Key 1. Cause Some Blount Force Trauma
The fact is, when LeGarrette Blount gets 100 yards, good things happen for the Buccaneers. This isn’t rocket science. League-wide when a player rushes for over 100 yards, teams have a 75-percent winning percentage (http://www.thesportjournal.org/article/controlling-rushing-or-passing-game-key-nfl-victories).
But with the Buccaneers it is even more of a necessity as it's exactly the way offensive coordinator Greg Olson has built this offense and his playbook. Run the ball, control the clock and take shots down the field, while keeping opposing defenses guessing.
Look at the Buccaneers' four wins this season and you can see the importance of a strong running presence.
•Minnesota 105 total rushing yards
•Atlanta 115 total rushing yards
•Indianapolis 117 total rushing yards
•New Orleans 192 total rushing yards
In their six losses the running game was mostly limited, starting with Detroit (56 yards), San Francisco (86), Chicago (30), New Orleans (84) and Houston (90). The only loss with an effective running game came last week when the Buccaneers rushed for 121 yards. Even though Tampa Bay lost they were able to gain 450 yards of total offense and matched their highest point output of 2011, scoring 26. It showed once again how important it is for Greg Olson’s offense to establish a running game.
Tampa Bay can run on a depleated Titans defensive front, as Barrett Ruud is already declared out and his back up at middle linebacker, Colin McCarthy, is questionable with a knee injury. On the season Tennessee is ranked 22nd in the NFL against the run, giving up an average of 124.3 yards per game.
Key 2. Keep Johnson Struggling
After holding out during training camp, Tennessee running back Chris Johnson signed a huge four-year $53.4 million deal. So far he has been a bust, eclipsing the 100-yard mark just twice this season and has just 509 yards and two TD’s while averaging just 3.2 yards a carry.
But make no mistake. Johnson hasn’t forgotten how to run. Maybe the holdout hurt his conditioning. Or maybe, as Raheem Morris said Friday, the loss of the Titans' deep threat Kenny Britt has hampered the running game considerably. Whatever the reason, Johnson is still a talented back and could present problems for Tampa Bay on Sunday.
The former East Carolina star has ran for over 1,000 yards in each of his first three seasons, including 2,006 yards in 2009, and is still a dangerous threat if the Buccaneers don’t gang tackle as they did last week at Green Bay.
Key 3. Hassle Hasselbeck
Not the most agile or athletic QB in the league, what Matt Hasselbeck lacks in physical presence he more than makes up for in football smarts and experience. As a 13-year vet there isn’t much the former Boston College, Packers and Seahawks quarterback hasn’t seen.
With that said, he has struggled with injures the last few years and the pounding has taken a toll on his body. Last week at Atlanta, Hasselbeck was knocked out of the game with an arm injury but is expected to start Sunday against Tampa Bay.
Tampa Bay must produce pressure and take some shots on the crafty veteran. Hasselback is prone to throwing interceptions, having thrown 42 over the last three seasons and eight this year.
Tampa Bay should turn Adrian Clayborn and Da’Quan Bowers loose and send Dekoda Watson off the edge while sneaking in an occasional middle blitz by Mason Foster to try and rattle Hasselbeck or force him to throw the ball up for grabs.
Key 4. Find A Nickel
With Ronde Barber staring down Father Time and Aqib Talib staring down an unknown future in March, head coach Raheem Morris and defensive backs coach Jimmy Lake have quietly been hoping someone will step up and become a potential starter next season. But so far no one has been able to consistently produce from the nickel CB position, making general manager Mark Dominik and his scouts think seriously about using a first-day pick on that position next April.
E.J. Biggers flashed the most potential in 2010 and earned the role this season but has yet to break out and prove he can be an everyday cornerback. While Biggers' technique is fairly sound, his coaches say, the knock on him has been his up-and-down play. Lake and Biggers both have admitted he will be a target until he can show the consistency needed to shut down an opposing receiver.
Tampa Bay’s coaching staff even rotated seldom-used former third-round pick Myron Lewis into the nickel role last week but the rustiness of not getting many game reps showed when Lewis was victimized by Jordy Nelson on a 40-yard game clinching TD reception at Green Bay.
Between Biggers, Lewis and Elbert Mack, the Buccaneers are still waiting for someone to emerge. If Tampa Bay drops a couple more games look for the coaches to give seventh-rounder Anthony Gaitor a look before the season is over.
Key 5. Seize The Day
Ronde Barber said it, Raheem Morris said it, in fact nearly every Buccaneers player PewterReport.com spoke to this week said it – it is a single-elimination season from here on out. With six losses, the playoffs will be just a pipe dream if Tampa Bay loses one more game.
While well-played losses don’t count in the standings, the Buccaneers had to have at the very least gained some much needed confidence after the way they played last week at Green Bay.
With the pressure on to win them all, the Buccaneers will need to muster up the same attitude and want-to they displayed at Lambeau Field. If they do there are six winnable games left and a small shot to qualify for the playoffs.
The Buccaneers should come into this game knowing they can stand toe-to-toe with any team in the league. The Titans have struggled but first-year head coach Mike Munchak has done a pretty good job of plugging the holes from injuries and instilling a hard-working, blue-collar work ethic in Nashville.
But the Buccaneers have the talent edge and if they can play smart football, stop the run and establish a running game of their own, they should be able to fly home Sunday evening with the win.
Cooks Prediction: Buccaneers 21, Titans 17
Reynold's Prediction: Buccaneers 24, Titans 20
Horchy's Prediction: Buccaneers 27, Titans 20