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BUCS’ OPPONENT: Arizona Cardinals

WHERE: Sun Devil Stadium in Tempe, Arizona

SPREAD: Cardinals by 3

WHERE THE CARDINALS STAND: The Cardinals are 5-10 and in third place in the NFC West Division.

CARDINALS HEAD COACH: Dennis Green

CARDINALS OFFENSIVE COORDINATOR: Alex Wood

CARDINALS DEFENSIVE COORDINATOR: Clancy Pendergast

CARDINALS SPECIAL TEAMS COACH: Kevin O’Dea

TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS OFFENSE:
OVERALL: 22nd (314.3 ypg)
RUSHING: 29th (95.1 ypg)
PASSING: 14th (219.1 ypg)

TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS DEFENSE:
OVERALL: 5th (288.7 ypg)
RUSHING: 22nd (124.4 ypg)
PASSING: 2nd (164.3 ypg)

ARIZONA CARDINALS OFFENSE:
OVERALL: 25th (288.5 ypg)
RUSHING: 23rd (104.1 ypg)
PASSING: 23rd (184.5 ypg)

ARIZONA CARDINALS DEFENSE:
OVERALL: 13th (326.1 ypg)
RUSHING: 28th (136.2 ypg)
PASSING: 9th (189.9 ypg)

DID YOU KNOW…
…Arizona has produced a 4-3 record at home this season.

CARDINALS OFFENSE:
Arizona’s offense is producing just 288.5 yards and 18.1 points per game, but it does have some weapons that Tampa Bay’s defense will have to account for.

Cardinals quarterback Josh McCown has struggled, completing just 58.3 percent of his passes and tossing 11 touchdowns and nine interceptions. But he’s got a talented group of young receivers in rookie Larry Fitzgerald, second-year WR Anquan Boldin and Bryant Johnson.

Fitzgerald leads the team in receptions with 55 for 744 yards and has scored eight touchdowns. Boldin, who missed several games with an injury, has caught 53 passes for 592 yards and one touchdown. Johnson has caught 47 passes for 528 yards and one touchdown.

Tampa Bay’s secondary, which ranks No. 2 in the NFL, needs to do a better job of covering Sunday than it did last week against the Carolina Panthers, who threw for four touchdowns en route to a 37-20 win over the Bucs.

The Cardinals haven’t produced much of a running game this season. It’s led by future Hall of Famer Emmitt Smith, who has carried the ball 244 times for 868 yards (3.6 avg.) and scored nine touchdowns. Tampa Bay’s defense has struggled to stop the run, but it should be fired up to go up against a back with Smith’s credentials.

Stopping the ground game will go a long way for the Bucs, who must get pressure on McCown on Sunday. The Cardinals offensive line has allowed 39 sacks through 15 games this season. The good news for the Bucs is Cardinals left tackle Leonard Davis will not play Sunday due to a knee injury. That should give Bucs defensive end Simeon Rice, who is a former Cardinal, a favorable matchup.

Arizona is also converting 36.3 percent of its third down tries. One of McCown’s go-to guys on third downs has been tight end Freddie Jones, who has hauled in 43 passes for 408 yards and scored two touchdowns. Look for safety Dwight Smith to be charged with the difficult task of covering the athletic Jones.

CARDINALS DEFENSE:
Arizona’s defense is giving up an average of 326.1 yards and 21 points per game this season. It is also allowing opposing offenses convert 36 percent of their third down tries.

Tampa Bay’s best bet of moving the ball against Arizona is via the ground game, where the Cardinals are surrendering an average of 136 yards per contest. The Cards’ run defense woes stem from their young offensive line, which consists of rookie under tackle Darnell Dockett, nose tackle Russell Davis and defensive ends Peppi Zellner and Bertrand Berry. Tampa Bay’s run offense is ranked 28th overall, but Michael Pittman, who is a former Cardinal, has rushed for 876 yards, nine touchdowns and is averaging 4.3 yards per carry.

A productive run game will go a long way for the Bucs offense, especially if second-year quarterback Chris Simms makes his second pro start in place of Brian Griese, who is injured and may not play.

Dropping back to pass, which Simms/Griese will likely do in Bucs head coach Jon Gruden’s pass-oriented offense, could be dangerous since Berry has notched a team-leading 12.5 sacks and forced four fumbles. Berry will face Bucs left tackle Derrick Deese but could go up against second-year T Anthony Davis, who might see some playing time in the regular season finale.

With the exception of Berry, Arizona’s front four hasn’t produced much of a pass rush. That’s why the Cardinals use strongside linebacker Karlos Dansby to blitz often. He’s recorded five sacks this season. Pittman will be called on to help pick up those blitzes in the backfield.

When Simms/Griese throws, he’ll have to respect Cardinals cornerbacks David Macklin and Renaldo Hill. Macklin has notched four interceptions and a team-leading 16 passes defensed. He’ll be covering Bucs rookie WR Michael Clayton. Hill has two picks and has recorded 10 passes defensed. Gruden would have probably elected to test Hill by throwing some deep balls to speedster Joey Galloway, especially since the Cardinals often call on strong safety Adrian Wilson to come up in the box and help defend the run. But Hill won’t play in this contest due to a back injury. That bodes well for Galloway and the Bucs offense.

CARDINALS SPECIAL TEAMS:
Cardinals kicker Neil Rackers has made 78.3 percent of his field goal attempts. Punter Scott Player is outstanding. He’s averaging 43.2 yards per punt. He’s also pinned 28 of his 91 punts inside the 20-yard line.

Kick returner Josh Scobey is averaging 22.7 yards per attempt. Former Bucs wide receiver Karl Williams returns punts for the Cardinals and is averaging 6.2 yards per attempt.

FLYNN’S FINAL:
With the playoffs out of reach, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers will likely turn in a performance similar to the one they had against the Carolina Panthers last Sunday. The Bucs will likely be playing some younger players, which could make things get ugly at times. However, it should be interesting to see how second-year QB Chris Simms fares if he does indeed make his second pro start. That will be a game time decision. You have to wonder if the players will rally around Simms or if they’ll be too focused on ending their disappointing season. I don’t doubt that several Bucs players will show up for this game, but based on what we’ve seen from the Bucs over the last six quarters, one shouldn’t expect a stellar performance from the Pewter Pirates in this one.

FLYNN’S PICK: Cardinals 19 Buccaneers 16
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