If Redskins win the toss, take the ball
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.
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.