Washington Football Team Wild Card Round Preview: vs. Buccaneers

Forget all the noise about Coach Peterson benching Jalen Hurts. What matters is that Washington took care of business against an inferior opponent and earned its first playoff berth since 2015. What a victory for Coach Rivera and this talented young group of players.

The season should already be considered a success. Now Washington gets to see what damage they can do in the playoffs. An upset this weekend could build even more momentum for next season. Here is how they could pull it off.

Smith and Gibson

Wild Card Round Preview: vs. Buccaneers

Three Things to Watch For:

1. Winning pass-rush battles. Unlike the mobile quarterbacks that have troubled Washington’s defense, Tom Brady is a statue in the pocket. He struggles under pressure and rarely escapes. Unfortunately, the Buccaneers offensive line is excellent at pass protection, especially rookie right tackle Tristan Wirfs. This will be a strength-on-strength matchup. Washington’s defensive linemen will need to regularly win 1:1 battles and get some heat on Brady to stifle their vertical passing game.

2. The secondary taking away Brady’s first read.The Bucs may also counter Washington’s pass rush with a variety of short, quick throws. Brady is excellent at pre-snap reads and can get the ball out of his hands before the pass rush can get home. Defensive coordinator Jack del Rio will have to disguise coverages and cornerbacks will need to play sticky to make Brady hold the ball longer.

3. Creativity on offense. Even with a healthy McLaurin and Gibson, the offensive play calling against the Eagles was too vanilla. Smith’s leg might have been holding some things back but the offense should have been able to score much more against Philadelphia’s B team. Against a talented Bucs defense, offensive coordinator Scott Turner will need to accept more risks and play a high variance game to give his team a chance. Watch for deep pass attempts, trick plays, and maybe even a Taylor Heinicke package to get Washington in scoring position.

Thomas TD

Key Matchup:

TE Logan Thomas vs. Buccaneers coverage.

The Buccaneers have talented defensive backs that will limit the impact of McLaurin and Cam Sims. However, they are softer in the middle, and Logan Thomas will play a key role in keeping the chains moving. He has emerged as a legitimate TE1 and receiving threat down the stretch. Thomas will need to find gaps in zone defenses and beat man coverage to give Smith open downfield targets. It is important that Smith can take shots down the field instead of checking it down to RBs who will be covered by All-Pro linebacker Lavonte David. It is also critical that Washington cashes in with some touchdowns in the red zone, where Thomas’ size can be a big asset.

Injuries to Monitor:

At Wednesday’s practice, only LB Thomas Davis sat out. QB Alex Smith, WR Terry McLaurin, RB Antonio Gibson, RG Brandon Scherff, LB Kevin Pierre-Louis, and CB Kendall Fuller were all limited.

Davis is the only player that seems unlikely to play. Smith, McLaurin, and Gibson are taking it easy to manage nagging injuries, while Scherff and Pierre-Louis have been limited in practice for a few weeks but still suit up. Fuller suffered a knee injury sometime before Wednesday but he still participated in a limited fashion. His availability will be critical against a team with Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, and Antonio Brown.

Sweat Sacks Hurst

Game in Summary:

Washington is playing with house money. A win would be massive, but it would be hard to feel bad about a losing as big underdogs against a Super Bowl-ready Buccaneers squad. I think this matchup will come down to Brady’s pass protection and Washington’s ability to score touchdowns instead of field goals.

I think Washington will put up a good fight, but the Bucs will ultimately edge it out in a low-scoring affair. But there are always a handful of wild card upsets, and Washington’s matchup against the Bucs is arguably the ripest of the bunch this weekend. Fingers crossed.

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