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OPPONENT: Washington Redskins
WHERE: Raymond James Stadium
WHERE THE REDSKINS STAND: The Redskins are 3-6 and are in last place in the NFC East division. REDSKINS HEAD COACH: Joe Gibbs
REDSKINS OFFENSIVE COORDINATOR: Al Saunders REDSKINS DEFENSIVE COORDINATOR: Greg Williams
REDSKINS SPECIAL TEAMS COACH: Danny Smith
TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS OFFENSE: OVERALL: 30th (247.3 ypg) RUSHING: 31st (81.2 ypg) PASSING: 28th (166.1 ypg)
TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS DEFENSE: OVERALL: 24th (340.0 ypg) RUSHING: 24th (127.7 ypg) PASSING: 17th (212.3 ypg)
DID YOU KNOW … … Washington is just 1-4 on the road this season?
SCOUTING THE REDSKINS
Quarterbacks Washington and Tampa Bay have a lot in common. Both teams have gone from playoffs teams one season ago to the bottom of their respective divisions. On Sunday, they’ll have one more thing in common as both the Bucs and Redskins will have young and inexperienced quarterbacks starting. However, there is a difference in terms of how these teams got in this position. Tampa Bay has been starting QB Bruce Gradkowski due to the season-ending injury suffered by Chris Simms in Week 3. Washington, on the other hand, has voluntarily made the switch at quarterback, benching veteran Mark Brunell in favor of second-year QB Jason Campbell, who will make the first start of his pro career on Sunday. At first glance, this move is curious seeing as Brunell had completed 62.3 percent of his passes for 1,789 yards and tossed eight touchdowns and four interceptions. However, Washington’s offense has been struggling, scoring just 18 points per game under new offensive coordinator Al Saunders. The 6-foot-4, 230-pound Campbell, who entered the league as a 2005 first-round draft pick, had a successful collegiate career at Auburn. Look for Bucs defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin to call for more blitzes than usual in effort to confuse the rookie and force some much-needed turnovers for Tampa Bay’s struggling offense.
Running Backs Not only will Washington’s offense be without Brunell, the Redskins will also be without starting tailback Clinton Portis, who is out for the season with a hand injury he sustained last Sunday vs. the Philadelphia Eagles. Portis had rushed for 523 yards and seven touchdowns on 127 carries (4.1 avg.) before his season ended. He had also hauled in 17 passes for 170 yards. However, that doesn’t mean Tampa Bay’s defense, which has played extremely well against the run over the past two games, will have it easy vs. Washington. Redskins backup RB Ladell Betts will start in Portis’ place. A serviceable backup, Betts has rushed for 366 yards on 82 carries (4.5 avg.) and one touchdown while hauling in 30 passes for 231 yards this season. In Tampa Bay’s playoff loss to Washington last January, Portis and Betts had some success running the ball vs. the Bucs, producing 95 yards combined. However, Tampa Bay’s defense held Washington’s offense to a record-low 120 yards of total offense in that game. The Bucs’ first priority will be to contain Betts and Washington’s No. 8-ranked rushing offense, which in turn will force Campbell to throw the ball in this contest. In addition, the Bucs defense must be prepared for Saunders’ trickery, which could come in the form of reverses and/or halfback passes. Redskins wide receiver Antwaan Randle El has carried the ball 13 times for 81 yards and fellow WR Santana Moss has rushed seven times for 82 yards through nine games this season.
Wide Receivers The one thing Campbell will have going for him Sunday will be the group of veteran receivers he has to work with. Moss, who is one of the league’s fastest receivers, has hauled in a team-leading 31 passes for 452 yards (14.6 avg.) and three touchdowns. Moss will be matched up with Bucs cornerback Ronde Barber, who held Moss to two catches for 18 yards in their last meeting. Moss is listed as questionable for Sunday’s game with a hamstring injury, and the ‘Skins obviously will miss him if he can’t play as he’s a tremendous playmaker. Washington’s two new additions from the offseason – receivers Brandon Lloyd and Antwaan Randle El — have been disappointing thus far. Lloyd has caught just 15 passes for 237 yards while Randle El, the team’s No. 3 receiver, has caught 18 passes for 167 yards and one touchdown. Bucs CB Juran Bolden will be covering Lloyd, but the ‘Skins could get Randle El in a favorable matchup vs. CB Torrie Cox, who has trouble, especially on deep passes off of play-action. One of Brunell’s favorite targets was H-back Chris Cooley, who has hauled in 27 passes for 321 yards and three touchdowns. Look for Campbell to continue to throw Cooley’s way as he’s a reliable target in the passing game. Cooley is one of the main reasons why the Redskins have been able to convert nearly 38 percent of their third downs this season. Bucs linebackers Derrick Brooks and Ryan Nece, and/or safety Jermaine Phillips will be charged with the difficult task of covering him.
Offensive Line Protection schemes will change a bit for this unit since Brunell was left-handed and Campbell enters the lineup as a right-handed passer. That means three-time Pro Bowl left tackle Chris Samuels will be responsible for protecting Campbell’s blindside on Sunday. Samuels might catch a break if Bucs defensive end Simeon Rice misses his second straight game with a shoulder injury. Rice, who notched three sacks in two games vs. Samuels last season, is listed as questionable. If he can’t go, the Bucs will rely on Dewayne White to get around Samuels and to Campbell. Left guard Derrick Dockery and center Casey Rabach are the weakest links on Washington’s offensive line, although that’s not saying much seeing as the Redskins have surrendered just 12 sacks and have the No. 8 rushing attack in the league through nine games. Dockery and Rabach will go up against Bucs nose tackle Chris Hovan since the Redskins likely will trust right guard Randy Thomas to hold his own vs. Bucs under tackle Ellis Wyms. If Wyms, who missed last Sunday’s game with an ankle injury and is questionable for this contest, can’t go he will be replaced by Jon Bradley and rookie Julian Jenkins, both of who did a nice job stopping the run last week vs. Carolina. Redskins right tackle Jon Jansen is probable with a calf injury, but he’ll likely play. Jansen is solid in the running game and will line up opposite Bucs DE Greg Spires, who is having a quiet season. With Campbell starting, Washington likely will come out and attempt to establish the run off the right side of the line.
Defensive Line Washington’s defense is struggling this season and is currently ranked 30th overall in the NFL. Part of this unit’s problem has been its pass rush, or lack thereof. Left end Andre Carter and right end Phillip Daniels have two sacks each, but defensive tackles Cornelius Griffin and Joe Salave’a aren’t getting to the quarterback or stopping the run. They’ve combined for just one sack, and the Redskins are giving up an average of 115 rushing yards per game. Bucs guards Davin Joseph and Dan Buenning must play physical and need to win the battle in the trenches against Salave’a and Griffin, respectively. Keep an eye on Daniels, who could find himself in a favorable matchup if Bucs starting left tackle Anthony Davis can’t play. He’s battling an ankle injury and is questionable for Sunday’s game. If Davis can’t go, Cornell Green would start in his place and be responsible for protecting the blindside of rookie QB Bruce Gradkowski.
Linebackers This unit, which lost LaVar Arrington during the offseason, is no longer a strength of the Washington defense. Strongside linebacker Marcus Washington is extremely active and completely capable of being disruptive on the football field. He’s recorded 1.5 sacks and two forced fumbles while ranking second on the team in tackles this season. However, Arrington successor, Lemar Marshall and weakside linebacker Warrick Holdman have struggled at times this season. Look for the Bucs to attack Holdman, whose play is suspect and is a player that just isn’t regarded as much of a playmaker. The Bucs might attempt to get tight end Alex Smith off the line of scrimmage and involved in the passing game against Washington’s linebackers if their tackles can hold up in pass coverage in this contest. A lack of pass rush has left Washington’s linebackers and secondary, both of which are known to blitz in Greg Williams’ system, vulnerable. That’s part of the reason why the Redskins are allowing opposing offenses to convert 43.2 percent of their third down attempts.
Secondary Washington’s defense is surrendering an average of 355 yards per game this season. That’s good news for Tampa Bay’s offense, which is ranked 30th in the NFL. However, Bucs head coach Jon Gruden’s pass-oriented offense could benefit Sunday since the Redskins are struggling defensively, particularly vs. the pass. Washington CB Shawn Springs has been plagued by injuries this season. He enters this contest with a groin injury, but should play vs. the Bucs. Springs likely will be matched up with Bucs speedy WR Joey Galloway, who could reap the benefits of Springs’ groin injury if it proves to slow him down. Second-year CB Carlos Rogers will be matched up against Bucs WR Michael Clayton, who has been getting himself open, but has been dropping way too many passes. Tampa Bay’s receivers need to catch the passes Gradkowski manages to deliver to them as it could be a difficult task. Washington free safety Sean Taylor is an exceptional athlete. He leads the team in tackles and has notched two forced fumbles. The Redskins recently benched strong safety Adam Archuleta in favor of Troy Vincent, but Washington’s defense still is lacking playmaking ability. In fact, the Redskins have notched just two interceptions through nine games, and neither one of those picks came via a defensive back. The Bucs may attempt to deploy some three-receiver sets with Ike Hilliard and/or rookie Maurice Stovall in an effort to spread out Washington’s defense and exploit a possible weakness in the play of Redskins nickel cornerback Mike Rumph.
Special Teams Tampa Bay must account for Washington’s Rock Cartwright, who is a dangerous kickoff returner. He’s averaging 24.3 yards per return and even returned a kickoff 100 yards for a touchdown earlier in the season. Covering punts won’t be any easier for the Bucs, who have to take good angles and tackle well vs. Randle El, who is averaging an impressive 12.4 yards per return and had an 87-yard return for a touchdown this season. It will be critical for Tampa Bay’s return unit to establish good starting field position for the offense. They’ll certainly have the opportunity to do this vs. the Redskins, who are allowing opposing offenses to start at the 31-yard line on average, which ranks dead last in the NFL. Could this be the week the Bucs finally return a kickoff for a touchdown? Michael Pittman, who is questionable with a shoulder injury, is averaging 23.1 yards per attempt and will be in position to help the offense out, whether it’s with a long return or the unthinkable, a return for a touchdown. The Bucs will rely on Ike Hilliard and Phillip Buchanon to return punts again on Sunday. Washington kicker John Hall had made 9-of-11 (81.8 avg.) of his field goal attempts this season before landing on injured reserve. That’s made Washington’s field goal kicking a weakness as Hall’s replacement, Nick Novak, has made just 3-of-7 (42.9 percent) attempts. Punter Derrick Frost is averaging 42.3 yards per punt, but has a net of just 28.9 yards, which means Hilliard and/or Buchanon should have some running room Sunday.