When there are only 16 games on the schedule, each one is important. Still, some are bigger than others.
Sunday’s meeting between Redskins (2-4) and the Buccaneers (2-3) falls into that category, and Coach Jay Gruden acknowledged as much when he labeled it a “code red” situation for his team.
With a win, Kirk Cousins and his teammates will remain in the NFC East mix and, just as important, enter the bye week feeling good about the direction of the season. A loss, on the other hand, would mark the Redskins’ third in a row, fourth in five games and changes could be in the offing.
So, yeah, it’s not really overstating things to call this a ‘must win’ …even if it's only Week 7.
Be sure to catch Redskins Kickoff on CSN Mid-Atlantic at noon and Redskins Postgame Live at 4.
Here are Tarik’s five areas/matchups to monitor:
1-The Redskins’ focus this week has been fixing a run defense that started the season hot before taking two huge steps back. Indeed, the unit limited opponents to 78 yards per game on the ground through the first four weeks. The last two weeks? Almost 200 yards per game. The key to turning it around, according to Gruden and defensive coordinator Joe Barry, is being gap sound, tackling better and avoiding chunk plays. Jets running back Chris Ivory had runs of 54 and 32 yards last week, while quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick scored on a 18 yarder up the middle. “We’ve let a couple [plays] get away from us and that can’t happen,” Barry said. Bucs running back Doug Martin, meantime, has rushed for 106 and 123 yards, respectively, in his past two games.
2-On the flipside, the Redskins’ ground attack has faded in recent weeks. In fact, it mustered only 51 yards and 34 yards, respectively, in losses to the Falcons and Jets, both times averaging about two yards per carry. Gruden blamed the downturn on a number of factors. “It’s a combination of things, and it just hasn’t been good enough,” Gruden said. “Our run blocking hasn’t been good enough. Our recognition of where the holes are, at times, hasn’t been good enough. We haven’t broken many tackles.” The good news is Matt Jones appears to be on track to play after missing last week’s game with a toe injury. The bad news is Alfred Morris, the No. 1 back, is averaging a career-low 3.5 yards per attempt (tied for 41st).
3-Overall, the Redskins’ injury situation should be better than it was last week in the Meadowlands, where six starters were forced to sit out. Jones, as I just mentioned, is expected to return. So are left tackle Trent Williams and tight end Jordan Reed. A source confirmed to CSN Mid-Atlantic.com late Thursday that both players have cleared the NFL’s concussion protocol. The other three starters—wide receiver DeSean Jackson (hamstring) and cornerbacks Chris Culliver (knee) and DeAngelo Hall (toe)—are not expected to play. The team will designate each injured player as probable, questionable, doubtful or out on Friday afternoon.
4-One of the more confounding issues this season has been the Redskins’ struggles coming out of halftime. They’ve been outscored 46-3 in the third quarter and, if you include drives that started in the third quarter but ended in the fourth, the disparity jumps to a ridiculous 78-3 (h/t Rich Tandler). Gruden met with his coaches on Wednesday to discuss the issue. “We’ve had the lead five of six times [at halftime],” Gruden said. “The issue is there and it’s been talked about. When we get to halftime against Tampa Bay, hopefully it will be with a lead and we’ll make some positive adjustments and guys will come out ready to play.” One problem has been turnovers. In fact, five of the team’s 11 have been committed in the third quarter.
5-Gruden has said Cousins will remain the Redskins’ starter for several more weeks as the staff continues to evaluate his progress. Still, Cousins needs a strong performance following a pair of poor performances (including four interceptions) in the back-to-back losses to the Falcons and Jets. If you’re Cousins, the last thing you want to do is have a third straight stinker and give Gruden and his assistants a week off to contemplate making a change. Through six games, Cousins is 31st in passer rating—one spot behind Bucs rookie Jameis Winston and just ahead of Andrew Luck and Peyton Manning. “I’d love to go out there and have a great game and go into the bye week feeling good about what we’re doing,” Cousins said. “But the Buccaneers are going to come in here, and they have a plan, too. So it’s going to be a great challenge. And it’s a great opportunity.” The Bucs’ Gerald McCoy-led defense is allowing 29.6 points per game. So, indeed, there will be opportunities to put up points.