Make no mistake - Sunday's game at Raymond James Stadium between the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Washington Redskins is a big one. It might be strange to hear that about a contest between two 1-2 teams that no one really thought much of heading into the football season but it is true.
Whoever wins Sunday will end the first quarter of the season at a respectable 2-2 and still feeling confident about their playoff aspirations. The loser tumbles to the abyss of 1-3 and faces an uphill climb back to respectability.
Ironically, both fan bases look at the other team as a winnable game. The disappointment and backlash from losing said winnable game is going to make things a little uncomfortable for the loser.
Lets take a look at the match ups for Sunday's game.
Series: Tampa Bay leads 10-9
Last Meeting: December 21, 2010 - Tampa Bay 17, Washington 16
Tampa Bay Buccaneers Passing Game vs. Washington Redskins Pass Defense
Its the resistible force versus the movable object. The Buccaneers putrid passing game takes on the Skins god awful pass defense. Unlike the Bucs' defense, who played consecutive Pro Bowl quarterbacks Cam Newton, Eli Manning and Tony Romo - the Redskins made Sam Bradford and Andy Dalton look like Pro Bowlers.
Of course on paper the Bucs have all the weapons to do due serious damage through the air. A strong armed quarterback in Freeman, a solid offensive line and weapons like Vincent Jackson, Mike Williams and Dallas Clark - it seems like they should be tearing it up.
The coaching philosophy from top is to run the football, even though the Buccaneers aren't a very good running team right now. It has put the offense in some bad down and distance, making things a bit more difficult for Freeman and the offense.
Freeman told reporters this week that we haven't seen all there is to see with this new offense.
"It’s still extremely early in the season," Freeman told the media on Thursday, "We still have a lot of our offense that we’ve yet to display on a Sunday. So, talking to Coach Sullivan, this plan this week I’m really excited about some of the stuff we’re going to have the opportunity to go out and run, I think we have a great plan of attack."
Tampa Bay Buccaneers Running Game vs. Washington Redskins Run Defense
The Bucs come in with 21st ranked running game in the league. It's a bit surprising Tampa Bay has struggled moving the ball on the ground. First round draft pick Doug Martin has had the majority of the working, running the ball 63 times in just three games. Unfortunately, Martin is only getting 3.4 yards a carry. The forgotten man in the Tampa Bay offense has been LeGarrette Blount, who only has 7 carries on the season.
Bucs coach Greg Schiano has vowed to get the ball into Blount's hands a bit more.
They'll be facing a Redskins defense that has been decent against the run. While they rank in the top ten, the Skins have surrendered runs of 53, 20 and 17 yards.
The Bucs are a run first team, as evidenced by their carry totals in their first three games (83 carries per game) and need to establish a strong rushing attack to limit the opportunities RG III has against the Bucs defense.
Washington Redskins Passing Game vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers Pass Defense
Tampa Bay hasn't has any luck in facing slouches on defense this season. After facing three quarterbacks who have played in Hawaii, the Bucs defense gets another test from rookie phenom Robert Griffin III. After torching the woeful Saints for 320 yards and 2 touchdowns, Griffin's passing game has come a bit back down to earth, averaging just 213 yds per game in the past two contests.
Griffin still has had his moments with his arm, connecting on 11 passes of 20 or more yards in his first three games. That aligns perfectly with an aggressive, hard hitting Bucs defense that is vulnerable to the deep pass, surrendering 17 passes over 20+ yards, 5 of which were 40+.
While the Bucs are giving up the big play, they're also making some of their own on defense, forcing 8 turnovers this season ( 6 by way of interception). Tampa Bay has also registered 7 sacks (3 by former first round pick Gerald McCoy).
The Redskins do have trouble protecting their quarterback, as RG III has been sacked 9 times in three games (6 by Cincinnati last week) and he's taken multiple hits.
Washington Redskins Rushing attack vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers Run Defense
One of the big surprises of this season for the Redskins has been the solid running of back Alfred Morris. The rookie out of FAU leads all rookies with 263 yds on the ground. His 87.6 yards a game has helped the Redskins to the 2nd ranked rushing offense in the league. The other piece to that equation has been Robert Griffin III. RG III did more damaged with his legs the last couple games than his arm, rushing for 167 yds and three touchdowns.
All that's well and good, but the Skins dynamic duo will be facing one of the fastest defenses in the NFL. The Bucs, the worst run defense in the league last season, have been absolutely dominant against the run, giving up just 47.3 yards on the ground.
Tampa Bay shut down another high rushing quarterback Cam Newton, who has a similar skillset to RG III, with relative ease - sacking the Panthers QB three times and limiting him to just 4 yds on the ground.
Of course, Griffin III is much faster than Newton, so it will be interesting to see how his speed matches up against Tampa Bay's. That said, Griffin III is also much smaller than Newton by two inches and about 30 lbs. He may not be able to escape some of the hits that Newton's stronger frame broke out of.
Bucs kicker Connor Barth is on an impressive streak, nailing 22 straight field goals. Michael Koenen is one of the league's better punters, averaging 42.8 yds a kick and is tied for second in the league with 8 kicks inside the 20. Tampa Bay dumped punt returner Jordan Shipley after he muffed a punt last week against Dallas. Roscoe Parrish will take over the the punt return duties. Regus Benn appears to be entrenched as the team's kick returner. He averages 24.4 yds a return.
Veteran Billy Cundiff is the Redskin's place kicker. He's 5-of-6 with a long of 45 on the season. Sav Rocca has been a solid punter in the league, averaging an impressive 45.9 yds per punt.
Brandon Banks is a gifted returner for the Skins, handling both their kick and punt return duties. Banks is averaging 25.3 yds a kickoff return and 5 yds a punt return.
By the Numbers
- Tampa Bay is 7-4 against Washington at home.
- The Redskins haven't won a regular season game in Tampa Bay since 1989, with Tampa Bay winning the last six.
- Tampa Bay has won five of the last seven meetings against the Skins.
- Josh Freeman is 1-0 in career starts vs. Washington.
- Josh Freeman is 18-25 as a starter in his NFL career.
- When Josh Freeman has a rating of 95.0 or above, the Bucs are 10-4.
- Washington is 6th in the NFL in Red Zone TD Scoring percentage (66%).
- Tampa Bay is 1st in the NFL in Red Zone TD scoring defense percentage (18%)
- Tampa Bay is second worst in the NFL in scoring defense in the 4th quarter (11 pts)
- Washington is 19th in the NFL in 4th quarter offensive scoring (5.7 pts)
This is a huge game for two young teams looking to turn the corner back to respectability. While the winner won't transform into a contender from this one game, the loser will face an uphill climb to shed the loser moniker.
The Bucs have had a tough early schedule and it doesn't get much easier facing the improving Redskins. For the Bucs to win this game, they must protect the football well, shut down the run and force RG III to beat them.
RG III will probably make a few big passing plays against Tampa Bay's defense, but as long as the Bucs can keep it between the 20's and out of the endzone, they'll give up a few biggies for a chance to knock Griffin III on his hindquarters.
On offense, the Bucs can be expected to be run focused again but the opportunities in the passing game may be even too hard for the conservative Schiano to resist. Freeman needs a good game confidence wise and the Redskins appear to be the perfect slump buster for any struggling quarterback.
I expect Josh and the offense to have a good day, the defense to keep RG III handled and the Bucs to win this one.
Prediction: Tampa Bay 27, Washington 20.