While this game may not be important to most of the NFL world since it’s two 2-win teams facing off, it’s quite interesting to me. I live in Tampa and follow the Buccaneers closely. I also follow Scot McCloughan closely because I believe he’s the best talent evaluator in the NFL. A couple of years ago I did a roster evaluation of the Buccaneers’ roster. This offseason, I did one of the Washington roster. That’s why this game is interesting to me.
This week, I’ve crowbarred in some time to take a look at this specific matchup.
Last year, the Bucs only won 2 games. One of those games happened to be against Washington. It wasn’t a close game either. The Bucs won by a score of 27-7, mostly on the back of wide receiver Mike Evans who had 207 yards and 2 touchdowns. The Bucs’ leading rusher in that game was Charles Sims with 36 yards on 13 carries. For Washington, Alfred Morris had 96 yards on 20 carries while Robert Griffin went 23/32 for 207 yards, 1 TD, and 2 INTs. While the numbers weren’t atrocious, it was one of the worst games I’ve ever seen Griffin play as he seemed to have zero field vision and missed tons of open reads and couldn’t pull the trigger on a number of easy throws.
This year, both quarterbacks are different. For Washington, it’s Kirk Cousins. For Tampa Bay, instead of Josh McCown, it’s rookie Jameis Winston.
Winston has been incredibly inconsistent in his play this year, just as you would expect from a rookie. For the most part, he makes the correct presnap reads and that translates to mostly the correct decisions. The problem is that Winston has been precise in his throws. This is mostly due to poor mechanics in his feet and his throwing motion. Winston also tends to panic a bit when he’s in traffic in the pocket. When the pocket begins to close in around him he makes large elaborate movements instead of subtly sliding forward by a step and maintaining his eyes downfield. If he can maintain calm in the pocket, he’s a much better passer.
One of the biggest things that I’ve noticed on film is that contrary to how Winston played in college, vs. Jacksonville, Winston lacks anticipation, timing, and confidence in his arm and/or his wide receivers. There was a throw down the left sideline to Evans beat his CB by 2 steps on a go route, and Winston put too much loft on the ball and it allowed the CB to recover and knock it down. That’s a throw that Winston normally puts some zip on downfield and puts on the money. There are also other throws on comeback routes that Winston delivered late but completed because the Jags’ secondary isn’t very good. I don’t know where the old Winston went, but he surely wasn’t what I saw in college vs. Jacksonville.
It may have a lot to do with his offensive line. The Bucs may have one of the worst offensive lines in the NFL. LT Donovan Smith is a big body that’s a solid run blocker but has slow feet. He can be beaten with speed – especially when a fast edge rusher can get him to overset vs. the outside speed rush and then cut back across Smith’s face to the inside. In the absence of LG Logan Mankins, Kevin Pamphile has been filling in. He’s another big body that lacks athleticism. The rest of the OL has its own set of problems with Joe Hawley at C, Ali Marpet at RG, and Gosder Cherilus at RT. Marpet is an athletic rookie that shows promise but lacks the functional strength to play at the NFL level right now.
The Washington defensive line has shown that it can’t be overlooked. Jason Hatcher, Chris Baker, and Stephen Paea are disruptive upfront to even good offensive lines. Terrance Knighton is a big body in the middle that eats up space. Ricky Jean-Francois has proven that he can still stop the run as well. The problem is that this front seven lacks a true quick-twitch pass rusher. Ryan Kerrigan is a Pro-Bowl level player as an all-around edge player. He’ll tally double digit sacks this year but he’s not Justin Houston or Von Miller on the edge. Trent Murphy lacks the closing speed to be that guy. Rookie Preston Smith has showed promise and could have a major impact on this game if Washington will give him the snaps I think he deserves today.
On the back end of the defense, ILBs Riley and Robinson may be two of the best LBs in the NFL that you’ve never heard of unless you’re a Washington fan. These guys are smart and fly all over the field. Robinson is better in coverage than Riley while Riley fills down with a little more oomph than Robinson. These guys are fun to watch together.
Bashaud Breeland is a guy that I said had the potential to be a shutdown corner in my preseason roster evaluation. He looked rusty in his first couple of games but he’s shown me exactly what I’ve expected in his last 3 games. He’s still young and he still makes mistakes, but Breeland still looks like the real deal.
Aside from Breeland, the Washington secondary has been wholly inconsistent. The best player to this point in the secondary may be safety Dashon Goldson. DeAngelo Hall and Chris Culliver have played decent but are out for this game. That leaves Will Blackmon, Deshazor Everrett, and Quinton Dunbar to fill in against Vincent Jackson and Mike Evans. That’s not an ideal matchup.
On a side note, I’d really like to see Jeron Johnson get some more snaps to see what he can do at safety. Trenton Robinson has been all over the place and Johnson was a guy I really liked in Seattle.
For the rest of the Bucs offense, Mike Evans has had a slow start to the year but this could be the game where he breaks out. It really depends on how Washington decides to defend in the secondary. Vincent Jackson has been the Bucs’ best receiver by a longshot this year so they may decide to focus on him instead of Evans, but it seems most teams are still guarding Evans more than VJax.
Doug Martin has been the Bucs’ best player this season – Lavonte David and Gerald McCoy included. Martin has the burst he had a few years ago and the agility is back. He’s also a strong runner. He really is a complete back and if he had a better line he’d have a shot at 1500+ yards this season. I’m surprised Bucs’ OC Dirk Koetter hasn’t relied on him more considering the struggles of a rookie QB. Sims has been the “3rd down” back. The Bucs are figuring out how he’s best used – in space, on the edge, and as a WR and he’s benefited in recent weeks from it. He’s not a between the tackles runner and he goes down too easy on contact (and as evidenced in his 1st quarter toss play vs. Jacksonville, sometimes without contact).
Washington will continue to roll with QB Kirk Cousins. It’s important to understand what Cousins is and isn’t before throwing him under the bus. Cousins is a limited QB who needs to get rid of the ball quickly and on-time to be efficient. His mechanics deteriorate quickly when he’s pressured and he doesn’t do well when plays breakdown. This is why he’s effective when throwing to guys like Garcon and Crowder who are good route runners who understand how to stem routes to quickly get leverage against a defender.
In front of Cousins, the Washington offensive line is a very big, but athletic-for-the-size, group. Trent Williams is still a Pro Bowl-level LT. The guy I’ve been most impressed with is RT Morgan Moses who has shown a ton of promise. He’s been Washington’s 2nd best offensive linemen this year. Rookie Brandon Scherff has been solid as well. I still lean that he’d be a better tackle than guard, but he’s beginning to figure it out at guard after a few games. The sky is the limit for his potential. Kory Lichtensteiger is out for this game which means the beleaguered Josh LeRibeus will be at center. LeRibeus is a liability and could solely be responsible for Washington losing this game. OL coach Bill Callahan better have a plan to protect LeRibeus against the defensive tackles of Tampa Bay as McCoy, Clinton McDonald, and and Henry Melton will dominate LeRibeus one on one.
On the edge, the Bucs’ Jacquies Smith gets a lot of credit for small bursts of production. Smith owns lesser players at LTs but struggle against anyone who is above average. He’ll likely be very silent against LT Williams. (All of this is assuming Williams is active as he’s passed concussion protocol.) Perhaps the most intriguing matchup is RT Moses vs. DE William Gholston. Gholston is a physical freak who can physically dominate but it doesn’t always seem to “click” for him. He’s played well this year but he often gives up on plays or makes the wrong move when needed. Too many times I’ve seen him shoving the tackle into the space of the QB and then stop to try to get around his blocker. I’d love to see him just continue that push straight into the lap of the QB. Moses is the type of guy that can give him trouble. He’s physically a strong match for Gholston but all it takes is one misstep and a guy like Gholston can win.
This feels like a good game for RB Matt Jones. Both he and Alfred Morris should have good run lanes. I like Jones more because he gets downhill in a hurry and his physicality is a bad matchup for the slow and soft defense of the Bucs.
Lavonte David has played well this year – contrary to what you might have heard anywhere else. David is asked to do different things in this defense so he’s not making as many splash plays as he did in Schiano’s defense but that doesn’t mean that he is any less of a player. Rookie LB Kwon Alexander looks like a legit star in the making at MLB.
In the secondary, the Bucs have played pretty poorly. Banks and Verner aren’t solid fits for Tampa 2. The safety position has been pretty atrocious. Chris Conte is a smart player but lacks the speed and athleticism to make plays when necessary. He’s always just a step shy and in the NFL at the safety position, that means he’s giving up points. Bradley McDougald has his moments but he’s still not terrific. Again, consistency is everything at the safety position. Any mistake there means that the backend of the defense falls apart and points are likely scored.
Getting into the scheme relations and matchup problems, there are a couple of things that stick out to me. Washington could have serious trouble on the interior OL vs. the Bucs’ DTs. This means that Cousins could have guys in his face all day. I would expect Jay Gruden to realize this could be the case and they could neutralize this will rollouts, tunnel screens, and draw plays to keep the DTs honest. They should also use hard counts to get the Bucs’ DL to jump offsides and slow their get off. With time, I think Cousins could have an easy go of it when passing because of the soft defense of the Bucs. Look for the Washington RBs to have success running off the edge and B gaps.
One intriguing matchup is how Gruden decides to us his RBs in pass pro. Will he have them focused on the interior to protect there and leave RT Moses on an island vs. Gholston, or does he split the help amongst the right side. He can leave LT Williams on an island vs. DE Smith and feel comfortable.
On the other side of the ball, I’m curious as to how DC Joe Barry decides to distribute coverages between Vincent Jackson and Mike Evans. My sense tells me that he’ll still focus on Evans until Jackson proves that he can beat them. With that being said, he has multiple ways to try to manage this dynamic. He may be able to put Breeland on Jackson and roll coverages over to Evans’ side. I think that’s probably the best way to handle it until Jackson proves he’s the guy that Barry should focus on.
I also think the Washington DL dominates the Bucs offensive line. Winston should be under pressure all day as his OL is facing a DL that is both stronger and more athletic across the board. Preston Smith could have 2 or 3 sacks today if given the appropriate amount of playing time.
It’s important to note that the Bucs are using more coverage disguises in their last couple of games and are playing more Cover 3 and single high safety than at any point since Lovie Smith took over. Even with an extra guy in the box, I expect Tampa Bay to have trouble stopping the run.
If played correctly, Washington should rush for over 200 yards, have 4 or 5 sacks, and win pretty handily. The only way that doesn’t happen is if OC Dirk Koetter can get Winston in a groove early and get the Washington defense on its heels and force Cousins into throwing more than Washington would like. This would increase opportunities for turnovers and could put Washington in a position where they have to play a close game.
I don’t think that happens and Washington wins by 14+ points.