Three keys to a WFT upset of the Buccaneers on Sunday

By Gibson Hirt

It’s been just over 10 months since Washington gave the Buccaneers all they could handle in the 2021 NFC Wild Card. Taylor Heinicke played the game of his life, and he recently credited that performance as his ticket to his current starting job for Washington. While the 2020 NFC Least champs came up short, they proved they could at least hang with the eventual Super Bowl champions. 

Now it’s 2021, and while both teams are currently at opposite ends of the standings, Washington has the formula to at least compete with the Bucs. After a much-needed bye week, the Buccaneers roll into Landover looking for their seventh victory of the season. Just like 10 months ago, it’s going to take an incredible performance from Washington to stick with the defending champions.

Here are three keys for Washington to shock Tampa Bay on Sunday afternoon:

Prevent the deep ball

Throughout his career, Brady has been one of the most accurate quarterbacks that football has ever seen. While his area of expertise is essentially every facet of the passing game, his bread and butter has always been the short game. Over the past few years, though, Brady has become one of the best deep ball throwers in the league. This year, Brady has the fifth-highest intended air yards per pass attempt among qualified quarterbacks at 8.7. Among Tampa Bay’s mile-deep receiving core, Antonio Brown has been Brady’s favorite deep target this season, while Chris Godwin and Mike Evans have played more of the red zone roles. With the talent the Bucs have on offense, Washington needs to key in on stopping the deep ball because, if we’re being honest, they have little to no shot of stopping Brady in the short passing game. Brady will have his way on short throws, but if Washington is able to eliminate deep completions, they have a real chance at slowing down Tampa Bay’s offense. One bright spot for Washington is that AB and Godwin are dealing with injuries and have yet to practice as of Thursday. If either miss Sunday’s contest, Washington will have a much easier time preventing the deep ball. 

Pressure Tom Brady

This is a toughie. Tom Brady has always had a phenomenal offensive line throughout his career, and considering how disappointing Washington’s pass rush has been this season, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Brady with a clean jersey throughout the game. When defenses generate pressure on Brady, however, they’ve frequently succeeded. Brady isn’t a mobile quarterback and rarely scrambles. As a result, defenses that are able to shorten his time to throw tend to generate more success. Before the bye, Washington’s defensive line was returning to prior form and starting to show off all of their talents. Montez Sweat’s absence will definitely hurt the d-line, but Jon Allen, Chase Young and Daron Payne are more than capable of disrupting Brady’s timing and comfortability in the pocket. More specifically, Washington needs to pressure Brady without blitzing to allow their linebackers to stay in coverage, and help guard Tampa Bay’s dangerous receivers. If Washington can successfully pressure Brady while still keeping linebackers in coverage, they present a real threat to limit the Buccaneers’ offense.

Stay ahead of the chains

During the first half of the season, Washington was the fifth-worst team in all of football on converting third downs. A team’s ability to convert on third down is largely based on their plays on first and second down. Washington has struggled to pick up yards on first and second down, constantly leaving them with third and long. This has put Taylor Heinicke in a tough situation due to the fact that he has to look downfield and make throws that he probably shouldn’t make. If the offense picked up a few yards on both of the previous plays, Heinicke would have a better chance of moving the chains, and he wouldn’t have to force as many risky throws. Washington needs to run the ball efficiently, which would put them in third and manageable situations, allowing the offense better chances to pick up first downs.

Beating the defending champs is never an easy feat, especially for a team that’s only won two of eight games. However, coming off a bye, it feels like Washington has a shot to knock off a heavyweight. What’s shocking is that Washington isn’t too far out of the NFC Wild Card; they sit only two games out of the seventh seed, which is currently occupied by the 4–4 Falcons. As long as Washington can prevent deep balls, get into the backfield and stay ahead of the chains, the WFT just might be able to dethrone the Buccaneers and get right back into the playoff hunt.