Friday, November 28, 2008

Bucs Start the Big 3 Slate

By JC De La Torre

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have begun the 2008 season winning 8 of their first 11 ball games. At home they're undefeated and on the road they've won two straight. The Bucs currently sit as the #2 seed in the NFC and in position to win the NFC South title. None of that matters now. All that matters for the Buccaneers and their hopes to become the first team in NFL history to play the Super Bowl in their home stadium are the next three games beginning Sunday with the hated New Orleans Saints at Raymond James Stadium, followed by the final two road trips of the year to Carolina and Atlanta.

Take two out of 3 games, and the Bucs are in good position to stay in the race. Win all three and the race is all but over with the Bucs on there way to the second round of the playoffs for the first time since the Super Bowl year. Lose 2 out of 3 or all 3 and the Bucs are in deep trouble, not only in the division race but the playoffs overall. The easiest of the three (if there is an easiest) is this week's New Orleans game. Of course, New Orleans has won two straight and just beat the Green Bay Packers 51-29 shellacking on Monday Night Football.

So let's take a look at this match up a little more in depth -

Tampa Bay's Offense vs. New Orleans' Defense

Tampa Bay has the NFL's 12th ranked offense (13th rushing, 11th passing) and is averaging 23.4 points per game. The Saints defense is once again in the lower half of the league, ranked 22nd overall (18th against the run, 24th against the pass) and gives up an average of 25 pts a game. The Bucs will be without the services of their leading rusher Earnest Graham who is out for the season but is easing former NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year Carnell "Cadillac" Williams back into the rotation. The Bucs will go primarily with Warrick Dunn at running back. As for their passing offense, Jeff Garcia continues to be steady but not spectacular at QB, while receivers Antonio Bryant and Ike Hilliard and tight ends Alex Smith and Jeramy Stevens have propelled the passing attack. Missing in action is Joey Galloway, who hasn't seen significant playing time since Week 1 against the Saints.

The running attack and short passing game is going to be crucial to Tampa Bay, as will be protecting the football. Playing keep away while sustaining drives, controlling time of possession and keeping the ball out of the hands of the New Orleans offense is just as crucial as scoring points when the opportunity presents itself. This week would be a great time for head coach Jon Gruden to take the the mothballs off of Joey Galloway.

New Orleans' Offense vs. Tampa Bay's Defense

The Saints offense comes in red hot, leading the league in total offense and scoring 51 points against a decent Green Bay Packers defense. New Orleans is #3 in scoring, #1 Passing, but #27 rushing. The Saints will be getting running back\wide receiver Reggie Bush back just in time to face the Bucs #4 ranked defense. The Bucs 2nd ranked pass defense will get its stiffest test since meeting the Saints in the opener, while the 13th ranked rush defense will need to contain Bush, Pierre Thomas and their old nemesis, Deuce McCallister. The Bucs defense is 3rd in the NFL in scoring defense and looks like they'll be getting a boost with starting strong safety Jermaine Phillips returning to the lineup.

Tampa Bay's Special Teams vs. New Orleans' Special Teams

Returner Clifton Smith has breathed life into an anemic Buccaneer return game. Thanks to Smith's heroics, the Bucs rank 3rd in the NFL in kick return yardage, and have risen to 16th in punt return yardage after spending most of the season dead last. The Bucs have a kickoff return and punt return for touchdowns (both by Smith) in the same season for the first time in team history. The Saints have had their share of heroics as well, getting three punt returns for touchdowns and leading the league in punt return average. The Saints kickoff and punt return coverage are a little suspect as they rank 21st and 26th respectively. The Bucs boast solid coverage play ranking 5th on kickoff coverage and are 17th in punt coverage. Bucs Punter Josh Bidwell ranks 10th in the NFL in punt average, while the Saints Ben Graham ranks 23rd. The Saints are on their third kicker this season, Garrett Hartley, who has made all six field goal tries since coming aboard, including a 44 yder. The Bucs Matt Bryant has been solid for Tampa Bay, making 86% of his field goals with a long of 49.


Jon Gruden is the winningest coach in Buccaneer history and has the Bucs in contention for their 4th division championship in the 7 years of the NFC South. Sean Payton is one of the most innovative offensive head coaches in the NFL and his passing attack is feared through out the league.


The Bucs have won 4 of the last 7 meetings with the Saints and 2 of the last 3 in Tampa. Brees has had trouble finding his rhythm on the road as he has thrown five touchdown passes and seven interceptions in five road games compared to 17 TD passes and four picks in five home games. The Saints have also struggled on the road, as they opened the season with four straight road losses before a 30-20 win at Kansas City on Nov. 16. The New Orleans defense gives up an average of 29.7 points on the road. The Bucs are 5-0 at home this season, winning by an average of 13 points. New Orleans won the last meeting in Week 1 24-20, holding off a last minute drive by Jeff Garcia and the Buccaneers with a late interception.

Final Prediction

Its an irresistible force meeting the immovable object. Frankly, the Saints offense vs. the Bucs defense isn't what will decide this ballgame - the two will battle to a stalemate. I think what will be the difference is whether or not the Bucs offense can score on a Saints defense that gives up an average of 29 points a game on the road, whether they can control the ball, thus the clock limiting the cracks Drew Brees has at the Bucs secondary. The Bucs offense must also avoid the costly turnover and short field for the Saints. Don't help them. A few nice returns by Clifton Smith certainly wouldn't hurt things. The Bucs have it all ahead of them starting this week. I think they get the job done against a tough New Orleans team coming off an emotional win on national television.

Final Score: Tampa Bay 27, New Orleans 20.

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