Both of these teams came into this Week 4 game 1-2, but had seen major improvements from last season. With the Redskins schedule set to get a little more difficult, having not played a single game against a NFC East foe, Washington were desperate to leave Tampa Bay with a victory.
On the other side, while much has been made of Greg Schiano’s late-game antics, he has his players putting in maximum effort, attempting to put behind them the embarrassment that was 2011. Despite Josh Freeman struggling in Week 3, he performed well the first two weeks and with the running game yet to make the desired impact, there’s reason for optimism.
As it transpired the closing story of this game was one of redemption. After missing three prior field goals in the game, Billy Cundiff’s 41-yarder with three seconds left clinched the game for Washington. Let’s take a closer look as to how the Redskins left Tampa with a W.
Washington – Three Performances of Note
RGIII Continuing to Emerge
The “buzz” on Robert Griffin III (+1.4) this week was that he had been taking too many hits against the Bengals and would not be able to remain healthy if that trend continued. Part of the problem last week was Trent Williams going down early in the game and replacement left tackle Jordan Black cordially inviting Bengal players to tee off on his quarterback. Williams was healthy enough to give it a go this week and the results were noticeably different. Williams (+4.6) not only mauled as run blocker, but also allowed just two hurries of Griffin, and the Redskins as a unit only gave up two sacks and nine hurries. With time to throw, RGIII worked the middle of the field and spread the ball around to nine receivers. On these throws, between the numbers and aimed up to 20 yards downfield, Griffin finished 20-for-26 accumulating 226 yards. Talk about efficient. Griffin was so effective using the middle of the field, that he only attempted one pass over 20 yards, which fell incomplete. With his Week 1 passing line inflated largely by an 88-yard touchdown catch by Pierre Garcon, this was the first game RGIII really got to flash his pinpoint accuracy and control. Against a defense that has been soft over the middle in the past and offered little to no pass rush this week, Griffin got the ideal opportunity to really get into a rhythm over the middle. If his offensive line shows any sort of consistency in protection over the course of the season, teams will need to be on their game to stop this sort of performance.
With just seven rushes, Griffin had a season low, but the Redskins showed no hesitation in calling quarterback draws in the red-zone as RGIII scored on one draw and nearly scored on another, with Garcon recovering his fumble in the endzone. Extropolating, Griffin is on course for 160 rushes, 1,000 yards and 16 touchdowns on the ground and he still demonstrated fearlessness while running on Sunday, allowing some shots to be taken at his expense. He continues to pop up after taking these hits, but whether or not the Shanahan’s will scale back his rushes further into the season in an effort to keep him healthy, they’ve shown no worry so far.
Is Alfred Morris for real?
It may be time to take Alfred Morris (+2.0) seriously, as the rookie rusher continued his strong start to the season. Although he has his quarterback to thank for opening some of the holes with the devastating zone-read or perfectly executed play-fake, Morris can claim some of the credit for being fifth in the league in rushing through four games. With 74 yards gained after contact in this game, Morris is now fourth in that category after four games, piling up 227 yards after contact on the season. So even if a defender is fortunate enough to corral Morris in the backfield, it is very unlikely that he will be brought down without getting back to the line of scrimmage or gaining a few yards. Additionally, much of the talk in the preseason and even early on in the regular season was that Morris was a plodder, unable to make a man miss. After causing five missed tackles against the Buccaneers, Morris now ranks second to Marshawn Lynch with 16 missed tackles. Picking up 49 yards on five carries running behind Trent Williams, on multiple occasions Morris got around the left tackle and carried Ronde Barber, Mark Barron or even made them miss to pick up a few extra yards. How soon can RGIII and Morris be called a dynamic rookie duo?
While their numbers don’t look so bad (one hit, two hurries, three tackles, three defensive stops), Rob Jackson and Chris Wilson combined to post a -2.2 in filling in for the injured Brian Orakpo. Donald Penn was routinely matched up with with them at left tackle and often rendered them ineffective, simply pushing them downfield or to the ground. While the Redskins, as a defensive unit, put enough pressure on Freeman in the first half to force bad decisions and inaccurate passes, they were ineffective in the second half, giving up big plays and nearly lost the game because of it. While Ryan Kerrigan (-0.4) picked up a sack and knocked a ball down at the line of scrimmage, he was largely held in check, the consistent pressure that Orakpo is capable of bringing might have kept Freeman from sitting in the pocket and delivering downfield throws.
Tampa Bay – Three Performances of Note
Josh Freeman: A Tale of Two Halves
In the first half of Sunday’s game, Josh Freeman (+3.5) looked very similar to how he looked in Dallas the previous week: timid and inaccurate. Going 11-for-19 for 80 yards and an interception is bad enough, but the Bucs were booed off the field, taking a 21-6 deficit into halftime. Coming out determined in the second half, there was a clear change of tactic to get Freeman looking downfield early and often. Standing confidently in the pocket and delivering downfield passes to get his team back in the game, Freeman completed all three of his passing attempts 20 yards or longer, compiling 141 yards along the way. Two of those completions were particularly impressive. Freeman hit Mike Williams (+3.3) in stride against zone coverage along the right sideline for a 65 yard catch and run that set up the Bucs first touchdown. On the next possession, Freeman threw up a deep ball down the left sideline for Vincent Jackson (+2.2) to go up and catch for a 54 yard gain, setting up another Tampa Bay touchdown. Working against DeAngelo Hall, Freeman put the ball up and out enough so that only Jackson would be able to haul it in. Although Washington’s secondary is prone to getting beat deep, if Freeman and his receivers came to life sooner, they may well have walked out victorious.
Lavonte David: Next Great Tampa LB?
Playing the most snaps of any Tampa Bay linebacker, rookie Lavonte David (+2.2) is quickly establishing himself as an indispensable player on the defensive side of the ball for Greg Schiano’s club. Along with fellow rookie Barron, David paced the defense this week. When the defensive line were often caught upfield, playing right into the hands of Washington’s zone blocking scheme, David had to bail his line out with 8 stops. With the Bucs facing a deficit for much of the second half, David’s drive killing tackles gave the ball back to its offense, which was actually starting to move the ball. Seemingly always around the ball, David was not fooled on a screen to Morris, blowing it up for a 4 yard loss. He still has some rookie “issues” to work out though, occasionally taking poor angles to rushes, but David is providing a sizeable upgrade over the play of Geno Hayes from last season.
Defensive Line Issues
After last week’s fine display against the putrid Dallas offensive line, the Bucs defensive line was flying high, despite the loss of Adrian Clayborn for the season. Michael Bennett (-0.7) did pretty well when rushing RGIII, picking up a sack, a hit, and five hurries. But considering he was working against Tyler Polumbus, his day could have been much better, as Polumbus is the third worst offensive tackle in our grades. Bennett also pursued up the field way too much, leading to massive holes for Morris to run through when Bennett over-pursued too much.
Similarly, Gerald McCoy didn’t have as big a day as he could’ve had. He churned out a positive grade (+1.9) and made a big play, thwarting an RGIII zone read in the fourth quarter on a 3rd-and-1, forcing a Cundiff field goal, which was subsequently missed. But working against an overwhelmed Kory Lichtensteiger, McCoy will come away disappointed that he didn’t have a bigger effect on the game. It’s possible, from looking at his play, that he didn’t want to over pursue upfield, giving Griffin and Morris more running lanes to work with.
– The Buccaneers 16 missed tackles were one less than their season high from last season.
– Leonard Hankerson is fifth in league in missed tackles forced among receivers with five; ahead of him are Percy Harvin, Steve Smith (Carolina), Davone Bess and Victor Cruz.
– Ryan Kerrigan is PFF’s highest graded 3-4 outside linebacker, leading all qualifiers in quarterback hits and hurries, to go with his four sacks.
PFF Game Ball
With his most efficient game passing the ball, as well as still affecting the game with his feet, Robert Griffin III takes home honors. But will his recklessness running the ball ever catch up with him?