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OPPONENT: Seattle Seahawks
WHERE: Qwest Field in Seattle, Washington
WHERE THE SEAHAWKS STAND: The Seahawks are 0-0 and are tied for first place in the NFC West division. Seattle won the NFC West division with a 9-7 record in 2006.
SEAWHAWKS HEAD COACH: Mike Holmgren SEAHAWKS OFFENSIVE COORDINATOR: Gil Haskell
SEAHAWKS DEFENSIVE COORDINATOR: John Marshall SEAHAWKS SPECIAL TEAMS COACH: Bruce DeHaven
TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS OFFENSE (2006) OVERALL: 29th (270 ypg) RUSHING: 28th (95 ypg) PASSING: 26th (174 ypg)
TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS DEFENSE (2006) OVERALL: 17th (329 ypg) RUSHING: 17th (119 ypg) PASSING: 19th (209 ypg)
DID YOU KNOW … … the Buccaneers have scored a total of just 13 points in their last two meetings with the Seahawks?
SCOUTING THE SEAHAWKS
Quarterbacks Seattle runs a West Coast offense under head coach Mike Holmgren, who mentored Tampa Bay head coach Jon Gruden when the two were together in Green Bay. Holmgren’s quarterback, Matt Hasselbeck, is a former Pro Bowler. Hasselbeck threw for 2,442 yards and tossed 18 touchdowns and 15 interceptions while fighting his way back from a knee injury last season. Hasselbeck has completed 60.2 percent of his career passes, but he only completed 56.6 percent of his pass attempts in 2006. Despite the fact that he did not turn in a great season last year, Hasselbeck fared well against the Bucs in Week 17 by completing 17-of-29 passes for 216 yards and tossing one touchdown en route to the Seahawks’ 23-7 win over the Bucs. Hasselbeck has good mobility and manages games well. The Buccaneers must sustain a consistent pass rush in order to pressure Hasselbeck into making mistakes with the football.
Running Backs Seattle’s offense is led by tailback Shaun Alexander, who was the NFL’s leading rusher in 2005. But like Hasselbeck, Alexander suffered through injuries last season. As a result, the 5-foot-11, 225-pound Alexander rushed for just 896 yards (3.6 avg.) and seven touchdowns. Look for Seattle to pound away at Tampa Bay’s defense by handing the ball off to Alexander early and often in this contest. More often than not, fullback Mack Strong leads the way for Alexander on running plays. Alexander averaged just 3.3 yards per carry in Week 17 against Tampa Bay, but he carried the ball a whopping 28 times for 92 yards and one touchdown. As a result, the Seahawks were able to convert 8-of-14 third downs into first downs and win the time of possession, 37:20 to 22:40. That simply can’t happen again if the Bucs hope to escape Seattle with the upset win over the Seahawks.
Wide Receivers The good new for the Bucs is WR Darrell Jackson is no longer with Seattle. He was traded to San Francisco during the offseason. The bad news is Hasselbeck still has some talented receivers to throw to, including Deion Branch, D.J. Hackett and Nate Burleson. Bucs cornerbacks Ronde Barber, Brian Kelly and Phillip Buchanon will be charged with the difficult task of containing this talented trio of receivers. Branch, who caught 53 passes for 725 yards and four touchdowns in 2006, replaces Jackson at flanker. The 6-foot-2 Hackett hauled in 45 passes for 610 yards and four touchdowns and demonstrated the ability to make big plays downfield last season. Neither player is extremely fast, though, which bodes well for the Bucs secondary. Hasselbeck will attempt to get the ball to his receivers in the short to intermediate part of the field. Look for Hasselbeck to throw to former Indianapolis Colts tight end Marcus Pollard quite a bit. The 35-year-old tight end is no longer in his prime, but the Seahawks plan to get him involved in the passing game early. Tampa Bay linebackers Cato June and Derrick Brooks, and strong safety Jermaine Phillips, will often times be responsible for limiting Pollard’s production on Sunday.
Offensive Line One of the more intriguing battles on the football field in Seattle will be the one between Seahawks Pro Bowl left tackle Walter Jones and Bucs first-round pick, defensive end Gaines Adams. It will be critical for Tampa Bay’s front four to sustain pressure on Hasselbeck in this contest. Seattle surrendered 49 sacks in 16 regular season games in 2006. Jones is 33, but he’s still one of the league’s best left tackles. He’ll be protecting the blindside of the right-handed Hasselbeck. Adams will start in place of Patrick Chukwurah (knee), and he’ll need to live up to his draft status (fourth overall pick in April) as both a pass rusher and run defender. Look for the Seahawks to test Adams’ ability to defend the run early by running Alexander off the left side of the line. The Bucs likely will use a under tackle-by-committee against the Seahawks. Included in that committee will be Jovan Haye and Kevin Carter, among others. Tampa Bay’s under tackle will go up against Seattle 37-year-old right guard Chris Gray, who is no longer in his prime. Bucs left end Greg Spires will face Seahawks right tackle Sean Locklear. He’s not great, but Locklear is in a contract year, which usually brings out the best in players. Third-year center Chris Spencer, who replaces Robbie Tobeck (retired) and second-year left guard Rob Sims likely will team up to contain Bucs nose tackle Chris Hovan at the point of attack. That will make it critical for Tampa Bay’s under tackle to win his one-on-one matchup with Spencer. Tampa Bay’s defensive line accounted for just 19 sacks in 2006. While its first priority will be to shut down Seattle ground attack, it will be important for the Bucs to get after Hasselbeck in this contest.
Defensive Line Seattle’s defensive line suffered a huge blow in preseason when it lost defensive tackle Marcus Tubbs for the season due to a knee injury. The 324-pound Tubbs was a tremendous run stuffer, and his absence could prompt Bucs head coach Jon Gruden to give the Seahawks a heavy dose of running back Cadillac Williams out of the gate. Seattle will have 270-pound DT Chuck Darby, a former Buc, replace Tubbs in the lineup. Bucs second-year guard Davin Joseph will go up against Darby, which should be a favorable matchup for the Bucs since Joseph is extremely athletic and powerful. The Seahawks will field DT Rocky Bernard at nose tackle. Bernard and Darby combined for seven sacks in 2006. Bucs center John Wade and rookie left guard Arron Sears likely will double team Bernard throughout Sunday’s game. They might also face their former teammate — DT Ellis Wyms, who signed with Seattle earlier in the week. Tampa Bay second-year right tackle Jeremy Trueblood will have his hands full with Seattle left end Patrick Kerney, who played for Atlanta before signing with the Seahawks as a free agent this offseason. Kerney has 58 career sacks and is a capable run defender. The Bucs might be more prone to attack the perimeter on the left side of the line, where left tackle Luke Petitgout will be matched up with Seahawks RDE Darryl Tapp. Tapp recorded just 3.5 sacks last season, but the Seahawks are known to replace him with rush-end/linebacker Julian Peterson on passing downs Peterson is extremely quick and recorded a team-high 10 sacks in 2006. The Bucs likely will use tight ends Alex Smith, Anthony Becht and/or former Seahawk Jerramy Stevens to help hold off Seattle’s pass rush. However, Gruden needs his tackles, Trueblood and Petitgout, to perform well in order to feature less two-tight end sets and deploy more three-and-four receiver sets, which in turn will help quarterback Jeff Garcia and the Bucs’ passing game. One of the biggest things Tampa Bay’s offense line can do to help the Bucs defeat the Seahawks is avoid penalties. Qwest Field is known as arguably the loudest stadium in the NFL, which means it will be difficult for the linemen to hear Garcia at the line of scrimmage.
Linebackers With Tubbs out of this contest, Tampa Bay’s offensive line should be able to open some holes against Seattle’s defensive line. However, finding running room on the second level could prove to be difficult for Williams. Seattle has one of the league’s best groups of linebackers in Leroy Hill, Lofa Tutupu and Peterson. Tatupu, who led the team in tackles last year, and Peterson were both Pro Bowlers a year ago. However, the absence of Tubbs could hinder Tatupu’s ability to play well against the run on a consistent basis. Seattle surrendered an average of 127 yards rushing per contest last year. Garcia likes to throw to Williams and RB Michael Pittman in the flat. He’ll need to get the ball there in a hurry in order to give his receivers a chance to do something after the catch. Seattle’s linebackers are quick, especially in pursuit against the run and when dropping back into coverage. Garcia might need to use play-action to help get tight end Alex Smith and Stevens open on passing plays, but the only way that will work is if the Bucs establish the running game first.
Secondary Seattle has two former first-round picks starting at cornerback in Marcus Trufant and Kelly Jennings. The Bucs plan to move wide receiver Joey Galloway around on offense, which means he won’t just be the X (split-end) receiver this year. Trufant likely will cover Tampa Bay’s speedy, veteran receiver. Galloway caught eight passes for 118 yards and one touchdown in Week 17 vs. Seattle last season, but his production came against a banged up Seahawks secondary. The Bucs plan to run the flanker receiver spot by committee, and it will include Davis Boston, Michael Clayton, Ike Hilliard and Maurice Stovall. Garcia may elect to take some chances in terms of throwing the ball to his receivers since Trufant and Jennings combined for just two interceptions in 2006. However, Seattle’s safety play should be much improved from a year ago thanks to the addition of former Jacksonville strong safety Deon Grant and former Cleveland free safety Brian Russell. Grant is athletic and has good range, and Garcia doesn’t have the strongest arm, which is why the veteran signal caller must be careful throwing the deep ball Sunday. The Bucs hope to feature more three-receiver sets, and when they do Seahawks CB Jordan Babineaux will get on the field. Despite the fact that this unit was quite banged up last year, the Seahawks only allowed opposing offenses to convert 37 percent of their third down attempts in 2006.
Special Teams If this contest comes down to a field goal attempt by Seattle, the Seahawks will be in good hands. Kicker Josh Brown drilled 25-of-31 (80.6 percent) of his field goals in 2006. He’s displayed a strong and accurate leg, evidenced by his 54-yarder last season. Bucs kicker Matt Bryant made all four of his field goals in preseason and made a record-setting 62-yard field goal in 2006. Seahawks punter Bryan Plackemeier averaged 45 yards per punt and pinned 25 of his 84 attempts inside the 20-yard line last season. The Bucs will have running backs Michael Pittman and Earnest Graham returning kickoffs and wide receivers Ike Hilliard, Joey Galloway, and cornerback Phillip Buchanon returning punts. Galloway and Buchanon are the most explosive of the bunch. The Seahawks will rely on Burleson to return punts and kickoffs. Tampa Bay’s coverage teams will have to take the right angles and be mistake-free tacklers. Burleson averaged 24 yards per kickoff return and 9.5 yards per punt return in 2006. He returned a punt 90 yards for a touchdown and had a 50-yard kickoff return last season.
FLYNN’S FORECAST: Seahawks 20 Buccaneers 10
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