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OPPONENT: Buffalo Bills
WHERE: Raymond James Stadium
WHERE THE BILLS STAND: The Bills are 1-0 and are tied for first place in the AFC East division.
BILLS HEAD COACH: Mike Mularkey
BILLS OFFENSIVE COORDINATOR: Tom Clements
BILLS DEFENSIVE COORDINATOR: Jerry Gray
BILLS SPECIAL TEAMS COACH: Bobby April
TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS OFFENSE: OVERALL: 12th (345.0 ypg) RUSHING: 8th (146.0 ypg) PASSING: 19th (199.0 ypg)
TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS DEFENSE: OVERALL: 5th (248.0 ypg) RUSHING: 2nd (33.0 ypg) PASSING: 17th (215.0 ypg)
BUFFALO BILLS OFFENSE: OVERALL: 19th (316.0 ypg) RUSHING: 5th (152.0 ypg) PASSING: 26th (164.0 ypg)
BUFFALO BILLS: OVERALL: 1st (120.0 ypg) RUSHING: 14th( (95.0 ypg) PASSING: 1st (25.0 ypg)
DID YOU KNOW… …Buffalo has won seven of its past eight regular season games dating back to the 2004 season?
SCOUTING THE BILLS
Quarterbacks J.P. Losman will make the second start of his pro career against Tampa Bay on Sunday. Losman, who was Buffalo’s 2004 first-round pick, had an impressive debut last week, completing 17-of-28 passes (60.7 percent) for 170 yards and tossing one touchdown en route to a 22-7 win over the Houston Texans.
Tampa Bay defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin knows how to give a young and inexperienced quarterback trouble by disguising coverages, which is why the Bills will likely try to give the Bucs defense a heavy dose of the running game.
It will be critical for the Bucs front four to put pressure on Losman, who is a mobile quarterback. Last Sunday, Losman rushed six times for 31 yards, including a 19-yarder. While their defensive line must find a way to penetrate a talented Buffalo offensive line, Kiffin probably won’t hesitate to blitz Losman in an effort to create some much-needed turnovers and/or points in what should be a defensive battle.
Running Backs Buffalo’s offense is led by running back Willis McGahee, who carried the ball 22 times for 117 yards (5.3 avg.) last Sunday. McGahee, whose NFL career was put in jeopardy in January of 2003 due to the serious knee injury he sustained in the National Championship Game against Miami, doesn’t appear to be hindered by that injury.
In fact, the Bills thought enough of McGahee (1,128 rushing yards, 4.0 avg. and 13 TDs in ’04) to trade RB Travis Henry to Tennessee during the offseason. Tampa Bay’s defense spent the offseason trying to improve its play against the run, and it showed some signs of doing that last Sunday when the Bucs held the Vikings to just 33 yards on the ground.
McGahee will take the field with a target on his back as Tampa Bay’s defense will aim to halt Buffalo’s running game and make the Bills one dimensional, which would put the pressure of winning Sunday’s game on Losman’s young and inexperienced throwing arm.
Wide Receivers Losman certainly has some viable targets in the passing game, but the Bills converted just 21.4 percent of their third down attempts last Sunday, which can be attributed to Losman’s inability to consistently make plays in third-and-long situations. Pro Bowl veteran Eric Moulds and second-year Lee Evans give the Bills a nice one-two punch at the receiver position.
Bucs cornerback Brian Kelly, who intercepted two passes last Sunday in Minnesota, will be charged with the difficult task of covering Evans, who is a speedy receiver with clutch hands. He splashed onto the scene as a rookie in 2004, catching 48 passes for 843 yards (17.5 avg.) and nine touchdowns. He caught three passes for 68 yards (22.7 avg.) vs. Houston. Kelly has to be careful not to allow Evans to beat him deep, where the second-year wideout is known for making most of his plays. Last week, Kelly was penalized for holding and illegal contact, and he can’t afford to give up that type of free yardage to the Bills offense.
Moulds, who hauled in a team-high 88 passes in 2004, will be covered by Bucs CB Ronde Barber, who made the Pro Bowl last season. Moulds is one of the NFL’s best receivers and isn’t showing any signs of slowing down.
If Tampa Bay’s front four can sustain a pass rush, it will be able to keep safeties Jermaine Phillips and Dexter Jackson back in coverage. That could go a long way in Kelly and Barber’s attempt to contain Evans and Moulds, who combined for 136 receptions and 14 touchdowns in ’04.
Given the fact that both Barber and Kelly have made a habit of making quarterbacks pay for throwing their way, the Bills may opt to use McGahee as a receiver out of the backfield quite often. Look for Buffalo to try and take advantage of Tampa Bay’s aggressive defensive play and speed by setting up some screens for McGahee.
Offensive Line Last season, Buffalo’s offensive line did a decent job of protecting QB Drew Bledsoe, who was released during the offseason. This unit got itself off to another good start last Sunday by opening some massive running lanes for McGahee and allowing Losman to be sacked just one time vs. Houston.
Mike Gandy (left tackle), Bennie Anderson (left guard), Trey Teague (center), Chris Villarrial (right guard) and Mike Williams (right tackle) are a veteran group. Anderson and Gandy were brought in via free agency from Baltimore and Chicago, respectively.
The right side of Buffalo’s offensive line is the strongest, which means right defensive end Greg Spires and under tackle Anthony McFarland will have their work cut out for them against Williams and Villarrial. The Bills will likely try to run McGahee behind Williams, who is a powerful run blocker. The good news for the Bucs is Spires is arguably Tampa Bay’s best D-line run defender.
Anderson outweighs Tampa Bay nose tackle Chris Hovan, who had an incredible game vs. Minnesota last Sunday, by about 45 pounds, and that doesn’t even include the times the 300-pound Hovan will be double-teamed by Anderson and the 300-pound Teague.
Buffalo has a weakness along its defensive line, and that weakness is at left tackle, where Gandy is starting. Tampa Bay DE Simeon Rice, who recorded a sack last week, will line up opposite Gandy and must win this battle as it would allow Rice to attack and penetrate Losman’s blindside, which could lead to sacks and turnovers.
The Bucs defensive line may struggle in the trenches, which is why it will be important for linebackers Derrick Brooks, Shelton Quarles and Ryan Nece to be on their game against a potent Buffalo rushing attack. Quarles had a very active game vs. the run last Sunday and will need to turn in a similar effort if Tampa Bay is to succeed in its attempt to make the Bills one–dimensional.
Defensive Line Buffalo will operate out of the 3-4 and 4-3 defensive schemes.
Although the Bills linebackers are the strongest unit on their defense, the defensive line features solid players in under tackle Sam Adams and right end Aaron Schobel, both of whom combined for 13 sacks last season.
The 6-foot-5, 335-pound Adams is a load in the middle of the Bills defense, which ranks No. 1 overall in the NFL, and will be tough for Bucs G Sean Mahan to hold off. Mahan just got his first start at right guard last Sunday in Minnesota, but he’ll have to play beyond his years to hold off Adams, who made the Pro Bowl last season.
Schobel will face Bucs left tackle Anthony Davis, who made his first pro start last Sunday vs. the Vikings. Schobel recorded eight sacks and three forced fumbles last season, and he’s already off to a fast start in ’05. Last Sunday, Schobel notched two sacks vs. the Texans.
Although Schobel is a dangerous pass rusher, the Bucs will likely run rookie RB Cadillac Williams behind Davis, who proved to be an effective run blocker last week.
Williams may also find some success running the ball behind rookie LG Dan Buenning, who will line up opposite Bills NT Ron Edwards. Edwards is attempting to fill the void left by Pat Williams, who signed with Minnesota during the offseason.
Bucs right tackle Kenyatta Walker won’t have it any easier against Bills LE Chris Keisay, who recorded 4.5 sacks and a team-high 15 quarterback pressures in ’04.
The threat Buffalo’s defensive ends pose will likely convince Tampa Bay head coach Jon Gruden to feature plenty of two-tight end sets. And because of the size Buffalo has at its defensive tackle position, Tampa Bay may use the passing game to open up the running game.
Linebackers Gruden’s offense is designed to move the ball by creating mismatches, but the Bucs will be hard pressed to get favorable mismatches vs. Buffalo’s defense, which ranks No. 1 overall in the NFL. Tampa Bay must account for one of the NFL’s best linebacking corps, which features Takeo Spikes, London Flether and Jeff Posey.
Although Buffalo’s defensive line is capable of generating pressure itself, Bills defensive coordinator Jerry Gray uses a variety of zone blitzes in an effort to confuse opposing offenses, particularly the quarterback. Last Sunday, the Bills sacked Texans QB David Carr five times and allowed him to pass for just 25 yards.
Spikes, who has been to two straight Pro Bowls, is the leader of Buffalo’s defense. He’s also the best blitzer and cover man. Last year, Spikes notched 99 tackles, three sacks and five interceptions. He’s truly the definition of a playmaker, and the Bucs must find a way to limit his playmaking ability on Sunday.
Fletcher occupies the middle of Buffalo’s defense. He led the team in tackles with 142 takedowns and 3.5 sacks.
Posey probably doesn’t get the recognition he deserves and isn’t as big of a name as Spikes and Fletcher, but he’s solid against the run and has sideline-to-sideline mobility.
The Bucs plan to use RBs Cadillac Williams and Michael Pittman more in the passing game as receivers this week, but they’ll have to account for Buffalo’s linebackers on blitzes, too.
Gruden showed Williams tape from Warrick Dunn’s long run vs. Minnesota during his rookie season in 1997, which inspired No. 24’s performance and 71-yard run against the Vikings last week. Gruden might want to show Williams some tape that shows Dunn’s ability to pass protect on defensive ends and blitzing linebackers during his tenure in Tampa Bay.
Secondary The Bills are strong in the defensive backfield, which means the Bucs might be hard pressed to pass the ball successfully on Sunday.
The duo of Nate Clements and Terrence McGee at cornerback will make it difficult for Bucs QB Brian Griese to find WRs Joey Galloway and Michael Clayton open. Clements made the Pro Bowl in ’04 by picking off six passes and returning one for a touchdown. McGee added three interceptions of his own.
With Troy Vincent and Lawyer Milloy occupying both safety positions, Buffalo’s secondary doesn’t appear to have any weaknesses. They combined for three interceptions last season. Gruden may, however, attempt to work the flats and seams of the field with their running backs and tight ends.
The Bills produced an NFL-best 39 turnovers in ’04, and they already have a plus-5 turnover ratio this season after creating five turnovers vs. the Texans. The good news for Tampa Bay’s defense is it also created five turnovers last Sunday in Minnesota. The team that wins the turnover battle on Sunday will stand an excellent chance of winning this contest.
Special Teams Special teams could be the deciding factor in this game, which will likely be a defensive battle for all 60 minutes. That’s a scary notion seeing as Buffalo’s team features one of the league’s most lethal special teams units.
The Bills have an extremely dangerous return game thanks to their starting cornerbacks, Nate Clements and Terrance McGee.
Clements returns punts for the Bills. He averaged 9.3 yards per attempt and scored a touchdown last season.
McGee made the Pro Bowl last season by returning kickoffs for the Bills. He averaged 26.3 yards per return and scored a whopping three touchdowns, including one that came on a 103-yarder.
Tampa Bay’s punt and kickoff coverage units were solid last Sunday, but they’ll really have to be on their game vs. Buffalo as field position will be key in this contest.
With CB Torrie Cox benched indefinitely, the Bucs will have WR Mark Jones returning punts and kickoffs on Sunday. He doesn’t have much experience as a kickoff returner, but Jones averaged just over 9 yards per punt return last Sunday in Minnesota and is extremely quick.
Bills punter Brian Moorman had a decent season in ’04, averaging 43.2 yards per attempt.
Kicker Rian Lindell made 85.7 percent of his field goal attempts last season, but he had a few critical misses. Lindell did, however, drill 5-of-5 field goal attempts vs. Houston. Sunday’s game at Raymond James Stadium will likely come down to a field goal.
FLYNN’S FORECAST: Bills 13 Buccaneers 12
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