Sun Tzu Week 6: Plundered by Buccaneers

Archive: Sun Tzu Washington Commanders

Greetings, Shaolin Redskins fans. The pale sun is rising this crisp morning and plays across the flags and broken weapons of battle. Our burgundy and gold army went up against last year’s victors, and while they hung tough for a time, in the end they could not stop the enemy.

This week, the Ol’ Ball Coach was more student than teacher. Let us see what Sun Tzu taught him through Jon Gruden and the Buccaneers:


Sun Tzu said:

“To be certain to take what you attack is
to attack a place the enemy does not

This lesson became painfully clear to Spurrier in the third quarter when the Bucs were trailing 13-7 and had been pinned back on a 3rd-and-15 at their own 15 because of a taunting call on Keenan McCardell. Their previous three possessions had ended in two 3-and-outs and a kneel-down to end the first half–and now it looked like they were in for more of the same.

Gruden called a play to the left side, sending WR Keyshawn Johnson deep to clear CB Fred Smoot out of the way while the tight end lined up on the right and went deep to pull the left linebacker out of the play. All this was so RB Michael Pittman could catch a dump in the left flat and–if all went well–he would only have to outrun the two remaining linebackers in an attempt to get the first down. The problem was, from the Redskins’ perspective, that the two linebackers–LaVar Arrington and Jessie Armstead–*both* blitzed (due to a miscommunication) and took themselves out of the play. That left Pittman all alone in the flat and he roared 18 yards up field to convert that 3rd-and-15.

There’s no telling what might have happened if he hadn’t converted; we can only speculate that the Redskins might have gotten the ball back in excellent field position and may have even extended their lead. Instead, the 3rd-and-long conversion led the way to an 80-yard scoring drive and the first of 3 consecutive 70+-yard touchdown drives that swung the game in favor of the Buccaneers and buried the Redskins.

Yet Gruden wasn’t done teaching the Ol’ Ball Coach this particular lesson. The three touchdown drives were all ably aided by play-action fakes and roll-outs that seemed to leave Tampa’s receivers–particularly their tight ends–open in the flat with nobody near them. The misdirection plays had the Redskins’ defense completely turned around.

Steve Spurrier’s offensive philosophy is simple: “If they play real tight, throw it over their head. If they play way back, throw it short.” In other words, throw it where they ain’t. But this time, Jon Gruden was the one reminding him of that lesson. He attacked where the Redskins weren’t protecting, and it cost them.


“Thus, the potential of troops skilfully
commanded in battle may be compared to that
of round boulders which roll down from
mountain heights.”

Chang Yü wrote in his commentary on the above passage: “Li Ching said. . . ‘When one takes advantage of the enemy’s laxity, his weariness, his hunger and thirst, or strikes when his advanced camps are not settled, or his army is only half-way across a river, this is situation in respect to the enemy.’

“Therefore when using troops, one must take advantage of the situation exactly as if he were setting a ball in motion on a steep slope. The force applied is minute but the results are enormous.”

Thus it was that the Buccaneers regained control of the game. The play outlined above was the minute force that was applied, but the enormous–and devastating–results for the Redskins knocked them completely out of the game. The Redskins defense, once confusion set in, could do nothing to stop the onrushing Tampa team. Miscommunication compounded miscommunication until it seemed like the Bucs could move at will.

“It was just a downhill spiral,” linebacker Jeremiah Trotter said. “Once it starts going downhill, it’s tough to stop.”

It can be hoped that the Redskins defense won’t allow that first round boulder to shift–so that they prevent the avalanche.

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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