The Redskins defense missed too many tackles last week; that can't be allowed to happen again.
On paper, this doesn't make for an entertaining matchup. However, if there's one thing the Washington Redskins have been this season, it's entertaining.
The Redskins are hemorrhaging points right now, but Robert Griffin III has been able to keep them in every game. In fact, Washington has the top-ranked offense in the league going into Week 4, racking up 33 points per game.
Tampa Bay on the other hand, is having trouble just getting to the red zone and is relying on its stout defense to carry the load.
It's going to be a different sort of game this week, but in order to keep pace with the NFC East, Washington needs to leave with a win.
All the questions from the preseason remain (can the offensive line protect Griffin? Can the defense cover? How often will the Redskins run the option?) so I’m not going to go over all of that again.
They’re still key to the game, yes, but there are certain factors within those overarching concerns that will decide this week’s clash.
Josh Freeman looked uncertain against the Dallas Cowboys.
The good news here is that Freeman looked incapable of bossing anything last week. Freeman went 10-for-28 and 110 yards, turning the ball over three times and looking like a man with no confidence. The Bucs were held to 110 yards of total offense by the Cowboys and Freeman completed just two passes over 15 yards (via ESPN.com).
This is an encouraging stat for the Redskins, so the job of the defensive line isn’t simply to “get to the quarterback”. QBs that are lacking in confidence often try to overcompensate, rushing through mechanics and failing to go through their reads.
It’s likely that Freeman can be encouraged to make his own mistakes, by virtue of defensive pressure and offering different looks. That's not to say the Redskins should back off, but a low-confidence signal-caller—combined with a first-year play-caller in Mike Sullivan—isn’t going to tear the defense apart.
Nose tackle Barry Cofield reinforced this when talking to The Washington Post:
A lot of it is putting him in tough positions. You can’t let them churn out six or seven yards on first and second down and then put them in a favorable position on third down. You’ve got to have them in third and long. Obviously, that’s no guarantee, but you’d like to have him in third-and-down.
Confusing the Tampa offense with variation is something that Jim Haslett should look to do. Reigning in his multitude of blitz packages for a few minutes, he just needs to keep the Bucs guessing. Switching Jackson and Kerrigan around will be beneficial here.
Last week’s game presented Freeman with a few opportunities to extend the play with his feet and he was unwilling to take them. Whether this was a doubt in the play call or his ability is unsure, but hesitating to take a running lane is enough to let the defense recover, which is exactly what the Cowboys did.
Simply focusing on the fundamentals and avoiding dumb penalties should be enough to force the play.
Jordan Black will need to improve on last week and give Griffin more time.
This is something that I mentioned in a previous article about getting the run game into play, particularly Alfred Morris. However, the battle along the line has obvious benefits to the ‘Skins that go beyond handing the ball off.
The Bucanneers have the best defense against the run, but the worst against the pass. This type of setup is perfect for Griffin to throw up some deep balls on first or second down, forcing the Bucs to stay in coverage and jam the receivers at the line.
Jordan Black stepped in for Williams, but looked rusty. He allowed two sacks of Griffin and the Bengals set the edge and collapsed the pocket. Daniel Te'o-Nesheim, George Johnson and recent signing Jeff Charleston could all see time at right end for the Bucs this week as they try to rebound from the loss of Adrian Clayborn.
It’s vital that Griffin gets rid of the ball on time. Black doesn’t have the quickness of Williams, and although the Bucs lose some size with Clayborn out, Black will see his agility tested. The Redskins can counter this with a similar tactic to the one used in New Orleans, i.e. lots of screen passes and checkdowns to the flat.
Getting Fred Davis in the game early will establish him as a receiving threat, forcing the defense to adjust and leaving them open to exploitation via the deep ball.
Not having Pierre Garcon hurts, obviously, but Hankerson looks improved as a blocker and will have to show he can function in both the ‘X’ and ‘Z’ position. Utilizing Dezmon Briscoe in the red zone will give Griffin a strong target and offer further variation for the Bucs to plan against.
Josh Wilson has been the high point of the Redskins' secondary in 2012.
I’ve been talking up Josh Wilson since the offseason but I’m going to continue to do so. Despite the Tampa Bay quarterback troubles last week, someone still needs to cover Vincent Jackson.
Wilson is really the only guy on the roster capable of doing so over the course of a game. He’s the best cover corner the Redskins have, so giving anyone else the task of covering Jackson would be a mistake.
DeAngelo Hall has got better in coverage, sure, but do you really want to run zone-coverage with Hall on Jackson? Didn’t think so.
In reviewing the defense after the Rams game, Rich Campbell recalled a comment made by Josh Wilson:
When Wilson is in a position where he can’t see the quarterback or the ball, he reads the receiver’s eyes. A receiver’s eyes always indicate when the ball is about to arrive, he said. (Via The Washington Times).
This is why you want Wilson on the No.1 receiver. He plays the man and the ball simultaneously, which is an excellent trait to have in a defensive back, as it means he isn’t fooled easily and will continue with his assignments.
His instincts are good—see the fumble recovery returned for a touchdown against the Rams—and he is a team-first guy that doesn’t simply seek the big plays. He gave up a touchdown on a Cover-0 blitz last week, but he certainly isn’t the first to do that.
At best, the Cover-0 blitz is a high-risk, high-reward package, and last year’s Redskins-Cowboy’s matchup showed its potential for heartache. Those weren’t quite the words Hall used, but I like to think the sentiment was the same.
Of course, in giving Wilson the task of covering Jackson, there is a risk of giving up plays elsewhere on the field. It’s ultimately a trade-off, but both teams have the same amount of players on the field so everyone else just has to play smart.
Keith McMillan summed it up perfectly for The Washington Post:
If they’re giving up big plays in man and zone, there isn’t a whole lot else that can be done. A defensive coordinator can dial up blitzes, roll coverages and have the defense better disguise what it’s doing. But at some point, whatever’s called, players have to play better. There aren’t any magic solutions, just that.