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DP: A page out of Parcells' playbook?


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A page out of Parcells' playbook?

With his team in need of a lift last week against Cleveland, Dallas coach Bill Parcells called trick plays in each of the first two quarters. Both worked.


Published September 27, 2004

ASHBURN -- Last week, the Dallas Cowboys, following an opening-day spanking at Minnesota, were in a struggle against Cleveland. With a new quarterback, new featured running backs and a struggling defense, the Cowboys were staring at a possible 0-2 start.

Bill Parcells knew his team needed a lift, something other than a tongue-lashing or benching. So he did what he is known for doing: He gambled.

He called a flea-flicker.

He ordered a fake punt.

Both worked, resulting in 10 points. Dallas defeated Cleveland 19-12 and is 1-1 entering tonight's game at the Redskins.

"I don't really want to do low-percentage things, but quite frankly, I was trying to create some impetus from my team," Parcells said. "When I do that, they have to make me look good doing it."

Redskins kicker John Hall, who played for Parcells with the New York Jets, doesn't call him a gambler per se.

"More like a calculated risk-taker," Hall said.

The last way to describe Joe Gibbs so far this season is as a "calculated risk-taker." Through two games, the Redskins' offense ranks 19th in the league, has only two plays longer than 50 yards and only three offensive touchdowns.

Tonight, the Redskins are minus their best defensive player (linebacker LaVar Arrington) and starting a quarterback (Mark Brunell) whose mobility will be limited by a bum hamstring. It is the perfect time for Gibbs to follow Parcells' lead.

Have punter Tom Tupa throw for a first down.

Have receiver Rod Gardner throw downfield.

Have Matt Bowen receive a direct snap on a fake punt.

Do something - anything - to seize the early momentum, get the FedEx Field crowd on Brunell's side, keep the Redskins' top-ranked defense off the field and give the still-wondering-about-itself offense some confidence.

That's what Parcells did last week.

On the game's first drive, the Cowboys had a first-and-10 from the Cleveland 37-yard line. Eddie George took the handoff and flipped it back to Vinny Testaverde, who completed a 36-yard pass to Keyshawn Johnson. Testaverde threw a touchdown pass on the next play for a 7-0 Cowboys lead.

"If it's not in the game plan, we don't run it," Parcells said. "I've been running that play pretty much since 1984 - we ran something very similar in the Super Bowl (when the Giants beat Denver in January 1987)."

This was Parcells' big gamble of the day. On a second-quarter, fourth-and-1 from his own 36, he called a fake punt. Dexter Coakley received the direct snap and ran 33 yards, setting up a field goal.

"I told the players I don't want to run fake punts if I can help it," Parcells said. "(Coakley) managed that situation perfectly because the call came in late and he has the ability to call it off - we don't go in and say, 'We're doing it.' He had to see things, and they were trying to fool him into making things appear one way, which would have called it off."

Parcells said calling a trick play also gets his team's attention.

"Their ears have to go up and they have to be attentive to it and say, 'Hey, this is what the guy is trying to do and we are taking a little bit of a chance here.'"

During his days with the Jets, Hall said the team regularly practiced trick plays. Hall said the Redskins don't work on trick plays very often.

There has been no trickery on the part of the Redskins this season. The only "gadget" play was a Laveranues Coles reverse that lost 16 yards against the Giants.

An NFC scout said this week it shouldn't be surprising Gibbs is taking few chances.

"(The Redskins) don't put the quarterback in a position where he has to win the game for them," the scout said. "They play conservatively - run the ball, play-action passes, play defense, kick it, don't turn it over and try to win it in the last 2-3 minutes."

But with defenses playing aggressively, it might take a trick play for the Redskins to get some offensive mojo. The Redskins scored on their first drive against the Giants but were silenced thereafter, committing seven turnovers.

"The Giants started out that first drive and played their base defense and conservative coverage, and the Redskins ran it and threw it on them," the scout said. "They knew they couldn't survive doing that, so they put a whole bunch of people at the line of scrimmage."

To get defenses to play traditional coverages, the Redskins have to use Coles as a downfield threat.

And having Gardner throw that pass will really get the defense thinking. «

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I think with a new offensive scheme and new coaches and a bunch of new players just learning the normal plays is enough. Maybe next year or later this year when we look comfortable with the offense Gibbs will put in a few trick plays. He always had a couple in the past.

A trick play that resulted in a touchdown would be great but a trick play that results in a fumble for a touchdown would be disastrous.

I think we have better offensive players than Dallas. If we just get more comfortable with the system we should be able to get some points without resorting to trick plays.

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He called one against the Giants where Coles was tackled for a loss of I think 8? It was a loss regardless. Funny thing was, if Portis had held on to the ball and taken the fall, we would have lost only half the yardage and then his 21 yard run would have actually gotten the first down!

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