Tampa Bay enters a must-win game against Washington with concerns on both sides of the ball. After starting slow for the second straight game, resulting in a second straight loss, the Buccaneers will need to be ready from the opening kick against the Redskins.
Dirk Koetter’s team got out to a 35-7 deficit against Carolina before a touchdown in the final seconds of the half made it 35-14. That can’t happen again, especially against a Washington offense that scores just 20 points per game.
The Buccaneers still have eight games to turn their season around. It has to start right here against the Redskins. Finding some consistency on defense could light a fire under this entire team. It’s been the one thing that has held them back all season.
1. Ryan Fitzpatrick
Tampa Bay scored on just two of its seven possessions in the first half against Carolina. That, along with the collapse on defense, basically buried the Bucs before halftime.
While the lack of production wasn’t all on Ryan Fitzpatrick, he did toss a bad pick on Tampa Bay’s second possession of the game that gave the Panthers an easy touchdown and momentum early in the contest.
Fitzpatrick has to limit the early back breakers that keep putting this offense in holes.
2. Slowing down Washington early
There’s no way to sugar coat it. Tampa Bay has been awful on defense in the first half of its last two games and has allowed at least 24 points in the opening half of all five of its losses. They’ve only done it once in their three wins.
When this defense gets worked in the first half, it’s almost impossible for them to get back in games, no matter how well the offense performs. It’s on Mark Duffner and his unit to respond after allowing 62 points in the first 30 minutes of the last two losses.
Thankfully, Washington does have the No. 25 offense and averages just 20 points per game, though I’m sure the Buccaneers will find a way to make them look like the best unit in the league.
3. Having success on third down
Tampa Bay’s offense will have its work cut out to keep drives alive against one of the top defenses in the league. Washington has the No. 11 overall defense and has been excellent against the run, allowing just 89.4 yards per game.
The Buccaneers will need to be at their best on third down, which has been one of the Redskins few flaws on defense. They allow opponents to convert 42.3% of third downs, No. 23 in the NFL. On the other hand, Tampa Bay has done pretty well at converting on third down all season.
Fitzpatrick and the offense have converted third-downs at a 46.3% clip, which is fifth in the league. For good measure, they rank first in the NFL for fourth-down conversions, going 7/8 for an 87.5% success rate.
4. Limiting penalties
Washington and Tampa Bay both enter this game as two of the most penalized teams across the league. They have 64 and 63 penalties on defense, respectfully, which ranks them both in the bottom seven.
Offensively, the Bucs and Redskins have 62 and 56 penalties respectfully. That ranks No. 24 and No. 16 in the league.
Tampa Bay has had 19 total penalties in its last two games against Cincinnati and Carolina while Washington had 11 a week ago in a loss to Atlanta. One or two big penalties either way could change the entire course of this contest.
5. Keeping Adrian Peterson in check
With Jamison Crowder sidelined for the Redskins, their best offensive player is easily veteran running back Adrian Peterson. He’s had a resurgence in Washington, rushing 136 times for 604 yards and four touchdowns. Peterson also has 12 catches for 167 yards and a score.
The 33-year-old running back has been one of the few steady pieces on an inconsistent Redskins offense. Washington currently averages 121.9 yards on the ground per game, tenth in the NFL. It’ll be imperative for a short-handed Bucs defensive line to set the tone early. The Redskins will also likely be missing some bodies up front.
Starting left tackle Trent Williams has been ruled out with a thumb injury while Washington’s right tackle, Morgan Moses, is questionable with a knee injury. The Buccaneers will be without the services of defensive end Vinny Curry, Carl Nassib will likely start in his place.