The Washington Football Team accomplished the unfathomable last Sunday when they defeated the Philadelphia Eagles to secure their first playoff berth since 2015.
That's the good news.
The not so good news is they drew a hot and motivated Tampa Buccaneer team in the Wild Card that is led by Tom Brady, arguably the greatest quarterback to ever step on a NFL field.
There has been a lot of speculation on whether or not this is a favorable matchup for Washington. Tampa Bay is loaded with talent on both sides of the football, and have the ability to be a very explosive offense especially more recently as they closed out the season scoring 31, 47, and 44 points in consecutive weeks. Albeit that was against the Atlanta Falcons twice and the Detroit Lions who had a combined record of 9-23. It's not surprising that Tampa Bay's offense is finding its stride late into the season heading into the playoffs. Brady has a history of playing his best football in December and into the playoffs. Tampa Bay goes into this game as 8.5 point favorites, which is one of the largest point spreads for a visiting team since the NFL/AFL merger. Vegas odds are an instant indication that they too are expecting what most are; a Buccaneer beatdown of the Washington Football Team.
The great thing about playoff games is that anything can happen once the whistle blows. Point spreads, predictions, analytics, and even your opinion all go out the window once that ball is kicked off. Washington is coming into this game as division champions. It doesn't matter how they got there. It's about what they do with the opportunity once they have arrived. There is nothing that says Washington can't go out there and be better than Tampa Bay for one game. That's all they have to do. Washington is 5-2 in their last 7 games and have been one of the better defensive teams in the league for the vast majority of the season. Their defense at times has been dominant by shutting teams completely down in the second half of games. Speaking of halves, Washington has not played one single game this year where they played two complete halves of mistake free football all season. This can't happen against the Tampa Buccaneers. If the defense and/or the offense come out slow in this game, the scoreboard could get real ugly early, in Tampa's favor.
The defensive approach in this game should be very similar to how they approached the Pittsburgh Steelers game. The key was to:
Not allow any big plays.
Don't commit unnecessary penalties giving their offense a new set of downs.
Tackle while keeping everything in front of them.
Washington's defense needs to put Brady in third down and long situations so that their strength, the pass rushers, can do what they do and get to the quarterback. If they allow Brady to stay in 2nd and 3rd down and short situations, they can forget trying to stop Tampa Bay. They have to limit Tampa's ability to use the entire playbook as much as possible. Between wide receivers Chris Godwin, Mike Evans who is most likely going to play through an injury, Antonio Brown, Scotty Miller, and tight end Rob Gronkowski, Washington doesn't have enough able bodies to contain everybody all day, so they have to create favorable down and distances to aid them. For that reason, the key may be for Washington to stop running back Ronald Jones III first and foremost. Jones has flown under the radar during Tampa's success, but he has been a large part of it averaging 5.1 yards per rushing attempt. Washington is going to need to cut that in half and make him a non-factor if they want to contain this team offensively.
To say it is frustrating to watch the team go out week after week and struggle to move the football consistently, and not establish any type of rhythm is a complete understatement. Offensive Coordinator Scott Turner has to open it up this week. I don't care if it's a halfback toss pass, another fumblerooski type play, a zone read with Antonio Gibson or/and Logan Thomas, it needs to be brought out. They even need contributions on special teams. Whether it be a fake punt or field goal, or any other type of special teams wrinkle. They can't look up when the game is over knowing they didn't try everything they could to win. The quarterback position will be monitored carefully as Alex Smith is still struggling with a calf injury. If he can't go, or if he needs to be relieved, it will be quarterback Taylor Heinicke taking over the controls. Heinicke looked solid a couple weeks ago, albeit it was in garbage time and Carolina was just trying to preserve a victory. Above all in this game, Washington can not turn the ball over and give Brady extra possessions to operate. This team has shown on multiple occasions, if they make one turnover, chances are another one or two are going to follow.
We have seen Washington grind some games out this season where they fought harder than the opposition. This needs to be that type of game. They can't get into a shoot out because only one team is locked and loaded, and it isn't the Washington Football Team. Nevertheless, there is no reason why Washington can't win this game. Tampa has played down to the competition a number of times this season and has struggled against formidable defenses. If this young team shows up hungry and ready to play, they have more than a chance. They will be fine if they relax and have fun.They are playing with house money right now, so play loose and make plays in the process. The rest will take care of itself.
All this said, Washington fans, you need to celebrate this team, regardless of the game's outcome. Washington teams that went through everything this squad went through this season would have folded early in the past. This team got stronger and better as the year went on. That's a testament to the type of personnel they have and their leadership. I could go on about the young pieces and the future of the team, but why wait when they can make the future now?
The Washington Football Team is here. Everything is right in front of them…
That said, they may as well go out and win the whole damn thing.
As you were...
Photo Credit: Elijah Walter Griffin Sr./Washington Football Team