If the jury is still out on the viability of the run-and-shoot offense in the '90s, the preponderance of evidence was damning in the Washington Redskins' season opener Sunday night.
The Detroit version of the run-and-shoot was found wanting last November when the Lions couldn't control the ball or the clock after taking a 35-14 lead against Washington. They lost, 41-38, in overtime.
And the Lions fired only blanks in an abysmal 45-0 loss to the Redskins Sunday at RFK Stadium. The Lions crossed midfield only twice all night.
This proves, perhaps conclusively, that they can neither play with a lead nor from behind against the more doggedly physical Redskins.
Granted, their two biggest weapons in the run-and-shoot were nursing rib injuries. All-Pro running back Barry Sanders was a mute observer along the sidelines, helmet in hand and ribs on mend. Quarterback Rodney Peete, with one preseason game under his belt, tried to play but was hopelessly overmatched. Peete's barely passing line: 8-for-21 for 75 yards with three interceptions and three sacks.
But it is fantasy to think that even a healthy backfield of Peete and Sanders would have made a 45-point difference. And it easily could have been 52-0. After several big Ricky Ervins runs, the Redskins faced first-and-goal from the 1 with three minutes left.
Redskins coach Joe Gibbs, gentleman that he is, instructed reserve quarterback Jeff Rutledge to kneel with the ball behind the line of scrimmage four times. The RFK fans hooted, but Gibbs was unmoved. It remained 45-0.
As difficult a preseason as the Lions may have had, the Redskins' was no walk in the park, either. Washington's pass defense had been incinerated by the Browns' Todd Philcox and the Jets' Ken O'Brien. The heat was clearly on the Redskins' secondary in the preseason.
"A lot of people, a lot of groups on the team didn't jell well in the preseason," said cornerback Darrell Green, who picked off a pair of Peete passes. "A lot of the heat was unjustifiable.
"Even [Sunday's big win] doesn't say the secondary is the greatest secondary in the league.
"As far as the run-and-shoot offense, we're all in a learning mode. I'm not clear on it. And I'm not sure [the Lions] did everything they can do."
Defensive tackle Eric Williams, a former Lion traded to the Redskins last season, was less uncertain about it all. The Lions averaged 2.7 yards per rush and 2.5 yards per pass attempt against the Redskins.
"I thought the game plan was the best I've ever seen, especially against the run-and-shoot," said Williams.
The Redskins substituted the quicker Monte Coleman (eight tackles) for run-stopper Matt Millen at middle linebacker, brought in six defensive backs on second down, and kept the defensive tackles "home" to play the run. They didn't even use all of the defensive scheme they had prepared for the Lions.
The Redskins will see the more conventional and likely more potent offense of the Dallas Cowboys next Monday night when their famous rivalry is rejoined in Texas.
But this wasn't the last the Redskins will see of the run-and-shoot, either. On consecutive weekends in November, they will review the viability of the four wide receiver attack as played by the Houston Oilers and the Atlanta Falcons. Houston and Warren Moon, who visit RFK on Nov. 3, will provide the acid test.
The jury, although not the defense, can rest until then.