Key 1. Derail Drew
This goal is easier said that done that’s for sure. The “rolling ball of butcher knives,” as described by Buccaneers head coach Raheem Morris, has imposed his will on most teams this year even when defenses commit to stopping Maurice Jones-Drew at the point of attack by stacking the box with eight defenders.
The leading rusher in the NFL going against the 31st ranked rushing defense seems like a total mismatch and may very well prove to be by 4 p.m. Sunday. But if I am Raheem Morris I am bringing at least eight men down and will even have my cornerbacks cheating in a bit anticipating the run. It will take all 11 defenders getting to the ball on every carry and wrapping up. Diving at knees and ankles or going for a knockout shot won't work against the “bowling ball,” as Mason Foster called Jones-Drew this week.
Tampa Bay has shown the ability to stop the run earlier in the season (New Orleans and Atlanta) against some pretty good backs but as of late it has been a constant source of trouble. Stopping Jones-Drew and making rookie Blaine Gabbert beat you should be the sole focus in defensive meetings coming into Jacksonville.
Key 2. Keep It Simple
Both Raheem Morris and Greg Olson said over the last week they plan on scaling back their units, as they feel they may have given the units too much to handle earlier in the season. I’m not arguing with the reasoning but the timing seems to be questionable. Why now after the Buccaneers have fallen out of the playoff race?
Although it is too late to salvage much from the season, all in all it is probably a good idea. Take a look at Monte Kiffin’s Cover 2 defense. It was a fairly simple scheme but the Buccaneers worked on it over and over until they ran it to perfection. Those guys could have run it in their sleep. Of course they had the horses to run the race. Even so, limiting the checks, formations and blitz packages should only help the young Bucs D. The hope is to give them less to think about and to allow these players to play a lot more on just instinct instead of filling their minds with complex thoughts and responsibilities.
Key 3. More Madu
What was just a minor blip on the radar when training camp began back in late July, former Oklahoma Sooner Mossis Madu has persevered from an extra tackling dummy in camp to a player who has earned the respect of his coaches enough to have some small packages put in the offense now in Week 13.
Madu may never be a starting running back in the NFL, or even a third-down running back for that matter, but he has earned the right to at least get a look. In last week’s 38-19 loss to Carolina he showed glimpses of something that has been missing in the Buccaneers backfield for almost two seasons – a change of pace back.
Madu’s shiftiness has been compared to Warrick Dunn by coaches and a few teammates and while he has a lot to prove to be mentioned in the same breath as the former Buccaneers and Falcons star, he looks like Barry Sanders compared to the rigid running style of LeGarrette Blount.
These two may never be the Thunder-and-Lightning package the Giants or other teams run, but at this point Madu certainly looks like an upgrade over Kregg Lumpkin. Tampa Bay may catch the Jaguars off balance or unprepared for the change-of-pace style Madu offers.
Key 4. Get To Gabbert
The Buccaneers defenses of old would hardly be able to sleep the night before a game against a rookie quarterback. But for Bucs fans, those days are long gone and Tampa Bay’s defenders can’t take anything for granted. With that said, this game has the potential to be a get-back-on-track type of matchup as Gabbert has struggled in his limited role this season.
Gabbert does have the game’s top running back working in his favor but a group of average receivers and an offensive line that has protection issues should provide the Buccaneers an opportunity to get to the rookie signal-caller. Gabbert’s completion percentage is below 50 percent (49.5) on the season and his QB rating of 64.5 shows the former Missouri star is struggling with running a pro-style offense after running the spread in college.
The Buccaneers plan on committing to stopping Jones-Drew and if they can get a lead and force Jacksonville and Gabbert to drop back to throw 30 times or more they stand a great chance of snapping their 6-game slide.
Key 5. Call In An Air Strike
The Panthers decided last week if they were going to lose it was going to be on the back (or arm) of Josh Johnson and not on the leaping or run-you-over legs of LeGarrette Blount. It worked well for Carolina and expect the Jaguars to do the same Sunday when they host the Buccaneers.
The Jaguars secondary is so depleted they have Tampa Bay castoff Ashton Youboty as a starter these days. Jacksonville’s defense has been ranked in the top five for most of the season and while they have slipped recently with the secondary shuffle, they can, and probably will, sell-out to stop Blount. This is where either Josh Freeman or Josh Johnson must step up and take advantage of the opportunity to throw the ball.
It will take more than just the quarterback playing well, as the Bucs’ receivers and offensive line must also step up to the challenge.
Off the field distractions, a rookie quarterback and injured Jaguars’ secondary is the perfect recipe for the Buccaneers to finally get back on the track and pick up a win for the first time in a month and a half. The Buccaneers have four games remaining and on paper at least, this game looks like the best chance for Tampa Bay to salvage some promise from an overall disappointing season.
Cook’s Prediction: Buccaneers 24-19
Reynold’s Prediction: Jaguars 21-17
Horchy’s Prediction: Buccaneers 23-16