The Bucs defense has had mixed reviews in stopping the run vs. the Washington Redskins in their last four meetings. Tampa Bay's run defense has been like a roller coaster ride, up and down, for most of the season and has lacked consistency. With running backs Clinton Portis and Ladell Betts, the Redskins pose a threat with a physical running attack this weekend.
Washington's running game is ranked 8th in the NFL averaging 125 yards per game (4.0 yards per carry avg.) and Portis has 802 yards and six touchdowns this season. The Bucs defense, on the other hand, is ranked 18th in the league in stopping the run and is giving up 106 yards per game (3.7 yards per carry avg.).
Portis has had some impressive performances vs. the Bucs with two 140-yard plus performances. In 2004, Portis rushed for 148 yards on 29 carries and one touchdown in a 16-10 victory in Washington. In 2005, he had 144 yards on 23 carries and one touchdown in the regular season contest, a 36-35 victory by the Bucs.
In the rematch in the 2005 postseason, Portis had 53 yards on 16 carries and one touchdown as the Redskins eliminated Tampa Bay with a 17-10 victory. A shoulder injury kept Portis out of the last season's matchup, a 20-17 victory for Tampa Bay at Raymond James Stadium.
Portis, however, will be in the starting lineup on Sunday and the Bucs must contain the speedy running back. Veteran linebacker Derrick Brooks knows what Portis can do with the ball in his hands and believes the Bucs defense must swarm Portis and not leave a defender one-on-one.
"It's being physical and tackling. Not allowing one man to be one-on-one with these backs," Brooks said. "Not just with Clinton Portis, but with [Ladell] Betts also. Really getting two and three hats to the football and really capping off. I think that's our strength, but their strength is creating one-on-one matchups and their backs are making guys miss. We can't allow that."
The Bucs have given up more than 100 yards rushing in five of the 10 games this season, with all four losses coming when yielding 100 yards or more rushing. Seattle's Shaun Alexander (105 yards), St. Louis' Steven Jackson (115 yards) and Indianapolis' Kenton Keith (126 yards) reached the plateau individually.
The Detroit Lions (133 yards) and Jacksonville Jaguars (147 yards), however, earned the 100-yard mark with multiple ball carriers.
Portis has rushed for more than 1,000 yards in four of his first five seasons in the NFL and is on his way to another 1,000-yard season in 2007. Portis has two 100-yard games this season and had 30-plus carries in those contests. The Bucs defense must try to limit the amount of touches that Portis gets out of the backfield on Sunday.
One of the reasons for Portis' success running the ball this season, besides returning from a shoulder injury last season, is the play of second-year quarterback Jason Campbell. Campbell is completing 60 percent of his pass attempts this season for 2,083 yards with 11 touchdowns.
"He's gotten a lot better," Gruden said of Campbell. "He's doing some great things at the quarterback position. They are blessed with a lot of skill around him. He can turn and give it to a great back [Portis]. He can throw it to Antwaan Randle El or Santana Moss. Keenan McCardell is also a factor. [Chris] Cooley is an outstanding tight end. They've been together a long time and they've made some adjustments along the way."
GARCIA FAMILIAR WITH REDSKINS The Bucs are very familiar with Washington as they face the Redskins for the fifth time in the last four years. Quarterback Jeff Garcia also has some familiarity with the Redskins as well during his one season with the Philadelphia Eagles in 2006.
Garcia had success in his one meeting vs. the Redskins in a 21-19 victory going 15-for-23 for 164 yards and two touchdowns. The Bucs are looking for a similar performance on Sunday as Tampa Bay is looking for its third victory in five meetings vs. Washington. Garcia is completing 64 percent of his pass attempts for 2,126 yards with 11 touchdowns and three interceptions.
"It's been mentioned and I remember seeing Washington come down to Tampa quite often actually. It seems like just about every year they've made a trip down here in the last three or four years," Garcia said. "So there's definitely some familiarity there. I have some familiarity with them being in the NFC East and seeing them twice and being on the field once against them. So it is a team we are familiar with. It's not something that we are going into this game confused by their looks or what they do. We definitely know what they like to do or try to do. It's doesn't necessarily make it any easier, but there's familiarity there so that's a good thing."
After watching quarterback Tony Romo of the Dallas Cowboys torch the Redskins defense deep finding wide receiver Terrell Owens for four touchdowns last week, Garcia should be eager to hook up with his favorite target wide receiver Joey Galloway. Galloway and Garcia have connected on six touchdown receptions this season, all of them coming on completions of at least 20 yards or more.
Garcia praised the creativeness of Gruden being able to realize the right times to go deep against opposing defenses even though they know it is coming.
"I just think coach Gruden does a great job of putting us in position to have those sorts of opportunities and when those opportunities are presented to you, you have to take advantage of it. I think more often than not this year we've been able to that," Garcia said. "There has been a couple times where we have let it get away from us in the sense that we had an opportunity there and didn't capitalize on it. More often then not we have been able to strike and strike big and he presents those situations, those mismatches on the field. Even when they zone cover and play two guys over the top, because of certain schemes it allows us still to give him a look downfield. He's just been very opportunistic. When the ball has come his way he has just latched on to it and made a big play. Once he catches the ball behind people or in stride, there aren't many people, there are very few that can catch him."
After having to adjust to three different quarterbacks – Chris Simms, Bruce Gradkowski and Tim Rattay – last season, Galloway has enjoyed working with Garcia for the entire year. He also likes the fact that Garcia can use his mobility to keep plays alive and give Galloway an opportunity to get open.
"He's made very nice throws and he's made my job a lot easier," Galloway said. "When you have a quarterback that makes plays with his feet as Jeff does then he keeps things alive all over the field."
DEFENSIVE LINE RESPONDING TO CHALLENGE There was a challenge before the game vs. the Cardinals brought down from Bucs head coach Jon Gruden and defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin to the defensive line: Get more pressure and sacks on the quarterback. The message from Gruden and Kiffin was heard loud and clear by the Bucs defensive line.
Even though the Bucs didn't record a sack on Arizona quarterback Kurt Warner, they got enough pressure to force two interceptions. The Bucs, however, swarmed all over Falcons quarterbacks Byron Leftwich and Joey Harrington recording five sacks with defensive ends Greg White and Gaines Adams recording two sack a piece.
"We're starting to feel comfortable and we're playing loose," White said. "We were really concerned in the beginning about not messing up and stuff. We're letting it all go now."
"We really hadn't been getting the sacks that we needed to or the pressure that we needed," Adams said. "The last two weeks we feel like we've been doing that. We've been pretty consistent. We just have to keep coming back each week and keep rolling."
White is leading the defense with four and a half sacks this season and Adams is third on the team with three and a half. Defensive tackle Chris Hovan also had a sack vs. Atlanta and understands the standard of defense that is expected in Tampa Bay, especially with the pass rush.
"The expectations have been set so high here by guys like [defensive tackle] Warren Sapp and [safety] John Lynch," Hovan said. "They set the bar here to play great defense. That's the standard here and it's our job to meet those expectations, especially going into this time of year when we're trying to win our division and make the playoffs."
Veteran players on the defense such as Brooks and cornerback Ronde Barber are expecting more from the younger players now more so than they did earlier in the season. They realize how important the play from the defense is in trying to win the NFC South division title and heading into the playoffs.
"I'm more concerned about what the guys think than the coaches getting on me sometimes," White said. "I have to play with these guys, and the guys like [cornerback] Ronde [Barber] and [linebacker] Derrick Brooks and some other guys are like, ‘Yo, Greg. We need you to come out here and play hard and play well, and give good effort.' Those guys have great leadership here."
Brooks has always been accountable for his play in the defense and he expects the same from any player that steps on the field to play defense for the Bucs.
"It's just about accountability, really getting the young players to understand that the standards aren't going to be lowered when you are in the game. We are going to expect you to raise your standards to the level of play," Brooks said. "By saying that to them, we are also saying that to ourselves, you know guys are watching us and what we are doing and how we are practicing. We are not allowing ourselves not get away with anything so when we say that to them it gives it that much more power because we are hard on ourselves than anybody else. It's nothing that is demeaning it's just more of an expectation. This time of year things matter. All the games going down the stretch is for positioning and we aren't going to lower the standards around here. We expect to raise the bar every week and create a new standard."
WHAT A DIFFERENCE A YEAR MAKES As Thanksgiving approaches, the Bucs are not only thankful not to be playing a game on the holiday as they did last year, but they are also thankful to be in first place in the NFC South and battling for a playoff spot. At this time last season, Tampa Bay was preparing to take a flight to Dallas to battle the Cowboys.
The Bucs were 3-7, starting a rookie quarterback in Gradkowski and looking for a good showing on national television. Tampa Bay had just come off a 20-17 victory vs. the Washington Redskins before having to prepare for the Cowboys on a short week. There was no thought of making the playoffs, just trying to be competitive on the road against a talented Cowboys team.
Tampa Bay, however, didn't have much success at Texas Stadium, losing 38-10 and was held scoreless in the second half. The Bucs defense gave up 435 yards total offense and was torched by Romo, who went 22-for-29 for 306 yards with five touchdowns.
This season has been a different story for the Bucs who have a record of 6-4, a two-game lead in the division and, most importantly, are at home for Thanksgiving.
"It feels a lot more comfortable where we're sitting today as opposed to where we were at this time last year," Galloway said. "We're not getting ready to play a game [on Thanksgiving]. We're playing our game on a normal schedule. It feels a lot better preparing for the Redskins this year as opposed to where we were last year."
NFL TAKES AWAY HOVAN'S INTERCEPTION Bucs defensive tackle Chris Hovan captured his first interception of his eight-year career vs. Atlanta on Sunday, or so he thought. The NFL, however, announced on Wednesday that it was ruled that Adams forced a fumble and reversed Hovan's interception to a fumble recovery.
So Adams is credited with a sack, which gave him two in the game, and a forced fumble. Unfortunately, Hovan is still looking for the first interception of his career after the ruling. With Adams receiving the sack, it gave the Bucs two players that recorded two sacks in a game for the first time since 2004. White also had two sacks in Sunday's game.
The last teammates to have two sacks in the same game was Brooks and former defensive end Simeon Rice in a Dec. 5 game, coincidentally, vs. Atlanta.
GARCIA EXPECTING DAUGHTER Bucs quarterback Jeff Garcia announced on Wednesday that he and his wife, Carmella, are expecting their first child in the coming months. It was discovered this week that Carmella was four months pregnant so the couple will be expecting a daughter some time after the season.
QUOTE OF THE DAY Bucs defensive end Greg White on his eyesight after having Lasek eye surgery during the bye week.
"When I first went out on the field after my eye surgery it just looked different. Everything looked so clear, like HD (high definition). It was great."
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