The Redskins may crowd the line of scrimmage to stop FB Mike Alstott
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers had a final, 30-minute walk-through on Friday in preparation for Saturday's NFC Divisional Playoff Game, giving Head Coach Tony Dungy a last chance to check out his team. After the walk-through concluded, Dungy then spent some time assessing the opponent.
Dungy seems most concerned about the Redskins' ability to score quickly. "They're a very explosive team," said the Bucs' coach. "They can get points quickly on offense. They've got special teams, kick returners, they've scored on defense. We just don't want them to get out ahead in the game. We think if we can keep that from happening, we'll be in good shape."
That won't be an easy task, even for a defense that allowed just over two touchdowns worth of points (14.7) per game in 1999. Washington was the second-highest scoring team in the league, racking up 443 points, a robust average of 27.7 points per contest. Perhaps the best representation of the scoreboard battle to come is this: Tampa Bay allowed only four opponents to score over 17 points in 1999; Washington never scored less than 17 points in a game.
"They try to score in bunches," said Dungy, "while we try to drag the game out and let the defense play. It will be interesting to see who can control the tempo. We'd like to keep the ball, make a lot of first downs and keep their offense off the field."
The Bucs will have to a better job of that than Detroit did in Washington last Saturday. The Redskins got up quickly on the Lions with the help of several big plays then coasted to a 27-13 win. "Their offense is so explosive," said Dungy, returning again to the word of the week. "Detroit was a perfect game for them. They got a deep pass interference penalty and scored. Then they got a big run and scored again. If they can do that to us and take our crowd out of the game, that would be the worst thing that could happen to us."
It was RB Stephen Davis who provided that big run mentioned by Dungy, bursting 58 yards to set up the team's second touchdown just a few minutes after the 'Skins scored for the first time. Washington used the resulting momentum to score on five of its first six possessions, more than enough to take care of the Lions even without a full game from Davis. After picking up 119 yards on just 15 carries in less than one half's worth of work, Davis called it a day after adding a sprained knee to his already sprained ankle.
That occurrence left Davis doubtful for this Saturday's game when the week began, but he has since been upgraded to questionable and is a good bet to be in uniform against the Bucs. "Davis will play," said Dungy on Friday, echoing the expectations voiced in the team's locker room. "We expect all of their guys to play. That's the way playoffs are: a lot of guys are banged up this time of year, but they tend to play."
Even if Davis is limited, Dungy says that the Redskins "won't change what they do, and we won't change what we do. If Skip Hicks and Brian Mitchell come in…that's just playoff football. Guys have had big games when they come off the bench, so you can't take anything for granted."
Defensively, Dungy expects the Redskins to crowd the line of scrimmage in order to combat the Bucs' potentially – yes – 'explosive' running game. "Naturally, we want to run the ball with Mike Alstott and Warrick Dunn, but you have to take what is presented to you. We'll have to see how they play us. … We can't let them discourage us from running the ball. To do that, we have to convert our third downs, particularly when we get into the manageable third-and-threes and third-and-fours."
For the sake of his running game, Dungy expressed pleasure on Friday that Pro Bowl C Tony Mayberry had put in a full week of practice. Lingering injuries have kept Mayberry on the sidelines for many late-season workouts, but last week's bye provided time for a relative return to health. That could be important, as Dungy expects the play of his three interior linemen against the 'Skins enormous inside duo of Dana Stubblefield and Dan Wilkinson to be a key factor in the success of the Bucs' ground attack. Whether its Alstott or Dunn that sees the most benefit from the blocking is not yet clear. "We think one of the backs will have a big day, but I don't know which it will be," said Dungy. "We're going to roll enough carries for both early, hopefully, and see which has the hot hand. When we went (to Washington) last year, I thought it would be Warrick, but it turned out to be Mike."
Of course, Dungy is aware that the Redskins may focus very heavily on stopping the run, perhaps opening up other opportunities for the Buccaneer offense. Shaun King, the first rookie quarterback to start a playoff game since 1991, has already shown the ability to win games for the Bucs with the passing game. Though the Redskin defense finished next-to-last in the NFL and was the 26th-rated unit against the pass, it did record 40 sacks and got to that total with the help of 17 different players.
"They have a lot of guys who can rush," said Dungy. "They have brought (Kenard) Lang and (Ndukwe) Kalu into the game and gotten a lot of energy from those two guys. That has helped keep the other guys fresh, which has helped their pass rush in general. The two inside guys (Stubblefield and Wilkinson) can rush, too."
These weren't sudden Friday revelations, of course. The Buccaneers have been preparing for a probable Washington matchup for weeks and had last Saturday off to watch the 'Skins in action. Dungy and his crew have spent the last five days getting ready for the factors above. "We're prepared," said Dungy. "We've had a good's week of work. All we really have to do now is rest up and relax, and make sure we're fresh and ready to go tomorrow."