A lot has changed in a week for the Washington Redskins. Their offensive line has been blown apart by season-ending injuries to guards Brandon Scherff and Shawn Lauvao, and a thumb injury could keep tackle Trent Williams out for another two or three weeks. Their absence and the fact that they will be replaced — at least partly — by three new players will make it tough for Washington to do much offensively.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers, however, are one of the NFL’s worst defensive teams — especially against the pass. They are a competent offense when they get going, with several dangerous wide receivers, including former Redskins standout DeSean Jackson, Mike Evans and Chris Godwin, plus tight end O.J. Howard. That may present a problem for a Washington defense that has struggled against teams that can score quickly.
Give Adrian Peterson the ball
The 33-year-old running back was dominant in the Redskins’ five victories but barely touched the ball in their three defeats. Much of that has to do with game conditions: The Redskins took early leads and held on in their victories but fell behind quickly in their losses.
In last week’s defeat to Atlanta, the Redskins tried to establish Peterson and the short passing game early, only to have a promising first drive stalled by a penalty. If the Redskins can get Peterson going early, they can slow the game and put more pressure on the Bucs' passing offense.
Get after Ryan Fitzpatrick
The season’s early weeks belonged to Tampa Bay’s quarterback, who was sent back to the bench not long after Jameis Winston returned from suspension. But after Winston struggled, Fitzpatrick was given the starting job again.
Fitzpatrick, 35, has thrown 17 touchdowns in just six games, but he falters when he is under siege. Pressure is a must: Pro Football Focus grades him at 94.4 when given a clean pocket. Last week, the Redskins mounted little pass rush against the Falcons in their 38-14 loss.
Connect on third down
Last week, against one of the NFL’s worst third-down defenses, the Redskins could not convert. A few times, they were held back by penalties, but generally the problems came because of dropped passes, wrong routes or off-target throws.
Washington has to be much better on third down. Quarterback Alex Smith needs to be more accurate and has to find a way to get the ball to tight end Jordan Reed, especially because running back Chris Thompson — the team’s top third-down threat — will miss Sunday’s game.
This should be obvious. If you are penalized 10 times — as the Redskins were against the Falcons — it’s hard to win. Cleaning up the penalties sounds simple, but it will be hard with a newly rebuilt offensive line; several drives against Atlanta stalled because of holding calls. And Washington will have to rely on two rookie cornerbacks to help cover the Bucs’ fleet of receivers.
Win the turnover battle
In Washington’s three-game winning streak, it built early leads with points off interceptions and fumbles. Fitzpatrick might be a touchdown machine, but he also has seven interceptions. The Redskins need to force him into mistakes.
Tampa Bay’s defense has intercepted only one pass, which should play into Washington’s deliberate, ball-control offense.
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