The 7-9 Washington Football Team will be hosting a Wild Card playoff game against the 11-5 Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Saturday. Washington is only the third team in the last ten years to enter the playoffs with a losing record; the other two teams to accomplish this earned a playoff victory.
On a surface level, this should be an easy game to pick. However, the matchup between these two football teams may not completely favor the team with a winning record. Let’s explore.
Tampa Bay at Washington (WAS -8): Saturday, January 9th, 2021 – 8:15 pm ET (NBC)
How Washington Wins
Rush Tom Brady hard inside the A-gaps
Tom Brady exceeded expectations in 2020. However, throughout his entire career, there has been one thing that Brady hates – pressure in the pocket. The ’07 and ’11 Giants as well as the ’18 Eagles all managed to pressure Brady and disrupt his QB pocket. The Washington Football Team needs to do the same.
Brady’s pocket presence is strong. No one buys time by stepping up in the pocket better than him. When the integrity of those A-gaps collapses, however, trouble ensues for the 43-year old. If Washington can produce enough pressure to move Brady off his first reads and out of the pocket, the underdogs will have a chance at forcing three-and-outs and turnovers.
Establish the run by spreading Tampa Bay’s defense
Washington needs to establish the run in order to take advantage of the Buccaneers. Alex Smith succeeds when he has first-reads open right away. This will not happen if Tampa Bay does not respect the running threat.
Running up the middle will not be successful. Ndamukong Suh and Jason Pierre-Paul anchor a heavy defensive line for the Buccaneers. The best way for Washington to establish the run is by running stretch and pitch plays. With Devin White out, Tampa Bay’s front seven are significantly slower. Antonio Gibson needs to have big runs to the outside early in this game.
Washington needs to score on defense against the Buccaneers
Neither Alex Smith nor Taylor Heinicke will produce enough offensively to win this game. Chase Young has been amazing at forcing turnovers and Washington’s defense has been among the best in the league in scoring. This needs to be proven once again on Saturday.
No matter how much Washington manages to disrupt Tampa Bay on offense, Brady and company will put up points. Alex Smith struggled to lead his offense to the endzone against Philadelphia. The same pattern is likely to repeat on Saturday. It would take an extraordinary effort for a 7-9 team to beat an 11-5 club, and defensive scoring will certainly have to be a part of that endeavor.
How the Buccaneers Win
Get the ball out of Tom Brady’s hands fast
Washington’s pass rush is scary. Brady does not have the ability to improvise or create something out of nothing. As a result, Tampa Bay needs to diagram ways of getting the ball out of Brady’s hands quickly, whether it is with screen passes, quick slants, or drag routes. The longer Brady holds on to the ball, the greater the chance of a disaster taking place.
In New England, James White was Brady’s best friend. While he does not have a running back with equally good hands in Tampa Bay, he does have Scotty Miller and Antonio Brown. Both of these receivers have the ability to turn quick strikes into home runs. The Buccaneers need to utilize both of these players in creative ways on Saturday.
Trust Rob Gronkowski in the red zone
Rob Gronkowski has produced in limited fashion throughout the year. While he should not be out there on every play, the Buccaneers need to take advantage of his height in the red zone. It is much easier to get the ball out of Brady’s hands quickly outside of the red zone. When the field shrinks, Rob needs to grow.
Quick strikes to Brown or Miller will potentially lead to disaster in the redzone. A tipped ball, a dropped pass, or a fumble after a big hit in tight quarters within the red zone could all lead to trouble for Tampa Bay. Gronkowski needs to take advantage of his size against the linebackers and safeties on the other side of the field. If Gronk has a big game, the Bucs will earn an easy win.
Let Alex Throw
Tampa Bay should not focus on overly pressuring Alex Smith. While his comeback story has been admirable, Smith has nothing left in the quarterback tank. If he is given time to throw, he will make mistakes. The Buccaneers’ normal pass rush should be enough to force mistakes. Attempting to do anything extra might be a foolish gamble for Bruce Arians.
Antonio Gibson is a much bigger threat than Alex Smith. If the rookie running back is allowed to set the pace for the game, Tampa Bay will be in trouble. No need to get fancy, Tampa Bay. Defend the run, let Alex throw, and advance to the next round.
Prediction: Tampa Bay 21 Washington 14
Washington’s defense is very respectable, which means Tampa Bay will not put up a ton of points. On the other hand, Washington’s offense is nothing to brag about. This will be a relatively low-scoring game, but the Buccaneers will come out on top over the Washington Football Team.