If Red­skins win the toss, take the ball

The Washington Times Daily - - SPORTS - THOM LOVERRO

When the cap­tains from both the Wash­ing­ton Red­skins and Carolina Pan­thers walk out to mid­field Monday night for the coin toss be­fore the start of the FedEx Field prime time con­test, will Red­skins coach Jay Gru­den, if given the op­por­tu­nity once more by win­ning the toss, say this:

“No thanks, we don’t want the ball, We’ll kick off. I can’t wait to see my de­fense get on the field. And my of­fense al­ways plays bet­ter when they get the ball al­ready be­hind in the game.”

Or will he buck the cur­rent con­ven­tional coach­ing wis­dom and say this:

“You know, I know the book says now that you de­fer be­cause you would rather have the first pos­ses­sion of the sec­ond half. But I can’t bring my­self to vol­un­tar­ily put the de­fense on the field. I can’t, given the choice, set the tone for this game by al­low­ing Cam New­ton and the Carolina Pan­thers to get the ball and march down the field for about five or six min­utes, score three or seven, and then give the ball to my high­pow­ered of­fense.”

That’s what a sane man would say.

That’s what a rea­son­able man would say — par­tic­u­larly af­ter that de­fen­sive de­ba­cle last Sun­day in Philadel­phia, where the weapon­less, wounded Ea­gles, led by a rookie quar­ter­back, marched down the field af­ter the Red­skins won the coin toss and Gru­den said, for all in­tents and pur­poses, let’s put the de­fense

out there first. Af­ter all, it’s the Ea­gles. They’ve got noth­ing and no one on of­fense. And that’s what all the other coaches do now, so who am I buck the trend.

The Ea­gles then pro­ceeded to put to­gether a 46-yard drive on 10 plays, hold­ing the ball for more than five min­utes be­fore tak­ing the lead 3-0 on a 45-yard field goal in a game Wash­ing­ton (7-5-1) would ul­ti­mately win 27-22.

What hap­pened af­ter that was a four-and-out by the Red­skins of­fense, fol­lowed by an­other nearly five-minute Philadel­phia drive that ended with a De­s­ha­zor Everett in­ter­cep­tion in the end zone. The Red­skins of­fense failed to score yet again on their next pos­ses­sion, and by the time the quar­ter ended, the Red­skins de­fense had been on the field for nearly 10 min­utes al­ready.

Who thinks that is a good idea? I sus­pect the Red­skins de­fense, com­ing off the field af­ter that first fiveminute drive that put them be­hind 3-0, would say pri­vately, to a man, “Coach, let’s give the of­fense a chance with the ball first. We would like to take the field to start a game with a lead for a change,” though they would not likely ever ad­mit this pub­licly.

The rough start on Sun­day was only the be­gin­ning. “Our worst drive last week was the last drive of the half,” de­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor Joe Barry said. “And we prob­a­bly had our worst four plays of the game — un­for­tu­nately, two of them were back-to-back, where we busted … We didn’t bust the cov­er­age, we just got picked and got beat to the flat. The very next play, they come out in an empty and we don’t ad­just to the empty and gave up the touch­down to [Dar­ren] Spro­les — which was their only touch­down of the day.

“But, yeah, of course, but when you play the course of a foot­ball game, when there’s 70 plays, there’s go­ing to be good and bad,” Barry said. “Ob­vi­ously the chal­lenge every week is to let there be a heck-of-a-lot more good than bad.”

The chal­lenge re­ally, though, is to keep the de­fense off the field, to give Joe Barry as lit­tle to do as pos­si­ble dur­ing the course of the game.

It’s a lit­tle crazy, when you think about it. If you’re Jay Gru­den, at any time dur­ing a game would he pre­fer to have his de­fense on the field in­stead of his of­fense? Yet there he is, given the choice, and he says, send the de­fense out there first, be­cause the coach­ing play­book says so.

It may not even come up Monday night. Carolina (5-8) could win the toss, and it could be Ron Rivera’s de­ci­sion which unit is on the field first. But if Gru­den has the choice, he has no choice — don’t vol­un­teer to send the de­fense on the field first. His best chance to win is to see as lit­tle of the Red­skins de­fense as pos­si­ble.

They’ve been on the field too much this year, by choice or by cir­cum­stances.

Wash­ing­ton has the sec­on­dranked of­fense in the NFL in yards gained, av­er­ag­ing 412. Yet they are ranked 19th in time of pos­ses­sion, av­er­ag­ing right around 30 min­utes per game. That means the de­fense has been on the field for half the game as well.

You can ar­gue the mer­its of time of pos­ses­sion as an in­di­ca­tor of a team’s suc­cess or fail­ure, but let’s face it, it does tell you how long one unit or an­other is on the field. And if the Red­skins have hopes of mak­ing the play­offs dur­ing this fi­nal three-game stretch, they need to see less of the de­fense on the field — start­ing with the first play of the game.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Red­skins de­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor Joe Barry said the team’s worst drive last week dur­ing a win over the Ea­gles was the last drive of the first half.

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