The outside men, Andre Collins and Wilber Marshall, are cat-quick. The guy usually in the middle, 260-pound Matt Millen, whom the Skins acquired this year to stuff the run, was deactivated—Saturday's game was the first Millen had missed in 12 years. It just wasn't Millen's kind of game. His spot in the lineup went to one of the anonymous Skins who always manage to surface around playoff time: Kurt Gouveia, a fifth-year pro out of Brigham Young, where he sometimes played an outside spot. His main role in Washington had been as second-down middle linebacker. Honest, that's how specialized the Skins are; against most teams, Millen's in on first down, Gouveia plays on second, and Monte Coleman, who has been chasing receivers and blitzing the passer for 13 years, is the third-down guy.
On Saturday the safeties, Brad Edwards and Danny Copeland, lined up left and right, rather than strong and weak. In long-yardage situations, a little guy, Sidney Johnson, came in for Copeland; a nickelback, A.J. Johnson, came in for Collins; and Coleman appeared for Gouveia. The Skins opened in a double zone, with the cornerbacks pressing, and All-Pro Darrell Green lined up opposite the Falcons' most dangerous outside receiver, Michael Haynes. The safeties backed the corners up deep. When Atlanta started completing crossing patterns, Washington brought the safeties up.
It all worked beautifully. Gouveia made two big plays, diving for an interception and knocking the ball loose from Haynes for a fumble on the only pass he caught all game. Coleman came up with another of the four interceptions thrown by Atlanta quarterback Chris Miller, who was slipping and sliding on his setups as he tried to find receivers who were having just as much trouble keeping their feet. "Yeah, the run-and-shoot has problems in this kind of weather," Miller said. "But anyone would have had trouble throwing the ball today."
Washington quarterback Mark Rypien threw just enough (14 for 29,170 yards) to keep the Skins on the move, and the Washington offense, with an average weight advantage of 31 pounds per man, simply wore down the Atlanta defense. Washington's tailbacks, rookie Ricky Ervins (23 carries for 104 yards, including a 17-yard touchdown run) and Earnest Byner (14 for 57), pounded the Falcons.
So in the NFC Championship Game on Sunday, the Redskins meet the last run-and-shoot survivor, the Lions, whose offense reached an absolute frenzy against the Dallas Cowboys. Detroit can run the ball, Atlanta couldn't; the Lions' Erik Kramer is the hottest passer in the playoffs so far. The Skins will be waiting.