Washington was able to sneak past Philadelphia to secure their NFC East divisional victory and a spot in the playoffs where they will host Tampa Bay. Many are curious to see how they will match up against Brady and the Buccaneers. Here are the three key aspects of their game that Washington will have to capitalize on, to advance to the divisional round.
Establishing the Trenches
One of the most obvious yet vital keys Washington will have to accomplish is winning the line of scrimmage, specifically the defensive line. Tampa Bay has one of the best offensive lines in the league as they’re 4th in the NFL in allowed sacks per game at 1.4.
On the contrary, Washington has an 8.88% sack percentage which also happens to be fourth in the NFL. With Pro Bowl selected Chase Young, and Montez Sweat at both defensive ends, they could bring serious pressure off the edge against tackles Donovan Smith and Tristan Wirfs.
Wirfs, the offensive tackle from Iowa, who was taken with the 13th pick in the draft this past year, has only allowed one sack in his last 11 games. He will most likely get the matchup against fellow rookie Chase Young.
This battle between two former Big Ten studs is going to be good and possibly one of the best rookie showdowns of the year. While Washington does have one of the best defensive lines in the league, it will be imperative for them to bring serious heat to Brady on Saturday.
Figuring out the Quarterback Situation
There’s no elephant in the room that coming off his calf sprain, Alex Smith wasn’t 100% in his return against Philadelphia. Rivera has made it known that he isn’t opposed to rotating quarterbacks depending on Alex’s health. While this may seem like a good idea, the “two-quarterback system” going into games hasn’t always been successful.
Many times it can mess with an offensive’s momentum by rotating quarterbacks during the game. I’m confident that Taylor Heinicke will be able to get it done if he gets the start, but I’m not a huge fan of playing Smith until we fall behind on the scoreboard.
Heinicke did play well when given the opportunity, but it’s important to note that he hasn’t started an NFL game since 2018 and that his solid performance was against a 5-11 Panthers squad. Overall, I believe the solution to this situation is simple: If Alex Smith is at 100%, give him the start. If not, consider starting Heinicke. This will allow the offense to establish a consistent rhythm throughout the game.
Shutdown The X-Factors (Jason Pierre-Paul and Mike Evans)
While Brady has continued to put up impressive numbers, there is no doubt that Jason Pierre-Paul and Mike Evans are going to be huge deciders in the outcome of Saturday’s game.
Pierre-Paul has 9.5 sacks, 4 forced fumbles and you can add a Pro Bowl selection to his 2020 resumé this year. It will be important for Washington to slow down Pierre-Paul’s success especially if Smith gets the start due to his calf injury.
Mike Evans has been the #1 WR in Tampa Bay and is 4th in the league in touchdown receptions. Despite suffering a hyperextension in his leg, it seems that he will play in the Wild Card matchup. Washington is ranked 2nd in the league against the pass due to it’s solid secondary and pressure upfront on the defensive line. The Washington defense will have to exceed expectations to slow down Tampa Bay’s offense.
Washington will surely have their hands full come Saturday. Tampa Bay’s weapons on both offense and defense could be very effective. Washington will have to play much better than they did against Philadelphia last week, but if they can set the tone early, don’t be surprised to see them playing in Green Bay next week.
Photo Credit: Tom Pennington