The Grits Blitz is a tasty bit of defensive strategy dreamed up by the Atlanta Falcons to give opposing quarterbacks a bad case of game-day indigestion.
Joe Theismann of the Redskins knows all about that queasy feeling. Last year against the Falcons, he had to stand up under a barrage of 55 blitzes on 63 offensive plays.
"Must be a league record," Theismann said yesterday, remembering that day of red-dogs when he was only 13 of 33 passing while the Redskins lost a bid for the playoffs, 20-17.
To avoid that same feeling Sunday in Atlanta, Theismann has put in extra study time this week. He even was scheduled to crack the books for another hour last night, just two days before kickoff.
"I don't think I was as prepared as I should have been for that game," Theismann said. "You can't believe that they will come that many times. No one does. But they did and from the look of my stats, they were successful. They got the better of it that day."
The Grits Blitz is a gambling tactic. The Falcons, who normally send at least one blitzer on about half of their defensive plays, constantly are trying for turnovers. But they also are leaving themselves open to get burned -- big.
"It's feast or famine," said Brad O'Connor, the Redskin offensive backfield coach. "They make things happen, but they also open up weaknesses.
"It puts an awful lot of pressure on their cornerbacks. They get involved in a lot of one-on-one coverage and that's the kind of situation you'd like the corners to be in if you are the offense."
"They disguise things really well," Theismann said. "They do everything. All they can do now is bring someone from the bench. They have everything else covered.
"You have to have your decision made before the snap, or if not, at least by the first step. There is no room for thinking.
"Normally you'd get three or four steps. But they take that away from you.Sure, it changes things, but to get you in that position, they have to give up something too."
And what they might give up, at least in three of their first four games, can be a lot of points. New Orleans scored 34 points, Denver 20 and Detroit 24. And their four opponents have averaged 239 yards through the air and 380 yards overall, which tops the Falcon offense in both categories.
Nor is the Grits Blitz forcing quite as many turnovers as last season, when it was a novelty. The Falcons have recovered two fumbles and intercepted five passes, compared to the Redskins' seven and nine.
Detroit, which hadn't won a game at the time, mashed The Grits with 400 total yards, although the Lions gave up four sacks.
"We have got to do a better job of rushing the passer and stopping the pass," Atlanta Coach Leeman Bennett said."We just have to work harder and keep doing the things that we believe in."
Bennett believes in the all-out blitz. During the preseason, he elected to stay in a more standard defense and the Falcons were shredded. Once the regular schedule began, the Grits Blitz came back.
Because the Falcons send at least one linebacker so frequently, Washington probably will be forced to keep at least one running back with Theismann on most plays. That will cut into the Redskins' favored short passing game, which usually is directed to a runner coming out of the backfield.
"You really have two choices," O'Connor said: "You either keep a back to help block or you send him out and try to get the ball off before the blitz works. But that is dangerous."
Of Theismann's 46 completions this season, 24 have been to his backs. But on Sunday, wide receivers Ricky Thompson and Danny Buggs well could be his primary targets.
Last year, Buggs caught six passes, John McDaniel three and Thompson one against the Falcons while the backs contributed only two receptions.
"The whole key is being aware of what they are doing and then blocking them correctly," O'Connor said. "They try to confuse you; they work hard at it. They show you different things, then change up."
"Any time you prepare for an eight-man front, like they are giving you, it restricts what you can do. It means more wide receiver involvement, but the one thing you can't start doing is guessing. That's when you get in trouble."
That's why Theismann has become an avid film watcher this week. He realizes he'll be spending an afternoon looking at linebackers Fulton Kuykendall, Robert Pennywell and Greg Brezina and he'd rather meet them after he unloads the ball.
Theismann's athletic talents, under better control this season, should serve him well against the Falcons. He can throw well off a rollout, which can help neutralize a blitz, and he has shown a knack throught the first four games of scrambling out of danger so successfully that potentially bad plays have become good ones.
In last year's games, the Falcons sacked him four times for 35 yards in losses. And they hurried him into mistakes and bad passes just as many times.
Both Karl Lorch and Paul Smith, the Redskins' injured defensive linemen, were improved yesterday. Pardee will hold off deciding whether to activate Perry Brooks and put Smith or Lorch on injured reserve until after practice today . . . Atlanta defensive lineman Wilson Faumuina has recovered from his injury and most likely will replace tackle Dave Lewis, who has a bad knee . . . Atlanta wide receiver Alfred Jenkins, who has a sore ankle, may be replaced by Dennie Pearson . . . Pardee called linebacker Kuykendall "a great one. It seems every team now has a great player like him." . . . The Redskins had one of their shortest workouts in weeks yesterday, practicing in the rain. It has been raining in Atlanta most of the week.