While Washington’s defensive woes have been well documented, the team often hasn’t carried its weight on the other side of the ball during this trying season.
The Redskins are averaging a lackluster 18.5 points (28th overall) and converted just 28.6 percent of third-down chances in 2010, the second-lowest number in the league, and veteran quarterback Donovan McNabb (3149 passing yards, 12 TD, 15 INT) has endured an erratic first year in attempting to adjust to Shanahan’s diverse offense after 11 accomplished seasons in Philadelphia. The 34-year-old has been intercepted at least once in nine straight games and been sacked 35 times, and was responsible for three of the team’s troubling total of six turnovers against the Giants.
McNabb does have a couple of reliable and experienced receivers in wideout Santana Moss (64 receptions, 802 yards, 3 TD) and tight end Chris Cooley (60 receptions, 2 TD), while former practice-squad member Anthony Armstrong (31 receptions, 2 TD) has morphed into a capable deep threat who’s averaging an NFC-best 20.7 yards per catch and posted career bests of 97 receiving yards and six grabs last week.
Leading rusher Ryan Torain (391 rushing yards, 8 receptions, 4 total TD) appears on track to return from a hamstring strain that’s kept him out of the last four games, and the Redskins hope he’ll bring a spark to a rushing attack that’s generated a moribund 103 yards combined over the team’s last two losses.
Another key contributor to Tampa Bay’s turnaround has been the play of a defense personally overseen by Morris and which heads into this week’s action tied for second in the NFL with 18 interceptions and sports a No. 4 overall ranking in pass efficiency.
The Bucs were dealt a major loss in last week’s battle with Atlanta, however, as playmaking cornerback Aqib Talib (40 tackles, 6 INT, 11 PD) tore a hip tendon that will end his outstanding 2010 season, one week after the team lost rookie free safety Cody Grimm for the remainder of the year to a broken ankle. Usual nickel back E.J. Biggers (32 tackles, 1 INT, 8 PD) will step into Talib’s position opposite five-time Pro Bowl honoree Ronde Barber (58 tackles, 1 sack, 3 INT), but it’ll be hard to avoid a drop- off.
The injuries may place an added burden on young tackle Gerald McCoy (27 tackles, 3 sacks), who’s amassed three sacks over his past three games, and end Stylez White (30 tackles, 4.5 sacks) to apply consistent pressure from up front. Though the Buccaneers rank just 26th against the run (128.5 ypg), they’ve shown improvement in that aspect recently, having limited the opposition to a mere 3.5 yards per attempt in the last three weeks and holding Atlanta factor back Michael Turner to a modest 88 yards on 24 carries on Sunday. The charge has been led by steady middle linebacker Barrett Ruud (87 tackles, 1 sack, 1 INT), the team’s top stopper.