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OPPONENT: Seattle Seahawks
WHERE: Raymond James Stadium WHERE THE SEAHAWKS STAND: The Seahawks are 8-7 and won the NFC West division last Sunday despite losing at home the Chargers. SEAWHAWKS HEAD COACH: Mike Holmgren SEAHAWKS OFFENSIVE COORDINATOR: Gil Haskell
SEAHAWKS DEFENSIVE COORDINATOR: John Marshall
SEAHAWKS SPECIAL TEAMS COACH: Bob Casullo
TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS OFFENSE OVERALL: 29th (268.9 ypg) RUSHING: 29th (94.2 ypg) PASSING: 25th (174.7 ypg)
TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS DEFENSE OVERALL: 17th (328.5 ypg) RUSHING: 17th (119.0 ypg) PASSING: 18th (209.5 ypg)
DID YOU KNOW … … the Buccaneers have never defeated the Seahawks in a regular season game in Tampa? SCOUTING THE SEAHAWKS
Quarterbacks Seattle runs a West Coast style of offense, although it is a bit different than Tampa Bay head coach Jon Gruden’s version. Seahawks head coach Mike Holmgren, who hired Gruden to serve as his wide receivers coach in Green Bay in the early 1990s, features the shotgun in his offense. Seattle QB Matt Hasselbeck’s veteran savvy and playmaking ability have allowed Holmgren to open up his playbook over the past several seasons. Although he’s not having the type of season he had a year ago en route to leading Seattle to the Super Bowl, Hasselbeck is still a dangerous passer. He’s completed 56.4 percent of his passes for 2,226 yards and tossed 17 touchdowns and 15 interceptions. Hasselbeck has the mobility to buy himself time to throw inside and outside of the pocket. He’s also rushed for 111 yards on 15 carries. With Seattle having already won its division, there’s a good chance Hasselbeck and many of Seattle’s starters will see limited action or not play at all vs. Tampa Bay. If that is indeed the case, Seahawks backup QB Seneca Wallace will see a significant amount of playing time, just as he did earlier this season when Hasselbeck was hurt. Wallace has completed 58.2 percent of his passes and thrown for 927 yards and eight touchdowns and seven interceptions this season. Wallace has impressive mobility and speed – he’s rushed 12 times for 122 yards. Tampa Bay is quite familiar with Wallace, who visited the Bucs as a restricted free agent earlier in the offseason. The Seahawks later signed Wallace to a long-term contract extension, and he was quite valuable during Hasselbeck’s absence. Seattle is hoping Hasselbeck and/or Wallace can help the Seahawks build momentum heading into the playoffs with a win over the Buccaneers.
Running Backs Seattle’s best offensive weapon is RB Shaun Alexander, who captured the 2005 NFL rushing title by rushing for 1,880 yards and 27 touchdowns. However, Alexander has had a tough time following up that impressive performance. He’s rushed for just 804 yards (3.6 avg.) and six touchdowns while missing six games due to injury earlier in the season. When he has carried the ball, Alexander has had a tough time holding onto it. He’s fumbled five times and lost two of them this season. If the Seahawks decide to limit or rest Alexander in this contest, Maurice Morris will see plenty of action. He’s carried the ball 151 times for 565 yards (3.7 avg.) this season. Neither Alexander nor Morris is used a lot in the passing game – they’ve combined for 21 catches this season. However, fullback Mack Strong is a player Hasselbeck often times checks down to in the flat. He has 28 catches for 152 yards. Tampa Bay’s defense will attempt to force Hasselbeck or Wallace to win this game through the air by shutting down Seattle’s potentially potent ground attack.
Wide Receivers Seattle’s offense is littered with talent, especially at the wide receiver position, where Darrell Jackson, Deion Branch, Nate Burleson, Bobby Engram and D.J. Hackett have been quite productive. Jackson, who could be sidelined for this game with a toe injury, has caught a team-leading 63 passes for 956 yards (15.2 avg.) and 10 touchdowns this season. If he can’t go, Burleson likely will start in Jackson’s place. Burleson has missed a significant amount of playing time due to injury this season, but he’s a reliable target when healthy. He’s caught 17 passes for 187 yards and two touchdowns. Jackson or Burleson will be lined up against Bucs cornerback Phillip Buchanon, who has been doing a decent job starting in Brian Kelly place. Buchanon has recorded two interceptions this season. Seattle traded for New England WR Deion Branch several months ago, and that move has paid off. He’s caught 50 passes for 687 yards and four touchdowns. Seattle is extremely deep at the receiver position, which means the Seahawks could decide to rest Branch, even if Jackson doesn’t play in this game. If that scenario unfolds, Engram would line up against Bucs four-time Pro Bowler Ronde Barber. Engram has caught 22 passes for 263 yards and one touchdown while seeing limited playing time due to the addition of Branch. Seattle is known to spread defenses out with three- and four-receiver sets. Tampa Bay nickel cornerback Juran Bolden likely will face Hackett in those situations. Hackett was actually quite productive in Burleson’s place earlier in the season, catching 41 passes for 547 yards and three touchdowns. Seahawks tight end Jeremy Stevens used to be one of Hasselbeck’s more reliable receivers, but his hands have been suspect this season. He’s caught just 18 passes for 177 yards while dropping several passes. However, Stevens is still a solid run blocker and has come through with some big plays, especially in the red zone, where he’s caught four touchdowns. Bucs linebackers Derrick Brooks and Ryan Nece, and safeties Jermaine Phillips and Will Allen did a nice job of shutting down TE Kellen Winslow in Cleveland last Sunday, and they’ll need to do the same vs. Stevens. Despite being deep and talented at the receiver position, the Seahawks are averaging just 309 yards of offense per game while converting 36.7 percent of their third downs.
Offensive Line Seattle’s offensive line has sorely missed guard Steve Hutchinson, who signed with Minnesota in free agency during the offseason. This unit has failed to open up the holes that Alexander has grown used to in the running game, and it’s been inconsistent in pass protection. In fact, Seattle has allowed 48 sacks through 15 games this season. Still, this unit features one of the league’s best left tackles in Walter Jones, who will attempt to hold off Bucs backup defensive end Dewayne White. White will attempt to rush the blindside of Hasselbeck and/or Wallace. Seahawks right tackle Sean Locklear will be lined up opposite of Bucs DE Greg Spires, who has been solid against the run and recorded three sacks over the past two games. Hutchinson was replaced by Floyd Womack, whose 330-pound frame has made it difficult for defenders to get around. However, Womack is often injured and currently battling a groin injury. If he can’t go, Ryan Sims would start in his place, which would be good news for Bucs nose tackle Chris Hovan. The Seahawks are also banged up at the center position, where Robbie Tobeck has spent the last month dealing with the flu and being hospitalized with an abscess in his left hip. If Tobeck can’t start or play vs. the Buccaneers, backup C Chris Spencer, who has started 12 games this season, would go in his place. Tampa Bay will use Ellis Wyms and Jovan Haye at the under tackle position. They will be matched up against Seahawks right guard Chris Gray, who has started all 15 games and is a solid run blocker.
Defensive Line Seattle’s defense has been struggling, especially vs. the run, where the Seahawks are surrendering an average of 128 yards per game. However, Seattle’s defensive line, which features left end Bryce Fisher, under tackle Chuck Darby, nose tackle Rocky Bernard and right end Grant Wistrom, is completely capable of getting after the quarterback. Fisher and Wistrom, who will be going up against Bucs rookie right tackle Jeremy Trueblood and left tackle Anthony Davis, respectively, have each notched four sacks. Darby is a former Buccaneer and has done a nice job as a starter in Seattle. He’s recorded 3.5 sacks and five tackles for a loss. However, his 290-pound frame at times makes him vulnerable against the run. Bucs rookie right guard Davin Joseph and/or center John Wade will attempt to blow Darby off the ball in an effort to open up running lanes for Cadillac Williams, Michael Pittman and Mike Alstott. Williams may not play in this game as he’s still nursing a foot injury. With this game possibly being Alstott’s last as a pro, Bucs head coach Jon Gruden would be wise to feature the bruising runner for the second straight week, especially with Darby being undersized and Seahawks nose tackle Rocky Bernard nursing a foot injury. If Bernard, who has recorded 3.5 sacks and two forced fumbles, can’t go Sunday, Marcus Green would start in his place.
Linebackers Seattle has a talented trio of linebackers, which is led by middle linebacker Lofa Tatupu, who leads the team in tackles and has notched 1.5 sacks, four tackles for a loss, one forced fumble and one interception. Tatupu is a fiery player and has a nose for the ball. Outside linebacker Julian Peterson is a blitzing threat that the Buccaneers will have to account for. Peterson was recently voted to the Pro Bowl ahead of Bucs LB Derrick Brooks after notching a team-high nine sacks, four tackles for a loss a one interception. Tampa Bay would be wise to leave Pittman or Alstott in to help pick up Peterson in the offensive backfield and buy QB Tim Rattay time to get passes off. If there is a potential weakness on this unit, the strongside linebacker spot would be it. Look for the Bucs to attempt to get tight end Alex Smith involved in the passing game against Seahawks LB Leroy Hill, who has recorded two sacks and one forced fumble, but is inconsistent in pass coverage. The Bucs should benefit tremendously should the Seahawks, who are allowing opposing offenses to convert nearly 37 percent of their third downs this season, decide to rest their starting linebackers and play their backups Sunday.
Secondary Seattle’s secondary is talented, but Tampa Bay’s receivers should be able to get open Sunday. Bucs wide receiver Joey Galloway needs just 61 yards to eclipse the 1,000-yard mark for the second straight season, and he should be able to accomplish that feat vs. Seahawks CB Marcus Trufant, who has just one interception this season. Seattle will ask strong safety Jordan Babineaux to help take the deep part of the field away from Galloway, but not if the Seahawks have trouble stopping the run early. Establishing the running game could help give Galloway some favorable one-on-one matchups with Trufant. Tampa Bay rookie WR Maurice Stovall could make his second straight start of the season. If that’s the case, he’ll go up against Seahawks CB Kelly Herndon, who has notched one interception and a team-leading 16 passes defensed. The 6-foot-5 Stovall has a significant size advantage vs. the 5-foot-10 Herndon, which could prompt Rattay to throw some passes Stovall’s way even when he’s covered well by Herndon. But throwing Stovall’s way could be dangerous seeing as free safety Ken Hamlin, who has two sacks and three interceptions this season, will be helping to cover the third-round pick from Notre Dame. While he might not get the start, Bucs WR Ike Hilliard likely will see significant playing time as the No. 3 receiver. He’ll be matched up with Seahawks nickel corner Kelly Jennings, who has one interception on the season. While Seattle could elect to play its backups for most of Sunday’s game in an effort to rest its starters for the playoffs, the Seahawks want and need to win this game in order to avoid heading into the post-season on a four-game losing streak. That could prompt the Seahawks to play their starters at some or all positions vs. the Buccaneers.
Special Teams Seattle uses WR Nate Burleson to return kickoffs and punts. He is averaging 24.9 yards per kickoff return and has the speed and elusiveness to take one to the house at any time. Burleson is averaging 9.0 yards per punt return, and his longest this season was a 90-yarder that he returned for a touchdown. Tampa Bay’s special teams coverage units have done a great job covering kickoffs and punts against some of the league’s best over the last several games, and they’ll need to be on top of their game in terms of tackling and taking the proper angles vs. Burleson. Seahawks kicker Josh Brown has drilled 22-of-28 (78.6 percent) of his field goal attempts this season. He’s got a strong leg, evidenced by his season long of 54. Punter Ryan Plackemeier is averaging 45 yards per punt and has pinned 24 of his 83 attempts inside the 20-yard line. His net is 37.3. Plackemeier likely will be punting to Bucs PR Mark Jones. Field position will obviously play a key role in determining the outcome of Sunday’s game.