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September 10, 2011 @ 7:51 am
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Cook's Five Keys To Victory: Bucs vs. Lions

Written by Mark
Mark Cook


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Opening weekend is upon us and after nearly six weeks of two-a-day practices and four preseason games, the regular season is here. Buccaneers beat writer Mark Cook takes a look at several objectives to accomplish in order for Tampa Bay to be successful Sunday against the Lions.

This week PewterReport.com debuts a new column in which beat writer Mark Cook will determine five keys that the Buccaneers must try to achieve to put themselves in a better position to win the upcoming game on the schedule.

As part of the post-game analysis Cook will review the five keys and grade out the results.

Key 1: Slow Down Calvin Johnson
Notice I didn’t say shut down Calvin Johnson. While that would be the best way to help the Buccaneers win, it isn’t an absolute must.

With Aqib Talib not seeing any action since the Atlanta game last December in which he suffered a hip injury that landed him on injured reserve, I don’t think we will see Talib at his best. However 80 percent of Talib is better than 100 percent of any of the Buccaneers second stringers. I’m sure I won’t be the most popular beat writer amongst the defensive backs next week, but if the Buccaneers could have held Johnson to half of his 10 catch, 152-yard day last season, Tampa Bay would have been in the playoffs.

Containing Johnson will be the key, and Talib has the best shot of all the Buccaneers defenders to do just that. With that said, Tampa Bay must generate some pass rush on Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford or it won’t matter if Derrell Revis is covering Johnson.

Key 2: Neutralize Ndamukong Suh And The Lions Pass Rush
Perhaps the title of this key should have also been slow down Suh instead of neutralize. While Ted Larsen did a great job last season against the NFL’s Defensive Rookie of the Year it was towards the end of the season. Most first-year players tend to hit a wall after 12 games, as it is similar to a college football season’s length.

Suh was no different in that after Week 12 he collected just two sacks, including a three-game stretch without a quarterback takedown.

But this is Week 1, and Suh will no doubt be bent on showing the NFL his rookie season was no fluke and there won’t be a sophomore slump in store.

While it seems an easy plan to double team Suh on every play, remember that Detroit’s defensive line isn’t a one-man show. Corey Williams is a young, talented defensive linemen and the wily veteran Kyle Vanden Bosch still has some juice in the tank. The Buccaneers interior linemen, Jeff Faine, Davin Joseph and Ted Larsen will need to play one of their best games of the season right out of the gate.

Key 3: Offense Can’t Start Slow
Offensive tackle Donald Penn and I were discussing Josh Freeman on Thursday and the Buccaneers Pro Bowler mentioned several times how Freeman is at his best when Tampa Bay is behind and when their back are against the wall.

No one will argue with Penn’s take on his young quarterback, and it certainly shows an intangible that takes many NFL quarterbacks years to achieve. However for the Buccaneers to reach their goal of winning the NFC South, Freeman and company must get things rolling much earlier this season.

A lot of things went right for the Buccaneers last season when they mounted several come-from-behind victories but even Penn admitted the Buccaneers counted on all the pieces falling into place.

This week both Greg Olson and Raheem Morris agreed the Buccaneers need to get their offense playing better out of the gate. Saying it and doing it are two different things, however. One negative of a young team may be a lack of urgency.

Olson will do all he can to instill this in his young Bucs, I’m certain, but it may take a little more maturity from Freeman and his teammates before it will become reality.

Key 4: Establish Running Game
It sounds cliché, and you will rarely hear a pregame press conference where the head coach doesn’t say the same thing, but establishing the running game is the only way to consistently win in the NFL.

The Buccaneers found a diamond in the rough last season in LeGarrette Blount. As well respected as Mark Dominik’s eye for talent is, even he couldn’t say he expected Blount to perform as well as he did last year. It is critical for Blount to pick up where he left off last season to not only help keep the Lions defense off balance, but to keep the Buccaneers’ defense off the field, especially early in the season where the heat can make a difference.

The running game was nearly non-existent during the preseason with the top three running backs averaging less than 3.0 yards per carry, collectively. PewterReport.com, along with most media outlets, were concerned with the lack of a running game, but every offensive lineman we spoke with seemed annoyed and not even the least bit worried when questioned about the lack of success running the football. Jeremy Trueblood told me after the Dolphins game that Tampa Bay is a pound-and-wear-you-down type running game and it was hard to do that not playing more than a few snaps together as starters.

Perhaps that will be the case and all of the media's fears were premature. If not, the Lions will leave Raymond Stadium victorious for the second year in a row.

Key 5: Play Smart, Eliminate Penalties
Again, like the running game, I’m being Captain Obvious to a degree by saying the Buccaneers must eliminate penalties and play smart football. But after a preseason where yellow flags seemed to outnumber the fans in the stands at times, it is worth mentioning again.

To come to Tampa Bay’s defense just a bit, more than half of the Buccaneers’ penalties came against players who will not see the field Sunday. Another reason for the high number of infractions is NFL referees tend to be more aggressive in throwing flags during the preseason to impress their bosses. Before each preseason a number of penalties are as labeled as “points of emphasis” and you will see them called frequently. But as the regular season begins the times you see a particular violation flagged seems to settle down.

But penalties like false starts, holding and pass interference will still be called often and Tampa Bay can’t afford to have a long gain called back on offense, or give teams second chances to convert first downs with defensive penalties.

Cook’s Final Analysis:
It’s opening weekend in the NFL and, as a player, if you can't get pumped up and ready for this game, then maybe a new profession is in order. With tributes before the game for longtime Tampa Tribune sports editor Tom McEwen planned along with Buccaneers Hall of Famer Lee Roy Selmon and the 10th anniversary of 9/11, this game will be an emotional, chill bump-producing contest. Based strictly on preseason results you have to give this one easily to the Lions but I’m drinking the Buccaneers’ Kool-aid and listening to the players and coaches who told us they will be ready for the regular season.

Cook’s prediction: Buccaneers 20, Lions 17

Last modified on Sunday, 25 September 2011 01:37

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  • avatar

    I just have a feeling that we are going to beat them and beat them badly. This will happen as long as the team I saw play in pre season doesn't show up and the real team does. Go Bucs!
  • avatar

    Gp Bucs! Will be in my usual seats at RayJay looking to throw some much needed cold water on this Lions hype wagon. Yes they are going to be good but last time I checked there are no awards for the preseason. Let them go 10-6 and make a run for the playoffs before we crown them "better than us". And please please please make it out to the stadium today. We need to get that rowdy RayJay atmosphere going again. Its been too long on our boys are on the verge of something special....
  • avatar

    "Lions are better than us?" Not sure what has transpired in the Motor City other than getting Matt Stafford back except some over-hyping that makes anyone believe that statement. "Lions outplayed us last year?" Not sure what game was watched last year but prior to the horrendous call the Bucs dominated the game. As I recall, the mighty Bucs had eight starters missing from last season's Lion's game yet posters on a Bucs fan site are making excuses for the Lions. The Lion's have some potentially great players and are a team on the rise. Heck, they might even win this game. But I find in comical for a Bucs fan to be blind to what the Bucs have done the past three seasons in building this team. In typical fashion, I was in the store yesterday and there was a guy wearing a Rays hat buying a Lions jersey and a Tigers hat.There was almost as much Steeler's merchandise on display as Bucs gear. Gee, I wonder why the home-team support is lacking.
  • avatar

    Today will be an extremely emotional day as we know. I know the Lions are coming in sky high right now & Coach Schwartz is coming off a bit pompous. The Detroit Free Press has done a great job creating momentum for the Lions over this past off season & I believe that they have managed to suck some of the bigger media outlets into buying what they're selling . . . I believe they were able to suck the Lions into believing it too. If we can run a few effective drives toward the start, we will build our own momentum in the first half & that will help bring the Lions back down a few pegs -- But if we come out & go 3 & out & they march down the field & score [particularly on a splash play] -- We will be contributing toward their belief of everything they have been hearing this off season & it will be an ugly outcome today. I think the first 4 drives of this game will determine who wins. Hopefully it is us 20-14.
  • avatar

    Can't sleep. Looking forward to the game. Bucs win 28-13 off of mad qb pressure and a lack of running back depth to force turnovers. Front four of bucs, even McCoy goes wild tomorrow. I called it!
  • avatar

    Bucnut2 how do you figure our d line will get crushed we held up last year and it was all of our back ups in besides Penn and we held up. Should be a close one but I think we pull it off at the end and im guessing stafford doesn't make it through the game we have a much better d line then last year with all the back up that had to play
  • avatar

    Your score is correct, you have the wrong team winning. Detroit outplayed us last year with hill at qb and without much of their strarting d line. Best case we lose and free escapes un injured
  • avatar

    Everyone is missing the big picture. We must win turnover battle. If that stat is even or favors Detroit we lose. Detroit is better than we are. That's ok our time is two years from now. Our oline is going to be crushed tomorrow. Let's hope freeman survives
  • avatar

    one more key, the defense needs to be patient and maintain personal gaps, dont over run plays and most of all stay physical. Our defense potentially has the ability to be very strong. We now have a d-line to pressure the qb, serious speed at lb and all this makes more pressure to let the d backs stay with their assignments .... Bucs by 2 field goals!
  • avatar

    Go Bucs! I will be there to support my team!
  • avatar

    @MC You do realize that Detroit went 4-0 in the preseason of 2008 under Rod Marinelli where they also looked unstoppable? They never won anything else that season. People keep drawing parallel's in between the Bucs and Lions but there are a large amount of parallel's between the current and 2008 Lions also. I think we out coached them last year and they know it. I think we win 24-14!
  • avatar

    Your score is correct, you have the wrong team winning. Detroit outplayed us last year with hill at qb and without much of their straying d line. Best case we lose and free escapes un injured
  • avatar

    I agree mjmoody. I kind of hit on that in the slow Calvin part, the only way Talib will have success is for the D-line to get some pressure on Stafford. If he sits back there with 4-7 seconds it will be a long day for Talib and the entire secondary. No one can cover Megatron if their isnt pressure. Trust me, Revis is a great cornerback, but without the Jets D-line pressure he could be made to look average after a while. So even the best CB wil struggle in coverage without the whole unit doing their job.
  • avatar

    Tough assignment, but we can do it. Go Bucs!
  • avatar

    Like the list, and just fired up for Sunday. Certainly all 5 keys are important for a win. I would add pressure from the D-line. Getting to Stafford could be huge. The Lions haven't been able to keep Stafford up right over the past two years. There is no substitute for reps. Harassing Stafford could lead to some very poor decisions. So many are talking about the Lions' D-line. I'd love to replace that talk at the end of the day with a stellar showing from the Bucs' front 7.
  • avatar

    I enjoyed the "where the yellow flags seemed to outnumber the fans in the stands at times" comment, those "fair weather" no shows seem to come a lot around here lately, lol. Good job Mark, I hope to see your analysis after the game. Go Bucs!!
  • avatar

    Another key, unleash "Frank the Tank"!! Put him in as the full back on a goal line situation. A new folk hero will be born.
  • avatar

    thats what im saying! i told Adam Shefter on twitter yesterday,"if BJ Raji is the freezer, then Frank Okam is the whole damn kitchen." Frank then replied with a simple LOL.
  • avatar

    Here's another key....SUPPORT FROM THE FANS....the Bucs turned in a 10-6 record last year, and it is this same team, the Lions, where a bogus call kept them out of the playoffs and the Bucs want to avenge that call. They have also lowered ticket prices again yesterday and today. While the $35 tickets are all sold, they've added more and more $58 tickets to the upper sideline on the East Side. Go get your tickets at ticketmaster, and GO BUCS!
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