Key 1: Keep Freeney And Mathis Off Freeman’s Back
While it wasn’t a complete shutout, the Buccaneers offensive line gave Josh Freeman just enough time to find receivers, move the chains and ultimately attain the win.
Robert Mathis was credited with one sack but Dwight Freeney, who had three sacks coming into tonight, was held without a takedown. Freeney generated a lot of attention and even created a holding penalty in the first half against Donald Penn but was a no-show on the final games stats. He wasn't even credited with a tackle. It wasn’t pretty but it is pretty obvious not many of Tampa Bay's wins this season will be. And I’m assuming no one at One Buccaneer Place will complain.
Final Grade: B+
Key 2: Pressure Painter Into Mistakes
While there weren’t any glaring errors by Colts QB Curtis Painter, the Bucs defensive line gave the third-year pro and first-time starter fits all night with four sacks and multiple QB pressures.
Beginning in the first quarter with a Michael Bennett sack and fumble and recovery, the Tampa Bay pass rush made Painter uncomfortable for the majority of the game. While Painter did throw for two touchdowns, both were routine short routes that went for scores because of poor tackling. Painter never looked completely comfortable in the pocket and had several overthrows and underthrown balls.
Final Grade: B+
Key 3: Feed Off The Sold Out Stadium
With a sold out Raymond James Stadium and the national spotlight on Tampa Bay, the young Buccaneers were able to use the unofficial “12th man" to help beat the Colts, 24-17.
Several times, particularly in the second half, Painter and the Colts offense appeared to have trouble checking out of plays and ended up rushing the snap to beat the play clock. While there was a sprinkling of blue-and-white Colts jerseys in the crowd, the home crowd stayed loud and on their feet, especially in the second half.
Defensive players like Michael Bennett played off the crowd in between plays and after big moments during the course of the game and the defensive line in particular had more fire than we have seen in the prior three games, including two home contests.
A classy moment by the fans came early in the game when the JumboTron showed former Bucs and Colts coach Tony Dungy on the big screen and Dungy received a standing ovation by the nearly 65,000 fans in attendance.
Final Grade: A
Key 4: Keep Addai In Check
With a first-time starter under center it was imperative for the Buccaneers defense to keep Colts running back Joseph Addai and the other Indy running backs under wraps. The ability to hold the Colts to just 62 yards on 18 carries (3.4 yard average) was a huge factor in the 24-17 victory.
Addai came into Monday night's contest averaging 4.8 yards per carry but Tampa Bay’s defense limited the Colts' main running threat to only 3.7 yards per carry. Addai finished with 11 carries for 41 yards.
Final Grade: A
Key 5: No Red Zone Turnovers
Coming into Monday Night Josh Freeman has thrown four interception in the first three games, including three in the red zone. While there were a few passes that Colts defenders got their hands on, none were successfully completed to the wrong colored uniforms Monday night.
Both Freeman and offensive coordinator Greg Olson have talked over the last couple weeks about being smarter with the football and not making critical errors while in the red zone. As it turned out even one pick could have made the difference in the Buccaneers' victory, and Freeman was careful and smart taking care of the football.
Final Grade: A
Final analysis: While it was more difficult than PewterReport.com thought, the Buccaneers again proved their grittiness and an ability to come back in the second half and won a game that was crucial in keeping pace with the other teams in their division. It wasn’t a victory as the fans and probably the coaches drew up before kickoff, but no one can argue with Raheem Morris’ assessment: The Bucs are the best team in the NFC South through the first four games.
Cook’s Prediction: Buccaneers 28, Colts 10
Actual Score: Buccaneers 24, Colts 17
Freeman was shaky in the first quarter, missing a few receivers and not hitting them in stride. Much like a diesel truck, sometimes the Bucs top signal caller takes a while to get running smoothly. And like the diesel, Freeman gets stronger the longer he runs.
Freeman finished the game 25-of-39 for 287 yards and one touchdown through the air and one on the ground and a QB rating of 94.7.
Coming into Monday night’s matchup with the Colts, Buccaneers running back LeGarrette Blount was still searching for his first 100-yard rushing game of 2011. With Tampa Bay driving late in the fourth quarter to possibly setup a winning field goal attempt, Blount had other ideas. The second-year running back took a handoff from Freeman on second-and-six and raced 35 yards for the deciding score in Tampa Bay’s victory, pushing him over the 100-yard mark.
Blount finished the game with 127 yards on 25 carries and helped pace the Buccaneers to a season-high 192 yards rushing Monday night.
Much maligned, it doesn’t seem this group can do anything right by a segment of Buccaneers fans. But once again the offensive line was able to hold off a quality defensive line, giving up just two sacks, and also paved the way for a season-high 192 yards on the ground.
Many factors contributed to Tampa Bay’s win, and the offensive line certainly deserves a big part of the credit keeping the duo of Freeney and Mathis in check.
Both Kellen Winslow and Luke Stocker had fairly quiet but solid games in Tampa Bay’s win over the Colts Monday night, catching a combined seven passes for 41 yards.
Winslow came close to his first TD of the season in the third quarter as the former Hurricane ran a seam route from the Colts 16-yard line, beating the linebacker. But Freeman’s pass sailed and Winslow was unable to make the grab. Winslow finished the game with five catches for 33 yards but also had two penalties, one for holding and a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for a facemask that negated a seven-yard reception by Blount.
Stocker had only two receptions for nine yards but was an important piece of Tampa Bay’s success running the ball with his blocking. Stocker did have one dropped pass in the second quarter on a low-thrown Freeman ball that appeared to bounce off his knee.
Overall this group had a productive night receiving, blocking and working hard to get open when Freeman was under pressure.
The Buccaneers’ receivers totaled 11 catches for 179 yards, and were inches from adding another 62 yards had Arrelious Benn not stepped out of bounds in the first quarter.
Mike Williams, who had been challenged by head coach Raheem Morris in recent weeks, had his most productive game of the young 2011 season, snagging five receptions for 66 yards including a long of 23 yards.
Preston Parker continues to impress, as the former North Alabama product led all receivers with 70 yards on five receptions and a touchdown.
Easily the most impressive unit on the entire team tonight, Tampa Bay’s D-line actually played even better than last week’s win over Atlanta.
Combining for 17 tackles and four sacks [Michael Bennett (2), Gerald McCoy and Adrian Clayborn], and limiting the Colts to just 62 total rushing yards, the Buccaneers defensive line is quickly becoming the standout unit on this football team.
Ronde Barber commented after the win that he loved seeing the young line perform in the spotlight. Gerald McCoy told PewterReport.com that at halftime the defensive line decided to play angry and it showed, as this group took over in the second half.
With only seven tackles on the stat sheet, some may think Tampa Bay’s linebackers had a poor game. But with the Colts only attempting 18 running plays and the defensive line having five tackles for loss, it was a fairly routine and easy night for Tampa Bay’s mid-line of defense.
Rookie Mason Foster continues to blow the learning curve out of the park, and was seemingly in position for most of the night. Geno Hayes added two tackles and Quincy Black notched one takedown.
Probably the unit that played the worst (although not terrible), Tampa Bay’s secondary allowed two routine short pass plays to turn into long touchdowns.
Aqib Talib was victimized by Pierre Garcon early in the game taking a bad angle, then missed a tackle that resulted in an 87-yard score. Later in the game, a quick out pass, also to Garcon, turned into a 59-yard catch, run and score.
Other than those two passes the secondary was effective for the most part, making sound tackles and nearly picking off Painter at least three times.
Continuing their steady play, the Buccaneers special teams unit once again didn’t allow the big play and was solid in kick coverage, both on punts and kickoffs.
Punter/kickoff specialist Michael Koenen continued his Pro Bowl type season averaging 44.0 yards per punt, landing three inside the 20. Koenen’s kickoffs all reached the end zone and three resulted in touchbacks.
Preston Parker’s punt return average took a bit of a hit as he only could find 5.7 yards per return. Parker did add one kickoff return for 24 yards.