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OPPONENT: Kansas City Chiefs
WHERE: Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City, Missouri
WHERE THE CHIEFS STAND: The Chiefs are 1-6 and in last place in the AFC West division. CHIEFS HEAD COACH: Herm Edwards
CHIEFS OFFENSIVE COORDINATOR: Chan Gailey CHIEFS DEFENSIVE COORDINATOR: Gunther Cunningham CHIEFS SPECIAL TEAMS COACH: Mike Priefer
TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS OFFENSE OVERALL: 13th (341 ypg) RUSHING: 9th (120 ypg) PASSING: 14th (221 ypg)
TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS DEFENSE OVERALL: 5th (278 ypg) RUSHING: 8th (89 ypg) PASSING: 7th (189 ypg)
DID YOU KNOW … … Kansas City has won just five regular season games dating back to 2007?
SCOUTING THE CHIEFS
Quarterbacks Kansas City's offense is one of the league's worst. It's averaging 268 yards and scoring just 14 points per game. Injuries and less-than-stellar play at the quarterback position have a lot to do with the Chiefs' offensive woes.
With Damon Huard and Brodie Croyle on injured reserve due to their respective injuries, the Chiefs have been forced to put their offense in the hands of Tyler Thigpen, a first-year player out of Coastal Carolina. Thigpen has struggled with accuracy and decision making, completing 50 percent of his passes for 672 yards. He's tossed four touchdowns and four interceptions. Croyle has some mobility that the Bucs defense will have to account for. He has rushed for a touchdown this season. But the Chiefs are converting 36.3 percent of their passes and shouldn't be able to move the ball through the air vs. Tampa Bay's No. 5-ranked defense.
Running Backs The strength of Kansas City's offense was its running game, but that was before running back Larry Johnson's off-the-field trouble. The two-time Pro Bowler was charged with simple assault. He was already facing suspension by the NFL for a previous offense. The Chiefs indicated this week that Johnson would not play vs. Tampa Bay. The league could suspend him as early as Tuesday, which is when Johnson is scheduled to meet with the commissioner.
The loss of Johnson would be a huge blow to Kansas City's offense. He has rushed for 417 yards (4.5 avg.) and three touchdowns this season. Johnson rushed for 198 yards en route to the Chiefs' 33-19 win over the Broncos in Week 4.
Third-round pick Jamaal Charles has impressive speed and playmaking ability, evidenced by his 5.5 avg. and 160 rushing yards, but Charles is nursing a sprained ankle that could sideline him for this game. While Johnson is not much of a receiving threat, Charles has been. He's caught 17 passes for 98 yards.
Should Johnson and Charles miss Sunday's game, and RB Kolby Smith (2.2 avg. on 25 attempts) be ruled out due to his injury, the Chiefs likely would turn to rookie RB Dantrell Savage. The 5-foot-8, 182-pound Savage played collegiately at Oklahoma State and has one career carry.
Tampa Bay's defense is allowing 89 yards rushing and offenses to convert third downs just 30.4 percent of the time. Keeping the chains moving likely will prove difficult to do for Kansas City's offense on Sunday.
Receivers Given Kansas City's situation at running back, the Chiefs might have to let Thigpen attack Tampa Bay's defense through the air. The Bucs probably wouldn't mind that type of scenario since they failed to create a turnover in Dallas last Sunday. Bucs cornerbacks Ronde Barber and Phillip Buchanon match up well vs. Chiefs wide receivers Dwayne Bowe and Mark Bradley. Bowe leads the team in receptions with 40 for 512 yards (12.8 avg.) and two touchdowns. The Bucs will have to be on top of their game in terms of tackling because Bowe prides himself on gaining yards after the catch and out-jumping defenders for the ball. Bradley has caught six passes for 50 yards and one score.
When he does drop back to throw, Thigpen likely will attempt to find tight end Tony Gonzalez in the short-to-intermediate part of the field. Gonzalez is one of the league's best tight ends. He has hauled in 33 passes for 369 yards (11.2 avg.). He's especially dangerous in the red zone, evidenced by his 69 career touchdowns, three of which have come in 2008. Tampa Bay's linebackers, particularly middle linebacker Barrett Ruud, will play a big part in attempting to contain Kansas City's big tight end. Second-year strong safety Sabby Piscitelli could also be called on to help in coverage since Jermaine Phillips is out with a broken forearm.
Offensive Line This unit is at its best when running the ball. First-round pick Branden Albert protects the blindside of the quarterback at left tackle. He will face Bucs former first-round pick Gaines Adams, who notched two of his four sacks on the season vs. Dallas last week. Left guard Brian Waters is a former Pro Bowler, but he has not played exceptionally well this season. Waters and center Rudy Nswanger will work together to hold off nose tackle Chris Hovan and situational DT Ryan Sims. That should leave Bucs under tackle Jovan Haye, who still is looking for his first sack, in some favorable one-on-one matchups with RG Adrian Jones, a fourth-year player out of Kansas. Damion McIntosh was Kansas City's left tackle before Albert was drafted. He now works at right tackle and will face Bucs defensive ends Kevin Carter and Greg White, who have been playing well, especially vs. the run. In fact, Tampa Bay's defense has not given up a rushing touchdown through eight games.
Pass protection has been a serious issue for Kansas City's offensive line, which has surrendered 22 sacks through seven games, which averages out to three per contest. While he's mobile, Thigpen has a tendency to hold onto the football too long. He's accounted for 11 of the 22 sacks this season. The Bucs must apply pressure on Thigpen early and often if they're going to avoid getting upset by the Chiefs in Kansas City.
Defensive Line Kansas City's defense might be the remedy Tampa Bay needs for its offensive woes. The Bucs failed to score an offensive touchdown and rush the ball effectively vs. the Dallas Cowboys last week, but they should have success in both those areas in Kansas City. The Chiefs have the league's worst run defense, allowing 197 yards per game on the ground. Kansas City, which has the 31st overall defense in the NFL, is also allowing 28 points per game.
Not only have the Chiefs had difficulty defending the run, they haven't been able to rush the passer. In fact, the Chiefs have notched just four sacks through seven games, and only one of those quarterback takedowns was registered by a defensive lineman. The most interesting matchup in the trenches should come on the left side of Kansas City's offensive line, where two former first-round picks, right end Tamba Hali (one sack and three passes defensed this season) and nose tackle Glenn Dorsey, will face Bucs left tackle Donald Penn, left guard Arron Sears and center Jeff Faine. The Bucs have given up just 10 sacks and have two backs that could rush for over 1,000 yards in Earnest Graham and Warrick Dunn. The Bucs expect to have fullback B.J. Askew back in the lineup this week, which would be huge since the team has had to play Graham at fullback more than it would like to the last few weeks due to injuries. Tampa Bay appears to have a favorable matchup along the right side of the line, especially vs. the running game, since right tackle Jeremy Trueblood and right guard Davin Joseph will go up against Chiefs left end Turk McBride (no sacks, but does have five tackles for a loss) and under tackle Tank Tyler. Kansas City's inability to stop the run is the main reason why its defense is allowing opposing offenses to convert 49 percent of their third down attempts.
Linebackers Not all of Kansas City's woes against the run can be blamed on its front four. The Chiefs linebackers haven't done much to help, which is disappointing for Kansas City, which appeared to make a splash free agent signing with it landed outside linebacker Demorrio Williams during the offseason. He hasn't shown much playmaking ability through the first seven games. The same can be said for middle linebacker Pat Thomas, who has a half of a sack on the season. This unit's best player is right outside linebacker Derrick Johnson, who has the speed to cover a lot of ground in Kansas City's Cover 2 defensive scheme. In addition to leading the team in tackles, Johnson has also notched 1.5 sacks and one forced fumble. The Chiefs likely will lean on Johnson to help pressure quarterback Jeff Garcia and contain Bucs tight ends Jerramy Stevens and Alex Smith in the short to intermediate part of the field.
Secondary The Bucs should be able to move the ball vs. the Chiefs' struggling defense, but Garcia must be careful with the football. Despite being 1-6 on the season, Kansas City has a plus-four turnover ratio. That's because the Chiefs have intercepted six passes this season. Rookie cornerback Brandon Flowers has accounted for two of those picks, one of which he returned for a touchdown. Flowers also leads Kansas City's defense in passes defensed. Chiefs CB Brandon Carr also has one interception. Flowers and Carr will be responsible for defending Bucs wide receivers Antonio Bryant and Michael Clayton throughout most of the game. Bryant has hauled in 37 passes for 451 yards (12.2 avg.) and one touchdown as the team's split-end receiver. Although Ike Hilliard has been a reliable third receiver, Joey Galloway is working his way back into action and could see significant playing time vs. the Chiefs. Galloway's speed presents a potential mismatch for the Chiefs Cover 2 defense because of the fact that defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham has been forced to play strong safety Bernard Pollard near the line of scrimmage too often due to the defense's woes vs. the run. That could leave Galloway in some favorable one-on-one matchups downfield, but Garcia still must be careful when throwing the football deep as Chiefs free safety Jarrad Page has two interceptions.
Special Teams Chiefs punter Dustin Colquitt is one of the NFL's best at his position. He's been getting a lot of work due to Kansas City's inept offense. He's averaging 48 yards per punt and has pinned 14 of his 37 tries inside the opponents' 20-yard line. Colquitt has been nursing an injury, and if he can't go, Steve Weatherford will punt in his place. He's averaging 41 yards per punt.
Kicker Nick Novack was 6-of-10 on field goal attempts, which prompted the Chiefs to give Nick Novack a shot last week. Novack is 1-of-1 on the season and likely will kick vs. the Bucs. The Chiefs likely will be kicking to rookie running back Clifton Smith, who fared well returning the ball but had a fumble to open the third quarter of last Sunday's game at Dallas.
While he's made nearly 85 percent of his field goals this season, Bucs K Matt Bryant has missed a field goal in each of Tampa Bay's past three games. Bucs punter Josh Bidwell is having a Pro Bowl-caliber season as well. Bryant and Bidwell will be kicking to Chiefs RB Dantrell Savage, who is averaging 26.9 yards per kickoff return. Savage is averaging just 1.3 yards per punt return in place of injured return man B.J. Sams. FLYNN'S FORECAST: Buccaneers 27 Chiefs 6