The Tampa Bay Buccaneers lead the NFL in rush defense and are on pace to record about 60% more sacks than they did in 2011. Clearly, something is going well up front.
On the other hand, the Buccaneers are giving up just a touch over 400 yards of offense per game overall through three weeks and have a 1-2 record that is mildly disappointing, given how close they were to big road victories the last two weeks. Just as clearly, there is room for improvement, even among those big-time producers up front.
If practice-field effort can translate into game day results, this could be the week that a dominant performance by the defensive line translates into the victory the Buccaneers need.
"I think the defensive front over the first three games has played well and been productive, both in the run and in the pass," said Head Coach Greg Schiano. "But we need to keep getting better. I think that's the key there. And that's the way they're preparing. They have busted their humps this week and I suspect they'll play well today."
That would be a particularly encouraging result this week, because the Buccaneers are in their first few days of trying to compensate for the loss of starting right end Adrian Clayborn. The team's sack leader as a rookie in 2011 and the quintessential "high-motor" player that can give opponents fits, Clayborn suffered a season-ending knee injury last Sunday in Dallas. Third-year man Daniel Te'o-Nesheim will step into the starting lineup in Clayborn's place but he may be only part of the answer in filling the void.
"Adrian is a big loss in every part of our defense, whether it's playing the run, pressures, third-down defense," said Schiano. "He played such a big role. It's going to take a few guys, or a couple guys at least, to try to fill in for him. That's part of the game, though; we have to move on."
Fortunately, the cupboard is far from bare on the D-Line, even without Clayborn. Left defensive end Michael Bennett and defensive tackle Gerald McCoy already have three sacks each and nose tackle Roy Miller has quietly been very important to the team's success. Especially up the middle, the Bucs still feel good about what they will be able to field Sunday against the Redskins and their high-scoring offense.
"They're both perfect fits for the defense we run, Roy being our tilt-nose on first and second down and Gerald being that under tackle, that guy who lines up on the outside of the guard and really has just great get-off and explosion," said Schiano. "Those two guys, I tell you, they are a really good fit."
Clayborn is now on injured reserve, but only one member of the Bucs' 53-man active roster is too hurt to play against Washington. Second-year cornerback Anthony Gaitor is still dealing with a hamstring ailment and has been named one of the team's seven inactives. The others are CB Myron Lewis, RB Michael Smith, S Keith Tandy, LB Najee Goode, T Jeremy Trueblood and WR Chris Owusu. CB E.J. Biggers is active and will see his first action of 2012 after returning from a training camp foot injury. Also active is DE Jeff Charleston, who just signed with the Buccaneers this past week after the injury to Clayborn.
Washington recently suffered a loss similar to the Bucs' when pass-rushing LB Brian Orakpo sustained a season-ending injury. The Redskins also reportedly were the victims of a pregame mishap on Sunday, with S Brandon Meriweather and WR Aldrick Robinson colliding in the north end zone at Raymond James Stadium. Both are inactive, as are QB Rex Grossman, CB Cedric Griffin, RB Ryan Grant, LB Markus White and G Adam Gettis.
The Redskins reported two changes to the starting lineup, as well. Leonard Hankerson will replace Josh Morgan at one of the wide receiver spots while Reed Doughty will take over as the starter at strong safety, stepping in for DeJon Gomes.
The Bucs and Redskins will kick off their Week Four matchup at 4:25 p.m. ET. The game will be broadcast on radio through the Buccaneers Radio Network and its flagship station, US 103.5 FM. That radio broadcast will also be carried live on Buccaneers.com. Buccaneers.com will post a running blog of all the action on Sunday, and will also provide coverage of the team's postgame press conferences.