This story is intended to be read by Pewter Insider subscribers only. Sharing of the PI content with non-subscribers of this service can result in cancellation of your subscription to the service and/or further actions by the publishers.
OPPONENT: Washington Redskins
WHERE: Raymond James Stadium
WHERE THE REDSKINS STAND: The Redskins finished the regular season in second place in the NFC East division with a 10-6 record.
REDSKINS HEAD COACH: Joe Gibbs
REDSKINS OFFENSIVE COORDINATOR: Dan Breaux
REDSKINS DEFENSIVE COORDINATOR: Greg Blache
REDSKINS SPECIAL TEAMS COACH: Danny Smith
TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS OFFENSE:
OVERALL: 23rd (294.81 ypg)
RUSHING: 14th (114.1 ypg)
PASSING: 25th (180.6 ypg)
TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS DEFENSE:
OVERALL: 1st (277.8 ypg)
RUSHING: 6th (94.7 ypg)
PASSING: 6th (183.1 ypg)
WASHINGTON REDSKINS OFFENSE:
OVERALL: 11th (330.6 ypg)
RUSHING: 7th (136.4 ypg)
PASSING: 21st (194.1 ypg)
WASHINGTON REDSKINS DEFENSE:
OVERALL: 9th (297.9 ypg)
RUSHING: 10th (105.4 ypg)
PASSING: 10th (192.6 ypg)
DID YOU KNOW…
…the Washington Redskins are 4-4 on the road this season?
SCOUTING THE REDSKINS
Washington’s offense is led by veteran QB Mark Brunell, who will draw on his playoff experience from his days with the Jacksonville Jaguars in an effort to help the Redskins win this post-season contest.
However, Brunell isn’t the same player he was with the Jaguars. At 35, Brunell has been hindered and slowed by injuries, including a knee injury that he’s struggled to play through in recent weeks. Although he’s slowed down with age, Brunell still has good pocket awareness, which could come in handy vs. Tampa Bay’s potentially potent pass rush.
In Week 10, Brunell completed 23-of-35 passes for 226 yards and tossed two touchdowns and two interceptions while helping the ‘Skins offense convert 7-of-15 (47 percent) of its third down tries vs. the Bucs.
Look for Washington to continue to call some designed rollout plays for Brunell, who is left-handed. These types of passing plays have worked for him all season long, evidenced by the fact that Brunell threw for 3,050 yards and tossed 23 touchdowns and just 10 interceptions during the regular season. However, Brunell isn’t the most accurate passer – he completed just 57.7 percent of his attempts this season.
Shutting down Washington’s potent ground attack and generating a pass rush will go a long way in terms of Tampa Bay’s ability to limit Brunell’s production on Sunday.
While they want to stop Brunell, the Bucs’ first priority will be shutting down the Redskins’ ground attack, which is led by tailback Clinton Portis.
The 5-foot-11, 210-pound Portis is as hot as any running back entering the playoffs. He’s rushed for over 100 yards in five straight games, all of which were games the ‘Skins won. During the regular season, Portis rushed 352 times for 1,516 yards (4.3 avg.) and 11 touchdowns while hauling in 30 passes for 216 yards.
Washington’s speedy and elusive ball carrier even had success running the ball against Tampa Bay’s No. 1-ranked defense in Week 10, carrying the ball 23 times for 144 yards (6.3 avg.) and a touchdown.
Tampa Bay has shown the ability to stop some of the league’s best ground attacks, and the Bucs defense is ranked 6th against the run. The Bucs know they must hit the right gaps, take the right angles and tackle well in order to contain Portis on Saturday.
With Portis dinged up from a back and shoulder injury he suffered last week in Philadelphia, look for Washington to mix in RB Ladell Betts, who has rushed for 338 yards on 89 carries (3.8 avg.) and one touchdown. Betts, who is more of a north and south runner, had some success as a ball carrier and as a receiver in Week 10 vs. the Bucs, rushing for 26 yards on seven carries and catching three passes for 19 yards and a touchdown.
Tampa Bay’s defense struggled vs. Washington’s offense in Week 10, allowing the Redskins to produce 389 yards of total offense and 28 points (the other seven points came on a kickoff return for a touchdown). However, the Bucs defense should play better this time around, especially with Pro Bowl weakside linebacker Derrick Brooks completely recovered from the hamstring injury he struggled to play with in the first matchup. Brooks will play an integral role in limiting Portis’ production in this contest.
Tampa Bay’s defense can’t afford to let Portis have success via the running game. If it does, things will open up for Brunell and Washington’s play-action passing attack, which features one of the quickest receivers in football in Santana Moss.
Moss (5-10, 185) is quick and has great acceleration after the catch. He’s used his speed and clutch hands to haul in a team-leading 84 passes for 1,483 yards (17.7 avg.) and nine touchdowns.
Bucs cornerback Brian Kelly did a nice job covering Moss in Week 10, holding him to four catches, but the speedy receiver still managed to get 79 yards off those grabs. Kelly, who has picked off four passes this season, will once again be charged with the difficult task of covering Moss, who is one of the main reasons why the ‘Skins are converting 42.2 percent of their third down attempts this season.
If Tampa Bay’s front seven can contain Portis, strong safety Jermaine Phillips should be able to give Kelly a safety net in Cover 2 coverage, which the Bucs will likely deploy early and often in order to avoid getting beat deep by Moss. If Phillips is forced to play close to the line of scrimmage too often, Moss could have some favorable one-on-one matchups with Kelly.
Redskins second-year tight end/H-Back Chris Cooley has emerged as one of the league’s best pass-catchers at his position. The 6-foot-3, 254-pound Cooley has hauled in 71 passes for 774 yards and seven touchdowns. Tampa Bay’s defense, particularly Phillips and linebackers Derrick Brooks and Ryan Nece, have done a nice job limiting opposing tight ends’ production via the passing game for the most part this season, but Cooley, who is also a solid blocker, will be difficult to contain on Saturday. In Week 10, Cooley caught a team-leading six passes for 66 yards vs. the Bucs, who are at times vulnerable vs. a savvy tight end who can find the soft spots across the middle of the field in zone coverage.
Redskins WR David Patten is out of this game with an injury, which means Bucs CB Ronde Barber will spend most of the game defending WR James Thrash, who has hauled in 14 passes for 194 yards and no touchdowns this season.
Washington’s offensive line is suspect in pass protection, where they surrendered 31 sacks in the regular season. While the pass rush hasn’t forced Brunell to throw too many interceptions, it has resulted in some fumbles. In fact, Brunell has fumbled four times and lost two of them, and the Redskins currently have just a plus-1 ratio.
No one is better at the sack/fumble technique than Bucs defensive end Simeon Rice, who notched 14 sacks and six forced fumbles during the regular season. Two of those quarterback takedowns came against Washington left tackle Chris Samuels, and both sacks resulted in fumbles. Rice should have some success vs. Samuels, but he’ll have to be careful not to overpursue Brunell, who is often asked to rollout to his left and pass.
Washington’s most consistent offensive lineman is RT Jon Jansen, whose physical presence on the right side of the O-line allows the Redskins to run effective Counter Trey plays with Portis. Jansen will attempt to keep Bucs DE Greg Spires, who is solid vs. the run and has four sacks, in check.
Washington will be without starting right guard Randy Thomas, who fractured his foot a few weeks ago. Starting in his place will be 43-year-old Ray Brown, who could have some trouble with the quickness of Bucs defensive tackles Anthony McFarland and Chris Hovan. The Redskins will likely ask center Casey Rabach to help Brown double team McFarland.
However, that would leave ‘Skins LG Derrick Dockery in some one-on-one situations with Hovan, who hasn’t notched a sack but has been extremely disruptive in the trenches while serving as a force against the run this season.
Washington has a blitz-happy defense, but to Tampa Bay’s credit, the Bucs did a nice job of protecting quarterback Chris Simms in Week 10. In fact, the Bucs didn’t give up a sack in that contest.
While the offensive line was solid in pass protection, Simms did an excellent job of diagnosing blitzes at the line of scrimmage and making audibles and adjustments when needed. As a result, Simms threw for 279 yards and tossed three touchdowns and no interceptions while helping the offense post 36 points in that Week 10 game vs. Washington.
The Redskins have the No. 9-ranked defense in the NFL, but this unit is suspect vs. the run. Washington is giving up 105 yards rushing per game, but it did a good job of shutting down Tampa Bay’s ground attack in Week 10 when Bucs rookie RB Cadillac Williams, who wasn’t completely healthy at the time, rushed 10 times for just 20 yards.
Washington’s front four is made up of defensive ends Renaldo Wynn and Phillip Daniels, and defensive tackles Cornelius Griffin and Joe Salave’a.
Griffin is a better pass rusher than he is a run blocker. He’s notched 35 tackles, four sacks and one forced fumble this season. Bucs RG Sean Mahan struggled last week, getting called for three penalties, and will have to do a better job vs. Griffin if the Bucs are to be productive on offense.
The Bucs should be able to run Williams, who is now healthy and rushed for 1,178 yards (4.1 avg.) and six touchdowns during the regular season, behind rookie LG Dan Buenning and center John Wade, who will likely double team Salave’a, who spent last season at defensive end but is now Washington’s nose tackle. Salave’a isn’t much of a pass rusher, but he’s not bad against the run. The ground game is the strength of Tampa Bay’s 23rd-ranked offense (14th in rushing), and Bucs head coach Jon Gruden will likely give Washington’s defense a healthy dose of it on Saturday.
The Bucs offensive line, which has surrendered a total of 41 sacks this season, should be able to buy Simms time in the pocket when the ‘Skins rush with just their front four. Daniels, who will go up against LT Anthony Davis, has notched eight sacks while Wynn, who will line up vs. RT Kenyatta Walker, has yet to record a quarterback takedown this season. On obvious passing downs, the Redskins sometimes use DE Demetric Evans at right end, where he’s notched three sacks.
The problem for the Bucs is the fact that the Redskins rarely rely on their front four to bring pressure. Redskins defensive coordinator Greg Williams, who was signed to a contract extension this week, leaves that up to their linebackers and safeties.
This unit is extremely quick and dangerous from a blitzing standpoint. Simms must make the correct pre-snap reads in order to avoid being sacked or turning the ball over on Sunday.
After being benched earlier in the season, LB LaVar Arrington has worked his way back into the starting lineup. The Redskins usually use their weakside linebacker in pass coverage, so don’t look for Arrington to blitz much on Saturday. Instead, Arrington will be charged with covering Williams, RB Michael Pittman and fullback Mike Alstott, and rookie tight end Alex Smith out of the backfield and down the seams of the field.
Washington middle linebacker Lemar Marshall, who is one heck of a pass rusher, has notched 96 tackles, two sacks, four interceptions and nine passes defensed this season. Marshall is dangerous when going after the quarterback, but he’s also known to overpursue the ball carrier on running plays. That’s something the Bucs hope happens when Williams and Co. attempt to get the running game going.
Redskins SLB Marcus Washington is the strength of his unit. He can do everything, ranging from rushing the passer to covering the tight end. He also sheds blocks well and has recorded 93 tackles, two quarterback takedowns and three forced fumbles this season. One of Simms’ favorite targets in the passing game has been Smith (41 catches, 367 yards and 2 TDs), but Tampa Bay’s young quarterback must account for Washington’s whereabouts at all times.
One of the main reasons why Simms was able to pick apart Washington’s secondary in Week 10 was because of the running backs’ and tight ends’ ability to pick up the Redskins’ blitzers. That’s something Williams, Pittman, Alstott and Smith and TE Anthony Becht must do on a consistent basis if the offense is going to have success throwing the ball in this game.
Because the threat of the blitz does exist, one would think the Bucs wouldn’t want to pass too often vs. the Redskins. However, that might not be what Gruden is thinking since Washington’s secondary is pretty banged up heading into this playoff game.
Tampa Bay could catch a break in the matchup department if Washington CB Shawn Springs, who is battling his way through a groin injury, is unable to play on Saturday. Should Springs not play, rookie CB Carlos Rogers will likely start in his place. Rogers has notched 43 tackles, two interceptions and four passes defensed, but Bucs WR Joey Galloway could give him problems, especially since the young defensive back is just returning from a torn biceps injury.
In Week 10, Galloway hauled in seven passes for 131 yards and scored a touchdown vs. Springs. Simms will likely look for Galloway early and often on Saturday, but the third-year quarterback will have to be careful as Redskins safety Sean Taylor, who has recorded two picks and 12 passes defensed, will spend most of the game playing over the top of his side of the football field. Taylor did not play vs. the Bucs in Week 10, and the Bucs clearly took advantage of his absence.
The Bucs will be without WR Michael Clayton, who is still nursing a turf toe injury he suffered in Week 16 vs. Atlanta. Clayton did not play vs. the Redskins in Week 10 due to a knee injury, and Ike Hilliard started in his place. Hilliard caught three passes for 37 yards and scored a touchdown vs. the Redskins in the last matchup. Hilliard has been productive this season, especially on third downs. Should Springs not play, Redskins CB Walt Harris will spend most of the game covering Hilliard. This is a favorable matchup as Harris has struggled mightily this season. That said, Harris’ woes might prompt Washington to leave SS Ryan Clark, who has notched three interceptions, in pass coverage more often than not.
Another player the Redskins might have a hard time accounting for is WR Edell Shepherd, who will serve as the Bucs’ No. 3 receiver. Shepherd, who is considered one of the best route runners on the team, thrived in that role in Week 10, hauling in three passes for 87 yards and a touchdown. Shepherd could find himself in favorable matchups vs. reserve cornerbacks Aki Jones or Dimitri Patterson.
Although Washington’s defense is allowing opposing offenses to convert just 36.5 percent of their third down plays, Tampa Bay managed to convert 4-of-9 (44 percent) of its third down attempts vs. Washington in Week 10.
Washington’s Ladell Betts is a dangerous kickoff returner. He’s averaging 25.9 yards per return and broke off a 94-yarder for a touchdown vs. the Bucs back in Week 10. Tampa Bay’s special teams coverage unit must contain Betts and force Washington’s offense to put together long drives.
The Redskins have used two players – James Thrash and Antonio Brown – to return punts this season. They’re averaging 4.8 and 7.7 yards, respectively. Neither should be able to have success vs. the Bucs on Saturday, especially with Pro Bowler Josh Bidwell punting. He’s averaging 45.6 yards per punt and has pinned 24 of his 90 attempts inside the 20-yard line.
Washington P Derrick Frost is averaging 40.4 yards per attempt and has pinned 34 of his 76 attempts inside the 20-yard line. Tampa Bay PR Mark Jones has really come on of late and is averaging 9.6 yards per attempt. Jones can really help the Bucs offense out by producing some decent returns, which would give the offense a shorter field to work with.
For the second straight week, Tampa Bay will rely on RB Michael Pittman to return kickoffs. Pittman is averaging 28.3 yards per attempt and broke off a 37-yarder last Sunday vs. New Orleans.
Redskins kicker John Hall has a strong and accurate leg. He’s made 12-of-14 (85.7 percent) field goal attempts this season. The Bucs have an accurate kicker, too. Matt Bryant has made 21-of-25 field goals this season. Both kickers will have to be on top of their game in this contest as it could be decided by a field goal.
FLYNN’S FORECAST: Buccaneers 24 Redskins 20
This story is intended to be read by PewterInsider subscribers only. Sharing of the PI content with non-subscribers of this service can result in cancellation of your subscription to the service and/or further actions by the publishers. Be sure to read the latest issue of Pewter Report on-line in PDF format on PewterReport.com. Buccaneers merchandise in the world.