Josh Johnson vs. Washington Redskins Defense
It’s four weeks into the season, and Byron Leftwich has been replaced as starting QB of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. What’s more surprising than the quick hook is who’s being called upon to take over the offensive huddle. It’s been long speculated by myself and others that Leftwich would hold things over until after the bye week (NFL week 8) when the Bucs would assumedly be well behind in the standings. At that point, the thought was that rookie Josh Freeman would finish out a sad season with hopes of laying the foundation for a much improved 2010.
Instead, career backup in training Josh Johnson gets the call. Last year’s 5th round pick is now the starting QB of the Bucs, and he draws the Washington Redskins in his first assignment. Sure, he’s inheriting an 0-3 team that’s converted barely half as many 3rd downs and rushed for less than half as many yards as its opponents, but there are some positives to take from the current situation. Even with Byron “the immovable object” Leftwich under center, the Bucs’ offensive line has only surrendered 2 sacks on the season. While Leftwich dealt with his share of pressure and possesses the veteran pocket presence that Johnson has yet to acquire, the first time starter shouldn’t be sent scrambling every time he drops back to pass.
When he is, Johnson certainly has the ability to use his legs to create plays, but he justifiably wants to be known as a passer who happens to be able to run with the ball. Remember his stated reluctance to be a Wildcat gimmick player? Johnson entered the league with a reputation as a heady, comfortable, consistent passer who doesn’t make the big mistakes (as his 42-1 TD-INT ratio as a senior demonstrates). His NFL experience is obviously limited, but as a fan of his coming out of San Diego, I’m confident in his ability to not look like a rattled rookie on the field Sunday.
I’ll watch to see if he’s able to read defenses at the line of scrimmage, if he recognizes blitzes, if he’s comfortable in the pocket, if his pocket clock is working, if he goes through his progressions, if he checks down too often, and if he puts the proper touch on his passes. I expect him to face a good helping of blitzes Sunday, and although I’d obviously like to get a victory, I’m more concerned with how Johnson responds to game action and to see if we’ve got one young QB capable of effectively leading the offense. Considering our lack of healthy and useful weapons, it shouldn’t be a stretch to expect a few designed QB runs this week.
Any chance the Bucs keep Johnson on a short leash, rely heavily on the run game, and do their best to restrict their own defense to the sidelines in hopes of winning a low scoring contest? Before you laugh, let’s look at some numbers. The Bucs lead the series 8-7 and won the last matchup 19-13 (11/25/07). The previous year, the Bucs won 20-17 in Jason Campbell’s NFL debut. Four of the last five matchups in this series have been won with a score of 20 or fewer points.
The fact that Washington was only able to score a combined 23 points against the Rams and Lions in their last two contests has me a bit encouraged as well. As poor as Tampa’s run the ball (86 yards per game), Washington ranks 22nd in the league defending it. In the Redskins’ last contest, the Lions rushed 36 times for 154 yards, and that was a week after the Skins surrendered 6 yards a carry to Steven Jackson and the Rams.
Even if the Bucs are able to open up a run lane or two, who’s going to carry the football? Derrick Ward is limited in practice this week, and Carnell Williams is dealing with a knee issue of his own. Johnson may call his own number quite a bit, and the Bucs might have to dust off Earnest Graham. The offense will be taking the field once more without their best lineman, Jeff Faine, so considering Sean Mahan figures to see a lot of Albert Haynesworth, the task will yet again be daunting.
On the positive side, the Skins’ pass rush is junk which isn’t much of a surprise to me considering the personnel. Combine that with Johnson’s mobility, Donald Penn’s dare I say brilliance in pass protection, and Jeremy Trueblood’s not completely sucking, and Johnson should have a good amount of time to get the ball downfield.
When he does drop back to pass, Johnson will frequently see Carlos Rogers, DeAngelo Hall, and LaRon Landry covering his primary targets. While I’m not a big Carlos Rogers fan at this point in his career and am far less fond of the overhyped and overpaid DeAngelo Hall, Antonio Bryant is still obviously slowed by a knee problem, and Michael Clayton is horribly allergic to the football. It might be an ugly wash there. That said, I expect Kellen Winslow to be Johnson’s primary target come Sunday, and he’ll likely be shadowed by Landry. The 6th overall pick in the ’07 draft will match up physically with the Soldier and can run with him all over the field, but he lacks the ball skills to adequately contain him.
Call me crazy, but I’m predicting a Buccaneer victory this weekend. I’m expecting Johnson to connect with Winslow for one score and run another one in himself. With the Redskins seemingly sputtering nearly as bad as the Bucs and with the insertion of the exciting 2nd year passer, I see this Sunday as one of the rare chances for Tampa to pull out a W this season. 17-13 good guys!
Keep an eye on this matchup and see who emerges victorious.