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NFL Preview - Tampa Bay (0-3) at Washington (1-2)
By Scott Garbarini, Associate NFL Editor
(Sports Network) - Change is coming to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. There's plenty of speculation that the Washington Redskins will be creating a shakeup of their own before too long.
With their head coach's long-term job security coming into question, the Redskins will host an important early-season game this Sunday against a Tampa Bay team set to unveil a new quarterback.
Discontent is growing in the nation's capital following Washington's 19-14 loss last weekend to a Detroit squad that was in the midst of a 19-game losing streak. That frustrating defeat came on the heels of an uninspiring 9-7 home triumph in Week 2 over a St. Louis Rams club that's presently mired in a 13- game skid.
The Redskins were once again hindered by an inability to score in last Sunday's setback. Washington has averaged a lethargic 12.7 points over its past 11 games dating back to last season, and has won just three times during that span.
That lack of production has made second-year head coach Jim Zorn, whose reputation as an innovative offensive mind during his days on Mike Holmgren's staff in Seattle helped earn him his current position, a marked man for an organization that hasn't always preached patience in the past. The Redskins have gone through five head coaches in Daniel Snyder's 10-year reign as team owner.
Tampa Bay has its share of problems as well, as evidenced by its historically bad performance in last Sunday's 24-0 home loss to the New York Giants. The Buccaneers mustered an anemic 86 total yards and five first downs, their lowest output since a 65-yard display against Green Bay on December 1, 1985.
That shocking showing has triggered rookie head coach Raheem Morris to make a switch at the quarterback position, supplanting veteran Byron Leftwich with Josh Johnson, an athletic but raw second-year pro who saw his first NFL game action in mop-up duty against the Giants.
Johnson may not have the starting job for long, however, with 2009 first-round draft pick Josh Freeman waiting in the wings. The former Kansas State star is expected to be the Bucs' No. 2 signal-caller on Sunday after spending the first three weeks as the emergency man.
Morris is hoping the move can spark a team that has now endured seven straight losses. Tampa Bay dropped its final four tests of the 2008 campaign to miss out on an opportunity to reach the playoffs.
The Buccaneers lead the all-time regular season series with the Redskins, 8-7, breaking a deadlock in the series with a 19-13 home victory when the teams last met, during the 2007 season. Washington is 0-3 in regular season games against the Bucs since opening the second Joe Gibbs era with a 16-10 win in 2004, also the last matchup between the teams in the D.C. area. The Bucs last won at FedEx Field in 2003, where they routed the Redskins by a 35-13 margin.
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 beating the Redskins at home in a 1999 NFC Divisional Playoff, 14-13.
Morris and Zorn will be meeting each other, as well as their counterpart's respective teams, for the first time as head coaches. Zorn made one start as a replacement player for the Bucs in 1987, beating the Vikings, 20-10, in his final appearance in an NFL uniform.
WHEN THE BUCCANEERS HAVE THE BALL
The Buccaneers would love to make Johnson's first NFL start a little easier by establishing an effective rushing attack that can move the chains and control the clock. Problem is, the offense has managed next to nothing on the ground in the two games that still-injured center Jeff Faine has missed with a triceps strain. Tampa Bay had a paltry 28 rushing yards against the Giants, over half of which came on a 15-yard scramble by Johnson, while the backfield duo of Carnell Williams (114 rushing yards, 8 receptions, 2 total TD) and Derrick Ward (96 rushing yards, 1 TD, 5 receptions) combined for just 41 yards on 16 attempts in the team's Week 2 loss at Buffalo. The Bucs' best big-play weapon, wide receiver Antonio Bryant (3 receptions), is also ailing with a sore knee that's limited the 2008 surprise to a mere one catch for six yards over the past two weeks. His injury has left talented tight end Kellen Winslow (15 receptions, 2 TD) as the lone reliable option in the passing game. Johnson completed 4-of-10 throws for 36 yards in his limited duty last Sunday, with rookie wideout Sammie Stroughter (6 receptions) hauling in two of those strikes.
A Washington defense which contains a host of well-established (and handsomely paid) players hasn't quite lived up to its lofty billing in the early going, and the unit was particularly ordinary in the Detroit game. Lions running back Kevin Smith put up a healthy 101 yards on only 16 carries last week, while rookie quarterback Matthew Stafford threw for 241 yards without a turnover and appeared awfully comfortable in the pocket. The Redskins did play a portion of that contest without All-Pro defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth (9 tackles, 1 sack) due to a strained glute, but the massive offseason signee is expected to be fine for Sunday. Lynchpin middle linebacker London Fletcher (43 tackles) racked up 16 tackles in Week 3 and is another anchor of a unit that's allowed a somewhat soft 127.7 rushing yards per game (22nd overall) thus far. Rookie strongside starter Brian Orakpo (6 tackles), the team's first-round choice in April's draft, netted his first career sack versus the Lions and will be counted on to harass the untested Johnson.
WHEN THE REDSKINS HAVE THE BALL
Zorn opened up the offense some last week and quarterback Jason Campbell (793 passing yards, 3 TD, 2 INT) responded by delivering 330 passing yards, the second-highest total of his five-year career, along with a pair of touchdowns. Most of that amount came on connections with speedy wideout Santana Moss (15 receptions, 219 yards, 1 TD), who burned the Lions for a personal-best 178 yards and a score on 10 catches after a pair of pedestrian outings to start the season. Trusty tight end Chris Cooley (17 receptions, 189 yards, 1 TD) ranks among the top performers at his position through the first three weeks and is the other of Campbell's preferred targets. While the Redskins were able to get themselves untracked through the air in their last game, the team has had its troubles running the ball in recent weeks. Top back Clinton Portis (183 rushing yards, 4 receptions) could gain only 42 yards on 12 totes against Detroit while working behind a shaky line that saw one of its best blockers, veteran right guard Randy Thomas, suffer a season-ending triceps tear in Washington's Week 2 win over the Rams.
Look for the Redskins to try to work Moss deep against a suspect Tampa secondary that's been beaten for a lot of long gains in the early part of this season and will again be without suspended free safety Tanard Jackson. The Bucs haven't been any better in stopping the run either, having surrendered an average of 5.2 yards per carry and getting pushed around for 226 yards on the ground by the Giants last week. Expect another active afternoon for middle linebacker Barrett Ruud (32 tackles), who had 14 stops against New York and is one of the few bright spots of a defense that's come up with precious few stops or big plays so far. Tampa Bay enters the game ranked next-to-last in the NFL in yards allowed (432.3 ypg), rushing defense (187.3 ypg) and scoring defense (30.3 ppg) and has forced only two turnovers in three games. Will Allen (14 tackles), who came up with 10 tackles last Sunday, starts again in Jackson's customary spot on the backline.
In a matchup of two clubs that are averaging under 14 points per game this season, there won't be a whole lot of intriguing offensive options here. The only defense worth using, however, is Washington's, which has a chance for big points against a first-time starting quarterback competing in a hostile venue. Moss and Cooley also seem to have an opportunity for very productive games, while Campbell would make a fill-in for owners with quarterbacks either hurt or on a bye week. Be wary of Portis, though, as the one-time fantasy superstar is dealing with bone spurs in both ankles that have clearly had an impact on his numbers. Those who drafted Bryant hoping for a repeat of his 2008 breakthrough may want to cut bait, as his knee problems and Tampa's inexperience at quarterback are leading to diminished returns. Winslow remains a good choice at tight end, but the timeshare between Williams and Ward make both Buccaneer backs only lukewarm flex plays. Johnson has some upside in dynasty leagues, but is not to be started right now.
The Redskins may have finally found the perfect remedy to what ails them in the wayward Bucs, who may actually be more inept than their upcoming opponent on offense and have been a sieve on the defensive side through the first three weeks of the Morris regime. Johnson isn't stepping into the most desirable of situations for his NFL starting debut, as a Washington defense that's underachieved so far could be out to atone for the team's failures of the previous week. Although Zorn's hardly out of the woods, the embattled head coach should be able to relax a little bit following a low-stress win at home over a Tampa Bay team that simply can't match the Redskins from a talent perspective.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Redskins 24, Buccaneers 10
10/01 16:22:18 ET