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The Playbook According to Gibbs

Redskins Coach Is Expected to Use Many of the Same Plays That Worked Before

By Leonard Shapiro
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, September 9, 2004; Page D01

Fifth in a seven-part series

Sixteen years later, former Redskins center and original Hog Jeff Bostic still remembers one of Joe Gibbs's finest coaching moments. It occurred in the heat of one of the most significant victories in Redskins history.

The date was Jan. 31, 1988, at San Diego's Jack Murphy Stadium. It was Super Bowl XXII, and the Denver Broncos had stunned the Redskins by jumping to an early 10-0 lead. Most surprising, though, was the Broncos' abandonment of the standard four-linemen, three-linebacker, 4-3 defense they had employed all season in favor of a three-lineman, four-linebacker 3-4 look that had confused the Redskins' offense, particularly the Hogs on the offensive line.

Redskins celebrate one of two touchdowns scored by Tim Smith (36) against Denver in Super Bowl XXII. Adjustments by Joe Gibbs helped Smith run for Super Bowl-record 204 yards. (1988 Photo James A. Parcell -- The Washington Post)

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"This was after our first couple of possessions," Bostic said. "Coach Gibbs almost never came back to our offensive line meetings when we were on the bench. This time he did. He says, 'What are they doing to you up front?' We tell him what's going on. He puts his finger up to his face like he always does when he's thinking deep and he says, 'Okay, we're gonna zone block the defensive ends and we're gonna let the nose tackle stunt wherever he wants to go. We'll come back at 'em and run our counter plays and bottle them up inside.'

"But on the first play, instead of running the ball, we give 'em a look, and we run a hitch pattern instead, and Ricky Sanders catches it for an 80-yard touchdown. Eighteen plays later, and that's all it was, we've basically won the Super Bowl at the half. We're up 35-10, Tim Smith is going crazy running the ball and we score 35 points in the second quarter and we're doing whatever we want to do.

"They had no idea how to stop us," Bostic continued. "Joe figured out how to block 'em, and they never had a chance. That's a Joe Gibbs adjustment in a nutshell."

Part II of Gibbs's pro coaching career officially begins at 1 p.m. Sunday in the regular season opener against Tampa Bay at FedEx Field. Most of the people responsible for the team's three Super Bowl victories and 124-60 regular season mark over the greatest 12-year span in team history have little doubt that Gibbs and his staff can again draw up the offensive plays during the week, then make the mid-game adjustments necessary to again place the Redskins among the NFL's elite teams.

More than anything over that era, Gibbs demonstrated an uncanny ability to change or ditch whatever wasn't working in a game plan -- either on the sidelines or during halftime. Virtually every coach in the NFL can make adjustments, but as former tackle Joe Jacoby said, "Most of them can't really pinpoint it to a specific play or time in a game when you know it's going to break things open. Joe just had that knack."

Though the Redskins kept their offense mostly simple in preseason games this summer, Gibbs already has employed some of the classic plays in his arsenal.

They included the counter trey, once the Redskins' signature running play that Gibbs implemented his first season and used for years to take advantage of his gifted and mobile offensive line, then as now coached by Joe Bugel. In the counter trey, Bostic, the center, right guard Mark May and right tackle George Starke would block to the left, giving the appearance of a run to the left. Left guard Russ Grimm and left tackle Joe Jacoby would then pull out from their positions and head around the right corner and down the field looking for linebackers and defensive backs to flatten.

The running back would take a step to the left to draw the defense to that side, then take a handoff from the quarterback and head right behind Grimm and Jacoby, with defenders often scattered like so many bowling pins along the way.

Another Gibbs standard was 50-gut, with John Riggins running to his left and looking for a hole between Bostic and Grimm or Grimm and Jacoby. In the 1982 NFC title game against the Dallas Cowboys, the Redskins used the play nine straight times as they ran out the clock in the fourth quarter in a 31-17 victory.

The 50-gut play through the middle of the line was tailor-made for Riggins, a power runner. Now with running back Clinton Portis, a smaller man who seems more comfortable operating on the perimeter, it may not be used as often, though there's no question it's still in Gibbs's playbook.

Gibbs was an innovator in his use of play action -- throwing a pass off a fake run -- multiple receiver formations and the H-back, a hybrid fullback/tight end position he uses as a potent blocker on runs or as an extra man in pass protection. Gibbs quarterbacks occasionally even throw passes to the H-back to keep teams off balance. Rookie Chris Cooley won the starting H-back job this preseason.

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