Key 1: Keep Freeney And Mathis Off Freeman’s Back
On paper this game appears to be a great opportunity for the Buccaneers to go 3-1. But that’s on paper. One of the few ways the Colts can stay in the game is to put the heat on Josh Freeman and force the Bucs' quarterback into mistakes.
Ten-year veteran and perennial Pro Bowl defensive end Dwight Freeney has shown no sign of slowing down. Through three games, Freeney has already collected three sacks and forced two fumbles. In a dismal season for the 0-3 Colts, Freeney has been a bright spot.
But keeping Freeney under wraps doesn’t guarantee the Buccaneers a win as left defensive end Robert Mathis is having nearly as good a start as Freeney. With two sacks through three games, the nine-year veteran poses just as big a concern as Freeney.
Both offensive tackles Jeremy Trueblood and Donald Penn must bring their “A” game to neutralize the Colts’ pass rush. The Buccaneers appear to be solid favorites, but can’t allow the Colts' dynamic duo to change the game. If Tampa Bay’s offensive line can keep Freeman upright their chances for winning dramatically increase.
Key 2: Pressure Painter Into Mistakes
While Tampa Bay needs to protect Freeman, it is just as important to get significant pressure on Colts QB Curtis Painter as he makes his first NFL start.
Painter has taken a few meaningful snaps over the last couple years in relief of Manning, but never has he been called upon to lead his team from start to finish. Add in the fact the spotlight could hardly be any bigger than a nationally televised Monday Night Football contest on the road, and it appears to be a recipe for a Buccaneers win.
But as any person who has ever watched football at any level knows, sometimes these little known players can be giant slayers. Buccaneers fans need to look no further than Detroit quarterback Drew Stanton and what he did to Tampa Bay last season in the Lions' 23-20 overtime win as a virtual unknown. It will be important for the Buccaneers to not take Painter lightly or there could be 53 men waking up Tuesday morning in Tampa asking, “Did that just really happen?”
All week in the Bucs locker room everyone from Ronde Barber to head coach Raheem Morris said all the right things, acknowledging the fact that no matter who is under center Monday night, Tampa Bay’s defense will be ready.
Key 3: Feed Off The Sold Out Stadium
Monday night will finally bring a sold out Raymond James Stadium, ending a streak of 10 blacked out home games. For some of these young players it will come close to matching their college days when they played on the largest of stages. There are players like Adrian Clayborn, who played in front of 71,000 fans every Saturday at Kinnick Stadium, or former Clemson Tiger Da’Quan Bowers, who made a living feeding off the energy in Death Valley where over 80,000 rabid fans would make the stadium literally shake. For these young Bucs and many others, playing in front of crowds fewer than 50,000 fans at home must have been a bit of a letdown. But Monday night should change that as over 60,000 crazed fans will pack RJS to be part of the phenomenon known as Monday Night Football.
Several players told PewterReport.com this week that they watch Monday Night Football every week and know that it is a huge stage, as it is the only game in town. Many, including defensive tackle Gerald McCoy, watched the Bucs on Monday Night Football with his father growing up. To be playing in the game now is a dream come true.
With that said, the players should not only be extremely fired up to play, but also to show the rest of the country how good of a team they are. Morris told the media Friday that Pro Bowl players are made on Monday Night Football and thinks his team is up for the challenge. If the Buccaneers can get a lead, the stadium will truly become a 12th man – something that it hasn’t been over the last couple seasons.
Key 4: Keep Addai In Check
Not having Peyton Manning under center completely changes the identity of the Indianapolis Colts. But take a look at the other skill positions and top players at their respective positions. Reggie Wayne, Austin Collie, Pierre Garcon and Dallas Clark all pose problems for Tampa Bay’s defense, but perhaps the one that will be the most crucial to keep in check will be running back Joseph Addai.
Painter, making his first start, will more than likely not be called on to try and win the game for the Colts. Instead expect a heavy dose of Addai, who is having a good season thus far. Averaging 4.8 yards a carry through the first three games, the Colts likely will pin their best hopes of winning on the legs of Addai.
The Buccaneers did an outstanding job of limiting Falcons running back Michael Turner [11 carries, 20 yards] last week, making Atlanta one dimensional and forcing Matt Ryan to put the ball up 47 times. If the Buccaneers defense can do the same thing to Addai, expect more than the four sacks and one INT they recorded last Sunday against the Falcons.
Key 5: No Red Zone Turnovers
The slow starts by the Buccaneers has been discussed and written about to the point of overkill. No one in the Tampa Bay locker room likes talking about it and, for the most part, no one in the press box enjoys writing about it. But until Tampa Bay can score more than seven points in the first quarter, it will continue to be a topic.
Last week against the Falcons, the Buccaneers defense set up the offense with a golden opportunity to finally re-write recent history. After beginning their first drive of the game on the Atlanta 17, Tampa Bay moved the ball to the Falcons' 4-yard line and had first-and-goal. Josh Freeman took the snap and rolled to his left looking for Kellen Winslow to drag across the end zone. Freeman perhaps could have ran it in, but decided to pass the ball instead and the Falcons defense, which was playing Quarters coverage, (something offensive coordinator Greg Olson said they hadn’t shown on film in that situation) had a safety in perfect position to slide over and pick off Freeman.
In the grand scheme of things it didn’t affect the outcome, but just as the pick in the Vikings end zone the week before, it could have been a key factor had Tampa Bay not won.
Through three games Freeman has tossed three interceptions in the opposing team's end zones, a mildly alarming statistic. Scoring three points in the red zone instead of seven is frustrating for offensive coordinators throughout the NFL, but coming away with zero points will give coordinators ulcers.
Freeman and the Buccaneers offense must make better decisions when in the red zone and while not sexy, three points is better than none.
Cook’s Final Analysis: This game is a game of chances. A chance to play in front of a nationally televised audience, a chance to showcase what few outside of the Tampa Bay area have seen, and a chance to go 3-1 and keep pace as NFC South division leaders. The Buccaneers appear to be the better team at this point, but the Colts are a dangerous squad, loaded with skill position players. Unfortunately for them, their top skill position player, Manning, will be watching from the coordinator's box high above the playing field. Curtis Painter is making his first start and expect the Buccaneers defense to make his night miserable.
Cook’s Prediction: Buccaneers 28, Colts 10
Horchy’s Prediction: Buccaneers 30, Colts 13
Reynolds' Prediction: Buccaneers 23, Colts 16