It may have been one of Joe (Karpov) Gibbs' finest hours. Trailing, 14-10, in St. Louis last Sunday, he and his offensive staff began playing chess with the Cardinals and had checkmate by the third quarter.
Out of respect, opposing defenses are throwing the kitchen sink at the Washington Redskins this year, which Gibbs says is a reason the Redskins sometimes take 30 minutes to warm up. The Cardinals, for instance, had -- at times -- three people on the line and eight in the secondary and double-teamed all three Redskins wide receivers -- Art Monk, Gary Clark and Ricky Sanders.
It was good eyesight (by coaches Jerry Rhome and Dan Henning in the press box) that caught it and good photography (Polaroid) that confirmed it. At the half, besides throwing a chair, Gibbs threw a brand-new scheme at his offense.
If the Cardinals were going to use six defenders on the three wide receivers, Gibbs knew his running back and tight end would be covered one-on-one. He replaced Don Warren with Clint Didier at tight end, because Didier's strength is as a downfield receiver, and he also decided a quarterback draw would be an educated call in a third-down situation.
And, eventually, the Redskins scored two third-down touchdowns because of these tactics. Jay Schroeder, behind an uplifting block from center Jeff Bostic, ran past the three-man defensive line on the quarterback draw and found the end zone. Later, Didier beat linebacker Anthony Bell one-on-one for a third-down touchdown catch.
The Cardinals also were using a 4-2-5 on first downs, which Henning said "made them soft on one edge, and we went after the run." In other words, the Redskins used their two-tight-end offense on first downs -- Warren and Didier -- and ran to Didier's side instead of Warren's. There was no linebacker around for Didier to block, and George Rogers ate up chunks of yardage behind him (113 yards alone in the second half).
Then, when the Cardinals switched to Didier's side, Rogers ran behind Warren.
"Chess," Henning said.
"And Gibbs is Karpov," he added.
Gibbs confirmed that Sunday's changes were the most he's had to make during a game all year. But some sort of midgame correction occurs every week, and Gibbs said it just might be that the Redskins' recent slow starts are attributable to all these gimmick defenses and the time it takes to figure them out.
The Los Angeles Rams, for instance, normally align their linebackers wide, which dares a team to run up the middle. In last year's 19-7 victory over the Rams in the playoffs, the Redskins rammed Rogers over center 29 times for 115 yards.
So, it was with great shock that the Rams showed up a few Monday nights back with their linebackers in tight. Rogers managed 19 yards on 13 carries, and it took a while for the Redskins to discover they'd better run outside with Kelvin Bryant.
Still, the following week against the New York Giants, the Redskins trailed, 16-0, at the half and had to fiddle around some more. The Giants took away Rogers' and Bryant's runs, and Gibbs wanted to throw a zillion short passes to Monk underneath. At one point, the Redskins threw on 24 of 25 plays.
"You have to take that chance because now you don't have a 60-minute game, but a 30-minute game," Henning said. "And you're down by 2 1/2 scores. So, we limited ourselves to maybe half of what we had in."
They threw over and over to Monk, until the Giants decided to cover him with two, sometimes three men. But that left a third wide receiver, Sanders, open. Schroeder made the proper reads, and the Redskins won, 23-19.
"Chess," Henning said.
Gibbs, scratching his head, said: "I'd say it started about 2 1/2 years ago. We were getting more changes from more defensive teams every week. Seems to me today the only thing you can count on is you'll see something you don't count on."
Of course, the Redskins' offensive and defensive assistants are paid to see through the opposition, but they merely feed all this information to Gibbs. The advantage of the Polaroid is that it gets sent down to Gibbs, and he can see what they're talking about.
"But just remember this," Henning said. "There are five or six people that consult with Joe, but in the end, Joe makes the call, which is difficult to do. Because he has to see the whole picture in his mind, and then he has to listen to different people's advice and come up with a decision he likes."