When George Allen talks about his defense, he always starts off the conversation the same way. "Everything," he says, "is going to depend on how well we perform up front. We have got to put pressure on the passer."
It is axiomatic in football that as the front four goes, so goes the defense. A weak pass rush puts tremendous pressure on the defensive backs, who will then need added help from the linebackers, and that can't possibly help the defense against the run.
And so, all during training camp, improving the pass rush has been Allen's No.1 priority. So far, he nad his coaching staff say they have been pleased with the units program. "We've got to get better," says defensive coordinator Torgy Torgeson.
There were five sacks against the Kansas City Chiefs last week, and there would be ample opportunity for more this Saturday against a Green Bay Packer team with an inexperienced and highly vulnerable offensive lines.
Instead, over the years, they have relied on a lot of finesse and some film-flammery, too. When the Redskins talk about stunts and tricks, they're not referring to the wonderful moves of the band in the half time show.
A stunt, or trick as it is sometimes called, occurs when the defensive end and the defensive tackle on the same side crisscross on their way to the quarterback.
The tackle, for example, will go first and head toward the outside, while the end waits for him to cross in front of them, then loops the opposite way toward the inside. The end can go first, with the tackle following him.
Stunts occur mostly in obvious passing situations, though the Redskins occasionally will use them on running downs, as well. Stunts are usually run by the ends and tackles on the same side, though occasionally the two tacklers will criss-cross each other, and tricks may be run between a lineman and a linebacker, as well.
"You use them to disrupt the offensive blocking patterns." Torgeson said today. "And every once in a while you can break a man free. It also breaks up a team's normal line charge. Basically, it's done to confuse them.
"If you just did the same thing on every play, rushed the passer the same way every time, they could just sit back there and know exactly where you're coming. The stunt adds an element of surprise. It's a change-up of what you normally do.
"A lot of offensive teams are also doing quite a bit of holding. When you stunt, you're making that blocker move around and move his feet so they just cannot stand still and rassle with you in there."
Stunts can be called in the huddle or at the line of scrimmage. Usually, the tackle and end come up with their own set of signals and call a stunt right before the ball is snapped.
"When you stunt depends mostly on the down and distance," said Torgeson. "We also use them quite a bit with our mickel defense where there's no middle linebacker and it's an obvious passing situation.
"When we don't use stunts, we're mostly in a man-to-man pass rush. To get to the quarter-back that way, you do it on your own with individual moves. Before your stunts work well, you also have to establish a good individual pass rush. That makes the giants work better."
Teams usually block stunts wither man-to-man or in zones. In man-to-man, blockers simply stay with the man who lines up in front of them. In zone blocking, each offensive lineman is responsible for a certain area of the pocket around the quarterback.
"The big thing is that when we stunt, somebody has to make a decision," said Redskin defensive end Ron McDole. "You might catch a guy maybe a step late, or some guy might blow it completely and block the wrong man. In that situation, you'll have two blockers on one man, and that's got to leave somebody free.
"The secret of a good stunt is the deception involved. And you have to get off the ball and time your move perfectly. You force the offensive line to think on the move instead of just laying back there and waiting for the same rush every time.
"A lot of times stunts work better against younger, inexperienced players because they're not that used to seeing it. They've got a lot of things to think about - who should I take, where should I go - and they'll make mistakers."
The Redskins work for our offensive line," said line coach Bill Austin. "It helps our own pass protection, and so far we think we've done a good job protecting our quarterbacks.
"A lot of teams are using stunts more often, and we work like the dickens to pick them up. We have a set method of picking it up and you canlearn a lot from the films, too.