The questions, and there were many, about Steve Spurrier’s offense were answered by the time the first quarter ended in Sunday’s 31-23 win over Arizona.
With Spurrier’s emphasis on passing, would Stephen Davis be relegated to a secondary role in the new offense?
Hardly. Davis touched the ball on Washington’s first four plays from scrimmage, and ran or caught the ball seven times in the Redskins’ first drive, a 12-play, 49-yard venture that ended with a Brett Conway field goal.
That first play was supposed to be a pass, Spurrier said after the game. But Redskin quarterback Shane Matthews saw something at the line and audibled out of the original play.
Asked if he had ever started a game with a rushing play, Spurrier responded, “No, I don’t think so.”
Davis was a crucial part of the Redskins offense, early and late. Of the Redskins’ 17 plays in the first quarter, Davis was involved in eight plays: six carries and a pair of receptions.
After Washington had pulled out to an eight-point lead midway through the fourth quarter, Spurrier used Davis to eat up clock and keep the lead. Davis gained just 35 yards in the first half, but finished with 104.
Davis finished with 46 more yards through the air, all on underneath routes.
Often, a pass-first offense is easy to come back on: A throwing team that’s ahead has trouble grinding out the clock to preserve the win. If the Redskins can do as they did Sunday take the lead and stop opposing offenses Davis is the perfect clock-eater.
Would Spurrier run the same offense he did at Florida, or would it be some hybrid of that playbook and typical NFL fare?
The latter. A mix of running effectively and throwing effectively to Rod Gardner and Derrius Thompson kept the Cardinals off balance.
Even within the passing game, there was balance. The Redskins threw long two of Matthews’ three touchdown passes went for 20 yards or more but he also accepted shorter routes. Just one of Matthews’ non-scoring passes went for more than 20 yards, a 29-yard strike to Gardner that set up a Davis touchdown run, putting Washington ahead for good.
Matthews finished with 28 completions and 327 yards.
“Matthews did a nice job of finding open people,” said Arizona coach Dave McGinnis. “I thought we did a good job of confusing him at times, but when we started doing that they started working Stephen Davis on us.”
To slow down Davis, McGinnis and the Cardinals put eight men in the tackle box, opening up the middle of the field for passing.
“He played good enough to win,” Spurrier said of Matthews.
Is scoring, and setting a precedent, of the same importance as winning?
Not at all, said Spurrier.
“If we get the lead, we’re going to try to win the game,” the ballcoach explained. “You can’t believe everything you read or hear. If we get ahead, we’re going to try to win and hopefully we won’t do anything stupid.”
His players agreed with that assessment.
“We’ll do whatever it takes to win,” said offensive tackle Jon Jansen. “If that means running 60 times a game, then we’ll run 60 times a game.”
“We just have to go out and keep doing what we’re doing,” Davis said. “We’ve got a long way to go.”
The next stop on that long trip is again in Landover, against a much more challenging opponent than Arizona. On Monday night, Spurrier gets to see how his defense stacks up to a defense long recognized as one of the league’s best: Philadelphia.
With blitz-happy defensive coordinator Jim Johnson running the Eagles’ defense, Matthews will have a much more difficult task than the Cardinals. Philadelphia can create pressure naturally with just its front four, with players like Hugh Douglas and Corey Simon. Or they’ll create it artificially, bringing linebackers and defensive backs.
Any defense that’s daring enough to blitz both cornerbacks against St. Louis as the Eagles did in last year’s NFC championship game – will no doubt dare to do it against Spurrier’s Fun & Gun.
But that’s for next week. Spurrier’s opening game, attracting media attention from near and far, was a success against McGinnis, a coach whose specialty is defense. Davis is still running strong, and not every pass was a 50-yard attempt downfield.
Good enough for an opening-day victory.
Brian Hunsicker covers the Redskins for the Potomac News & Manassas Journal Messenger. Reach him at (703) 878-8053 or via e-mail at [email protected]