Keys to the Game
The first thing you think about when you think of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers is their defense, which is third overall in yards allowed. What impresses you the most is their relentlessness. They are extremely quick up front, and this style sets the tempo for the rest of the unit. The defensive front is coached by Rod Marinelli, who is one of the most underrated defensive line coaches in the league.
Their whole defense does a great job of hustling to the ball. In fact, when I looked at Tampa Bay in the preseason, its second unit played with the same level of intensity and discipline as the first unit. This is a product of a well-coached defense, which is coordinated by Monte Kiffin.
I asked Bucs General Manager Rich McKay what made the defense so relentless, and he attributed it to the short but high-intensity practices.
Teams that have played Tampa Bay feel the best way to run the ball is to run right at them and not even attempt to run outside, where the Bucs can take advantage of their quickness.
Individually, their front four is led by defensive tackle Warren Sapp (12 1/2 sacks) and defensive end Chidi Ahanotu. Last season, Sapp let his weight get away from him to well over 300 pounds. This year, he has kept his weight under control and played a lot better.
To win this game, the Redskins will have to control Sapp. Because the Bucs will line up Sapp on the right and left sides, the Washington guards and center will have to have good games.
Their linebackers are led by veteran Hardy Nickerson and Pro Bowler Derrick Brooks. Brooks is undersized at 6 feet, 231 pounds, but at times it seems like he is in on every play. He is fast and quick as well as instinctive.
In the secondary, the Bucs play mostly zone defense. Their best cornerback is Donnie Abraham, so most teams will attack their other corner, Ronde Barber.
But the player you will see most is Pro Bowl strong safety John Lynch. He is a physical hitter and often will line up like a linebacker, thus giving Tampa Bay what amounts to an eight-man front. They play this type of scheme frequently.
When the Bucs do this, they leave themselves vulnerable to play-action passes or quick hitches and slant routes to the outside receivers.
The Bucs don't blitz a lot, but they did hurt the Redskins last season with blitzes in passing situations. They did it by overloading one side of the offensive line with more defenders than blockers and will certainly try some form of this tactic again (they have had success against other teams, too).
However, Brad Johnson has burned other teams at times when they've tried to blitz him.
Another factor that will help Tampa Bay's defense is the home crowd. The Bucs have won seven straight games at home, allowing less than 11 points per game in that stretch.
Teams playing Tampa Bay feel they must exhibit patience against the Bucs' defense. Twenty points can win this game. There are holes in their zone defense that can be exploited with a short passing game, something the Redskins excel at because of Johnson's instincts and accuracy, as well as the ability of the Washington running backs to catch the ball.
Overall, Tampa Bay's defense versus Washington's offense should be a great matchup. But the real key to this game will be the Redskins' defense against the Bucs' offense, especially in stopping the running game.
When you analyze the Tampa offense, their primary goal is to run the ball. They will start the game running the ball and will stay with it for four quarters.
The Bucs were 15th in rushing yards, while the Redskins were 28th in defending the run. Tampa Bay has a two-pronged running attack featuring Mike Alstott and Warrick Dunn. Alstott (6-1, 262 pounds), who is listed as a fullback but is really a one-back runner, is a strong runner who has a subtle inside move with good instincts. He's especially effective when he gets into the secondary. It's tough for a single defensive back to bring him down.
One thing to keep in mind: Alstott led the NFL this season by losing six fumbles.
The other Tampa Bay running back is tailback Dunn (5-8, 180 pounds). Despite his size, Dunn will be used a lot as an inside runner. He's most effective when used on screen passes that allow him to use his speed and elusiveness.
If the Redskins can contain, but not necessarily stop, the Tampa Bay running game, they can win.
Rookie quarterback Shaun King will start for the Bucs. This is his sixth start of the season. His record as a starting quarterback is 4-1. The Bucs don't ask a lot of King in the passing game. He was inserted into the starting lineup after Trent Dilfer was injured and Eric Zeier was ineffective. King was drafted in the second round in last year's draft after leading Tulane to an undefeated season.
His best asset is his poise. How he handles his first playoff game will be critical to the success of the Bucs. Primarily, they ask him not to lose the game. He rarely throws downfield. In fact, of his 146 passes, he has thrown only 12 of more than 20 yards and completed just two of those.
Their pass offense is very simple in design. One has to ask: What do they do if they get behind? Teams that don't use the downfield passing game as an integral part of their offense have trouble coming from behind.
Their wide receivers are not very big and have not given them the consistency they would like. Their size works against them when they have to go up for the ball. Jacquez Green (5-9, 168 pounds) is one of the fastest wide receivers in the game, and the Redskins must control him to win the game. He can score from any place on the field, and they will try to go deep to him.
Along their offensive line, the Bucs have a similar problem to the Redskins at left tackle. Veteran Paul Gruber is injured and will not play. He will be replaced by Pete Pierson, who has not started any games at left tackle for Tampa this season. One thing to watch is how much help the Bucs give him in pass protection.
The Analyst: Charley Casserly
Charley Casserly joined the Washington Redskins as an unpaid intern in 1977 and performed a variety of duties until his departure last summer. He was a scout in the player personnel department before being named assistant general manager under Bobby Beathard. He was promoted to general manager in 1989 and was the architect of teams that made three straight playoff appearances, including the 1991 team that went 17-2 and won Super Bowl XXVI.
He also was a member of the NFL's competition committee and a leader in the campaign for instant replay.
Before departing last summer, he made a series of moves that helped the Redskins return to the playoffs. He engineered the draft-day deals that allowed the Redskins to select Georgia cornerback Champ Bailey and stockpile extra draft choices. He also negotiated the deal that brought Pro Bowl quarterback Brad Johnson to the Redskins.