The Washington Redskins on Sunday look to snap a two-game losing streak as they go back on the road and take on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Raymond James Stadium at 4:25 p.m.
The Redskins have lost their last two games by seven points or fewer, and each game, they had the ball for a possible game-winning drive in the closing minutes of play before penalties killed their chances.
Another trend has been struggles in pass coverage as the St. Louis Rams and Cincinnati Bengals both carved up Washington’s secondary.
Washington aims to return to the impressive form seen in Week 1 against the Saints. Here are five story lines to follow on Sunday:
1.) Pass defense – As just mentioned, this has been an area of great weakness for the Redskins. Through three games, they have allowed 1,012 yards and 10 touchdowns through the air. Miscommunications, coverage and tackling breakdowns are to blame. Washington’s defensive backs desperately want to reverse the trend this week as they face a Bucs team that ranks 30th in the league in passing. Can they succeed? Or is this a get-right game for the Bucs, who boast a strong-armed quarterback in Josh Freeman and Pro Bowl wide receiver in Vincent Jackson?
2.) Griffin’s protection – Rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III was sacked six times last week against the Benglas, and he also took a pounding on running plays and was slow to get up several times. The Redskins know that they have to do a better job of protecting their quarterback, and this week Washington’s linemen stressed the importance of doing better than they did last week. Griffin also has a hand in this as he will try to get rid of the ball more quickly both on passes and option pitches. The quarterback leads an offense that ranks first in the league in scoring. An injury to him would mean a serious blow to Washington’s chances of rebounding and putting together a competitive season.
3.) Injury bug – Part of the problem with protection last week was the absence of left tackle Trent Williams, who suffered a bone bruise in his right knee on the second offensive play and then sat out most of the game. Williams was unable to practice on each of the last two days and appears unlikely to suit up Sunday. That means Jordan Black, who was out of football last season, will likely start. Meanwhile, the Pierre Garcon watch continues. The big-play receiver hasn’t made it back on the field since racking up 109 receiving yards and a touchdown in the first eight plays of the season opener. He remains limited by a turf-toelike injury, but hasn’t been ruled out for Sunday’s game. On defense, the Redskins’ secondary could benefit from the return of starting strong safety Brandon Meriweather, who has missed all three games with a strained MCL and PCL in his right knee. Meriweather has gradually increased his activity in the last two weeks and could make his Redskins debut this week.
4.) Third down struggles – Despite their success on offense, the Redskins could be better. They have successfully converted only 11 of 40 third downs for first downs (tied for second worst in the league). With the defense struggling to stop opponents, Washington’s offense can help by extending drives and keeping the Bucs off the field. One factor is putting themselves in favorable third-down situations with strong execution on first and second downs rather than struggling on the first two snaps and then facing third and long repeatedly.
5.) Revamped backfield – Rookie Alfred Morris has done well running the ball, averaging 4.3 yards a carry and recording three rushing touchdowns in three games. But he hasn’t played much on third down and hasn’t had to handle blitz-pickup duties. Evan Royster and Roy Helu Jr. had shared this role, but Helu is now on IR, and Royster has been limited this week by a strained patella tendon in his right knee. The Redskins signed veteran Ryan Grant to help bolster their backfield, but he has been through only three practices. He did play in a similar scheme in Green Bay, so that has helped him catch up quickly, but it’s hard to say how much action he’ll get this week.