Redskins again hoping to step past limping foe

Williams' injury, Simms' inexperience have Bucs slumping

Pro football

November 13, 2005|By EDWARD LEE | EDWARD LEE,SUN REPORTER

Jon Gruden hates to make excuses.

Yes, his Tampa Bay Buccaneers have lost their past two games and slipped from a 4-0 start to 5-3. Yes, the offense is starting a relatively raw quarterback in Chris Simms and is relying on a less-than-healthy running back in Carnell Williams.

But when the Buccaneers host the Washington Redskins (5-3) at Raymond James Stadium today at 4:15 p.m., Gruden expects his players to suit up and match the Redskins' intensity in an NFC game that could have playoff implications.

"Obviously, when you lose good players, it's not easy on a football team," he said. "We don't like where we are right now given the past couple games, but we found a way to win five games in the first half of the season and we've got to play much better and coach much better to turn this around."

This season, opponents operating at less than 100 percent have managed to fall into Washington's lap.

Consider:

In the Sept. 11 season opener, the Chicago Bears were forced to start rookie Kyle Orton at quarterback because Rex Grossman broke his ankle in the preseason. Orton was sacked three times and threw an interception as the Redskins won, 9-7.

Three weeks ago, the San Francisco 49ers visited, with rookie Alex Smith at quarterback. Smith was sacked three times, threw an interception and lost a fumble in a 52-17 thumping by Washington. Smith, who injured his knee in that game, hasn't played since.

Last week, the Philadelphia Eagles suspended wide receiver Terrell Owens, who had become a locker room distraction. Although a hobbled Donovan McNabb (sports hernia) sparkled, the Redskins persevered, 17-10.

Today's encounter could play into Washington's hands, too. Quarterback Brian Griese guided the Bucs to a 5-1 record until he left a game against the Miami Dolphins on Oct. 16 with a torn anterior cruciate ligament.

Enter Simms, who is 0-2 as a starter. In those two games, the third-year quarterback completed 46 of 76 passes (60.5 percent) for 523 yards and two touchdowns, but he also threw four interceptions and was sacked 10 times.

Redskins strong safety Ryan Clark said he expects the defense to focus on the last statistic.

"How comfortable would you be going back if you've been sacked 10 times?" Clark said. "You're going to make mistakes. The one thing we have to do as a defense is put pressure on him and work to get to him."

Complicating matters is the health of Williams. The rookie, who rushed for 434 yards with an NFL-record three consecutive 100-yard showings in his first three games, has gained just 49 yards in his past two and appears to still be affected by a sprained left arch.

Not surprisingly, Tampa Bay's three losses featured Williams either absent (at the New York Jets on Oct. 9) or struggling (in San Francisco on Oct. 30 and against the Carolina Panthers last week).

Yet, several Washington players said they anticipate a Bucs attack that will put heavy emphasis on Williams and Michael Pittman.

Running the ball would take some pressure off Simms, and Gruden might try to punish a Redskins defense that may miss defensive tackles Cornelius Griffin (strained hip flexor) and Cedric Killings (high ankle sprain).

"We're not 100 percent, either," Redskins defensive end Renaldo Wynn said. "We only have five or six D-linemen, and you look at Philly. They wanted to target our defensive line because they knew we were beat up. You've got to go with what you've got. ... We've got to make sure that we stay focused."

Winning today would go a long way toward improving Washington's playoff picture. The first factor in a tie-breaker is head-to-head outcome. The second factor is conference record. The Redskins are 5-1 against the NFC, Tampa Bay 3-2.

"This would just put us a little bit closer to our goal at the end of the year, and that's making the playoffs," said Redskins linebacker Marcus Washington. "We definitely have to go down there and play a tough game. We can't slack off. NFC games, they count a little more. So we're going to be pumped and ready to go."

edward.lee@baltsun.com

Keys to the game

Take advantage of turnovers

Although the Buccaneers have a minus--1 turnover differential, they have committed seven turnovers against zero take-aways in their past two games. The Carolina Panthers and San Francisco 49ers converted five of those turnovers into 23 points. The Redskins might be able to do the same.

Find No. 84 on third down

Bucs wide receiver Joey Galloway is not only Chris Simms' favorite target, but Galloway also leads the league with 301 receiving yards on third down and is fourth with 16 receptions on third down. Simms likely will turn to Galloway when Tampa Bay needs a first down.

Solve the road woes

After defeating the Dallas Cowboys in their first road game, the Redskins have dropped three straight away from FedEx Field. Penalties and turnovers, which have increased in away games, must be kept to a minimum.

Prediction

The Bucs represent a severe test for Washington's offense, but the Redskins should be able to find holes in the coverage for Santana Moss and Chris Cooley, which may open up some running room for Clinton Portis and Ladell Betts. The key will be Washington's defense, which should be able to pressure Simms into committing turnovers and making questionable decisions. Redskins 20, Bucs 14.

[Edward Lee]

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