By Rick Maese
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, September 15, 2010; 7:40 PM
In his year away from football, Redskins Coach Mike Shanahan didn't really stay away from football. In fact, there was one team he made sure to watch on television every Sunday. On two occasions, he even went to watch the Houston Texans, where his son, Kyle, was offensive coordinator, in person last year.
The roots of the Redskins' and Texans' organizations are tightly entangled. A meticulous planner, Shanahan and his staff know the Texans' scheme and personnel as well as they do any team in the league, and they'll try to take advantage of that knowledge Sunday when the two teams meet at FedEx Field.
"Does it make it tougher? Yeah, it makes it tougher," said Texans Coach Gary Kubiak, a former student of Shanahan's. "But you just got to try to get your guys in the best position to be successful and play solid football. That's what we have to concentrate on."
Shanahan didn't have to twist any arms when he hired his son away from the Texans in January. Then he hired Richard Hightower, who was with Houston from 2006 to '08, to assist with the Redskins' special teams; Matt LaFleur, a Texans' offensive assistant the past two seasons, to coach Washington's quarterbacks; and Ray Wright, who was on Houston's strength and conditioning staff since 2002, to head the Redskins' department.
While each brought his own skills to Washington, they also brought a wealth of knowledge about Texans' players, playbook and tendencies. Publicly, Redskins' coaches downplayed any advantage that might give them, but they acknowledged that Kyle Shanahan could lend a hand to defensive coaches.
"A little," Kyle Shanahan conceded. "They pretty much know what they're doing though."
Kubiak played under Shanahan in Denver as John Elway's backup. When Kubiak's playing career ended, Shanahan hired him in San Francisco as a quarterbacks coach and then made him offensive coordinator in Denver - "when I had no business being one at a very young age," Kubiak said.
When Kubiak became head coach in Houston in 2006, he hired Kyle Shanahan as his receivers coach. Kyle Shanahan then served as the team's offensive coordinator the past two seasons, calling plays in 2009 for a unit that was ranked No. 4 in the league.
"We got inside knowledge of their scheme and their personnel," linebacker London Fletcher said. "So we'll definitely ask Kyle some questions."
Kubiak points out that Kyle Shanahan is well-versed in the Texans' defense as well. After all, that's the group he worked against every day in practice.
"He's going to have a good idea of what works against that defense," said quarterback Rex Grossman, who played for Houston last year. "It's kind of a mind game between [Kyle and] their defensive coordinator because they know each other so well. Bottom line is, it boils down to execution."
When the Redskins have the ball Sunday, the game very well could resemble a Texans 11-on-11 drill from last season. Kyle Shanahan has brought over the same basic offense, and Houston defensive coordinator Frank Bush is essentially relying on the same defensive packages.
"We've gone against them every day for four years," said Kyle Shanahan. "We know how to attack each other. There's no secret about what we like to do against each other. It's more of, what are we going to do?"
Kubiak says the Texans are running the same basic offense as they did last season, though Redskins coaches warn that every team makes changes from year to year. While the base offense might be the same, the execution certainly looks different - at least through one week.
Kyle Shanahan's Houston offense had the league's top-ranked passing attack a year ago. Quarterback Matt Schaub averaged 36 pass attempts an outing and had 50 in one game. In the Texans' win over Indianapolis last Sunday, Schaub attempted only 17 passes and totaled just 107 passing yards. Meanwhile, running back Arian Foster had 231 yards on 33 carries and was named the AFC's Offensive Player of the Week. Offensive coordinator Rick Dennison is charged with calling plays on Sundays, though Kubiak still plays an active role.
"Kyle was very aggressive. Coach Kubiak may not be as aggressive," Grossman said. "But it's the same package of plays. It's the same offense, same running game, same plays. There's no doubt our defense is going to have an advantage."
Kyle Shanahan points out, though, that Texans' coaches are familiar with him and his tendencies as well. "They know what I like, I know what they like," he said.
But it goes beyond the Shanahans. Kubiak, Bush and Dennison, as well as Texans defensive backs coach David Gibbs, receivers coach Larry Kirksey and tight ends coach Brian Pariani were all a part of Shanahan's staffs in Denver.
While Kubiak's coaches might have a great understanding of Shanahan's zone-blocking scheme and Shanahan's staff might feel they know the weaknesses on Houston's roster, they can spend only a few days game-planning and moving the chess pieces around. On Sunday, their ties won't matter as much.
"Once the ball snaps," Kyle Shanahan said, "it's just football."