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Sun Tzu Week 5: The Eagles Soar Higher

By Eric Johnson | October 7th, 2003

Good day, Shaolin Redskins fans. It is the quiet of the evening alongside the river here in my valley, and the stars are coming out. Our army–though valiant to the last–could not return to their homes victorious after this battle.

But from both victory and defeat, lessons can be learned. Let us see what lessons the Ol’ Ball Coach learned from Master Sun Tzu this week.


Sun Tzu said:

“Apprise war in terms of the five fundamental
factors . . . The first of these factors is moral
influence . . . By moral influence I mean that
which causes the people to be in harmony with
their leaders, so that they will accompany them
in life and unto death without fear of mortal peril.”

There appears to be a slight disconnect between some players and the coaches. Not that there is anything approaching ill will–nothing close to that–but there sometimes appears to be a conspicuous failure to be on the same page. The coaches coach hard and the players by all accounts perform beautifully in practice, but when the lights come on at game time, execution of fundamental plays suffers.

But we see glimpses of the possibility for greatness from time to time–individual plays that are things of beauty, or individual players being in exactly at the right place at the right time. They are *so close* they can almost taste it–it’s like when one is in an orchestra and one instrument is just *sli-i-ightly* sharp or flat. It throws the whole of the performance off, even though so much is working well. And the problem is that each time it seems to be a different instrument; but one gets the sense that once they can get rid of these mistakes and all get on the same key, the entire piece will be stunning.

On this team, it is up to the coaches–Steve Spurrier in particular–to keep working with all of the players to get them to come together. With some, gentle cajoling is probably all it takes; others will require a firmer hand. But it is my sincere belief that the Ol’ Ball Coach will be able to get them all on the same page.

Theirs is an exercise in finding true harmony; once it is found, they will be even stronger for having worked through the problem. As Chang Yu said in his commentary to the above passage: “The Book of Changes says: ‘In happiness at overcoming difficulties, people forget the danger of death.'”


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 attacks.”

One thing that tempered the ability for the Redskins to claim a victory against the Eagles was the lack of balance in the first half. Knowing that the Eagles had the 31st-ranked team against the pass and the 1st against the run, and combining those facts with his well-established predilection for throwing the ball, it is no surprise that Spurrier and the Redskins came out throwing.

But Philadelphia was ready for that approach and used a strong attack at the line–both with linemen and blitzing linebackers–to disrupt the Redskins’ passing game. Unfortunately, the Redskins didn’t try to establish a running game to keep the blitzers from going after Ramsey. It was a bit of a relapse to the form that Spurrier showed last year when he threw at times in the face of logic. While it made sense on paper to do so against the Eagles’ defense, on the field the Redskins should have realized that their real success this season has come with a good mix of runs and passes, keeping the other team off balance.

While I applaud the desire and the plan to strike quickly and get a lead, when it didn’t come to pass, adjustments should have been made. Spurrier has learned a great deal in his short time in the NFL and has now been reminded that he can’t merely swarm the walls. Patience is, as always, the key to victory.

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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