De­fense, beaten up by Fal­cons, faces pass-happy Tampa Bay

The Capital - - SPORTS - By Ka­reem Copeland

+The Red­skins’ list of con­quered run­ning backs seemed to grow each week and the de­fense checked them off with pride — David John­son, Alvin Ka­mara, Chris­tian McCaf­frey, Ezekiel El­liott, Saquon Barkley. As the team dom­i­nated in the run game, how­ever, top-notch re­ceivers T.Y. Hilton, Devin Funchess, Odell Beck­ham Jr., Julio Jones and Calvin Ri­d­ley all posted yardage above their sea­son av­er­ages against Washington.

The Red­skins are one of top run­stop­ping teams in the league but rank No. 20 against the pass af­ter get­ting lit up for 350 yards and four pass­ing touch­downs against Matt Ryan and the Fal­cons. Things don’t get eas­ier this week­end against a Buc­ca­neers re­ceiv­ing corps con­sist­ing of Mike Evans, for­mer Red­skin DeSean Jack­son and tight end O.J. Howard.

Coach Jay Gruden said there were lessons learned against At­lanta that can be ap­plied to this week.

“You know we have to do bet­ter on third down rush­ing the passer,” Gruden said. “We had some pretty good third­down sit­u­a­tions for us to get some pass rush and we didn’t re­ally take ad­van­tage of those sit­u­a­tions. Matt [Ryan] had some time to throw and get to his first, sec­ond, third read. They ran some very good pick routes and got free. We have to clean up some of our . . . if we’re go­ing to play RED­SKINS @ BUCS

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man-to-man, clear up some of our com­bi­na­tion cov­er­ages and go from there.

“But it’s go­ing to be a great chal­lenge. Evans is a heck of a re­ceiver. Ob­vi­ously, DeSean, [Chris] Godwin and O.J., so we [have to] cover them up, mix in some zones and rush the passer.”

The se­condary re­cently has been some­what in flux. Start­ing cor­ner­back Quin­ton Dun­bar has missed two games with a nerve is­sue in his lower leg and has not prac­ticed this week. That left rook­ies Greg Stro­man and Danny John­son fill­ing in with var­ied de­grees of suc­cess. The team brought in Pro Bowl safety Ha Ha Clin­ton-Dix at the trade dead­line and he started that same week. Cor­ner­back Josh Norman had played well af­ter some early-sea­son strug­gles, but was not at his best against the Fal­cons.

Fox Sports an­a­lyst and for­mer NFL line­backer Chris Spiel­man said the rules and the ways of­fenses are con­structed make it dif­fi­cult for a team to con­sis­tently shut down these up­per-ech­e­lon re­ceivers. Some­times a win is sim­ply elim­i­nat­ing the big play and tight­en­ing up once of­fenses reach the red zone. Spiel­man, who is sched­uled to call the game, also stressed the need for the se­condary to get help from the de­fen­sive line in the form of quar­ter­back pres­sure.

“It’s tough to cover guys in this league,” Spiel­man said. “Guys are go­ing to get yards.

“They’re go­ing to get chal­lenged. If you can get pres­sure, es­pe­cially if you can get it with four, that gives you seven on the back end, and . . . [have] good open-field tack­ling.”

Tampa Bay fea­tures the No. 1 pass­ing of­fense in the league, av­er­ag­ing 356.6 yards per game, and its 446.8 to­tal yards per game ranks No. 2. They are the No. 8 scor­ing of­fense with 28.6 points, but the run game has been nonex­is­tent with 90.1 yards, 30th in the NFL.

At­lanta brought a sim­i­lar un­bal­anced at­tack to Washington, but were able to run on the Red­skins and moved the ball with­out much re­sis­tance.

De­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor Greg Manusky said he thinks last week’s re­sult was more fluke than fact.

“I think, over­all, there was just a lull,” he said. “I think, over a sea­son, you’ve got those ups and downs and we just hap­pened to have one of those downs. So, we’ve got to make sure we re­bound back from a bad per­for­mance and go into this week.

“The best thing . . . about it, when you do have those bad per­for­mances, usu­ally the guys fo­cus a lit­tle bit more and they’re fo­cused in.”

STREETER LECKA/GETTY IMAGES

James Brad­berry, left, 24 of the Carolina Pan­thers de­fends a pass to Mike Evans of the Tampa Bay Buc­ca­neers in the sec­ond quar­ter Sun­day.

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