NFL Preview – Tampa Bay (1-8) at Washington (3-6) (ET)
(SportsNetwork.com) – Washington Redskins wide receiver DeSean Jackson isn’t known for his vocal leadership in the locker room and does his talking on the football field. Jackson made news off the gridiron in regards to the situation surrounding Robert Griffin III and the Redskins hope to rally behind their quarterback Sunday versus the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at FedEx Field. Amid reports of a divided locker room and Griffin allegedly alienating himself from his teammates, Jackson felt it was time to speak up.
”I just felt it was needed. Silence is sometimes a good thing, but if you have an opinion on a topic or a certain situation, then it needs to be spoken, and that’s what I felt,” Jackson said. ”You have to understand the importance of supporting one another. We’re in this locker room together. We work so hard. We compete and do all them great things. But if everyone’s not on one page, it’s hard to get the benefit of the doubt.”
Redskins first-year head coach Jay Gruden said the normally quiet Jackson usually sits with a hooded sweatshirt on. ”He’s starting to open up a little bit,” Gruden said. ”People have a lot of respect for him as a player for what he does when the lights are on. But, now that he’s starting to be a little more vocal behind the scenes, it’s good to see.” Jackson leads the Redskins with 784 yards and four touchdowns on 61 receptions, and has recorded back-to-back 100-yard games. He had 120 yards and a score on four catches in a 29-26 loss at Minnesota on Nov. 2, one week before the bye. Jackson, in his first season with Washington, has five games with 100 or more yards receiving.
Jackson leads the NFL with 21.8 yards per reception. He has never posted three straight 100-yard games in his career. D-Jack is the reason why the Redskins are sixth in passing yards (282.3) and seventh in total yards (386.9).The Redskins, who are 3-6 on the season and tied for last in the NFC East with the New York Giants, are trying to surpass last year’s win total of three and come into Sunday’s game refreshed and energized. ”It was good for everybody to get away, see their families and get some quality time away from this building,” Gruden said. ”But now that everybody’s back, we’re focusing on what we’re doing and getting ready for Tampa.” Washington was 3-6 at one point in 2012 and ripped off seven straight wins to win the division and reach the postseason.
”When you go back and just look at what’s going on, being 3-6, you look at the six losses and there’s a play here and a play there that we’re just so close to being 7-2 as opposed to 3-6,” Gruden said. ”That’s the way the NFL is right now.” Tampa Bay is a disappointing 1-8 on the season, the first for head coach Lovie Smith. Smith’s Bucs lost for a fifth straight time in Sunday’s 27-17 setback to Atlanta at Raymond James Stadium. The Buccaneers have been outscored, 83-31, in two games against Atlanta this season and actually had more yards (373) than the Falcons (322). Three turnovers hurt the Bucs and quarterback Josh McCown threw for 301 yards with a pair of touchdown passes and two interceptions.
”One-and-eight,” McCown said. ”One-and-eight. You want to show your teammates and the coaches and the fans and your family and everybody that you’re better than that, and it just hurts. We lost, and as the quarterback it starts with me. It’s disappointing.” McCown was making his first start since Sept. 18 after taking over for the ineffective Mike Glennon. McCown has thrown an INT in every game this season (6 total) and the Bucs are 0-4 in his starts.
Rookie wide receiver Mike Evans caught seven passes for 125 yards and a touchdown and is tied for third among rookies with five TD catches and 585 receiving yards. In a Week 9 loss at Cleveland, Evans became the youngest player in NFL history with at least 100 receiving yards (124) and two touchdowns (two) in a game. ”He’s got an unbelievable skill set and is super talented,” McCown said. ”But more than that, his focus and attention to detail are what give Mike an edge. To see what Mike is doing now and how he’s developing and coming along, that’s huge for us. It’s reflective of the way he works and the type of competitor that he is.”
The Buccaneers will play two straight and four of the next five games on the road, and their only win this season came in Pittsburgh on Sept. 28. Tampa Bay and Washington have split 18 meetings in the regular season and two games in the playoffs. In a 24-22 Redskins victory over the Bucs on Sept. 30, 2012, Griffin threw for 323 yards and Alfred Morris compiled 113 rushing yards and a score. Vincent Jackson caught six balls for 100 yards and a touchdown in that one for Tampa Bay, which has lost two of three to the Redskins.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
Griffin made his first start since Week 2 in the loss to the Vikings and completed 18-of-28 passes for 251 yards and one touchdown. He also threw an interception and added 24 rushing yards on seven carries. The former Heisman Trophy winner threw some passes he would like back and many wonder if he’s fully recovered from a dislocated ankle. When healthy and on top of his game, Griffin can be a nightmare for opposing defenses. He keeps the defense honest with his scrambling ability, but putting RG3 in harm’s way is not a good idea at this point.
Washington has proven it can air it out and eat up yards. If only the Redskins could produce better results on the ground. Morris has 605 yards on the season and is on his way for a third straight 1,000-yard campaign. Morris, though, has yet to record 100 yards rushing in a game and had a season-high 92 yards and two TDs on 19 carries in Minnesota.
The Redskins are 28th in rushing yards with 90.0 ypg. ”I think the big thing is we’ve got to continue focusing on situational football,” Gruden said. ”Whether it’s third downs, whether it’s two-minute drills, whether it’s we got the ball at the plus-40 and all we need is 10 yards to get a field for overtime or a touchdown.” Gruden said Washington just has to put it all together for 60 minutes and stay consistent in the week-to-week approach. The plug hasn’t been pulled on the Redskins just yet, but it’s definitely dangling in the socket.
An effective Morris will open the aerial assault for the Redskins, who will face a Bucs defense rated 31st against the pass (277.1 ypg). That should make Jackson and fellow receiver Pierre Garcon excited. Tampa Bay is also just 29th in total yards allowed (391.2) and 31st in points allowed (30.2). Only Chicago is worse with 30.8 points allowed. The Bucs have two stout linebackers in leading tackler Lavonte David (103) and Danny Lansanah. Lansanah and cornerback Johnthan Banks have two interceptions apiece, while defensive tackle Gerald McCoy boasts a team-best five sacks.
McCoy isn’t too pleased with the current state of the Buccaneers. ”It’s really frustrating,” McCoy said after the loss to the Falcons. ”You can’t think of a reason behind it. It all comes down to just doing it. We’ve just got to do it. I don’t know man, I don’t know. I know we’re going to keep going. ”We’ve got to be more disciplined, because a lot of points in the game we were at because of penalties. We were a very undisciplined team, very undisciplined team.”
Tampa Bay was penalized 10 times for 79 yards last week. It cannot afford to give the Redskins chances Sunday or the Bucs will be 1-9 for the first time since starting the 2009 season 1-12. Bobby Rainey leads the Bucs with 388 rushing yards and had only 14 on six carries last week. Rookie RB Charles Sims had a team-best eight carries for 23 yards versus Atlanta and could see a more extended role against a Washington team allowing more than 100 rushing yards a game (110.4).
The Redskins are tough against the pass, giving up 222.9 ypg, so it’s important Tampa Bay gets the ball rolling on the ground. ”Without going into detail (without) watching the video, if you don’t have production from your running game, you’re going to start with the offensive line first and everybody involved in that,” Smith explained. ”From there, though, as a running back, when you get a couple of holes, you need to make someone miss and be able to get yards that way.”
Bucs running back Doug Martin is questionable with an ankle injury and has missed the last two games. Martin has been a huge disappointment with 166 yards and only one TD on 58 carries in five games. The Redskins will have a big body in the middle to help stop Tampa’s run game, as defensive tackle Barry Cofield was added to the active roster from the reserved/injured list. Cofield was placed on the short-term IR list Sept. 9 after suffering a high ankle sprain in the team’s Week 1 loss to Houston.
”He just adds more depth,” Gruden said of Cofield. ”He’s obviously a good player. We think a lot of him, and in his absence guys have stepped up and done some good things. But it to add another big body to the mix, as far as rotations are concerned, it can’t hurt, especially one with his ability.”
The Redskins have had plenty of time to lick their wounds, rest and prepare for the lowly Buccaneers. Giving Griffin another week will benefit a squad still clinging to hopes of making a turnaround for the second time in two years. Look for Morris to get his first 100-yard rushing game of 2014 and Washington moving out of the NFC East basement.
Sports Network predicted outcome: Redskins 27, Buccaneers 17