SNIDER: Will Redskins outfox the great unknown?

Rick Snider
September 09, 2018 - 11:54 am

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports


It's tough enough for the Redskins to enter the season without knowing how their offense will truly click with a new quarterback and several starters that played little to nothing over the preseason. But there's also a guessing game over how new Arizona Cardinals coach Steve Wilks will counter with his defense when the teams meet on Sunday.

Oh, you can watch film until "chasing ghosts," said Washington quarterback Alex Smith. But no matter what Wilks and his staff did in other cities, the schemes will certainly change somewhat in Arizona. So, the Redskins didn't study years of film over Wilks' career. Instead, Washington will more worry over doing what it does best.

After all, if you know they know you know...

"I don't really think it's an advantage," said Wilks of his debut. "I mean, to be honest, you don't really know what we're going to do. You don't know what they're going to do, so it's all about really trying to stick to your rules and your fundamentals and technique."

Gruden ran a pretty vanilla offense himself over the preseason to keep Wilks guessing. But Gruden admits to staring into Wilks' schemes trying to catch a gleam that can be exploited.

"We have four games obviously in the preseason," Gruden said, "which everybody's worried about, everybody's hiding everything and not showing everything, which could be the case. But we also have to go back to when (Cardinals offensive coordinator) coach (Mike) McCoy was an offensive coordinator last year (at Denver) and you have to go back to when coach Wilks was a defensive coordinator last year at Carolina, so we have a lot of film to look at. Sometimes you have too much film to look at. You're not sure how they're going to make all the pieces fit.

Gruden doesn't want to overload players, especially rookies still learning their own assignments. Still, film study is as important as practices, especially when facing an unfamiliar foe.

"We'll try to condense it down and make it easy for them," Gruden said, "but at the same time, we have to challenge them mentally, because that's the way it's going to be. You know, we'll have plenty of tape for them to watch, so there's never going to be a shortage of tape around here for these guys to watch and study. There's a thought that you could study too much and maybe see too many things, see too many ghosts, but we want to try and get them as prepared as possible while also being able to play fast and efficient."

Smith said preparation enhances players' natural instincts.

"I think you just try to touch all your bases and make sure you have your answers ready," he said. "At the same time, I think you could drive yourself crazy chasing ghosts and doing a lot of that stuff."

"I think you prepare the best you can, try to hit all of it to a certain extent, but then I think go out there and hopefully we'll find out pretty quick what the plan is. I do think you have to let your fundamentals take over in situations like that, let your rules take over, trust what you're seeing and then go out and execute accordingly.”

Conversely, Gruden knows Wilks studied four years of the Redskins coach's tenure for answers. Gruden isn't cutting back his playbook on opening day fearing players haven’t absorbed it.

"I'll never do it. I always say I'm going to do it, but I don't do it," he said. "I got the coaches asking me to do it, the quarterback, but I can't do it. You know you've got to have a lot of different groups, because you never know who is going to be out of the game. You know, you have a bunch of plays for this guy, then all of a sudden he's out in the first quarter; then you lose half your script, or you lose a tight end and you're out of this personnel group, so I like to have a lot of different plays and personnel groups.”

 After all, if Gruden knows, Wilks knows...

Rick Snider has covered Washington sports since 1978. Follow him on Twitter: @Snide_Remarks​