TAMPA, Fla (AP)—Whether it’s throwing the football or tucking it to run, Robert Griffin III and Josh Freeman are committed to one thing: winning.
Unlike the Washington Redskins (1-2), who’ve tailored their system to the strengths of the No. 2 overall pick in this year’s draft and are leading the NFL in scoring, the sputtering Tampa Bay Buccaneers (1-2) have yet to establish an identity on offense with their young, strong-armed quarterback.
“The team is scoring 33 points a game, so we’re being pretty successful when it comes to scoring points. We just have to be more successful when it comes to winning games,” Griffin said, reflecting on a start that includes a surprising win over New Orleans and close losses to St. Louis and Cincinnati.
The Redskins and Bucs meet Sunday at Raymond James Stadium, both looking to end two-game skids.
“For me, whatever they ask me to do, I’m going to go out and do it because that’s the kind of person I am,” the 2011 Heisman Trophy winner added. “Whether it’s run the ball, throw the ball, kick the ball, punt the ball, whatever. I’m going to go out there, and I’ll run through a wall for this team. ... That’s how I was brought up.”
Freeman is just as determined, one of the reasons he insists he’s not frustrated with game plans that produced mixed results during a victory over Carolina, as well as losses to the New York Giants and Dallas Cowboys. Questions have been raised whether first-year coach Greg Schiano essentially is turning his quarterback into a caretaker rather than a playmaker.
The fourth-year pro statistically had one of the worst games of his career a week ago, throwing for 110 yards, one touchdown and one interception in a 16-10 loss to the Cowboys. Much of that production came on Tampa Bay’s final drive, and the Bucs finished with just 166 yards total offense.
The absence of a consistent running game has been part of the problem, but Schiano scoffed at the notion he and offensive coordinator Mike Sullivan hindered Freeman and wasted a strong defensive performance with overly conservative play-calling after taking an early lead at Dallas.
During one stretch of the second half, the Bucs had nine first-down plays and ran the ball on eight for a total of 23 yards.
“I don’t necessarily want to be a running team. I want to be able to run the football when we want to run it. That’s the big thing to me,” Schiano said, shrugging off a question about his desire to offensively mold the Bucs into in a tough, physical unit that thrives on a solid rushing attack.
“As you look back, would we like to change a few, Mike and I? Sure, we’d like to a change a few” calls, Schiano said. “We were all out of synch. We were trying to get it calmed down and going and just never really got it. When that happens, you look internally and say we just never got it flowing. But then as a head coach, you’ve got to look at the other side and say they had something to do with that.”
Freeman, who’s completed just over 51 percent of his passes for 491 yards, four TDs and three interceptions, said it’s too soon to draw any conclusions about the third offensive system he’s had to learn since entering the NFL in 2009.
“It’s still early in the season. We still have a lot of our offense that we’ve yet to display on Sundays,” Freeman said.
“I feel we’re in a good place now. Sometimes you lose a game, sometimes you lose a couple games,” the 24-year-old quarterback added. “But I feel like our team mentally is where we need to be. We’re pushing forward ... excited about having another opportunity to go out and try to find a way to win.”
The Redskins certainly haven’t tried to restrict Griffin, who’s completed 67.4 percent of his passes for 747 yards, four touchdowns and one interception.
The rookie also has rushed for 209 yards — more than any quarterback — and a league-leading three TDs on the ground while taking a physical beating. That has prompted coach Mike Shanahan to ask his young star to take some precautions on the field.
Griffin was sacked six times last week and also took some hard hits after handing off on some option plays.
“He just told me to protect myself. I’ve done a good job of that the past couple of weeks, and I’ll continue to do that while remaining aggressive,” said Griffin, who this week will face a defense that sacked Tony Romo four times.
The Bucs also yielded 510 yards passing to Eli Manning two weeks ago. However, Griffin and Shanahan said the Tampa Bay secondary is much better than the team’s last-place ranking in pass defense.
Conversely, the Bucs have the league’s No. 1 run defense, allowing just over 47 yards per game. They held Carolina to 10 yards rushing in the opener, and limited the Cowboys to 38 yards on 23 attempts last week.
“Whenever you’re young, talented and play hard, you’re going to pose a problem for a lot of teams,” Griffin said. “We know that going in, so we really don’t look at the numbers. We kind of throw them out and know we’ve got to show up ready to play, knowing it’s going to be a physical game.”
After facing Cam Newton, Manning and Romo the past three weeks, the Bucs are bracing for the balance of the Redskins, who are averaging 404.3 yards per game, including 180.7 on the ground.
“Everybody talks about that one person, but there’s a lot of people on that team we have to worry about. He just happens to be the quarterback,” defensive tackle Gerald McCoy said.
“Our philosophy is we have to stop the run first before we worry about RG3,” McCoy added. “He’s a threat in many ways, but they run the ball pretty well and we’ve got to take care of that.”