Redskins Making a Living Off Making Adjustments


The Washington Redskins call it “Counter Sweep.” They’ve had it in their playbooks for years, but use it only once or twice a game, and then only to keep defensive linemen from cheating toward the middle to stop the power running game.

It’s not a bread-and-butter play. After all, since Vince Lombardi left Green Bay, who has made a living off the sweep? But Monday night, with the Redskins trailing the Dallas Cowboys 21-20 at halftime, Coach Joe Gibbs and his staff decided to dust off Counter Sweep. Their inside running game had gotten almost nothing in the first half, and the Cowboys seemed so conscious of clogging up the middle that Gibbs basically asked his staff: “Why not?”

The Redskins have become famous for many things in the Gibbs era, for power running and complex defenses and good organization, for veteran players and for playing their best games late in the season.

But there’s nothing that Gibbs and defensive boss Richie Petitbon do better than make in-game adjustments.


It works this way: Coaches scribble notes during the first half, then meet briefly at halftime to decide what plays should be used, what should be thrown out and what should be kept with adjustments in the blocking schemes.

With halftimes now lasting only 12 minutes, assistant coaches rush down from the press box before the end of the first half. Offensive-line coach Rennie Simmons and Petitbon put their ideas on the blackboard, and, while players get a five-minute rest, the defensive and offensive staffs meet to make final decisions.

Gibbs says there’s no genius involved.

“Gosh, I don’t know anybody that’s great at it,” he said. “You just grab at things and make adjustments and think on your feet. A football game is like taking a real hard mental exam. You finish the thing and you sit on the plane after it’s over and feel totally exhausted and can’t figure out why. It’s because for three hours you’re concentrating so hard on a test.”


There may not be genius involved, but there have been results. Those adjustments may be why the Redskins defense didn’t allow a second-half touchdown in seven of its 18 games last season. It allowed more than one only four times. That may be why the team scored more points in the second half than the first 10 times.

And it may be why the Redskins twice rallied to defeat the Cowboys Monday. The Cowboys rushed for 122 yards in the first half, three in the second.

At halftime, Gibbs decided that if the Cowboys were determined to stop the Redskins inside, he’d run outside. The result was that the Redskins ran Counter Sweep six times in the second half and gained 41 yards.

“We had that sweep in the game plan and it’s something you picture using a couple of times,” Gibbs said. “We thought about it and said, ‘Gosh, that might help us on those (defensive) ends.’ Right off the bat, they pinched the ends two or three times right across the tackles’ faces and hit the back in the backfield. We’re not used to teams doing that. They were playing us for inside running, and we came back and decided to take a look at that sweep. We ran that thing and Terry Orr cut that guy on the outside, and we shot right through there. It looked so good we tried the other side. ... “


“A lot of it was a matter of calming down,” defensive tackle Eric Williams said. “You’re so hyped up and ready to play, that you go out and try to do too much. ... You sit around the hotel and have all day to think about it, and by game time you’re wired like a Christmas tree. ... “

Petitbon acknowledged it would be easy to oversimplify the halftime ritual.