The Tampa Bay offense continues to show they are a mutli-dimensional unit led by QB Josh Freeman who has thrown nine touchdowns and only one interception in the last three games. Rookie Offensive Player of the Month Doug Martin leads all running backs with 155 yards from scrimmage per game and is coming off a 214 total yard, two-TD performance against Minnesota. Now, they will try to keep it going without arguably the league’s best guard, Carl Nicks, as he was placed on IR after the Bucs found out his injured toe would require surgery.
Key 1. Make The Best Of A Bad Situation
Losing Nicks hurts tremendously, both in run-blocking and pass protection, but the Bucs have lucked out so far this season with their “next man up” mentality – on both sides of the ball. Whether Ted Larsen takes over at left guard or Jeremy Zuttah slides over to LG and Larsen plays center, they just have to do enough to buy Freeman enough time to get rid of the ball and allow Martin enough room at the point of attack to power through.
The biggest concern is how the interior linemen will handle two veteran DTs in 6-foot-6, 325-pound Tommy Kelly and 6-foot-6, 317-pound Pro Bowl DT Richard Seymour. The duo are solid run-stuffers and Seymour leads the Raiders with three sacks so far this season.
Whoever the left guard is Sunday, he is charged with a heavy task, but will have Pro-Bowler Donald Penn next to him for support.
The Bucs will need fullback Erik Lorig’s sound run-blocking more than ever Sunday and blocking specialist Nate Byham may see extended time on ground plays. The Raiders allow an average of 102 yards on the ground and if Martin is to repeat his Thursday Night Football performance, more players need to step up in Nicks’ absence.
Key 2. Keep Run DMC Quiet
The Bucs handled Adrian Peterson fairly well in Minnesota – aside from a 61-yard TD run – and will have to focus on stopping an equal-sized running back this week. Oakland’s Darren McFadden hasn’t lived up to expectations yet this season and is averaging 3.3 yards per carry and was held to less than 50 yards against San Diego, Miami, and Denver. The fifth-year back can be a threat in the passing game with 190 yards receiving through seven games, but a chunk of that (86 yards) came against the Chargers in Week 1.
Overall, Tampa Bay has stopped the run sufficiently this season, tied with the Patriots and Dolphins for a league-best 3.5 yards allowed per carry and sixth-best in rushing yards per game, allowing 85.1 yards on the ground per contest.
McFadden has power and speed and the Bucs don’t want his season turning around this Sunday, so smart, solid tackling is a must to winning this game.
Key 3. Two Minute Warning
In each of the Raiders’ seven games, Oakland has scored with less than two minutes left in the second quarter. Typically, the second quarter has given the Bucs the biggest problems this year, so being aware of Oakland’s pre-halftime push is a must. Many times, the Raiders have implemented a hurry-up style offense with Palmer taking snaps from the shotgun, so safety and corner blitzes from the Bucs could put Tampa Bay in a dangerous situation.
In four of those seven games, the Raiders have kicked field goals but 13-year veteran kicker Sebastian Janikowski has been nursing a groin injury throughout the week so head coach Dennis Allen may be hesitant with sending the former Seminole out for longer distances.
Buccaneer CB Eric Wright was limited earlier in the week with an Achilles injury, but should be a go for the game and is the Bucs’ best man-cover corner. If he is hampered by his Achilles, the Bucs could get burned for those long passes once again.
Due to the long break since the Vikings game, the Tampa Bay coaching staff has been afforded extra time to watch the Raiders’ film and should be abreast of the two-minute second quarter scoring streak Oakland is on. Like everything else, smart play-calling and execution have to keep the home team off the scoreboard just before heading into halftime.
Key 4. Maximize The Investments
Oakland’s secondary doesn’t feature any shut-down corners, but the longest pass play they’ve given up this year is a 46-yarder to WR Robert Meachem on opening weekend against the Chargers.
The Raiders are 20th in the NFL with 257.4 yards allowed to receivers on average per game and have allowed 12 passing touchdowns – good news for the Bucs.
Vincent Jackson and Mike Williams have been handfuls for secondaries this season and should continue to be productive against Oakland. Tiquan Underwood has emerged as the No. 3 receiver and can quickly get open in the slot and has the speed for breakout runs after the catch.
Although his numbers aren’t dazzling, tight end Dallas Clark has made the most of every opportunity, catching three passes for three first downs that all led to touchdowns in Minnesota. Offensive coordinator Mike Sullivan should keep Clark more involved in the offensive playbook as the tenth-year player has shown he is still a sure-handed solid route runner who understands coverages and is always aware of where he is on the field.
Beating Oakland using the passing game can certainly be done, but it will all come down to Freeman having enough time for his receivers to get open.
Key 5. Turn Oakland Negatives Into Buccaneer Positives
Raiders QB Carson Palmer is a seasoned veteran in his tenth year, but with nine touchdowns, five interceptions and four fumbles, he is prone to making mistakes. Not all of the turnovers have been solely the former Heisman Trophy winner’s fault but disrupting the timing of the Raiders’ offense will net positive results for the Bucs.
A more telling picture of the Raiders is this: entering last week’s contest against the Chiefs, Oakland was averaging 8.7 penalties for 69.7 yards per game since the return on the regular NFL refs. Against Kansas City the Raiders were flagged only twice - an illegal block above the waist on and a roughing the passer on Seymour, which will ultimately cost the defensive tackle $15,750 in fines.
The Bucs don’t want Seymour anywhere near Freeman, but the Pro-Bowl DT has a pension for hitting QBs – and racking up Fed Ex packages from the league.
The Bucs have done well taking advantage of penalties this season, most notably against New Orleans when two illegal contact penalties on the Saints’ Roman Harper kept a fourth quarter drive alive and led to a Clark TD to bring the Bucs within a score. If the Bucs are presented with the same opportunities against Oakland, capitalizing on the free first downs is a must.
Tampa Bay needs to balance throwing the Raiders off and gaining free yardage and protecting their franchise players. If the Buccaneers can revert Oakland back to the nine penalties on average they had the three weeks prior to the Chiefs contest, the team from the Bay Area East will be in business.
Reynolds: 26-23 Buccaneers
Cook: 20-16 Raiders
LeBlanc: 24-17 Buccaneers