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NFL Preview - Washington (1-2) at Tampa Bay (1-2)
By Shawn Clarke, Contributing NFL Editor
(Sports Network) - The body takes a beating during football games.
Washington Redskins rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III knows this all too well. So does head coach Mike Shanahan.
"You don't want a quarterback taking as many shots as he did yesterday," Shanahan said following Sunday's loss to Cincinnati. "That's for sure."
Griffin and the Redskins will try to stop a two-game losing streak when they visit the Tampa Bay Buccaneers Sunday afternoon in their third road game of the season. Griffin, who called the St. Louis Rams "dirty" following a Week 2 loss in the Gateway City, was sacked six times and looked like a rag doll in Sunday's home-opening loss to the Bengals.
The elusive quarterback took several shots in the 38-31 defeat and completed 21 of his 34 passes for 221 yards and a touchdown. Griffin also ran for a score in his FedEx Field debut, but fumbled three times, losing one.
"Every Monday, I come in here and kind of look at him out of the corner of my eye and make sure he's alright," Redskins guard Kory Lichtensteiger said. "He's a tough guy and he's not going to complain about it, but you don't like seeing your quarterback get hit, especially when you have a guy carrying the load that he is."
The Redskins may not have left tackle Trent Williams after he departed Sunday's game with a knee injury. An MRI revealed a bone bruise for Williams, who was replaced by Jordan Black. The ineffective line didn't seem to bother Washington's ground game, which churned 213 rushing yards -- 85 of which by RG3 and 78 by Alfred Morris. However, Morris needs to work on his pass- blocking skills in order to keep Griffin, who was sacked just three times over the first two games, fresh.
Washington's defense has been average at best in three games and things got worse when All-Pro linebacker Brian Orakpo was lost for the season against the Rams with a pectoral injury. Rob Jackson got the start for the 'Skins -- the first of his career -- and finished with three tackles and an interception return for a touchdown. Jackson intercepted an Andy Dalton pass deep in Cincinnati territory to even the score at 7-7.
"It happened pretty quick, so I just reacted and made a big play," Jackson said. "Great call, great play, great pressure."
Buccaneers first-year head coach Greg Schiano may be feeling hot under the collar after back-to-back losses following a season-opening win versus Carolina.
The Bucs then blew a lead against the New York Giants on the road in Week 2, then dropped a tough 16-10 loss in Dallas last Sunday. Quarterback Josh Freeman, who is hoping to rebound from a miserable 2011 campaign, had his worst rating of the season against the Cowboys at 45.2. Freeman passed for just 110 yards with a TD and an interception, but got by in the first week with 138 yards passing and one touchdown.
"Today was honestly an off-day for our offense," Freeman said. "I thought we had a great week of practice. Today we got knocked out of rhythm a little bit. As a quarterback you gotta figure out a way to get out of the slump and keep it moving."
Freeman only hooked up with wide receiver Vincent Jackson once for 29 yards in Dallas, one week after the high-priced receiver caught five passes for 128 yards and a score. Schiano said the Cowboys did a good job of taking plays away downfield. Mike Williams was a non-factor as well, picking up 33 yards on a pair of receptions.
"Any Sunday, successful not successful, it comes down to a matter of execution," Freeman added. "As an offense, if you don't have all 11 guys firing on all cylinders, it's going to be tough to get something going."
Schiano noted that the Bucs will face another talented front by the Redskins and that Sunday will be a challenge. The defense is now faced with a task of its own now that defensive end Adrian Clayborn is out for the season and will need surgery to repair a damaged right knee. Clayborn led the Bucs in sacks as a rookie with 7 1/2.
"Adrian was always our energy, not by just talking but how he played," Bucs DT Gerald McCoy said. "He was always a high-motor guy, all over the field, making splash plays. You always need that on a defense. We're going to miss that, but somebody has to step up and fill that void."
George Johnson and Michael Bennett are expected to see more time from the end spots with Clayborn out.
"George has done well. We'll work through it," Schiano said. "It's part of life in the NFL. It's a bad part."
This isn't the first injury to a defensive end on the roster, as Da'Quan Bowers suffered a torn Achilles while training in the offseason. The Bucs added defensive end Jeff Charleston on Wednesday. Bennett also could move from the left side to the right along the defensive front.
Tampa Bay will enter the bye week after Sunday's game, before returning for back-to-back home games versus Kansas City and New Orleans.
The Bucs defeated the Redskins, 17-16, in the last meeting between the teams on Dec. 12, 2010. Freeman threw the go-ahead touchdown in the fourth quarter for Tampa Bay, which has won three of the last four in this series. The Buccaneers lead the overall series, 10-9, and the regular season series, 9-8.
The teams also have 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.
WHEN THE REDSKINS HAVE THE BALL
Griffin (747 yards, 4 TD, INT) leads all NFL quarterbacks with 209 rushing yards -- second on the team -- and his three rushing scores are tied for the most by any player. He is a big reason why the Redskins are first in points scored (33.0), second in rushing yards (180.7) and sixth in total yards (404.3). However, Griffin faces the No. 1 run defense and his latest rushing touchdown ties him with Al Dorow and Norm Snead for most rushing touchdowns by a Redskins quarterback in a rookie season. RG3 also became the first Redskins quarterback to throw and rush for a touchdown in consecutive games since Joe Theismann in Weeks 2-3 in 1980.
Morris (263 yards, 3 TD) is part of a crowded backfield that just signed veteran running back Ryan Grant. Grant will share the load with Morris and Evan Royster (35 yards), while Roy Helu's season is over because of a lower leg injury. It will tough sledding for Washington, which is facing a Bucs defense that is allowing an NFL-low 47.3 rushing yards per game.
The injury to Clayborn's knee could be costly for the Bucs' front line. Johnson has yet to play a down this season and his stock could rise with a strong performance Sunday. Bennett (7 tackles, 3 sacks) had two sacks and a forced fumble in Dallas, and owns five sacks in his last six games. McCoy (8 tackles, 3 sacks) tied a career-high with two sacks and recorded a forced fumble as well in Dallas for a Bucs team tied for 10th with seven sacks. Griffin was sacked six times last week, and Tampa Bay could add to that.
Tampa Bay has eight takeaways and six interceptions through three games. Veteran cornerback Ronde Barber (13 tackles, sack, INT) has one of those picks and needs three more starts to pass Derrick Brooks (221 games from 1995-08) for the most games started in team history. The Bucs have the best red zone defense so far, allowing two TDs in 11 chances (18.2 percent), but are the worst in pass defense (353.3). Bucs rookie safety Mark Barron (19 tackles) is tied for the fourth-most tackles among rookies and has five passes defensed.
WHEN THE BUCCANEERS HAVE THE BALL
Freeman (491 yards, 4 TD, 3 INT) said the Buccaneers need to go back and study film from last week in order to "figure out" how to get the offense back in gear. Schiano said he has a great trust level in Freeman and that there's not a doubt in his mind that "he's gonna do great this year and beyond." Freeman will go against Washington's mediocre defense that is decent against the rush (92.0 ypg), but 29th in points allowed (33.7), 30th in total yards (429.3) and 31st in pass defense (337.3). There's no doubt rookie running back Doug Martin (214 yards, TD) will try to get going early and can also hurt defenses with his hands. Martin has six catches for 44 yards.
LeGarrette Blount (27 yards) has been relegated to mop-up duty, but did return to action last week with 19 yards on four carries. Jackson (204 yards, TD) and Williams (104 yards, 2 TD) must have a better game than last week or Freeman will suffer. Granted the offensive line plays a huge part in that, but the receivers have to come back to the ball during trouble in the pocket. Even with those two talented wideouts, Tampa Bay is still 30th in passing with 149.0 yards per game.
DeAngelo Hall (23 tackles, sack) is Washington's top cornerback, but has no interceptions to show for it. He does, however, own five interceptions in the past seven meetings with Tampa Bay. The Redskins shouldn't have too much fear in Tampa Bay's offense, but stranger things have occurred. Jackson (4 tackles, INT) shined bright in his first NFL start in place of Orakpo for a Washington stop unit that is trying to force multiple turnovers for a fifth consecutive game, dating back to last season. Washington ranks first in the NFL with five forced fumbles and is first in the NFC and tied for first in the NFL in defensive touchdowns (2).
A pair of iron man streaks will be on the line for the 'Skins, as London Fletcher (22 tackles, INT) looks to extend his consecutive games played streak to 228. Linebacker Ryan Kerrigan (9 tackles, 2 1/2 sacks) has yet to miss a defensive snap. The former Purdue star played every snap for the Redskins during his rookie season in 2011 and in the first three weeks of 2012.
Sunday's showdown at Raymond James Stadium between 1-2 teams should be an intriguing one with scintillating matchups. The Bucs are trying to maintain their image as a stingy run defense and Washington brings a formidable offensive attack into the fray with a rookie quarterback at the controls. It has worked so far for the Redskins, who rank first in the NFC with 12 touchdowns, six rushing scores and rushing yards per game.
In order to pass Bud Grant for sole possession of 13th place on the all-time regular season wins list, Shanahan must have a strategic and balanced gameplan. It will be tough to run on the Bucs in their own backyard, which leaves most of the chores up to Griffin. The Redskins are already putting a lot on the kid's shoulders, so why not just keep it that way?
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Redskins 27, Buccaneers 23
09/27 15:54:53 ET