Key 1. Score First, Score Often
The Buccaneers haven’t scored an offensive touchdown on an opening drive since Craig Erickson was quarterbacking this team in the mid 90’s. Ok, a bit of an exaggeration but it has been a while. To say Tampa Bay’s offense is having troubles starting games fast is an understatement.
At some point the law of averages has to go in the Buccaneers' favor. A defensive back falls down, a blown coverage, a tipped pass that ends up in a receivers hands; it’s almost impossible to think the Buccaneers aren’t due a little good luck early in games.
But as head coach Raheem Morris and Greg Olson both stated over the last few weeks, a lack of execution has been the root of the problem. Penalties, missed assignments and poor decisions at times by Josh Freeman are killing their chances for success.
At some point however the coaches, Greg Olson in particular, must take some responsibility. Olson did just that on Wednesday when addressing the media, saying he must do a better job calling plays.
Hopefully this is the week the football Gods shine down in the Buccaneers' favor. Or how about a just a better executed drive combined with a little more imagination from the O.C?
Key 2. Take Time To Tackle
At some point excuses get old. Injuries are certainly a factor, missed assignments create running lanes and sometimes the defensive coordinator just guesses wrong on the call and the offense makes them pay.
But there is no excuse for poor tackling. In fact, tackling is just as much about attitude and want as it is about technique. When the Buccaneers come out with a physical mindset (Atlanta, Indianapolis, first New Orleans games) they are successful and it reflects in the win column. Obviously in the Buccaneers' losses (Detroit, San Francisco, Chicago New Orleans) Tampa Bay gave up too much on the ground.
With Arian Foster and Ben Tate coming to town the Bucs’ defense must quickly establish the line of scrimmage and force the Texans to put the game in the hands of their quarterback. Offensive coordinators are notorious for giving up on the running game if things don’t go well early and Gary Kubiak and Rick Dennison are capable of the same thing if Tampa Bay can shut down the Texans' ground attack early.
Unfortunately for Tampa Bay, the Texans have two guys with the ability to gain 100 yards and that will create more of a headache for Raheem Morris and his defense. But if the Buccaneers can somehow manage to make Houston a one-dimensional offense their odds of being 5-4 instead of 4-5 go up dramatically.
Key 3. Be a Football Thief
With just eight interceptions and at least 11 dropped ones according to defensive backs coach Jimmy Lake, the opportunity to change a game with momentum and potential defensive touchdowns have been wasted several times this season. But even more disturbing is the Buccaneers lack of forcing fumbles by opposing running backs and wide receivers.
The Buccaneers defense has forced eight fumbles this season but five of those happened on quarterback sacks. The Bucs aren’t creating many turnover opportunities and need to improve on this in order to make a serious run at the playoffs. When was the last time we saw a Buccaneers player trying to rip the ball out in a pile or even try and chop the ball out when coming up from behind to make a tackle?
With the Texans certain to try and run the ball 40 times Sunday, Tampa Bay should be given ample opportunity to try and separate the ball from the ball carrier. If the Buccaneers can cash in on potential interceptions and force the ball on the turf it can make the difference in the game.
Key 4.Bust Out With Blount
The Buccaneers have clearly made it known the identity of their offensive football team is to establish the run first and take shots off of play action. While not the most exciting formula in the minds of the fans, it is what it is. Tampa Bay doesn’t have the speed to spread the field with four- or five-receiver sets and chuck the ball all over the place.
The good news is the Buccaneers’ LeGarrette Blount is averaging 4.4 yards per carry. The bad news is Houston’s run defense doesn’t allow many 100-yard rushers.
With Jeremy Zuttah looking like he will be back in the starting lineup and Blount showing no ill effects of his MCL sprain Tampa Bay will have the chance to establish dominance in on the line of scrimmage but must avoid needless penalties and also not fall too far behind. If the Buccaneers can keep the game close and not panic and abandon Blount they have a chance to wear down Houston’s front seven and run their style of offense.
Key 5. Sack the Schaub
The last stat I thought I would have found to be true at the halfway point of the season would be where the Buccaneers rank in league sacks. 31st. Really? After Adrian Clayborn and Da’Quan Bowers were drafted? After Brian Price has stayed healthy? After Raheem Morris brought in two coaches in Grady Stretz and Keith Millard? Who could have imagined Sean Jones and Ronde Barber with more sacks than Bowers through eight teams?
But that is where this team is and it's part of the reason they find themselves sitting in third place in the NFC South. Five of 12 of Tampa Bay’s sacks have come by linebackers and defensive backs, meaning just seven sacks have come from the defensive line.
Sunday’s matchup with the Texans doesn’t bode well for the Buccaneers to move up the sack stat ladder as Houston has a solid offensive line that hasn’t given up many takedowns (13) of their quarterback Matt Schaub.
Somehow the Buccaneers will need to get their defensive linemen on track and get to Schaub. Again, the Texans, with their 1-2 punch at running back, aren’t very likely to throw the ball 30 or more times Sunday so it will be crucial for Tampa Bay to make the most of what may be limited sack opportunities.
Final Analysis: It doesn’t take a rocket to scientist to figure out the formula in beating Houston on Sunday. Very simply, stop the Texans ground game, establish your own and play smart football. The Buccaneers are desperate for the win and the Texans are looking forward to their bye-week. The Buccaneers muster up just enough to slow down the dangerous Foster and Tate and do enough offensively to win the game.
Cook’s Prediction: Buccaneers 23, Texans 12
Reynold’s Prediction: Texans 23, Buccaneers 17
Horchy’s Prediction: Texans 26, Buccaneers 21