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Redskins Have Been a Big Part of NFC's Dominance : Pro football: Washington is going for its third NFL championship in a decade.

January 22, 1992|BOB OATES | TIMES STAFF WRITER

MINNEAPOLIS — For 10 years, the Super Bowl has been dominated by the NFC, although the explanation for that strange fact has always proved elusive.

As a Super Bowl phenomenon, it seems to be more widely discussed among NFL coaches than any other

But hold on: The mystery may have been cleared up this winter with the arrival of the Washington Redskins for their fourth NFL championship game in a decade.

The Redskins are coached by Joe Gibbs, who, by this hour next week, could be a three-time Super Bowl winner.

Only one other NFL team has done more lately. The San Francisco 49ers, as organized by their 1980s coach, Bill Walsh, are a four-time Super Bowl winner.

And, no doubt, there lies most of the explanation: The NFC has dominated the NFL since the 1981 season--winning nine of 10 Super Bowl games--for, apparently, two principal reasons: Walsh and Gibbs.

The teams these two created won the Super Bowl in 1982, '83, '85, '88, '89 and '90--six of the last 10.

Walsh, the winning coach three times, left the 49ers with the talent, the coaches and the system to produce their 1990 victory.

Walsh and Gibbs both began in pro ball as assistant coaches in the other conference. Had they been promoted by their AFC owners in San Diego and Cincinnati, the AFC, conceivably, could now be dominant.

In the years shortly before the NFC's Walsh-Gibbs revolution, AFC teams won eight of nine.

Walsh has returned to Stanford after a stint on television, but Gibbs shows no signs of retreat.

"It's still fun," Gibbs said this week of his life in pro football.

As he sees it, his present offensive team is the best he has had. And his defensive team is getting to be a match for the others.

The anatomy of the Redskins:

THE SYSTEM

The strength of Gibbs' team is his system. Unlike the 49ers, who won four times with one quarterback, Joe Montana, the Redskins have been led by three winners: Joe Theismann in Super Bowl XVII, Doug Williams in XXII, and Mark Rypien this season.

In Redskin football, the players are subordinate to the system, a structured, balanced entity on both sides of the ball. The offensive system is based on a lot of pre-snap shifting, a lot of motion, a single running back, three receivers at times, three tight ends at times and a careful mix of runs and passes.

The Redskins never forget to run outside, to pass down the middle, to call screens and draws, or to call the other basic plays that can be neglected so easily in big-game pressure.

As for replacements, the parts in their system have all proved interchangeable in trades or the draft. For example, this year's John Riggins is Earnest Byner, who alternates with Ricky Ervins to run exactly the same plays, though at confusingly different tempos.

Each year, Gibbs updates Redskin strategy, incorporating, say, elements of the run-and-shoot or of the Buffalo no-huddle. But the system remains.

And so the matchup Sunday is Buffalo's individual stars vs. the Washington system. It's because the stars are so bright that it has the look of an even game.

OFFENSE

The Redskins have only two running plays in their basic offense--a power run and a counter play.

To the defense, these plays look exactly alike at the snap, when the single back makes a power lunge. An instant later, he has either developed it into a full-blown power play or he has countered sharply in the other direction.

Such an offense is hardest on the four linebackers in a defense such as the Bills' 3-4. Such linebackers, coached to flow to the ball, can only be guessing if they move with the running back's first step.

If the defense brings up a safety to help out, quarterback Rypien is a threat to strike with a long pass to a single-covered receiver.

The primary Redskin receivers, Art Monk and Gary Clark, rank fourth and fifth this season in NFC passes caught. The tackles in Washington's huge, efficient offensive line, Jim Lachey and Joe Jacoby, rank with the NFL's best. And Rypien is the No. 2-ranked passer.

Rypien has come from nowhere to stardom in the last six months. Some critics still don't believe in him, but it's all over for Buffalo if Super Bowl XXVI is another of his big games this season.

DEFENSE

The Redskin defensive team will fight the Buffalo no-huddle offense with substitutes who are poised like sprinters along the sideline. The instant a whistle ends any Buffalo play, the appropriate Redskin situation players will rush in before Buffalo quarterback Jim Kelly can call the next play.

That is one scenario being readied by Redskin defensive coach Richie Petitbon. "We can get our (substitutes) in," Petitbon promised.

In another scenario, Petitbon, who is a George Allen protege, will fight Kelly with the Redskins' 11 best combination run-pass defensive players, including end Charles Mann, linebacker Wilber Marshall and cornerback Darrell Green.

Washington's eight other defensive starters are anonymous Plan B refugees who fit the Redskin scheme as if drafted for it. The scheme rests on an intelligent mix of coverages and fronts with occasional timely blitzing.

The defense, like the offense, is steady rather than flashy on this solid, complete team. The Redskins are No. 4 on offense, No. 3 on defense, No. 7 rushing, No. 3 in rushing defense, and, most significantly, No. 1 in average yards passing and No. 2 in average yards yielded to passes.

SPECIAL TEAMS

The Redskin punter, Kelly Goodburn, ranks 26th in net average, but Gibbs' kicking game is otherwise a strength under one of the NFL's leading special-team coaches, Wayne Sevier. The club's No. 4 running back, Brian Mitchell, is the star of the special teams, ranking second for average in his specialty, returning punts. Mitchell and Ervins return kickoffs. The Redskin kicker, Chip Lohmiller, is more reliable than most.

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