantage of whatever the he gave us, and that’s what we’re about. Matching wits with a guy like that, Coach did that and came out on top.”

So far, so good.

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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