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September 14, 2012 @ 9:29 pm
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Bucs' Five Keys To Victory Week 2: The Giants

Written by Dory
Dory LeBlanc


Beat Writer E-mail: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
Five keys hang in the balance of a Buccaneer victory over the Giants Sunday. One of the biggest mismatches will be a dinged up Bucs O-Line against a pass-rushing front four who ended the previous two seasons in the top five of the league in sacks. 
After defeating NFC South rival Carolina 16-10 in the season opener last week, the Bucs head to East Rutherford, New Jersey to take on the reigning Super Bowl Champions. Beat Writer Dory LeBlanc gives her thoughts on the five keys to a Bucs victory over the New York Football Giants.

Key 1. Win The Battle In The Trenches
Pewter Report has said throughout the preseason and again last week heading into the opener that the offensive line is the biggest key in the game. It never has been truer as the Bucs are up against one of the best defensive lines in the NFL. This is not a test, Carolina was. This is the real deal.

Last week Ted Larsen was guilty of giving up one of the two sacks on Josh Freeman and also had the Bucs first two penalties of the game - a false start penalty and a crucial holding call that negated a 31-yard Freeman-to-Vincent Jackson completion. Larsen could have been nervous starting in place of Pro Bowler Davin Joseph, but those nerves won’t get any easier against the G-Men’s D-Line. Aside from those small blemishes that looked bigger than they were compared to the rest of the offensive line, Larsen held his own pretty well in totality.

Donald Penn didn’t have a horrible game against Carolina, but it wasn’t one of his best either. Trueblood was solid for much of the game until one play in the third quarter when he got beat on an outside rush by Charles Johnson which contributed to a sack of Freeman.

Carl Nicks played like the All-Pro and highly sought after free agent guard he was expected to play like. Dubbed a “Super Guard” nationally, Nicks is the one part of the O-Line puzzle the Bucs (nor their fans) need to worry about. Until maybe now.

Nicks and Trueblood were both limited in practice Thursday. Nicks has had a lingering toe injury that has been classified as minor, but at 6-5, 349 pounds it could become a bigger issue. Nicks moves like a defensive end and coupled with his power makes him a mismatch for just about any DT in the league. If the loss of Joseph wasn’t bad enough, losing Nicks who protects Josh Freeman’s blindside on the interior would be utterly devastating. Friday, Nicks was a full participant at practice and is listed as probable for Sunday.

Trueblood finished Wednesday’s practice with a minor ankle injury, but was limited at practice Thursday and Friday and is listed as questionable for the Giants game. During Thursday’s practice Trueblood was seen walking with a sleeve on his left leg and with a visible limp. If Trueblood cannot go, Demar Dotson will get the nod.

Dotson should get some time in a regular season game to see where he actually is at in his development. We’ve seen flashes of Dotson since Penn returned, and like Larsen, aside from some blips, he has played well overall. Dotson is very athletic and has a keen football IQ – being moved from defensive line to tight end and now offensive tackle in his football career. The only problem is, is he ready to take on the Giants front four? Or, moreover, would he play better than Trueblood at RT? Despite the questionable play by Trueblood, one of his best attributes is the fact he has been a regular starter in his seven seasons and the veteran knowledge may be the best counterpunch to the Giants pass rush. Physically, however, Trueblood  may be at a disadvantage to Dotson who is athletic and quick and facing Justin Tuck may be better suited for the younger lineman.

Offensive line coach Bob Bostad is an O-Line genius and having former Giants offensive assistant Mike Sullivan call the plays ensures when it comes to right tackle on Sunday, the Bucs will make the absolute best decision to protect Freeman from the right side.

Key 2. Freeman Has To Make Clark His Bail Bondsman
No matter how great the offensive line plays, Freeman will be under pressure. His first thought will go to dumping the ball off to RB Doug Martin or FB Erik Lorig, but he needs to be aware that in the middle of the field, probably wide open, is one of the most prolific receiving tight ends in the past decade waiting for the ball.

There are a couple reasons Clark is one of the most productive tight ends in the league. In a sense, Clark helped transform the position with his exquisite, receiver-like route running and sure hands. The Bucs have to use him more than they did against Carolina. In fact, moving the ball in the passing game may depend on it.

At any given time when Clark is on the field, Freeman will know where he is. Clark doesn’t run incorrect routes or disregard timing. Essentially, if Freeman wanted a bailout, Clark should be his first choice.

In both the Tennessee and New England preseason games, Freeman connected on a short pass to his first progression, but Clark was wide open over the middle without a defender in sight. On two specific occasions, there was nothing but green separating Clark and the endzone.

Targeted only once against the Panthers, Clark turned the catch into 33 yards and a first down and the Bucs eventually settled for a field goal. Freeman has to let Clark bail him out the way Peyton Manning used Clark in Indianapolis. Clark is healthy and still full of talent and there is no reason Clark shouldn’t be Freeman’s first bail-out choice. Given Clark’s skillset, Freeman-to-Clark could be even more productive than the Freeman-Kellen Winslow connection was.

Key 3. CBs Need To Work Smarter, Not Harder
The Buccaneer secondary will never be accused of giving up on plays, but what they need to do is play smarter against an elite quarterback and his band of above-average receivers.

As of now, it is unclear if Hakeem Nicks will play Sunday after sitting out Wednesday’s practice with a foot injury and being limited in Thursday’s. The 6-1, 208 pound Nicks is a hands guy who is one of the most physical receivers in the NFL, but if he is a go, will face the equal-sized Aqib Talib who is a menace for receivers. Talib will have to be attuned to Nicks’ route running, knowing Eli Manning is a very accurate quarterback. Talib will have to be on Nicks like a wet tee-shirt and be as disruptive to Nicks’ routes as humanly possible without drawing a yellow flag. If Nicks plays and if Talib can play smart against him, Talib will win the match-up every time. Nicks did not participate in Friday’s practice and was listed as questionable for the game, but that could probably go either way as most teams aren’t 100 percent forthcoming with their injury statuses leading up to games, especially when facing an offensive coordinator who knows the ins and outs of your receivers and quarterback the way Mike Sullivan does.

If Nicks does not play, Domenik Hixon and Ramses Barden are listed behind him on the depth chart. Although still talented, Talib wouldn’t have his hands full with either the way he will with Nicks.

That brings us to the LWR/RCB matchup between Victor Cruz and Eric Wright. Cruz did not participate in Friday’s practice, due to attending his grandmother’s funeral and will play against the Bucs. In New York’s opener with Dallas, Cruz had six catches for 58 yards, but dropped the ball three times. Last season, Cruz exploded on the scene last year after injuries to other receivers allowed Cruz the opportunity to play. He ended 2011 with 82 receptions for 1536 yards and nine touchdowns, but has earned a reputation for looking for the big play before making the catch causing him to drop passes. If Wright can smartly disrupt Cruz, while the safety keeps an eye on the deep ball, the Bucs will have success against the receiver.

Key 4. McCoy Needs To Rinse, Repeat
Gerald McCoy was nothing short of spectacular against Cam Newton last week. He was fierce, fast, and furious when it came to getting to the rival QB. McCoy looked every bit like the third overall pick in the 2010 draft, and make no mistake, McCoy isn’t finished.

McCoy will be up against the weaker side of the Giants’ offensive line and with Roy Miller’s assistance once again, both McCoy and Michael Bennett should be able to rent some real estate in New York’s backfield.

McCoy was relentless in his pursuit of Newton, and after classifying Manning as elite earlier in the week, McCoy will be gunning for the two-time Super Bowl MVP.

After having his previous two seasons limited to injuries, McCoy is healthy and an athletic specimen. With the Giant’s front four getting most of the fanfare, the 6-4, 300 pound third-year pass rushing DT will want some of the limelight as well and there’s not a much bigger stage than the Meadowlands on a Sunday, the perfect opportunity to show his naysayers last week wasn’t a fluke and he is indeed the real deal.

Key 5. The X Factors Have To Pay Dividends
Forget Mike Sullivan and D.J. Ware being able to help the Bucs defense stop the Giants’ offense. The more important key is how they can help the offense contain New York’s defense.

With two members of the Bucs owning two super Bowl rings from their time with the Giants, the ability to know what the defense is going to do and be able to counter it will be a huge factor. Ware said after Thursday’s practice that he will keep a keen eye out for anything he sees that he can aid his new teammates in countering.

Most of the talk around both camps this week was who benefited the most by Sullivan being the Bucs’ OC and the answer, because of the knowledge of the entire Giants team, is Tampa Bay.

Admittedly, the Buccaneer’s offensive playbook is somewhat similar to the Giants’ but the Bucs have put their own identity into it. The Bucs’ defense is led by Bill Sheridan who spent time as the Giants LB coach from and the defensive coordinator in 2009. When Sheridan was fired, Perry Fewell, who was one of Coughlin’s assistants in Jacksonville, was hired and transformed the defensive front into pass rush phenoms, finishing both seasons with Fewell the DC in the top five in the league in sacks.

If utilized efficiently, the knowledge Ware and Sullivan have about the Giants could make beating the defending Super Bowl Champs easier, but it still will come down to the Bucs executing on Sunday. 
Last modified on Saturday, 15 September 2012 09:09

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  • avatar

    DL, enjoyed the article and the comments. Due to so many of the Giants' CB's either being injured or coming off an injury I say the Bucs will pull out the win this week. I've also heard way too much "It's only the Bucs" from the Giants blog sites across the country last week. I'm sure that's just what the Panthers thought last week. Go Bucs!
  • avatar

    Thanks, Dory. If I haven't said so already, I really enjoy your writing style. And Scubog, what would a Sunday be without your Keys? Thanks for that as well.
  • avatar

    Scubog's Keys to Victory: 1.) Put it on Cruz Control: Victor Cruuuuuuz had a great 2011, but I don't think he's the elite receiver his popularity would suggest. His contribution is getting the crowd fired up. Wright or Talib need to hit his snooooz button. 2.) It's Cryin Time Again: After being hoodwinked by Dominik the "Gints" had to settle for RB David Wilson. Make him fumble again and he might not see the field the rest of the year. 3.) Tuck and Run: The "Gints" defensive line likes to rush the passer; so just run, run and run some more right at Justin Tuck. 4.) Passing Geared to the Beard: Josh needs to look for the bearded one, WR Mike Williams, who no doubt will have some Syracuse buddies in the stands and his mom to impress. 5.) JPP vs GMC: Right here in our backyard at USF was one of the best pass rushers in the league but Dominik took Gerald McCoy. Prove Mark right Gerald and outplay the former USF Bull.
  • avatar

    Very good Article. I think you are right on. Go Bucs! I won't be able to watch the game. I am hoping that Soundoffs will continue to express their opinions on the game.
  • avatar

    Another excellent blog, Dory - insightful and detailed !
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