Each week PewterReport.com’s beat writer presents his Five Keys To Victory column where he lists things he feels the Buccaneers must do in order to come out victorious in their upcoming game. On game day he revisits those keys and grades the team on how well they accomplished each goal. In addition he hands out individual unit game grades.
Key 1: Play Mistake Free Football
This key encompasses many things. Penalties, turnovers and missed lane or gap assignments just to name a few.
Silly mental mistakes like motion penalties and neutral zone infractions are something that has hampered the Buccaneers since the first preseason game at Kansas City. Through five games Tampa Bay has committed 44 penalties and in just the last two games they have given up over 200 yards of penalty yardage. What makes matters worse is it seems the penalties have come at critical times that either stopped offensive drives or extended opposing offensive ones.
Mike Williams' motion penalty on Tampa Bay’s first drive at San Francisco last week negated a first down and led to the offense going three-and-out. While it would be unfair to say it cost the Bucs the game, it certainly helped set a tone. Instead of extending the drive, Tampa Bay ended up punting to give the 49ers good field position that they were able to capitalize on by scoring a touchdown.
After the first domino fell, the long chain continued to fall. Before long the Bucs were in a hole that led to quarterback Josh Freeman forcing passes that turned into interceptions.
If the Buccaneers thought the Niners had a high-powered attack that took advantage of mistakes, the Saints can make the 49ers look like a high school offense.
The Buccaneers must make the Saints earn every yard, through the air and on the ground, and not gift wrap an additional 100 yards with penalties or give them short fields to work with.
Key 2: Control the Clock
With the propensity of slow starts that has plagued Greg Olson’s unit over the last two seasons, this week would be the perfect time to find a way turn it around.
Drew Brees and Co. are as loaded offensively as any team in the NFL and the additions of Darren Sproles and rookie running back Mark Ingram makes it almost unfair. Add in the fact Sean Payton is an offensive guru and it is a recipe for disaster.
The Buccaneers must find a way to keep the Saints' high-powered attack watching the game from the sidelines. With LeGarrette Blount all but guaranteed to miss the contest, the goal will be even more difficult. Maybe Earnest Graham finds the old spark that he had in 2007 that saw him rush for 898 yards and 10 touchdowns when he took over for an injured Cadillac Williams. Maybe Kregg Lumpkin can provide a boost on third down that this team desperately needs. And maybe this is the week Josh Freeman looks like the Freeman from last year’s Seattle game.
For the Buccaneers to have any chance against the Saints, Tampa Bay will need to win the time-of-possession battle by having a balanced ball-control attack.
Key 3: Limit Jimmy Graham
Perhaps Raheem Morris would be wise to call Miami Heat star Lebron James in for a tryout at tight end for the Buccaneers. It is certainly working for former University of Miami basketball player turned NFL tight end, current Saint Jimmy Graham.
The 6-foot-6, 260-pounder has emerged as one of, if not the best, hybrid receiver/tight ends in the NFL in just his second season. With three straight 100-yard receiving games, it is almost unfair that Sean Payton has yet another toy to play with as Bucs’ secondary coach Jimmy Lake said earlier this week.
Tampa Bay did an excellent job in shutting down Graham’s idol, another basketball star turned tight end, Tony Gonzalez in Week 3, limiting the future hall-of-famer to just two catches. But Graham may already be better than Gonzalez and has gaudy numbers (24 receptions, 364 yards, three touchdowns) through just five games to state his case.
Covering Graham with 5-foot-9 Ronde Barber doesn’t seem like a great idea on paper but as Barber was able to show against Gonzalez, he loves the challenge of facing one of the best. Maybe Raheem Morris mixes up his coverage and gives Barber some safety help, or maybe the Bucs play nickel all game. Either way a gamble like that will leave the Saints wideouts drawing single coverage from the Bucs corners at times making it critical for the D-line to get quick pressure on Brees.
Key 4: Score Early and Often
This key goes somewhat hand-in-hand with Key 2. While the Buccaneers need to get off to a fast start and convert third downs, they must also take advantage of their red zone opportunities and score touchdowns, not field goals. Ask the Houston Texans what happens when your trade touchdowns for field goals.
There are a few things in life that are virtually guaranteed. We will all die one day, the sun will rise tomorrow morning and the New Orleans Saints will score points week in and week out.
While the Saints' offense is beyond good, the defense has been suspect at times and is surrendering an average of 25 points per game. Buccaneers offensive coordinator Greg Olson can go a long way in making Bucs fans forget about the San Francisco debacle if he can find away to get his unit into the end zone a few times on Sunday.
Key 5:Find A Way to Replace Blount and McCoy
As LeGarrette Blount goes, so do the Buccaneers. In Tampa Bay’s three wins Blount carried the offense, and opposing defenses, on his back. In the two losses he was a non-factor. This week is appears Blount will be in street clothes, watching from the sidelines in hopes of returning next week against the Bears in London. It will be up to the combination of Earnest Graham and Kregg Lumpkin to fill the void and it may not be as big a challenge as it looks from the outside.
Through five games the Saints are allowing over five yards per carry, which is 29th in the league. What has benefited New Orleans has been that its offense is getting out to big leads or creating shootouts and limiting the carries by opposing teams. If the Bucs can keep the game close and not get in a position where they must throw every down, there are holes to exploit.
Replacing McCoy is also a tough task but Tampa Bay’s plan is to rotate Frank Okam and rookie Da’Quan Bowers in McCoy’s three-technique defensive tackle position. Bowers told PewterReport.com he played the three in college some last season in certain packages and also played there his first two years in high school. At 280 pounds, Bowers has the size to man the spot and the quickness to get up field on throwing downs. The question will be his run recognition. The three must be a balanced attacker and make adjustments mid play much more so than at defensive end.
Okam had one of the better preseasons of any defensive lineman and is a tough body to move. Look for Okam to be on the field during standard run downs and Bowers to get more of his reps on third down.
Final Analysis: While not many people are giving the Buccaneers much of a chance to win the game, this team was humbled last week at San Francisco and has a lot to prove. Unfortunately the injuries may be too much to overcome. The Buccaneers will need to play a perfect game and hope the Saints are off a little bit to win.
Cook’s Score Prediction: Saints 28, Buccaneers 27
Reynold’s Score Prediction: Saints 30, Buccaneers 17
Horchy’s Score Prediction: Saints 31, Buccaneers 23