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OPPONENT: Arizona Cardinals
WHERE: Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Fla. WHERE THE CARDINALS STAND: The Cardinals are 3-4 and in second place in the NFC West division.
CARDINALS HEAD COACH: Ken Whisenhunt CARDINALS OFFENSIVE COORDINATOR: Todd Haley
CARDINALS DEFENSIVE COORDINATOR: Clancy Pendergast CARDINALS SPECIAL TEAMS COACH: Kevin Spencer
TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS OFFENSE OVERALL: 17th (324 ypg) RUSHING: 17th (107 ypg) PASSING: 15th (217 ypg)
TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS DEFENSE OVERALL: 8th (298 ypg) RUSHING: 22nd (125 ypg) PASSING: 2nd (173 ypg)
DID YOU KNOW … … the Cardinals have a minus-7 turnover ratio this season?
SCOUTING THE CARDINALS
Quarterbacks Arizona starting QB Matt Leinert, a 2006 first-round draft pick, is out for the season. That hasn't necessarily been a bad thing for the Cardinals, who have watched QB Kurt Warner perform fairly well in his place. Warner has completed 64.3 percent of his passes for 883 yards and tossed six touchdown and three interceptions this season. Tampa Bay's defense and Warner are familiar with each other from their from the Bucs-Rams rivalry. He has been nursing a left elbow injury and should be able to play vs. the Bucs. If not, backup quarterback and former Tampa Bay signal caller Tim Rattay, who has completed 52 percent of his passes for 160 yards and tossed one touchdown and three interceptions, would start in his place.
Running Backs Arizona's ground attack isn't great, but it has definitely improved from last year, where the Cardinals ranked 30th in rushing. Arizona is currently ranked 19th in the league, averaging 103 yards rushing per game. The Cardinals' ground game is led by Edgerrin James, who has rushed 155 times for 603 yards (3.9 avg.) and four touchdowns. Tampa Bay's defense allowed Jacksonville's potent running game to rush for over 130 yards last Sunday, but the Bucs limited the Jaguars to just 3.0 yards per carry. Their run defense currently ranks 22nd in the NFL. James is a shifty and elusive back, but he has had some trouble holding onto the football. Look for the Bucs defenders, particularly middle linebacker Barrett Ruud, to attempt to strip James of the ball each time he carries it and is tackled.
Wide Receivers One of the main reasons why Arizona is converting 44.1 percent of its third down attempts this season is because of its talented wide receiver corps, which features arguably the league's best duo at the wideout position in Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin. The 6-foot-3, 226-pound Fitzgerald is Arizona's primary offensive weapon. The former first-round pick has hauled in 46 passes for 642 yards and one touchdown through seven games. Like James, Fitzgerald has had trouble holding onto the football, evidenced by his three fumbles. The Cardinals had their bye week last week and likely spent a significant amount of time attempting correct those issues. Tampa Bay is hoping to have cornerback Brian Kelly (groin) back for this game. If he does return, Kelly will cover Fitzgerald. However, if Kelly doesn't play Bucs CB Phillip Buchanon will be charged with that difficult task.
Tampa Bay four-time Pro Bowl CB Ronde Barber likely will spend a significant amount of time covering Boldin, who has hauled in 30 passes for 315 yards. While he's not considered a deep threat and isn't leading the team in receptions, Boldin is one of Arizona's favorite red zone targets, evidenced by his five touchdown receptions this season. The Cardinals likely will attempt to spread the Bucs defense out by featuring some three-receiver sets, which would mean WR Bryant Johnson, who is a speedster, would get on the field and CB Sammy Davis likely would cover him in nickel situations. Johnson has hauled in 21 passes for 229 yards. The Cardinals haven't used 6-foot-8, 265-pound tight end Leonard Pope much as a receiver. He has nine catches for 95 yards, but he's a capable pass catcher and has the speed to stretch the field. Tampa Bay linebackers Derrick Brooks and Cato June will have to do their part in terms of accounting for Pope's whereabouts on Sunday. The Bucs simply cannot afford to bring safeties Jermaine Phillips and Tanard Jackson up in the box to help defend the run vs. the Cardinals as they will be needed to help cover the Cardinals' dangerous group of receivers.
Offensive Line Arizona's 11th-ranked offense features a revamped offensive line that has done a better job of opening up holes in the running game and protecting the quarterback. This unit isn't nearly as athletic or physical as the offensive line Tampa Bay's defense faced vs. Jacksonville last Sunday. However, it still has some talented players in left tackle Mike Gandy, left guard Reggie Wells, center Al Johnson, right guard Deuce Lotui and right tackle Levi Brown. Gandy will be responsible for protecting Warner's blind side. With Greg Spires (calf) and Patrick Chukwurah (shoulder) injured, Bucs rookie DE Gaines Adams likely will see a significant amount of playing time Sunday. Adams has 1.5 sacks through eight games and has played better against the run than he has the pass. Tampa Bay DE Kevin Carter probably will see plenty of playing time against Arizona right tackle Levi Brown (6-5, 323), who was the fifth overall pick in the 2007 NFL Draft. Bucs nose tackle Chris Hovan, who performed well vs. the Jaguars, has his work cut out for him as he'll likely see plenty of double teams from Wells (6-4, 318) and Johnson (6-5, 311). Bucs under tackle Jovan Haye must find a way to win one-on-one matchups with Lotui, a second-year guard out of USC. Lotui (6-4, 338) has a sizeable advantage over Haye (6-2, 285). Tampa Bay simply can't afford to give Arizona's quarterback a comfortable pocket to throw out of in this game. Getting after the quarterback could prove to be difficult as the Cardinals have surrendered just eight sacks through seven games.
Defensive Line Tampa Bay likely will come out and attempt to establish the running game vs. Arizona's defense, which is ranked 10th in the NFL and does a good job of mixing coverages, formations and blitzes up. Cardinals nose tackle Gabe Watson (6-4, 340) won't make it easy for Tampa Bay running backs Earnest Graham and Michael Bennett to find running room. Bucs center John Wade and rookie left guard Arron Sears likely will double team Watson, which would give Bucs second-year G Davin Joseph some one-on-one responsibilities with Cardinals under tackle Darnell Dockett, who has recorded a team-leading six sacks and two forced fumbles through seven games. Look for the Bucs to roll quarterback Jeff Garcia around and outside of the pocket in an effort to elude pressure. Tampa Bay left tackle Donald Penn has been impressive in Luke Petitgout's place, but he'll have to be on top of his game vs. Cardinals right end Bertrand Berry, who has notched two sacks this year. Tampa Bay second-year right tackle Jeremy Trueblood is one of the more physical players on Tampa Bay's O-line. He will be matched up with Arizona LE Antonio Smith, who has 3.5 sacks through seven games. While the Cardinals have recorded 17 sacks this season, their defensive line, with the exception of Watson, is undersized, which should allow Tampa Bay to get good push up front and along the perimeter in the running game.
Linebackers Arizona won't just rely on its front four to bring pressure. Cardinals weakside linebacker Karlos Dansby has notched 2.5 sacks and one forced fumble this season. Middle linebacker Gerald Hayes has one sack of his own while strongside linebacker Calvin Pace has recorded two quarterback takedowns. The Cardinals use their linebackers to run blitz and get after the quarterback. However, this often times leaves Arizona's secondary vulnerable in passing situations, particularly on screen and swing passes, and presents big-play opportunities in the running game if the offensive players pick up blitzes. The Bucs could really use RB Michael Pittman (ankle) in this contest as he's excellent in blitz pickup. However, it's unlikely that his anke will be healed enough for him to face his former team on Sunday, which means fullback B.J. Askew, tight ends Jerramy Stevens and Anthony Becht, and Graham and Bennett will at some point be called on to help pick up the variety of blitzes that Arizona will send Tampa Bay's way.
Secondary The Cardinals are allowing opposing offenses to convert nearly 40 percent of their third downs and are giving up an average of 22 points per game this season. One of the more interesting matchups to watch in this game will be between Arizona cornerback Rod Hood and Tampa Bay wide receiver Joey Galloway. Galloway is the offense's deep threat. He's hauled in 33 passes for 564 yards (17.1 avg.) and scored four touchdowns this season. While Garcia would like to throw to him, he'll have to be careful as Hood has recorded 10 passes defensed and two interceptions through seven games. The Cardinals will also rely on Pro Bowl strong safety Arian Wilson to help cover the deep part of the field, where Galloway has made a name for himself. Wilson has notched two picks this year and has big-play ability, evidenced by his five sacks, four interceptions and two 99-yard returns for touchdowns in 2006. Cardinals CB Eric Green will cover Bucs WR Ike Hilliard throughout most of Sunday's game. Hilliard has hauled in a team-leading 39 passes for 478 yards and one touchdown. Garcia likely will attempt to throw to Hilliard early and often in this contest, and he could have running room on crossing and drag routes if the Bucs can pick up Arizona's blitzing linebackers. The Cardinals will ask free safety Terrence Holt to help cover Hilliard. Tampa Bay second-year WR Maurice Stovall will see playing time if and when the Bucs feature three-receiver sets. In this scenario unfolds, the Cardinals will call on nickel CB Antrel Rolle, who has intercepted one pass this year.
Special Teams If this game comes down to field goals, Tampa Bay has to like its chances. Bucs kicker Matt Bryant has made 85.7 percent of his field goal tries this season. Cardinals K Neil Rackers hasn't been that accurate. In fact, he's made just 10-of-15 (66.7 percent) of his attempts this season. However, three of his misses came from 50-plus yards out. Arizona punter Mike Barr is averaging 41.7 yards per attempt and has a long of 61. Arizona's coverage units are suspect, which could bode well for Bucs return specialists Phillip Buchanon, Joey Galloway and Ike Hilliard. The Bucs are averaging 9.3 yards per punt return this season. Arizona return specialist Steve Breaston is averaging 22.5 yards per kickoff return and 11.2 yards per punt return. The Bucs special teams coverage units will be without their best player – Torrie Cox, who is out for the season with a knee injury. Tampa Bay can't afford to give Arizona's offense a short field to work with.
FLYNN'S FORECAST: Buccaneers 27 Cardinals 20
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