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Scouts Inc. - Skins have edge in the trenches


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Skins have edge in the trenches

By Scouts, Inc.

Why To Watch

These two teams met in November in what was an evenly fought battle. Tampa Bay won 36-35 with a long touchdown pass and a controversial two-point conversion in the last minute. Expect another tight battle this week, as both teams will try to establish the run first, then take shots down the field. Although Tampa Bay is 6-2 at home this season, Washington is a dangerous underdog, having won five in a row to reach the postseason for the first time since 1999.

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When the Redskins have the ball

Rushing: Redskins RB Clinton Portis is playing better than he has at any point during his time with the Redskins and has eclipsed the 100-yard mark in five straight games. He attacks the line of scrimmage and is running with impressive conviction and passion. He is strong and powerful yet capable of taking it the distance and threatening the edge of Tampa Bay's defense with his great speed. Portis is excellent on stretch plays and as a cutback runner. Tampa is prone to overpursuing the cutback, so expect Portis to bust a few long runs after breaking it back against the original flow of the run.

Joe Gibbs is going to run the ball a high percentage of the time to take pressure of QB Mark Brunell while punishing the Buccaneers' smallish defensive front seven. Washington has a big, powerful offensive line that has a clear size advantage over Tampa Bay's defensive front. However, 43-year-old RG Ray Brown has replaced Randy Thomas and may struggle with the quickness off the snap of DTs Anthony McFarland and Chris Hovan. Washington's massive, but slow-footed interior offensive line will struggle to get to the second level and get a hat on the Buccaneers' active, speedy linebackers.

WLB Derrick Brooks remains an elite playmaker who is extremely quick to diagnose and attack without taking false steps. Portis has been outstanding and is sure to carry the load, but Ladell Betts is a big, physical north-south back who can help wear down Tampa's front. Expect to see Betts to help keep Portis fresh, as Portis was dinged with shoulder and back issues last week at Philadelphia. Remember that Portis gashed the Bucs for 144 yards on the ground in their first matchup.

Passing: This is a run-first offense that relies on Clinton Portis as a workhorse, but WR Santana Moss is as dangerous as any player in the league. Moss has world-class speed, fantastic quickness and is explosive out of his breaks with reliable hands. Tampa will want to run its Cover 2 scheme and use its overall speed to run to the football and make sound tackles, while forcing Washington to be patient and efficient. But in this matchup, the Buccaneers may have to quickly bring a safety in the box to slow down Portis and put the other safety over the top of Moss.

The remaining receivers should find favorable matchups, and a safety over the top of Moss doesn't ensure that he won't still burn the Bucs for big plays. H-back Chris Cooley has emerged a reliable option who will put a lot of pressure on Tampa's linebackers and safeties. Cover 2 is often vulnerable to tight ends in the middle of the field, and with his height, quickness and excellent feel for the passing game, Cooley could have a big day. LT Chris Samuels should do a fine job of handling DE Simeon Rice one-on-one, and Mark Brunell for the most part should have ample time to set his feet and throw.

If Tampa can slow the run with seven defenders and play Cover 2 on a large percentage of snaps, Brunell may struggle to consistently drop passes into tight spaces. His arm is very ordinary and the Buccaneers break on the football extremely well. In the first game, Brunell threw two interceptions. Multiple turnovers by Brunell on the road will be suicide in this playoff battle.

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When the Buccaneers have the ball

Rushing: This is the type of matchup that could expose the Buccaneers' offensive line for what it really is -- ordinary. Although very well coached, this group is young and really doesn't have one starter who should be considered an upper-tier player for his position. Washington's defensive line is big, powerful and very stout vs. the run. DT Cornelius Griffin in particular will cause problems off the snap with his agility and explosive first step. The interior of Tampa's line lacks bulk and power and could spend a substantial portion of this game going backwards.

Carnell "Cadillac" Williams has quickly turned into a running back who can carry the load and be a difference maker. Tampa would be wise to get the ball in Williams' hands early, often and in a variety of ways. His versatility allows him to be effective catching the football, running on the edge or between the tackles. Williams is explosive and makes space for himself extremely well. He is capable of turning plays that look bleak into gains with his ability to make people miss in a confined area and has the power to run through arm tackles.

It won't be long before Williams is considered among the very top running backs in the league. Tampa needs to rely on him and stay patient with its running game to control the clock to take pressure off of QB Chris Simms. The Buccaneers have depth at running back and should give Michael Pittman and Mike Alstott spot carries to lighten the load on Williams and to further punish the Redskins' front seven.

Passing: Chris Simms was outstanding in the first meeting between these teams, throwing three touchdowns and no interceptions and leading the game-winning drive. Simms is mature for a young starter and needs to keep his composure against Washington's aggressive blitzing scheme, as he is sure to get hit numerous times. Simms is a sound decision maker and has the arm to make all the throws.

Tampa Bay's offensive line is subpar and will struggle with the interior presence of Cornelius Griffin, who is a quick, active interior presence in the passing game. As a whole, the Buccaneers' pass blockers have really struggled to pick up blitzes effectively and will be tested in a big way against Washington. DE Phillip Daniels is also making a lot of big plays and is a powerful, disruptive player capable of wreaking havoc in Tampa's backfield.

WR Joey Galloway had a big day in the first game (131 yards). His explosive ability and pure speed threatens every defensive backfield Tampa plays. Galloway is sure to have FS Sean Taylor over the top of his side of the field, and pass protecting long enough to get Galloway deep could be a problem. Tampa Bay should give Galloway a few quick slants and crossing routes to get him in a position to make a play after the catch. Washington would like to match Galloway up against CB Shawn Springs, but Springs aggravated a groin injury and his status for this week in unclear.

Expect to see more screen passes than usual to slow the Redskins' pass rush, especially since Carnell Williams and Michael Pittman both do a nice job of catching the football. Rookie TE Alex Smith has emerged as a weapon capable of stretching a defense and creating mismatches against linebackers. Simms will look to Smith often, especially on third downs and clutch situations as he could draw a favorable matchup against undersized SS Ryan Clark.

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