Under normal circumstances playing the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, even on the road represents a get-right opportunity for the Washington Redskins coming off a loss. Little is as expected for the offense, of course. Three starters along the line are out, including left tackle Trent Williams. Jonathan Cooper, who joined the roster this week, starts at left guard. No Jamison Crowder, no Chris Thompson.
Oh, the defense isn’t at max depth either. Cornerback Quinton Dunbar (leg) was among the inactives after returning last week. Linebackers Pernell McPhee and Zach Vigil joined Dunbar on the inactive list. Huh, that’s interesting.
We’ll see if quarterback Alex Smith can attack the Buccaneers’ 30th ranked pass defense. Can the Redskins secondary slos down the Tampa Bay aerial show headlined by DeSean Jackson, Mike Evans and O.J. Howard? Here we go…
Redskins at Bucs: Highs and Lows
HIGHS: Remember when Josh Norman went well over a full season without an interception? The cornerback came up with his second pick of the season on Tampa Bay’s opening drive. Unlike the simple grab in Week 6 against Carolina, Norman made an acrobatic catch to snag an overthrow from Ryan Fitzpatrick near the goal line. That’s a big moment not just for the obvious turnover, but the bizarre reality that the Redskins are 0-3 this season when trailing, but 5-0 when scoring first.
The turnover didn’t lead to points, but Washington did score first with a Dustin Hopkins 43-yard field goal on its second possession. Runs of 15 and 16 yards by Kapri Bibbs and Adrian Peterson respectively sandwiched a 24-yard reception by Jordan Reed moved the ball into Bucs territory. Settling for three points isn’t ideal considering the Bucs offense can rack up points, but the makeshift line opened holes on the ground. That’s an early win.
LOWS: No Dunbar puts rookie Danny Johnson on the field. Just like fellow rookie Greg Stroman earlier in the season when Dunbar sat, Johnson became a favorite target for the opposing quarterback. Howard beat Johnson over the middle for a 15-yard gain. Don’t expect the Bucs to stop looking for the rookie.
HIGHS: The Redskins defense is defining bend, but don’t break. Three of Tampa’s first-half drives reached the red-zone, yet resulted in only three points. Give an assist to Bucs kicker Chandler Catanzaro, who missed a 30-yard field goal on the middle of three lengthy drives. Tampa Bay knotted the score 3-3 as Cantazaro booted a 33-yarder on the next possession, but only after a good stand from the defense. Matt Ioannidis sacked quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick on first-and-10 from the Redskins’ 12. Two incompletions followed.
Washington’s offense isn’t likely to put up massive numbers, meaning the defense must keep up the bending without breaking. Seeing as Tampa Bay had 16 first downs, but only three points at halftime, so far, so good. This probably won’t be good enough, however, unless the Bucs botch more chances. By the way, that’s 7.5 sacks for Ioannidis on the season.
LOWS: We already knew things wouldn’t be easy for an offense yet to click under Alex Smith. Five Week 1 starters are out along with running back Chris Thompson. Mistakes added to the degree of difficulty. Bibbs’ 40-yard run-and-catch just before the two-minute warning came back because of a holding call on Cooper in his first action with Washington. Wide receiver Michael Floyd dropped a pass two plays later.
The Redskins moved the ball enough on the drive for a second 43-yard field goal from Hopkins and a 6-3 halftime lead. Better work in the second half is required. Tampa Bay doubled up Washington’s 136 total yards and time of possession. It’s only a matter of time before Fitzpatrick and crew find the end zone, meaning Smith’s side better figure out a way to move the ball consistently and convert for points.
HIGHS: It’s not easy picking a “high” when neither side score, though the Redskins ended the quarter with the ball at the Tampa Bay 15. We’ll see how that drive unfolds. For now, let’s focus on the defense dodging bullets like Neo in “The Matrix” For the fourth time the Bucs entered the red-zone. For the third time, they come away with zero points. This time, a 14-yard loss on a fumble moved the ball from the 16 back to Washington’s 30, and Cantazaro then missed from 48. Tampa Bay is up to 359 yards and 20 first-down yards. That the Redskins are holding them to field goals is the key in a touchdown-less game. What happens from there, a gift.
LOWS: Nothing working on the ground for Adrian Peterson, who has 23 yards on nine carries. Washington is winless this season when Peterson rushes for less than 90 yards. Smith isn't exactly lighting it up with the passing game, but with this hodgepodge offensive line Washington might have to give up the ground attack and target that Bucs woeful pass defense. Nice gains to Maurice Harris and Reed moved the ball into the red-zone as the quarter ended.
HIGHS: Somebody finally found the end zone. Fortunately, for those rooting on the Redskins, that somebody was Josh Doctson, who ran the back of the end-zone until Smith found him for a six-yard catch.
The score started a stretch of goodness for the Redskins. On Tampa Bay’s next play from scrimmage, Greg Stroman intercepted Fitzpatrick, setting up a third Hopkins field goal, this one from 26 out for a 16-3 lead. The Bucs quickly tried countering, but Ryan Anderson popped the ball out of Jacquizz Rodgers’ hands just as the running back entered into the Bermuda Triangle, err, the red-zone. Ha Ha Clinton-Dix recovered in the end zone. Another red-zone chance followed for Tampa Bay. Mike Evans dropped a potential touchdown catch one play before Preston Smith’s strip-sack forced a fumble, which Ryan Kerrigan recovered at Washington’s seven-yard-line. Better to be lucky than good, some say.
The Redskins lived that bend, but don’t break defense to the nth degree. Tampa Bay botched soooooo many chances from start to finish. The NFC South squad entered second in yards per game, and finished with 498 yards (to Washington's 286). They easily had more first downs (29-15), but the name of the game is scoring points. On that front, the Redskins won, which is why they also won the actual game.
LOWS: There is no downside in the win, which moved the first place Redskins to 6-3. There is, however, a certain reality. The offense isn't holding up its end other than avoiding turnovers. Smith (19 for 27, 178 yards, one touchdown) has thrown for exactly 178 yards in three of the last four games. His counterpart is fun, but "Fitzmagic" is a journeyman for a reason yet the Bucs essentially had 500 total yards. This performance against a team with the goods on both sides of the ball probably wouldn’t be enough.
The Houston Texans might be one of those teams. The AFC North leaders entered their Week 10 bye riding a six-game winning streak. J.J. Watt and crew will be rested – and ready to attack that Redskins offensive line. Houston hasn’t needed much from quarterback Deshaun Watson lately, but eight touchdown passes with zero interceptions over the last three games works.
That’s next week talk. The Redskins pulled off a win despite missing key pieces all over the place. Nine wins might be enough in the NFC East this season. Washington needs to finish 3-4 to get there. Keep up the opportunistic streak defensively while avoiding turnovers on offense, and it just might get there.
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