Keys to the Game

I think this is the classic matchup of a well-balanced offense capable of making the big play at any time vs. a powerful defense that has led a team into the playoffs.

In this particular game, I believe the offense will prevail. I favor the Redskins for two reasons. First, they have the better quarterback in Brad Johnson and they have big-play performers such as Michael Westbrook and Stephen Davis. I never believed you could go all the way by just playing solid football. You have to make big plays, and the Redskins are capable of making them.

Johnson has more experience and has played in more crucial games than Tampa Bay rookie Shaun King. The Redskins believe in Johnson, and they are capable of making big plays by throwing to their wide receivers. They've also made big plays in the running game. In other words, they're good enough to win running the ball or throwing it. Not many teams can say that.

The Redskins have been successful getting the ball to their wide receivers for big plays, and they will have to do so again in this game. Westbrook must have a big game. He's a primetime player, and when he's getting single coverage, the Redskins have to throw to him as often as possible. I believe he is the key to their passing game because of his enormous talent. I also think he can beat either one of Tampa Bay's cornerbacks.

If the Bucs double-cover both of the Redskins' wide receivers, then tight end Stephen Alexander will become the primary target. The Redskins are one of the few teams in the NFL with a tight end who can go deep, and he could end up being the star of the game.

The Redskins also need to show the Bucs a new formation or two. Perhaps they could use a three-wide receiver formation, with Irving Fryar joining Westbrook and Albert Connell. With those three players on the field, the Redskins have an excellent chance of making big plays because those are three top guys.

In the final analysis, however, the most important factor may be how well the Redskins run the ball. If they are successful running, that means they have defeated the Bucs at their strongest position--their front seven defenders. I believe the game will be determined by how well the Redskins run the ball. And if they are successful running it, there will be opportunities for play-action passes.

Defensively, the Redskins' number one job will be to stop the run. Strong safety Sam Shade will have to spend more time than usual close to the line of scrimmage. At the same time, they need to disguise their coverage enough that King will feel unsure.

King is a very talented young guy, but this will be a new experience for him. He has never played in a game of this magnitude, and many times the circumstances will overwhelm a young guy. But the Redskins must disguise their coverages enough to make him doubt.

If he is allowed to pick out a receiver before the ball is snapped, he will be able to get into a nice rhythm throwing the ball and gain confidence.

In addition to disguising their coverages, the Redskins must blitz on first down. If they limit the Bucs to less than four yards on first down, it will put pressure on King and the Bucs on second and third down. In long-yardage situations, King will be forced to throw, and that will be playing into the Redskins' hands.

I believe the defensive line will be the key to stopping the Tampa Bay running game. The Redskins' line will have to shed blocks immediately and get to the ballcarrier. The Redskins have a talented defensive line, and they must meet the challenge of defeating the Tampa Bay offensive line.

Their best chance of stopping fullback Mike Alstott and halfback Warrick Dunn is to hit them before they get started. Those two guys are tough once they get rolling. What the line has to do sounds simple, but it's not going to be easy.

In the matchup of place kickers, the Bucs have the edge, Martin Gramatica over Brett Conway. The Redskins can win the special teams matchup if they make one big play. I believe kick returner Brian Mitchell can make that one big play.

In games of this nature, special teams are often the difference, and the Redskins have been noted for their special teams over the years.

The Analyst: Ted Marchibroda

Ted Marchibroda was an NFL coach for 30 years before his departure from the Baltimore Ravens last winter. He was a head coach for 12 of those years, beginning with the Baltimore Colts in 1975. He guided the Colts to three division titles in five seasons.

His last season with the Baltimore Colts was 1979, and for the next 13 years he was an assistant coach with the Chicago Bears, Detroit Lions, Philadelphia Eagles and Buffalo Bills.

He became head coach of the Indianapolis Colts in 1992, and in his fourth season had the team in the AFC championship game. He departed after the 1995 season and spent the next three seasons as head coach of the Ravens.

Marchibroda's first NFL coaching job was as a backfield coach for the Washington Redskins in 1961. He stayed with the Redskins for five seasons, then went to the Rams. He returned to Washington in 1971, serving as offensive coordinator under George Allen through 1974.