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OPPONENT: Washington Redskins
WHERE: FedEx Stadium in Landover, Maryland
WHERE THE REDSKINS STAND: The Redskins are 1-2 and in last place in the NFC East division. REDSKINS HEAD COACH: Jim Zorn
REDSKINS OFFENSIVE COORDINATOR: Sherman Smith
REDSKINS DEFENSIVE COORDINATOR: Greg Blache REDSKINS SPECIAL TEAMS COACH: Danny Smith
TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS OFFENSE OVERALL: 25th (296 ypg) RUSHING: 25th (86 ypg) PASSING: 17th (210 ypg)
TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS DEFENSE OVERALL: 31st (432 ypg) RUSHING: 31st (187 ypg) PASSING: 21st (245 ypg)
DID YOU KNOW … … Washington and Tampa Bay are tied for 16th in the NFL with minus-1 turnover ratios?
SCOUTING THE REDSKINS
Quarterbacks This is a big season for Redskins quarterback Jason Campbell. The former first-round pick is in the final year of his rookie contract with Washington and needs to perform well if he hopes to be re-signed.
The 6-foot-5, 230-pound Campbell has displayed an accurate arm, completing 67.6 percent of his passes for 793 yards while tossing three touchdowns and two interceptions. He also has mobility – Campbell has rushed for 65 yards (7.2 avg.) in 2009.
Campbell is a good caretaker, evidenced by the fact that he's thrown just 25 interceptions during his career. While one of the knocks on Campbell is that he tends to play too conservative, he has the arm to stretch the field on deep passes to some of his speedy wide receivers, and likely will do that against Tampa Bay's cornerbacks, who will be called on to play man-to-man coverage throughout most of Sunday's contest.
Running Backs Washington has one of the best running backs in the NFL in Clinton Portis (5-11, 221), who had six 1,000-yard seasons heading into 2009.
However, Portis and Washington's ground attack have been slow out of the gate, averaging just 94 yards per contest. Portis has rushed for just 183 yards on 47 carries (3.9 avg.), and has added four catches for 25 yards while still looking for his first touchdown of the year.
Porits isn't completely healthy, either. He reportedly has sore ankles, and injured his calf in Washington's 19-14 loss to Detroit last week. Veteran RB Ladell Betts, who has a 4.1-yard career rushing average, would play in place of Portis if he's needed.
Tampa Bay's defense has struggled mightily vs. the run. The Bucs have allowed 200-plus yards rushing to Buffalo and the New York Giants in consecutive weeks.
Like Washington, the Giants' running game had its own issues heading into the game vs. the Bucs last week, and New York found its groove by having Ahmad Bradshaw and Brandon Jacobs rush for 104 and 92 yards, respectively.
The Buccaneers front seven must be aggressive in its pursuit of Portis, who has good speed and is quite elusive when healthy. The team must also continue to work on its tackling, which was improved, but not good enough vs. the Giants.
However, Tampa Bay's defense can't afford to be overaggressive vs. Portis, who has completed 3-of-6 of his career passes on halfback options, and all three of his completed throws have produced touchdowns.
Receivers Washington tight end Chris Cooley (6-3, 250) is Campbell's favorite target in the passing game. He had 83 catches for 849 yards and one touchdown in 2008, and is off to a good start in '09, having hauled in a team-leading 17 catches for 189 yards and one touchdown. Cooley, who possesses good speed and athletic ability, is a threat on any play, especially third downs, where Washington is converting 38 percent of its attempts. Bucs linebackers Geno Hayes and Quincy Black, along with safeties Sabby Piscitelli and Will Allen, will have to win the one-on-one battles they find themselves in against Cooley on Sunday.
Head coach Jim Zorn's West Coast offense has two small, but extremely fast wide receivers in Santana Moss and Antwaan Randle El. They will be covered by Bucs cornerbacks Ronde Barber and Aqib Talib. The Bucs defense has allowed several big plays in the passing game this season. In fact, Talib has been beat for long touchdowns in consecutive weeks. That can't happen in Washington.
Moss (5-10, 200) has 15 catches for 219 yards (14.6 avg.) and one touchdown. The former first-round pick is coming off a strong performance vs. the Lions and poses a significant threat to Tampa Bay's secondary.
Randle El (5-10, 185) has 13 catches for 158 yards and no scores. It will be critical for Tampa Bay's front seven to contain Portis and the running game. Otherwise, the Bucs will be forced to play eight men in the box, which will leave Barber and/or Talib in one-on-one situations with Moss and Randle El, which would not be ideal.
Offensive Line One of the main reasons why Washington's running game has been grounded is because of suspect play from the team's offensive line, which is veteran-laden, but showing its age in several areas.
Washington is producing 346 yards of offense per game, so moving the ball hasn't been a problem. But its running game has fallen flat, especially in the red zone, where the Redskins are scoring touchdowns just 30 percent of the time, which ranks second-to-last in the NFC.
Redskins left tackle Chris Samuels (6-5, 314) is a six-time Pro Bowler, but isn't playing like one. He will face Bucs defensive end Gaines Adams, who has yet to record his first sack of the season and needs to help the defensive line snap out of its funk if he wants to remain in the lineup. Bucs DE Jimmy Wilkerson has one of Tampa Bay's three sacks on the season and will face Redskins right tackle Stephon Heyer (6-6, 330), whose big frame will present Wilkerson with some significant challenges, especially in the running game.
Tampa Bay starting defensive tackles Ryan Sims and Chris Hovan have not played well as of late and are in desperate need a breakout game. Their first priority will be stopping Portis and the ground attack. In order to do that, Sims and Hovan must win their individual battles in the trenches with right guard Chad Rinehart (6-5, 310) and left guard Derrick Dockery (6-6, 326), respectively. Rinehart has started just one game (vs. Detroit last week) and is playing in place of veteran G Randy Thomas, who is on injured reserve. The inexperienced Rinehart could receive some help from center Casey Rabach (6-4, 295), who is a fairly consistent player for Washington, which has allowed Campbell to be sacked five times through three games.
Defensive Line Washington's defensive line is also showing signs of aging, which might explain why the Redskins' defense, which ranked fourth overall in 2008, currently ranks 22nd vs. the run, allowing 128 yards per contest.
The Buccaneers rushed for 178 yards in Week 1 vs. the Cowboys, but have struggled mightily in recent weeks, mostly due to the absence of starting center Jeff Faine, who will miss this game, too, with a triceps injury.
Veteran Sean Mahan likely will start in place of Faine in Washington. He'll need to play much better and hold up from a physical standpoint if the Bucs are going to get their ground game, which ranks 25th in the NFL, back on track.
Mahan will be hard pressed to do that against Redskins defensive tackles Cornelius Griffin (6-3, 303) and newcomer Albert Haynesworth (6-6, 350). The Bucs attempted to sign Haynesworth in free agency, but backed out of the bidding war with Washington, which signed him to a $100 million contract. Haynesworth suffered a hip injury in Detroit last week, but is expected to play vs. the Bucs. Haynesworth and Griffin have combined for two sacks, and will face Bucs right guard Davin Joseph and left guard Jeremy Zuttah, respectively. Zuttah, a 2008 third-round pick, has not played well in place of absent G Arron Sears, and needs to have the game of his career vs. Haynesworth, especially with Sunday being Bucs second-year QB Josh Johnson's first career start in the NFL.
The Redskins notched just 24 sacks last year, and the pass rush is lacking from aging defensive ends Phillip Daniels and Andre Carter (6-4, 253). Daniels has 59 career sacks, but at 36 he's not as quick off the edge as he once was. Carter has 53.5 career sacks, but he's 30 and is showing signs of slowing down as well. Carter has a sack this season while Daniels still is looking for his first quarterback takedown. Carter will be matched up with Bucs left tackle Donald Penn, who has been excellent in pass protection. Daniels will face Bucs right tackle Jeremy Trueblood, who has been solid outside a few penalties that he must avoid while playing in a hostile environment on the road.
Linebackers This group hasn't played well enough vs. the run, which has allowed opposing offenses to break off some big yardage via the ground game this season.
One of Washington's leaders is middle linebacker London Fletcher (5-10, 245), who currently leads the team in tackles. Although he's 34, Fletcher still poses a threat to the Bucs offense. Tampa Bay offensive coordinator Greg Olson may attempt to test Fletcher and outside linebackers Rocky McIntosh (6-2, 238) and rookie Brian Orakpo (6-4, 260) early in the passing game by having Johnson throw the ball to tight ends Kellen Winslow and Jerramy Stevens in the short to intermediate part of the football field.
Orakpo, a 2009 first-round pick, has one sack on the season, and could be used as a pass-rushing defensive end as well.
Not that this unit is solely to blame, but Washington's linebackers have played a significant role in opposing offenses converting a whopping 51 percent of their third down conversions through three games. The Bucs offense didn't pick up their first down of the game vs. the Giants until late in the third quarter, so look for Tampa Bay to use Johnson's mobility to help move the chains on Sunday.
Secondary The Redskins have one of the best cornerback tandems in the NFL in Carlos Rogers (6-0, 190) and DeAngelo Hall (5-10, 195). While they've been good in pass coverage, Hall has the only interception on the team through three games, which obviously isn't enough. Rogers and Hall will cover Bucs wide receivers Antonio Bryant and Michael Clayton. Bryant is listed as day-to-day with knee soreness, but played vs. the Giants last week. His knee clearly isn't 100 percent, which is unfortunate as Johnson could use him in the passing game. Clayton's physical style of play could help the Bucs running game along the perimeter, but he needs to step up and show more reliable hands in the passing game in order for Johnson to succeed in his first start as a pro.
If Tampa Bay can establish the running game with Cadillac Williams and Derrick Ward early it will bode well for Johnson since the Redskins would be forced to move strong safety Chris Horton (6-1, 211) closer to the line of scrimmage to help defend the run. Horton currently ranks second on the team in tackles, which is never a good sign for a defense. Should Horton be forced to play as the eighth man in the box, Johnson could attempt to stretch the field. He certainly has the arm strength to do it, and his mobility could also help his receivers get open. However, Johnson must be careful throwing the football vs. Rogers and Hall. Free safety LaRon Landry (6-0, 210), a former first-round pick, has just two career interceptions, and but is talented and could find himself covering Winslow throughout this game.
Special Teams Tampa Bay's special teams coverage units can't afford to give Washington short fields to work with Sunday. That means this unit, which has been solid thus far, needs to do a good job of limiting kickoff returner Rock Cartwright, who is averaging 23.5 yards per attempt, and punt returner Antwaan Randle El, who is averaging 12.5 yards per try this season.
Bucs return specialist Clifton Smith showed flashes last week of the player he resembled in 2008 when he was voted to the Pro Bowl. He needs to break off a few big returns in this game in order to give the Bucs struggling offense favorable starting field position.
Washington punter Hunter Smith and kicker Shaun Suisham will be kicking to him. Hunter Smith is averaging 43.2 yards per punt and has pinned nearly half of his attempts inside the 20-yard line. Suisham has made 4-of-4 field goal attempts this season, but all four tries came from 20-29 yards away. Bucs kicker Mike Nugent has some rust to shake off. He hasn't attempted a field goal in two straight games. However, Nugent can't afford to be rusty in what likely will be a close contest. FLYNN'S FORECAST: Buccaneers 17 Redskins 16