NFL Preview - Tampa Bay (7-5) at Washington (5-7)
By Scott Garbarini, NFL Editor
(Sports Network) - Back-to-back defeats may have spoiled the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' plans for a worst-to-first finish. For the Washington Redskins, a two-game losing streak is just one of a wave of problems they're dealing with at the moment.
Amidst another wave of controversy, the embattled Redskins return to FedEx Field this Sunday to take on a Tampa Bay team that enters this Week 14 matchup hoping to make one last push at an unexpected playoff spot.
Mike Shanahan's debut season as Washington's head coach has produced more than its share of tumultuous moments, a good portion of which have been provided by troublesome defensive lineman Albert Haynesworth. The long-running feud between those two principal figures appears to have reached the boiling point over the past week, resulting in the Redskins taking a drastic step towards severing their toxic two-year relationship with the well-paid two-time All- Pro.
Haynesworth was a healthy scratch for last Sunday's 31-7 setback to the New York Giants, with reports surfacing afterward that the disruptive defender skipped a team meeting on Friday and was in no shape to effectively participate in that afternoon's practice. One day after the lopsided loss, the Redskins announced they were suspending Haynesworth without pay for the remaining four games for what the organization termed "conduct detrimental to the team."
Through his agent, Haynesworth, who's been at odds with Shanahan on issues ranging from training regimens and his revised role in a revamped defensive scheme ever since the offseason, has applied the penalty, though it's clear he won't be suiting up for the team on Sunday.
The Redskins have also been in tatters on the field as of late, with last week's subpar showing leaving the Burgundy and Gold with losses in four of its last five contests.
Tampa Bay has been a contrastingly positive story over the course of this 2010 campaign, with the young and emerging Bucs bouncing back nicely from a three- win total in head coach Raheem Morris' first season at the helm to vault themselves into the playoff mix by prevailing in seven of their first 10 games. The club has cooled off recently, however, having been dealt close losses to a pair of heavyweights in Baltimore and Atlanta during the past two weeks.
The Buccaneers did hold their own for the majority of this weekend's showdown with the NFC-leading Falcons, taking a 10-point advantage into the fourth quarter before surrendering a pair of touchdowns -- including one on a momentum-shifting kick return -- to wind up on the short end of a 28-24 decision.
Judging by previous results, Tampa Bay seems to stand a good chance of rebounding against the Redskins. All five of the Bucs' 2010 losses have come against teams with winning records, while they're a perfect 7-0 in games in which the opposition is at the .500 mark or below. Morris' charges are also 4-2 on the road so far this year.
Washington, on the other hand, will be vying to stop a string of three straight home losses and has dropped four of its six outings at FedEx Field this season.
The Buccaneers and Redskins have split 16 all-time regular-season meetings, with Washington knotting the series by virtue of a 16-13 home win during Week 4 of last season. The Redskins had lost three straight to Tampa Bay, all on the road, prior to that victory, but have prevailed in the last two bouts between the clubs held at FedEx Field. The Bucs last won in Washington via a 35-13 verdict in 2003.
The teams have also split a pair of postseason matchups, with the Redskins winning a 2005 NFC First-Round Playoff by a 17-10 count in Tampa and the Bucs posting a 14-13 home decision over Washington in a 1999 NFC Divisional Playoff.
Shanahan owns a 3-1 career record against Tampa Bay, with each of those encounters coming during his tenure with the Denver Broncos from 1995-98. The Buccaneers' Morris is 0-1 all-time versus Washington and will be opposing Shanahan for the first time as a head man.
WHEN THE BUCCANEERS HAVE THE BALL
Expect Tampa Bay to give the Redskins a heavy dose of a running game that's been quite effective over the past month, with the team having rushed for over 150 yards in three of its last four tests. Rookie LeGarrette Blount (599 rushing yards, 5 TD) supplanted oft-injured veteran Carnell Williams (365 rushing yards, 37 receptions, 3 total TD) as the lead running back at midseason and has proven he can handle the load, averaging a solid 4.5 yards per attempt and delivering a pair of 100-yard efforts that includes last week's 103-yard, 20-carry display against the Falcons. Williams has remained an integral part of the game plan as a receiver, giving second-year quarterback Josh Freeman (2442 passing yards, 16 TD, 6 INT) a sound check-down option behind the offense's two primary targets, impressive rookie wideout Mike Williams (51 receptions, 769 yards, 7 TD) and tight end Kellen Winslow (50 receptions, 2 TD). The unflappable Freeman, who's engineered four fourth- quarter comebacks this year and drastically cut down his interception totals from his 2009 debut, has hit a bit of a rough patch in an otherwise strong sophomore season, with the 22-year-old having completed under 50 percent of his throws during the club's current skid. The Bucs have some concerns across the front line as well, with starting right guard Davin Joseph sustaining a season-ending broken foot in the Baltimore game and center and anchorman Jeff Faine landing on injured reserve after tearing his triceps last week.
With or without Haynesworth, the Washington defense has been a major disappointment that enters Sunday's tilt having allowed a league-worst 397.3 total yards per game. The Redskins haven't consistently stopped either the run or the pass, ranking 28th in rushing defense (137.0 ypg) and permitting the fourth-highest yardage total through the air (260.3 ypg). The unit was overpowered by the physical Giants a week ago, with New York churning out 197 yards on the ground and four rushing touchdowns in cruising to victory. One bright spot out of Washington's aging and transitioning group has been outside linebacker Brian Orakpo (48 tackles), a fierce pass rusher who's accounted for 8 1/2 of the team's season sum of 22 sacks, while cornerback DeAngelo Hall (79 tackles, 12 PD) is tied for second in the NFL with six interceptions as the main playmaker of a secondary that hopes to have two starters -- fellow corner Carlos Rogers (46 tackles, 1 INT, 9 PD) and hard-hitting strong safety LaRon Landry (85 tackles, 1 sack, 1 INT) -- back on the field after sitting out last week's game due to injury.
WHEN THE REDSKINS HAVE THE BALL
While the defense's woes have been well documented, Washington often hasn't carried its weight on the other side of the ball during this trying season. The Redskins are averaging a lackluster 18.5 points (28th overall) and converted just 28.6 percent of third-down chances in 2010, the second-lowest number in the league, and veteran quarterback Donovan McNabb (3149 passing yards, 12 TD, 15 INT) has endured an erratic first year in attempting to adjust to Shanahan's diverse offense after 11 accomplished seasons in Philadelphia. The 34-year-old has been intercepted at least once in nine straight games and been sacked 35 times, and was responsible for three of the team's troubling total of six turnovers against the Giants. McNabb does have a couple of reliable and experienced receivers in wideout Santana Moss (64 receptions, 802 yards, 3 TD) and tight end Chris Cooley (60 receptions, 2 TD), while former practice-squad member Anthony Armstrong (31 receptions, 2 TD) has morphed into a capable deep threat who's averaging an NFC-best 20.7 yards per catch and posted career bests of 97 receiving yards and six grabs last week. Leading rusher Ryan Torain (391 rushing yards, 8 receptions, 4 total TD) appears on track to return from a hamstring strain that's kept him out of the last four games, and the Redskins hope he'll bring a spark to a rushing attack that's generated a moribund 103 yards combined over the team's last two losses.
Another key contributor to Tampa Bay's turnaround has been the play of a defense personally overseen by Morris and which heads into this week's action tied for second in the NFL with 18 interceptions and sports a No. 4 overall ranking in pass efficiency. The Bucs were dealt a major loss in last week's battle with Atlanta, however, as playmaking cornerback Aqib Talib (40 tackles, 6 INT, 11 PD) tore a hip tendon that will end his outstanding 2010 season, one week after the team lost rookie free safety Cody Grimm for the remainder of the year to a broken ankle. Usual nickel back E.J. Biggers (32 tackles, 1 INT, 8 PD) will step into Talib's position opposite five-time Pro Bowl honoree Ronde Barber (58 tackles, 1 sack, 3 INT), but it'll be hard to avoid a drop- off. The injuries may place an added burden on young tackle Gerald McCoy (27 tackles, 3 sacks), who's amassed three sacks over his past three games, and end Stylez White (30 tackles, 4.5 sacks) to apply consistent pressure from up front. Though the Buccaneers rank just 26th against the run (128.5 ypg), they've shown improvement in that aspect recently, having limited the opposition to a mere 3.5 yards per attempt in the last three weeks and holding Atlanta factor back Michael Turner to a modest 88 yards on 24 carries on Sunday. The charge has been led by steady middle linebacker Barrett Ruud (87 tackles, 1 sack, 1 INT), the team's top stopper.
There appears to be a couple of quality choices on the Tampa Bay offense for those to use in the critical stage of the fantasy season, as Blount should get plenty of touches against a shaky Washington defense and Mike Williams has shown himself to be a useful second receiver in weekly lineups. Winslow's more of a lower-end alternative at the tight end spot, however, and Freeman's overall numbers don't warrant a start at quarterback. Probably the safest selection among an uninspiring cast of Redskin players is Cooley, with Moss a decent pick at wide receiver and Armstrong possesses sleeper potential, albeit one that carries risk. McNabb's a real roll of the dice due to his up-and-down performances, and it's likely Washington will just sprinkle in Torain off his long layoff. Rookie teammate Keiland Williams (229 rushing yards, 30 receptions, 5 TD) may be the better bet for those seeking help at running back. Neither the Redskins' Graham Gano nor Tampa's Connor Barth is an especially attractive play at kicker, but the Buccaneers' defense could be intriguing considering its opponent's coming off a six-turnover day.
Critics have labeled the Buccaneers' solid overall record as primarily the product of being able to handle lower-grade competition, but the Redskins may qualify as such at this point. The Haynesworth saga may very well have created an unneeded distraction to a team that's been a train wreck over the past month, and with the playoffs now an extreme longshot, it's reasonable to question as to whether Washington will play with any sense of purpose or inspiration. Tampa Bay shouldn't have that problem, as the goal of a winning season is still well within reach and the Bucs have responded to Morris' energy and enthusiasm all throughout the year. Tampa Bay has so far met every challenge from opponents that are at or near its level, and there's little evidence to suggest that won't change this week.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Buccaneers 20, Redskins 13
12/09 14:06:34 ET