|Banged-up Redskins visit reeling Buccaneers|
The Washington Redskins entered last weekend riding a three-game winning streak and with a firm grip on first place in the NFC East.
Just a few short days later, the Redskins have a decidedly different viewpoint entering Sunday's matchup at the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Sure, Washington (5-3) still is atop the division but last week's 38-14 drubbing by the Atlanta Falcons may have altered the course of the team's season. The Redskins lost three starters to season-ending injuries, including guards Shawn Lauvao (torn ACL) and Brandon Scherff (torn pectoral muscle).
With perennial Pro Bowl left tackle Trent Williams sidelined after undergoing thumb surgery and right tackle Morgan Moses dealing with a sprained knee, Washington could be without four starters on the offensive line for the next few weeks -- reminiscent of the injuries that ravaged the unit a year ago.
"It's something you don't want to go through, but it is pro football and you have to go through it," Redskins head coach Jay Gruden said. "Fortunately we have a very good offensive line coach in coach (Bill) Callahan and we'll figure it out and make it work. ... We have to move some people around that are already here, we can do that. But, we can't slow down, the train doesn't stop."
Such a string of injuries could be devastating to any team, but particularly for an offense like Washington that is reliant on the league's 10th-ranked ground game (121.9 yards per game) behind a reborn Adrian Peterson.
"You've just got to stay positive and keep pressing," said Peterson, who was limited to 17 yards on nine carries against Atlanta. "It's not the end of the world, and it's not the end of the season for us. We all have to perform better. That's the mindset that I have."
Washington, which signed three offensive linemen earlier this week to plug the holes, was in a similar spot heading into a road game at the Seattle Seahawks a year ago. Moses was the only starting lineman on the field and yet the Redskins came away with a 17-14 victory.
"You don't think back at all," Redskins center Chase Roullier said. "You're just focused forward on what we can do in the future here, what we're going to be able to do on the next play."
Washington still has two games remaining against defending Super Bowl champion Philadelphia, so it will look to take advantage of a sliding Tampa Bay squad that has dropped five of six and allowed 79 points in back-to-back losses at Cincinnati and Carolina.
The Buccaneers are allowing a league-high 34.4 points and part of the problem is a minus-15 turnover ratio, which also is the worst in the league. Tampa Bay has not created a turnover in five games, putting more pressure on a struggling defense.
"It is what it is, Buccaneers head coach Dirk Koetter said of his defense. "These guys are fighting and scratching and clawing. We have to do better as a football team."
Offensively, Koetter has gone back to Ryan Fitzpatrick at quarterback after Jameis Winston threw 10 interceptions in 3 1/2 games since returning from his three-game suspension to start the season.
Fitzpatrick has lots of outside weapons to throw to and has consistently rallied the team, putting up three games with four touchdown passes, but he put the Buccaneers in a hole last week with a first-quarter interception.
Washington's defense has been opportunistic this season and Tampa Bay has been brutal holding onto the ball. That will be key to limiting what has the potential to be a big-play offense when the quarterback play is there.
One of the game's key matchups will feature Buccaneers wide receiver Mike Evans squaring off against Redskins cornerback Josh Norman. Evans has 47 catches for 786 yards and four touchdowns but was limited to one reception for 10 yards last week and is dealing with a knee injury that forced him to miss practice Wednesday.
Washington quarterback Alex Smith finally eclipsed 300 yards passing last week against Atlanta after three straight games of failing to throw for more than 178 yards, but Washington fell behind 14-0 early and was blown out.
Smith does protect the ball with nine touchdowns versus only three interceptions and will likely continue to play it safe with his offensive line and wide receivers ravaged by injury. Tampa Bay will challenge Smith to beat them over the top since he doesn't like to force throws down the field.