Thursday, January 05, 2006

PREVIEWING THE TAMPA / WASHINGTON GAME

FEATURED REVIEW

Washington at Tampa Bay: Washington and Tampa are, actually, an intriguing pairing.

Washington:
With QB Mark Brunell at the helm of the 'Skins, the team has a battle-tested, Playoff savvy Signal Caller directing the offense. Indeed, in Bru', Washington also has a banged-up (sprained right knee) and inconsistent Signal Caller directing the O.
Last week, against the Eagles, Brunell lacked his usual poise and touch, completing a mere 9 of 25 attempts for 141 yards, with 1 TD and 1 pick. Brunell's outing was hardly encouraging, but one will hope that with another week to recover, coupled with his Post-C' experience, the Redskins have the right man over Center.

RB Clinton Portis has been pouring it on in recent games (5 consecutive 100+ yard rushing efforts), and he finally seems to be clicking with his O-linemen. The fact of the matter is that, aside from H-Back Mike Sellers' 8th TD of the season Portis WAS the Redskin O this past week. Just a lil' note of interest- Sellers enjoyed a whopping 13 touches ALL season... 8 of which went for scores! Getting back to the back for a moment, Portis was forever running up his linemens' butts, unable to find... or too impatient to wait for, his blocks to develop. However, sometime around mid-season... let's call it Week 10, the light seemed to go on for C-Port who finished the regular season with a line of 352/1,516/11. The Redskin runner also reeled off 5 consecutive 100+ yard rushing games and 6 TDs to wrap the reg’. At 5-11/212, Portis might seem to be a diminutive back. Uh-uh, don't let his size fool you because actually it's an asset as he can get lost behind his line, blockers, and would-be tacklers. A powerful man, Portis is an excellent between the Tackles runner; he's got great leg drive and strength, he refuses to be stripped, and his ability to cut a run back against the grain is terrific. With his jets, Portis is able to take a broken play and freelance for big yards, or bounce it outside and leave defenders in his wake. A legit' 3-Down runner, he can catch the ball as a receiver coming out of the backfield and he can pick up the blitz.
RB Ladell Betts shouldn’t be overlooked. At 5-10/225, Betts can capably spell Portis; he has wiggle, speed, and is capable of putting the unsuspecting defender on his rump. In short, Ladell Betts is an awfully nifty change of pace back.

WR Santana Moss (84/1,483/9) has been a virtual one-man pass catching band. And yet... trading WR Laveranues Coles to the Jets for Moss might've been one of the NFL's TOP off-season moves. Quick, can YOU name the 'Skins complementary receiver? If you said James Thrash... you won! The only other Redskin pass catcher of consequence was another H-Back.TE, Chris Cooley, who enjoyed a numerically poetic 71/774/7 season. The primary pass catching threats will be Moss and Cooley, with C-Port snaring a couple outta' the backfield.

If Portis can't force foes to respect the run... it will be a LOOONG day at the office for Brunell and the Redskin receiving corps.

The Redskin D has enjoyed a revival of sorts. Sparked by LBs Lemar Marshall (81 tackles, 2 Sacks, 4 INTs, 2 FF) and Marcus Washington (74 tackles, 7 ½ Sacks, 3 FF), the run D stiffened and Signal Callers were forced to keep their heads on a swivel. Complementing a speedy ‘backer corps, with 15 INTs and 86 passes defended the Redskin D-backfield made life tough on opposing receivers. FS Sean Taylor is a brilliant athlete with ridiculous speed; even if Taylor is beaten on a route or move, his “make-up” speed allows him to get in position to play the ball. A 2nd year player, if Taylor allows himself to be “coached-up,” the guy has star potential.

Tampa Bay:
Unlike their foe, the Bucs’ have a young and relatively untested Field General directing the O in QB Chris Simms. Simms didn’t have bad year statistically, and his diggies’ are encouraging. Over the span of his 11 games, Phil Simms’ son was good for 2,035 passing yards, 11 TDs, 10 INTs, a passer rating of 78.1, and he won 7 of his 11 starts. Of some concern… his penchant for fumbling. Simms put the ball on the ground 6 times and lost 4 of ‘em. Let us, however, emphasize the positives! Simms possesses a fine arm (though not a cannon), he’s developed a nice rapport with his pass catchers (particularly Joey Galloway), and he commands respect within the huddle. The ‘Skins are going to throw all kinds of looks at Simms and bring pressure from every direction. Assuming the young QB doesn’t panic… he doesn’t develop “happy feet” and he finds his hot reads and safety-valve receivers, Simms will be fine and will help to keep the game close.

*NOTE: Chris Simms threw a mere 3 picks over his last 8 games.

The Bucs’ enjoy an embarrassment of Running Back riches in Cadillac Williams, Mike Alstott, and brutish Michael Pittman.
After garnering 47 of a possible 50 first place votes RB Carnell “Cadillac” Williams, to no great surprise, won “Offensive Rookie of the Year” honors. Whether Caddy’ deserves the honor is debatable... one athlete who was entirely overlooked was the Bears’ rookie QB Kyle Orton. But be that as it may, Caddy’ took the league by storm and started the season in record-breaking fashion (he tallied 434 rushing yards in his first 3 games). Due to insecurities and injuries, Williams slowed-down for a string of games between weeks 4 and 10 and suffered through a true swoon. But after shaking off an ankle sprain (amongst other nicks and knocks), Caddy’ put it into “Cruise Control” and rolled for 80+ rushing yards in 6 of his last 7 games, with a quartet of TDs. With a speedy and skilled group of run blockers in front of him, a healthy Carnell Williams, who can score from virtually anywhere… at anytime, could be the difference maker.
During Caddy’s Mid-Season struggles, coach John Gruden looked to veteran runner Mike Alstott to save the team’s ‘back bacon. With 34 carries and 80 yards… FOR THE SEASON, Alstott didn’t exactly pound out the yardage. But, Alstott logged 6 trips to the ‘Zone… and that’s precisely what Gruden, and the team, needed.
RB Michael Pittman was rock-solid last season, banging out 1,317 yards and 10 total TDs. This year… Pittman was unceremoniously rendered the “change of pace” back. Whether you think it’s fair or not, Gruden did something right as the team is staring down the Redskins in the 1st round of the layoffs.

Of course, the team wouldn’t be where it is without the remarkable contributions of WR Joey Galloway (83/1,287/10). Enjoying an “out-of-nowhere” renaissance season, Galloway has seemingly rediscovered both his speed and “suddenness.” Galloway thrived with Brian Griese over Center, scoring 4 times before Griese went down during Week 6 with a knee injury. He has, however, worked at developing a rapport with Simms… and that relationship started to bear fruit as the season wound down. Just in time for the Post-C’. Fellow WR Michael Clayton, last season’s “Rookie of the Year,” suffered a painful toe injury that has had him hobbled all season long. How bad is the injury? Last season Clayton averaged almost 75 receiving yards per, and stacked 7 scores. This season, the 2nd year pass catcher was held scoreless through the 11 games in which he played, averaged a scant 26 receiving yards per game, and will be a no-show this weekend. Don’t be surprised if rookie TE Alex Smith is a significant second-season factor. The big pass catching TE has played a larger offensive role in recent games, averaging 4 receptions over his last 4 games.

The Buccaneer D is the team’s bread and butter. The D keeps games close… the O puts ‘em away. DE Simeon Rice continues to haunt opposing Signal Callers (14 Sacks), LB Shelton Quarles (103 Solo Tackles, 4 FF) continues to stymie opposing Running Backs, and DB Ronde Barber (83 solo stops, 5 picks, 20 PD) continues to shut down opposing wideouts. As a whole, the Bucca’D flows to the ball and likes to swarm the ball carrier. Therein could lie an advantage to Redskin runner Clinton Portis. With C-Port’s ability to cut it back, a defense with a tendency to overpursue, such as the Bucs, could be undone by the very thing that makes them so effective; their aggressiveness!

Significant Injuries: Washington will probably be without CB Shawn Springs… that will make Buc’ Wideout Joey Galloways VERY happy
Tampa will probably be missing WR Michael Clayton due to a terrible turf-toe.

IN CONCLUSION: Irony of ironies, both Washington (6-10 last year) and Tampa Bay (5-11 last season) sported sub .500 records in ‘04. The fact that they’ve gotten to the “Post-Season Promised Land” speaks volumes about both coaches Gibbs and Gruden. These 2 teams last met Week 10 in a game that saw Tampa pull out a 1 put W, the score being an astronomical 36-35, Buccs’. The Redskins’ boast a buncha skill po’ talent, a tight D and a brilliant Football mind in Joe Gibbs. While the ‘Skins are .500 (4-4) on the Road, the Buccs’ are 6-2 at Home, have matured by the week, and boast a pair of 1,000 yard skill po’ players themselves in RB Carnell Williams and WR Joey Galloway. While the combined score may not exceed 70 again… it could still be a shoot-out.

Given Washington QB Mark Brunell’s assorted nicks and knocks, coupled with a lack of a complementary pass catcher, one could give the edge to Tampa playing at Home. HOWEVER, Simms' inexperience, coupled with Cadillac Williams' insecurity... I like Washington and their fierce D to pull out a 3-7 point W.

Washington 21 and Tampa Bay 17

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