Washington vs. Tampa Bay: Redskins Week 4 Game Preview
In the 23-17 loss to the Baltimore Ravens, the team encountered some injury scares. Star linebacker Brian Orakpo, rookie tackle Morgan Moses and cornerback Chase Minnifield all exited the contest with injuries.
Although none of their injuries was deemed serious, according to ESPN.com's John Keim, with a mere two weeks until the season opener, the team can't afford another injury hit.
Coming off a 27-14 win over the Buffalo Bills, the same applies to the Buccaneers. After seeing injuries to Doug Martin and Carl Nicks wreck its 2013 season, Tampa Bay knows firsthand how injuries can weigh down a team.
With that said, here is Washington's preseason Week 4 preview.
Washington Redskins Preseason Week 3 Recap
With its Week 3 loss, Washington saw its eight-game preseason winning streak come to an end.
Behind yet another dismal showing from its first-team offense, a valiant effort from the team's defense was wasted.
In addition to tallying three sacks, the Redskins held the NFL's top rushing team in preseason play to just 82 yards. Surrendering just 2.9 yards per carry, the front seven's dominance was also on display on a pair of fourth-down stops.
Unfortunately, the secondary didn't exactly follow suit. The Redskins allowed Baltimore's quarterbacks to complete 22 of 32 passes for 218 yards and two touchdowns. Even with that said, head coach Jay Gruden's first loss falls solely on the offense.
Led by Robert Griffin III, the first-team offense failed to score a touchdown for the third consecutive game. Although his offensive line didn't help matters, surrendering three sacks, Griffin's play was abysmal.
Going against a defense down its top three cornerbacks, Griffin only had 23 total yards in over a half of play. Replaced in the third quarter by Kirk Cousins, who threw for two scores, Griffin's poor play enticed former Washington great Joe Theismann to broadcast, on CSN SportsNet's telecast of the game, that perhaps Cousins should be the starter.
Although Gruden backed Griffin in the postgame press conference, as relayed by JP Finlay of CSNWashington.com, with The Associated Press' Joseph White, via Yahoo Sports, reporting that Griffin may play in the preseason finale, his every snap against Tampa Bay will now be under the microscope.
News and Notes
Brandon Meriweather Suspended
While it's common practice for a team's starters to miss or play sparingly in the final preseason game, for the Redskins, Brandon Meriweather's absence will be an extended one.
Fined and suspended in the past for illegal hits, as ESPN's Chris Mortensen notes, Meriweather's latest one on Baltimore's Torrey Smith was quite costly:
League suspends Brandon Meriweather for first two games due to 6th violation of unnecessary roughness rules— Chris Mortensen (@mortreport) August 25, 2014
With Phillip Thomas and Bacarri Rambo being the team's best options to fill this void, Washington is fortunate that it'll face two quarterbacks, Chad Henne and Ryan Fitzpatrick, who will struggle to expose this weakness.
Starters to Play Finale?
With the injuries that Washington suffered against Baltimore, you can't blame Gruden if he exercises caution and rests his starters. By the same token, with the new system he's implemented on offense, his first team could use the reps.
While he relayed to ESPN's John Keim that he's still undecided on the matter, Gruden acknowledged that the execution on offense has been lacking:
We’re running concepts that should be successful, should be more successful than they are. We ran a couple outside zone plays where the guard went the wrong way a couple times and that can never happen. We had pass plays that should be OK, shouldn’t be as bad looking as they were. We should be better at what we’re doing.
Ultimately, factoring in the risk of injury with the probability that Tampa's first-team defense sits out this contest, the risk outweighs the reward.
Defining Game for Chris Thompson
Silas Redd and Lache Seastrunk, even Evan Royster, have all had their moments this preseason. Chris Thompson, on the other hand, is clinging to a roster spot because of potential.
Injured in college and during his rookie season, the ever-consistent Thompson has been hampered by an ankle injury all preseason. As enticing as his speed and pass-catching ability are, he has to at some point translate his vast potential into actual production.
With Roy Helu's durability also a question mark, can Washington really overlook Thompson's injury woes? While it's possible that the Redskins could sneak Redd and Seastrunk onto their practice squad, the team can't risk losing either player when Thompson has shown nothing in live games.
Now back at practice, according to CSN's Tarik El-Bashir, Thompson needs to perform well against the Buccaneers if he's to make the roster.
Although he failed to capitalize on Tracy Porter's absence against Baltimore, with Gruden telling Keim that Porter possibly re-injured his hamstring, it's important for rookie Bashaud Breeland to get reps against the Bucs.
With hamstring recovery times varying from player to player, Breeland may have to step in as the team's nickelback in the regular season. In lieu of the emphasis being placed on illegal contact, a physical player like Breeland could benefit from additional playing time, even against backups.
As for Darryl Sharpton, much hasn't changed. His injury history was a red flag prior to his signing, and with the way Will Compton has been playing, it wouldn't be the least bit shocking if he didn't make this team.
In regards to Thomas' injury status, it couldn't have come at a worst time. With Meriweather suspended, Thomas is the next man up. Considering that his injured foot is the same one that he suffered a Lisfranc injury on last season, though, Washington may have to look elsewhere to fill this void.
Listed as the third-string safety on the team's most recent depth chart, according to CSN's Tarik El-Bashir, a starting opportunity may not be all that Thomas loses. If this injury costs him a roster spot, Thomas could be destined for Washington's practice squad.
Matchups to Watch
Washington Offense vs. Tampa Bay Defense
While you could narrow the focus to any one of the Redskins' first-team position groups, the mere fact that Gruden is entertaining playing his starters speaks to the ineptitude of this unit. The team could certainly use a confidence boost in passing, rushing and blocking.
More importantly, even if it's against Tampa Bay's backups, Washington definitely can use the reps to sharpen its execution. Penalties and sloppy play have been hallmarks of the team's offense throughout the preseason.
In the event that Gruden goes the safe route, though, and just plays his backups, Cousins is the player to watch. If Washington is indeed committed to Griffin as the franchise quarterback, then the team should entertain the thought of trading Cousins.
Although it's more so Griffin's poor play that has stirred the chatter surrounding the Redskins' quarterback depth chart, another strong performance from Cousins could entice a rival team—the St. Louis Rams, anyone?—to inquire about his services.
Bashaud Breeland vs. Tampa Bay Receivers
"There are times you’ve got to go up and play aggressive,” Morris said. “But we’ve got really good instinctual guys who can play off and really do good visual things, so that rule won’t affect us nearly as much.”
Speaking on Washington's secondary as a whole, this may be the case. In regards to Breeland, though, this statement doesn't apply. As ESPN.com's John Keim notes, Breeland has been cited throughout the offseason for being too hands-on with receivers.
With Porter's injury possibly forcing Breeland into the team's nickel package, his play against Tampa Bay is worth monitoring.
Player to Watch: Trenton Robinson
The player who'll have to fill Meriweather's place for the team's first two games isn't Thomas or Rambo but Trenton Robinson:
On #Redskins' latest depth chart, Trenton Robinson is now listed as Brandon Meriweather's backup at SS. Phillip Thomas is third string FS.— Tarik El-Bashir (@TarikCSN) August 25, 2014
Initially viewed as an unlikely candidate to make the team, it's a big step up for Robinson to be in the starting lineup. Known more for his prowess on special teams, Robinson has a steep learning curve to overcome with not much time to do in it. All the reason to make him the player to watch in this contest.
Finishing the first half with a 24-0 lead over the Buffalo Bills in Week 3, there's little incentive for Tampa Bay's starters to see much, if any, action in the preseason finale.
The opposite is true for the Redskins. With an offense that remains out of sync, Gruden could use this contest to build the trust that's currently lacking in his new system.
Specifically referring to Griffin, Gruden touched on this, per ESPN.com's John Keim.
"He hasn’t really shown that hesitancy like he did against Baltimore," Gruden said. "I don’t know if it was a push in the pocket where he felt a little pressure or maybe he saw the linebacker. But he has to learn to trust the fact that he has to let some of the balls go and let the receivers do some work for him."
Although Gruden's already ruled out playing the starting defense, via NBC's Dianna Marie Russini, and Tampa Bay's Mike Glennon is more than capable of exposing Washington's backups, the urgency on the Redskins' end to right their offense tips this game in their favor.
Prediction: Redskins 24, Buccaneers 20