The Washington Football Team comes into their Saturday night football game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers listed as eight point underdogs. This is the second-largest point spread of the six games to be played during Wild Card Weekend.
Washington is also only the third team in the Super Bowl Era to advance to the playoffs with a sub .500 record. This does not necessarily mean that Washington will not have a solid chance at pulling off the upset. Here are the keys to the game for both teams.
Washington: Put Pressure on Tom Brady
So far this year, both Tampa Bay and Washington rank in the top 10 in sacks per game. Washington has managed to utilize this pressure by turning their pass defense into the fourth-ranked unit in the NFL.
Tampa Bay quarterback Tom Brady is having an exceptional year on any account. However, Brady’s mobility is limited due to his age. This is good news for Washington as the vast majority of big plays they have given up on the defensive end have come against quarterbacks who can hurt you with their legs.
Tampa Bay: Limit the Pressure Being put on Tom Brady
Brady’s accuracy on deeper routes has also been somewhat questionable at times due to fleeting arm-strength. If Washington can generate pressure on Brady, they can limit the big play capabilities of weapons such as Chris Godwin, Mike Evans (if healthy), Antonio Brown, and Rob Gronkowski.
In 2019, on pressured passes there were only four quarterbacks who averaged fewer yards per attempt than Brady. Those quarterbacks were Mason Rudolph, Dwayne Haskins, Andy Dalton, and Kyle Allen. So far this season, Tampa Bay is 3-5 against teams who rank in the top half of the league in pass defense. They are 8-0 against teams that rank in the bottom half of the league in that statistical category.
Washington: Get the Ball Out Quick
Washington could also struggle heavily on Saturday night in the passing department. This past Sunday, Head Coach of the Philadelphia Eagles Doug Pederson drew up lots of blitz packages against Washington. When Quarterback Alex Smith faced these situations, he was often sacked or unable to make a play down the field. This is because Smith just came back from suffering a strained right calf. This injury occurred on the same leg that he had to have surgically re-constructed just a few years prior.
Tampa Bay: Pressure Alex Smith
Washington will catch somewhat of a break on Saturday night with Tampa Bay Linebacker Devin White being announced out for the game due to Coronavirus concerns. However, Washington has a below-average offensive line. For that reason, if Tampa Bay wants to win they must put pressure on Alex Smith. Tampa Bay should look for the pressure to stem from Shaquil Barrett, Ndamukong Suh, and Jason Pierre Paul.
Washington has held a 5-1 record so far this year in games that Alex Smith has started. This is because Smith avoids putting the defense in harm’s way while steadily collecting short gains to lead his team down the field. Running backs J.D. McKissic and Antonio Gibson both have the capabilities to turn shorter screen and slant passes into larger gains. Logan Thomas has also held a steady presence at the tight end position in recent weeks.
Bottom Line for Saturday Night Football
If Smith gets the ball out quickly for 5-10 yard gains to these targets, he will be able to frustrate the Buccaneers defense by keeping the Buccaneer’s most talented players off the field. If the opposite occurs, Washington’s defense will eventually become worn down, providing Tampa Bay with ample opportunity to blow the game wide open.