Bucs tasked with trying to slow down RGIII

BY foxsports • September 26, 2012

TAMPA, Fla. — They have corralled Cam Newton and chased down Tony Romo, but the biggest test yet could come Sunday against a rookie quarterback who has become the talk of the National Football League.

That's when the Tampa Bay Buccaneers will do their best to contain the multi-threat talents of Washington's Robert Griffin III, the singular reason that the Redskins lead the NFL in scoring with 33 points per game in spite of a 1-2 record.

Fortunately for the Bucs, their defense has been the most impressive part of their game in their 1-2 start. The team that ranked dead last in stopping the run in 2011 ranks No. 1 in that category and has performing surprisingly well — minus the fourth quarter two weeks ago against Eli Manning and the New York Giants.

Still, that gives head coach Greg Schiano no sense of comfort when he envisions the potential havoc the 2011 Heisman Award winner from Baylor can wreak with his strong arm, elusive running and fearlessness under pressure.

"Griffin will be one of the five fastest players on the field without a doubt," Schiano said Wednesday at One Buc Place. "So when he does decide to tuck it and go, there's not many people who can run him down. He's got a cannon for an arm, so when he throws the ball down field, there are some impressive shots."

And then there's his ball-carrying ability, compounded by the ever-present threat of an option pitch. Small wonder Redskins head coach Mike Shanahan wanted Griffin enough for the club to send the St. Louis Rams three first-round picks (2012, 2013 and 2014) and a second-rounder to trade up to the No. 2 overall spot.

Suddenly, the Redskins went from an offense guided by a group of nondescript passers to one of the most electrifying in the game — and Shanahan, who rose to greatness in Denver coaching John Elway, has a new franchise quarterback who could beat an opponent any number of ways.

"They're still running their core run game, which is the zone scheme, and they're as good as there is as running it, back to the Denver days," Schiano added. "There's also that gun-run element, that shotgun run, where there's triple option and there's also double-option. Whether it's just him reading ‘Do I give it to the back or not?' or ‘Do I give it to the back, or do I keep it or pitch it to a pitch man?' So it's true triple-option in some phases, double-option in others.

"You add that on top of the traditional zone run scheme, his ability to throw the ball down the field, and his ability . . . to run bootlegs and things like that, and you have a full plate to defend. And that's why they're the No. 1 scoring offense in the National Football League. That wasn't the case a year ago. What's changed? There's the answer."

Griffin has been phenomenal thus far. He made his debut by out-dueling Drew Brees in New Orleans, completing 19 of 30 passes for 320 yards and two touchdowns in a 40-32 upset. In Week Two, he hit 20 of 29 passes for 206 yards and a touchdown, along with 82 rushing yards on 11 carries and two more TDs in a 31-28 loss at St. Louis. And in his home opener Sunday, he was 21 of 34 for 221 yards and a touchdown, while carrying the ball 12 times for 85 yards and a score in a 38-31 loss to the Bengals. His quarterback rating stands at a remarkable 103.4 with only one interception so far.

Yet Griffin also has absorbed more than his share of hits so far due to his penchant for running, and he's been sacked nine times. Bucs defensive players believe their best shot at containing the 6-2, 217-pounder is shutting down the Redskin running game — ranked No. 2 in the NFL — as they did against Carolina. They allowed the mobile Newton and potent Panthers ground game only 10 total rushing yards in a season-opening 16-10 win.

"Our philosophy is we have to stop the run before we worry about RG3," defensive tackle Gerald McCoy said.

Of course, stopping the run means clamping down Griffin, who ranks as Washington's No. 2 rusher with 209 yards on 32 carries, behind Alfred Morris' 263 yards on 61 carries.

"He's such a great player and does a lot of great things — his speed, his strength, his arm," left defensive end Michael Bennett said. "He's a dynamic player. It used to be Michael Vick and Donovan McNabb, and now it's Cam Newton and Robert Griffin. We have to do what we can to contain him. Griffin does what he does, and we're going to do what we do. We're not shying away from their offense, and they need to be aware of our defense. We have a great defense."

Linebacker Mason Foster is bracing for a battle. "He's got a big arm; he's throwing the ball 80 yards down the field," he said. "But as a last resort, he's a really fast, big-time athlete who makes plays with his feet. You just have to keep him in the pocket and everybody's got to swarm and play hard."

But just because they enjoyed success in pressuring Newton and Romo — and Manning for more than half the game — doesn't give the defense any sense of security for Sunday. "Everybody's different and all that stuff is in the past," Foster said. "RG3 is a whole different type of player and this is a whole different team, posing a new challenge. But we have a defense that loves challenges and loves competition. So it's going to be exciting."

"They're using him in every way you can imagine," defensive coordinator Bill Sheridan said. "They have a fantastic running game when he just hands the ball off. Yet they're running the college gun-run stuff like we saw in the first week. And their offense is designed on first down and second down — because they have such a good running attack — to really throw shots down the field trying to get the ball over your head."

In short, there isn't anything Griffin does that the Bucs have studied on tape and prepared for this week. But whether that will translate into stopping him is another matter entirely.

NOTES: The Bucs' rushing offense ranks 21st in the league with an average of 94.7 yards per game, and compact rookie Doug Martin's production has dropped each week (99, 66, 53). So perhaps not surprisingly, Schiano said that LeGarrette Blount, the burly former No. 1 tailback, will be worked more into the ground attack starting Sunday.

"We need to get him more involved," he said. "I'm not thinking of making any changes the way we're doing it — just give him a little more action. There was the whole thing with the (neck) injury (against Carolina) and then we weren't sure what it was. It kind of threw things into flux. He's practicing very well now and he's ready to go, so I think we'll have a good one-two punch like we envisioned early on."

Asked about No. 1 pick Martin, he remarked, "I think he's running hard. I think he's running well. I don't think we've done as good a job blocking as I thought we would. But then you lose Davin (Joseph). That throws it into a little flux. And we're starting a new guy at tackle (Demar Dotson). So I think we're going to clearly get better as we move forward. These guys (the Redskins) are going to crowd the box. It's going to be upstream trying to run the football. We're going to have to be perfect to gain yardage running the ball."

. . . Schiano confirmed that newly signed return specialist Roscoe Parrish will handle punt-return duties Sunday against the Redskins. And Parrish couldn't have been happier to be a member of the Bucs, following seven seasons with Buffalo and several weeks at home wondering if he'd get a phone call.

"I just have to put the offense in good field position and protect the ball — that's the key thing," he said. Schiano labeled the punt return job as the most difficult specialty in football, given the spiraling trajectory of the ball and would-be tacklers bearing down on the return man.

But Parrish says he thrives on that: "It's difficult, but I've been doing it all my life, and I love it," he said. "I love to be back there and make plays, with my quickness, speed and awareness. That's what I do." He said he got the call from the Bucs on Monday morning after several weeks of uncertainty. "It's something I never went through. I just appreciate being here and being back on the field. It's a blessing and a good opportunity."

Parrish has a 12 career average as a punt returner, ranking second among active players behind Devin Hester (12.8). "I don't envy those guys," said Schiano. "It's a special skill set. And when you have one that's really good, don't take it for granted."

. . . With Adrian Clayborn out for the season with a knee injury sustained in Dallas, Schiano will start Daniel Te'o-Nesheim, a third-year pro from the University of Washington, at right defensive end. He played in 2010 with the Eagles and seen limited action with the Bucs the past two seasons.

"Daniel is a good football player, and I've been very impressed with his development since we've arrived," Schiano said. "George Johnson can be a real good football player. So as I've always said to the guys one man's loss is another man's opportunity. And that's the way this game is. I have a great deal of confidence in Daniel. I think he's going to play well."