Photos of the projected starters for the Redskins as listed on team depth chart.
On Sunday, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers will face the Washington Redskins at FedExField, with a shot to even their 2015 record and post consecutive wins for the first time since 2013. To do so, they will need to slow down Washington's power rushing attack and crack a defensive front that has added some important new pieces.
READ: REDSKINS SCOUTING REPORT
To help Buccaneer fans gain a better understanding of the challenges their team will face on Sunday, we've enlisted the help of Andrew Walker, the managing editor of Redskins.com, the team's official website. Here, Walker fields questions about quarterback Kirk Cousins, defensive tackle Terrance Knighton and some of the more unsung players on the Redskins' depth chart.
1. Kirk Cousins has started games in each of his four seasons with the Redskins, but this is the first year in which he was the opening-day starter. How has he handled that responsibility and what has Head Coach Jay Gruden seen in Cousins that has justified his faith in him?
When Jay Gruden made that announcement before the season opener against the Miami Dolphins, I know I was expecting Kirk Cousins to be named starter just for Week 1, and then they would figure it out from there. But by Gruden naming Cousins the starter for the entire 2015 season that day, he put all his trust and confidence into a guy who many have always considered to be a solid backup quarterback, but had lacked the consistent starting experience to see where he is as an everyday signal caller. Cousins himself said being named the starter for the season was a huge boost for him, because "there's something powerful about feeling believed in, and there's something powerful about knowing where you stand."
Since that time, Cousins has gone through both the good and the bad in his six starts in 2015. As a team, the Redskins lost a season opener they probably should've won against the Dolphins; a Week 2 all-around beating of the Rams; a flat follow-up performance on short rest against the Giants; a come-from-behind, last-second victory against the Eagles; an overtime loss on the road to the heavily-favored Falcons in which they just couldn't capitalize and pull away with the win; and a second-half collapse against another heavily-favored team in the Jets.
Cousins will be the first to tell you that individually, he hasn't lived up to what he needs to do to be consistently successful. His interception rate is way too high at the moment, causing many outside of the franchise to question his decision making skills. And although Cousins hasn't used injuries as an excuse, I will do just that. The Redskins are simply a different offense with DeSean Jackson – who has been out since early Week 1 with a hamstring injury – and tight end Jordan Reed – who has missed the last two games with a concussion – out on the field. Jackson and Reed, in their own ways, are Washington's top pass-catching weapons. So whenever they get back, I expect Cousins' productivity to shoot up; maybe not yet to the numbers of a Top 10 quarterback, but more as the productive game manager that he's expected to be in Gruden's offense.
2. Alfred Morris was a sixth-round steal in 2012 and now Washington has uncovered another hidden gem in the third round in Matt Jones, giving Morris an impressive running mate. Given that Washington has a talented offensive line (albeit one currently dealing with some injuries), should we expect the rushing attack to be the focal point for this offense for the remainder of the season?
The Redskins' rushing attack has and always will be the focal point for their offense this season. It really showed in the first two weeks of the year – Alfred Morris ran for 121 yards Week 1 against the Miami Dolphins and Matt Jones ran for 123 yards and two touchdowns Week 2 against the St. Louis Rams.
But since that time, for a multitude of reasons, the Redskins' running game just hasn't been as sharp. You can point at the blocking up front, the fact the running backs at times might be missing their holes and how the backs just aren't making guys miss like they're accustomed to. Or you can point to injuries: Pro Bowl left tackle Trent Williams missed last week's game with a concussion; starting left guard Shawn Lauvao is out for the year; starting center Kory Lichtensteiger missed last week's game with various injuries; and Jones couldn't shake a toe injury last week and was inactive.
WATCH: THURSDAY'S PRESS CONFERENCES
I also think that getting Jackson and Reed back will be huge for the Washington running attack. That'll keep the linebackers and members of the secondary from creeping up and cheating because the threat of the deep pass will always be there. But even if those two aren't able to return against the Buccaneers, I still think Tampa Bay should expect to see plenty of attempts from Morris and, if he's healthy, Jones on Sunday.
3. Washington signed DT Terrance Knighton in free agency, one would assume largely because he had been an elite-level run-stopper in Denver. The Redskins were among the league leaders in rush defense four weeks into the season, though the last two games have skewed those numbers somewhat. Is the first month of the season a better indication of the Redskins' rush defense – and defensive strength in general – and has Knighton been as effective as expected?
Terrance Knighton has played a huge role in the success of the Redskins' run defense so far this season. He's just such a big dude – he can single-handedly plug up holes, and he constantly takes on double teams, freeing up those behind and around him to make plays. And the thing that Knighton has proven over the years is, like a Vince Wilfork, he can also make an occasional huge play on defense, like an interception or a sack or a forced fumble that can change the course of a game. But, mostly, Knighton is one of those guys whose value is felt far beyond the stat sheet because of the effect he can have on those around him.
READ: THURSDAY'S INJURY REPORT
But you mention the past two weeks of run defense for the Redskins, and it has been a bit of an issue. Against the Falcons, the Redskins – who are missing their No. 1 and 2 cornerbacks in Chris Culliver (knee) and DeAngelo Hall (toe) – were understandably extremely concerned about defending Atlanta's high-powered passing game with Matt Ryan and Julio Jones. They mostly accomplished their goals in the secondary, but their run defense struggled as a result, and Devonta Freeman broke outside over and over again for 153 yards and a touchdown. Last week against Chris Ivory and the Jets, the Redskins saw Ivory (146 yards, one touchdown) and even Ryan Fitzpatrick (31 yards and an 18-yard touchdown) have a great deal of success on the ground. Defensive coordinator Joe Barry said the Redskins failed miserably on seven runs in particular – five by running backs and two by Fitzpatrick – but more than held their own on the rest of the Jets' 34 running plays.
PICKS: EXPERTS PREDICT WEEK 7
With the likes of Doug Martin and another sneakily mobile quarterback in Jameis Winston coming to town on Sunday, the Washington defense knows they need to clean it up against the run and limit the chunk plays to get back to where it was the first four weeks of the season.
4. You asked me to pinpoint one player each on the Buccaneers' offense and defense that haven't gotten as much attention as they may deserve, and what Redskin fans should know about them. Turnabout is fair play: Please do the same for the Redskins' offense and defense.
On offense, I look at a guy like running back Chris Thompson as a huge role player that hasn't gotten much attention so far this season. Thompson, who is in his second year out of Florida State, is one of those Darren Sproles types that is tiny up close – Thompson stands at 5-foot-8 on a good day and weighs 193 pounds – but can be lethal with some open field ahead of him. Thompson has been utilized as the Redskins' third-down back this season, and has been very effective both running (19 carries for 120 yards; 6.3 yards-per-carry) and catching the ball (23 receptions for 150 yards and a touchdown), and he does a great job getting vertical once the ball is in his hands. Now, Thompson injured his back last week against the Jets, so it's not yet known if he will suit up against the Buccaneers, but if he does, keep an eye on little No. 25 in the throwback Redskins jersey on Sunday.
Defensively, cornerback Bashaud Breeland has really had impressive outings the past two weeks. He was responsible for intercepting Matt Ryan a couple weeks back – which, otherwise, hasn't really happened this season – and last week against the Jets, turned in one of the more impressive first-half performances I've seen in a while, earning two fumble recoveries and an interception and forced fumble each in the first 30 minutes alone. The second-year player out of Clemson really uses his aggressive nature to his advantage. Although it can get him into trouble at times, he's learning how and when to turn up the intensity to make a play, which has been impressive to see. Breeland, who had a nice rookie season in 2014, is sure to play a major role on Sunday vs. the Buccaneers, because neither Culliver nor Hall have practiced to this point of the week.