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OPPONENT: Buffalo Bills
WHERE: Ralph Wilson Stadium in Buffalo, New York
WHERE THE BILLS STAND: The Bills are 0-1 and in last place in the AFC East division.
BILLS HEAD COACH: Dick Jauron
BILLS OFFENSIVE COORDINATOR: Alex Van Pelt
BILLS DEFENSIVE COORDINATOR: Perry Fewell
BILLS SPECIAL TEAMS COACH: Bobby April
TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS OFFENSE
OVERALL: 5th (450 ypg)
RUSHING: 5th (174 ypg)
PASSING: 8th (276 ypg)
TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS DEFENSE
OVERALL: 29th (462 ypg)
RUSHING: 24th (118 ypg)
PASSING: 30th (344 ypg)
BUFFALO BILLS OFFENSE
OVERALL: 20th (276 ypg)
RUSHING: 13st (90 ypg)
PASSING: 21st (186 ypg)
BUFFALO BILLS DEFENSE
OVERALL: 26th (441 ypg)
RUSHING: 9th (73 ypg)
PASSING: 32nd (368 ypg)
DID YOU KNOW …
… Tampa Bay has never played the Bills in Buffalo?
SCOUTING THE BILLS
The Bills offense is led by QB Trent Edwards, who enters the 2009 season on the hot seat. The 6-foot-4, 231-pound Edwards completed 65.5 percent of his passes for 2,699 yards and tossed 11 touchdowns and 10 interceptions heading into '09.
The circumstances surrounding Buffalo's offense aren't ideal. The Bills fired their offensive coordinator and replaced him with Alex Van Pelt after watching the Bills first-team offense fail to score a touchdown in the preseason. Van Pelt is calling the plays in to Edwards for Buffalo's no-huddle offense, which will test the conditioning of Tampa Bay's defense. Edwards has had trouble with consistency, but is a good caretaker with the football.
A 2007 third-round pick, Edwards turned in an impressive effort vs. New England on Monday night, completing 15-of-25 passes for 212 yards and tossing two touchdowns and no interceptions en route to a 25-24 loss.
One of Buffalo's best offensive weapons, RB Marshawn Lynch, will miss Sunday's game due to a league-mandated suspension. The Bills will miss Lynch (5-11, 215), evidenced by his two straight 1,000-yard rushing seasons and 15 career touchdowns.
Lynch is replaced by RB Fred Jackson (6-1, 215), who had 188 carries for 871 yards (4.6 avg.) and three touchdowns in his first three NFL seasons. Jackson proved to be a capable contributor in New England on Monday night. He rushed for 57 yards on 15 carries (3.8 avg.), but he's at his best in the passing game, where Jackson hauled in 59 career passes for 507 yards (8.6 avg.) and three TDs heading into '09. On Monday night, Jackson raised havoc in the passing game, catching a team-leading five passes for 83 yards (16.6 avg.) and one touchdown. Jackson is a player the Bucs defense, particularly outside linebackers Quincy Black and Geno Hayes, must account for on screen and swing passes.
Edwards likes to spread the ball around to his receivers in Buffalo's no-huddle offense. He has two of the league's best pass-catchers to throw to in Lee Evans and Terrell Owens.
Evans (5-10, 197) had 296 career catches for 4,744 yards and 32 touchdowns heading into '09. Last season, Evans caught 63 passes for 1,017 yards (16.1 avg.) and three touchdowns. Evans' production was supposed to be aided by the addition of Owens (6-3, 224), who caught 951 passes for 14,122 yards (14.8 avg.) and 139 touchdowns coming into this season.
However, New England did a nice job of taking these physical and speedy receivers out of the game, limiting Evans and Owens to just five catches for 71 yards and no scores. Tampa Bay's secondary, which had a horrific outing vs. Dallas, particularly at the safety position, will be tested by Edwards and Co. in this contest based on the success QB Tony Romo had vs. the Bucs last Sunday. Bucs cornerbacks Ronde Barber and Aqib Talib have their work cut out in this football game.
Not only must safeties Sabby Piscitelli and Jermaine Phillips help account for Evans and Owens, they will also be called on to defend Buffalo's tight ends – Derek Schouman (6-2, 223) and rookie Shawn Nelson. Schouman is more of a blocking tight end, whereas Nelson is the better pass catcher. He had two catches for 11 yards and one TD vs. New England on Monday night.
Buffalo's offensive line is one of the youngest and most inexperienced in the league. It features two rookies in left guard Andy Levitre (6-2, 305), a second-round pick out of Oregon State, and right guard Eric Wood, a first-round pick from Louisville. Those two rookies, along with free agent acquisition, center Geoff Hangartner (6-5, 301), will stand in the way of Bucs defensive tackles Ryan Sims, Chris Hovan and rookie Roy Miller in their effort to shut down the ground game and collapse the pocket around Edwards.
Before Buffalo kicked off its 2009 regular season in New England, three of the Bills' five starting offensive linemen – Levitre, Wood and left tackle Demetrius Bell (6-5, 307), had never started a NFL game. That inexperience is something Bucs defensive coordinator Jim Bates and his players must exploit in this contest. New England did on Monday night, notching four quarterback takedowns and watching Buffalo's offense be penalized seven times.
Bell, a 2008 seventh-round draft pick, has replaced former Bills Pro Bowl-caliber LT Jason Peterson, who was traded to Philadelphia during the offseason. Bell had some key breakdowns in pass protection late in the game vs. New England, and was part of a Bills offensive line that surrendered four sacks to the Patriots. He will be matched up with Bucs third-year defensive end Gaines Adams, who was held without a tackle by Dallas LT Flozell Adams last week. This is a matchup Adams needs to dominate in order for the Bucs' pass rush to disrupt Edwards and Buffalo's passing game. Adams could also be called on to rush from the left end spot, which would match him up with Bills right tackle Brad Butler (6-7, 315), who might be Buffalo's best offensive lineman.
Buffalo notched just 24 sacks in 16 regular season games in 2008, but that stat could be deceiving when evaluating the Bills' defensive line.
This unit is led by right end Aaron Schobel, who was sorely missed due to a foot injury in '08. Schobel (6-4, 243) is fully recovered from ailment, or at least that's the way it looked Monday night. He was extremely quick off the ball and relentless in his pursuit of New England QB Tom Brady. That effort paid off as Schobel notched one sack and an interception in New England. Schobel will be matched up with Bucs left tackle Donald Penn, who is at his best in pass protection and did one heck of a job of keeping Dallas DE DeMarcus Ware away from QB Byron Leftwich last week.
The Bucs rushed for nearly 200 yards vs. the Cowboys in Week 1. Cadillac Williams and Derrick Ward figure to be heavily involved in Greg Olson's offensive game plan again, but establishing the ground game won't be easy vs. Bills defensive tackles Marcus Stroud (6-6, 310) and Kyle Williams (6-1, 308). In addition to being stout run defenders, they combined for 4.5 sacks last year.
Stroud and Williams will be matched up with Bucs guards Davin Joseph and Jeremy Zuttah, respectively. One concern for the Bucs heading into this contest is the absence of starting center Jeff Faine, who will miss a few weeks with a triceps tear he sustained vs. Dallas. The Bucs re-signed Sean Mahan, who has significant starting experience at center, and could also turn to newcomer Jonathan Compas. No matter who it is that plays in place of Faine, that player will have to help make line calls and double team Stroud, who is extremely athletic, evidenced by his seven passes defensed, and/or Williams on Sunday.
Bucs right tackle Jeremy Trueblood had a solid outing vs. Dallas. He will be matched up with Bills left end Chris Kelsay, who had two sacks, one forced fumble and five passes defensed last year. The former second-round pick plays with a high motor, but lacks pass rush ability, which is one of the reasons why the team invested its 2009 first-round pick in speed-rushing DE Aaron Maybin.
Like the Bucs with center Jeff Faine, the Bills could also be without one of their key starters Sunday.
Buffalo middle linebacker Paul Posluszny led the team in tackles, notched one forced fumble, six passes defensed and one interception in 2008. The former first-round pick is a great athlete, but injured his arm vs. the Patriots on Monday night and could miss the game vs. Tampa Bay. The Bills would sorely miss Poslusny (6-1, 238), who is responsible for defending the run and dropping back to defend the short-to-intermediate part of the field in Buffalo's Cover 2 defensive scheme. Poslusny's backup is Marcus Buggs, a second-year player who has never started a game in the NFL.
The Bills have two talented outside linebackers in Keith Ellison (6-0, 229) and Kawika Mitchell (6-1, 253). Mitchell ranked second on Buffalo's defense in tackles in his debut with the Bills last year. In addition, he notched four sacks, six tackles for a loss, two forced fumbles and two interceptions. Ellison was extremely active vs. the Patriots on Monday night, notching a team-high 15 tackles en route to helping the Bills limit the Patriots to 73 yards rushing (3.2 avg.).
Brady dropped back to throw 53 times vs. Buffalo, but was only sacked one time in that contest. If the Bills can't get more out of their front four's pass rush they likely will dial up some blitzes from the linebackers, which could create some big-play passing opportunities for Leftwich and Tampa Bay tight ends Kellen Winslow and Jerramy Stevens. On Monday night, Patriots TE Ben Watson caught six passes for 77 yards and scored two touchdowns.
The Bills have a talented secondary, but this unit has been known to allow some big plays and yards vs. opponents as far as the passing game is concerned. The good news for the Bucs is their head coach, Raheem Morris, is quite familiar with the Cover 2 defense Buffalo deploys, from his days as an assistant coach with Tampa Bay.
The Bills allowed Brady to complete 39-of-53 of his passes for 378 yards and toss two touchdowns on Monday night. New England had success moving the ball through the air, picking up 22 of their 28 first downs on pass attempts while converting 63 percent of their third down tries. Much of Brady's success came in the short-to-intermediate part of the football field.
Buffalo has two good cover corners in Terrence McGee and Leodis McKelvin. However, they allowed Patriots receivers Randy Moss and Wes Welker to haul in 12 passes each on Monday night.
McGee (5-9, 198) registered three interceptions and a team-high 18 passes defensed in 2008. He could give Bucs WR Antonio Bryant, who is in the process of working his way back from preseason knee surgery, some fits.
McKelvin (5-10, 184) had two interceptions, including one he returned for a touchdown, in '08. The former first-round pick is a sensational athlete, and will be charged with covering Bucs WR Michael Clayton, who is physical and led the team in receptions vs. Dallas last week.
Aiding Buffalo's top two cornerbacks are safeties Donte Whitner (5-10, 208) and Bryan Scott (6-1, 219). While Buffalo's lack of pass rush left the Bills' secondary exposed too often last year and led to just 10 interceptions in '08, the team also needs Whitner to make more plays. The Bills recently moved Whitner from strong to free safety because of his athletic ability and range, but also in hopes of putting him in position to create more turnovers (the former first-round pick had no interceptions last year).
Even though their ground game is the strength of the offense, the Bucs likely will test Buffalo's secondary early and often Sunday. Leftwich wasn't sacked vs. Dallas despite dropping back to throw 41 times. Tampa Bay's pass protection was solid, and offensive coordinator Greg Olson would be wise to test Buffalo's secondary just as New England did last week when Scott and Whitner each recorded 10 tackles due to the corners' difficulty in covering Moss and Welker.
Tampa Bay had some key special teams breakdowns vs. Dallas last week. It will have to correct those mistakes in a hurry as Buffalo has one of the league's best set of return specialists in kickoff returner Leodis McKelvin and punt returner Roscoe Parrish.
McKelvin led the league in kickoff return average (28.3) last year. He is fast and explosive, evidenced by his 98-yard kickoff return for a score in 2008. However, McKelvin's confidence might be shaken a bit heading into this contest after his costly fumble late in the fourth quarter vs. New England. That turnover allowed the Patriots to score the game-winning touchdown in a game Buffalo should have won.
Parrish is also fast. He averaged 15.3 yards per attempt last year, including a 63-yard punt return for a TD. Bucs P Dirk Johnson will have to do his best on directional punts and hang time in an effort to allow Tampa Bay's coverage units to contain Parrish.
Bucs second-year return specialist Clifton Smith struggled in the 2009 regular season home opener. He will be fielding the ball from Bills P Brian Moorman, who averaged 44.1 yards per punt with 23 of his 58 attempts pinned inside the 20-yard line last year.
Buffalo kicker Rian Lindell made just 30-of-38 (78.9 percent) of his field goal attempts in 2008, including 10-of-15 in the 40-49 range. Bucs K Mike Nugent has his own accuracy issues. He made just 66.6 percent of his field goals in preseason, and had one attempt blocked and another sail wide right vs. Dallas last week.
FLYNN'S FORECAST: Buccaneers 23 Bills 20