Can the Bucs high-powered passing game exploit Washington

Washington coach Jay Gruden's defense faces a big test Sunday against  the Bucs, the NFL's top-ranked passing offense. Washington Post photo by John McDonnell.
Washington coach Jay Gruden's defense faces a big test Sunday against the Bucs, the NFL's top-ranked passing offense. Washington Post photo by John McDonnell.
Published November 9 2018
Updated November 9 2018

The list of conquered running backs seemed to grow each week and the defense checked them off with pride ó David Johnson, Alvin Kamara, Christian McCaffrey, Ezekiel Elliott, Saquon Barkley. As the team dominated in the run game, however, top-notch receivers T.Y. Hilton, Devin Funchess, Odell Beckham Jr., Julio Jones and Calvin Ridley all posted yardage above their season averages against Washington.

Washington is one of top run-stopping teams in the league but rank No. 20 against the pass after getting lit up for 350 yards and four passing touchdowns against Matt Ryan and the Falcons. Things donít get easier this weekend against a Buccaneers receiving corps consisting of Mike Evans, DeSean Jackson and tight end O.J. Howard.

Coach Jay Gruden said there were lessons learned against Atlanta that can be applied to this week.

"You know we have to do better on third down rushing the passer," Gruden said. "We had some pretty good third-down situations for us to get some pass rush and we didnít really take advantage of those situations. Matt Ryan had some time to throw and get to his first, second, third read. They ran some very good pick routes and got free. We have to clean up some of our . . . if weíre going to play man-to-man, clear up some of our combination coverages and go from there.

"But itís going to be a great challenge. Evans is a heck of a receiver. Obviously, DeSean, Chris Godwin and O.J., so we have to cover them up, mix in some zones and rush the passer."

The secondary recently has been somewhat in flux. Starting cornerback Quinton Dunbar has missed two games with a nerve issue in his lower leg and has not practiced this week. That left rookies Greg Stroman and Danny Johnson filling in with varied degrees of success. The team brought in Pro Bowl safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix at the trade deadline and he started that same week. Cornerback Josh Norman had played well after some early-season struggles, but was not at his best against the Falcons.

Fox Sports analyst and former NFL linebacker Chris Spielman said the rules and the ways offenses are constructed make it difficult for a team to consistently shut down these upper-echelon receivers. Sometimes a win is simply eliminating the big play and tightening up once offenses reach the red zone. Spielman, who is scheduled to call the game, also stressed the need for the secondary to get help from the defensive line in the form of quarterback pressure.

"Itís tough to cover guys in this league," Spielman said. "Guys are going to get yards.

"Theyíre going to get challenged. If you can get pressure, especially if you can get it with four, that gives you seven on the back end, and . . . ?have? good open-field tackling."

Tampa Bay features the No. 1 passing offense in the league, averaging 356.6 yards per game, and its 446.8 total yards per game ranks No. 2. It is the No. 8 scoring offense with 28.6 points, but the run game has been nonexistent with 90.1 yards, 30th in the NFL.

Atlanta brought a similar unbalanced attack to Washington, but was able to run and moved the ball without much resistance.

Washington defensive coordinator Greg Manusky said he thinks last weekís result was more fluke than fact.

"I think, overall, there was just a lull," he said. "I think, over a season, youíve got those ups and downs and we just happened to have one of those downs. So, weíve got to make sure we rebound back from a bad performance and go into this week.

"The best thing . . . about it, when you do have those bad performances, usually the guys focus a little bit more and theyíre focused in."

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