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OPPONENT: Indianapolis Colts
WHERE: RCA Dome in Indianapolis, Indiana
WHERE THE COLTS STAND: The Colts are 4-0 and in first place in the AFC South division.
COLTS HEAD COACH: Tony Dungy
COLTS OFFENSIVE COORDINATOR: Tom Moore
COLTS DEFENSIVE COORDINATOR: Ron Meeks
COLTS SPECIAL TEAMS COACH: Russ Purnell
TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS OFFENSE
OVERALL: 18th (325 ypg)
RUSHING: 8th (127 ypg)
PASSING: 24th (188 ypg)
TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS DEFENSE
OVERALL: 5th (292 ypg)
RUSHING: 20th (118 ypg)
PASSING: 6th (174 ypg)
INDIANAPOLIS COLTS OFFENSE
OVERALL: 3rd (404 ypg)
RUSHING: 7th (141 ypg)
PASSING: 6th (263 ypg)
INDIANAPOLIS COLTS DEFENSE
OVERALL: 11th (304 ypg)
RUSHING: 22nd (128 ypg)
PASSING: 7th (176 ypg)
DID YOU KNOW …
… the Colts are ranked tied for first in the NFL with a plus-7 turnover ratio?
SCOUTING THE COLTS
Tampa Bay’s defense will face arguably the NFL’s best quarterback when it takes the field in the RCA Dome on Sunday. Colts QB Peyton Manning is a two-time NFL MVP. He also helped the Colts win the Super Bowl last year and has his team, which is 4-0, positioned to repeat through the first quarter of the season. Manning is extremely accurate and has a strong arm. He's also known to make audibles at the line of scrimmage and run a no-huddle offense, which prevents the defense from substituting as needed. Manning makes great decisions and rarely makes a mistake with the football. Manning has completed 67.2 percent of his passes for 1,066 yards and tossed eight touchdowns and just one interception this season. Indianapolis’ offense is ranked third overall in the NFL. The Colts are averaged 404 yards of total offense and scoring 33 points per game. Manning is the main reason for this unit’s success, and Tampa Bay’s defense, which ranks 5th overall, must sustain a consistent pass rush, limit the Colts’ ground attack and come up with some turnovers in order to escape Indianapolis with a win on Sunday.
The Colts are converting nearly 49 percent of their third down attempts this season mainly because second-year running back Joseph Addai is giving his offense short down-and-distances to work with on third down. Addai, who is a tough runner and is quick to the hole, is the primary ball carrier in Indianapolis’ offense. He has carried the ball 84 times for 407 yards (4.8 avg.) and scored five touchdowns. Addai has decent hands, evidenced by his 11 receptions for 60 yards. Rookie Kenton Keith gives the Colts a change-of-pace back. The former CFL star has carried the ball 23 times for 134 yards (5.8 avg.). Tampa Bay’s defense ranks 20th against the run, but this stat is deceiving. The Bucs have done a good job of limiting the production of Saints RB Deuce McAllister, Rams RB Steven Jackson and Panthers RB DeShaun Foster by winning the battle in the trenches, swarming to the football and tacking well. That’s what this unit will need to do in order to make the Colts’ offense one dimensional, which in turn would increase the chances of Manning making mistakes through the air. The good news for the Bucs is Addai is not completely healthy heading into this game. He suffered shoulder and back injuries vs. Denver last Sunday and might not play vs. the Bucs.
Manning’s favorite target in the passing game is eight-time Pro Bowl WR Marvin Harrison, who has caught 17 passes for 231 yards and one touchdown this season. Harrison has good speed and is a tremendous route runner. The Bucs know all too well what Harrison is capable of doing on the football field. In 2003, Manning and Harrison took advantage of Bucs cornerback Brian Kelly’s absence by testing CB Tim Wansley. That strategy paid off as Harrison caught 11 passes for 176 yards and scored two touchdowns en route to scoring 28 points in the second half and defeating the Bucs in overtime on Monday Night Football, 38-35. Harrison suffered a bruised left knee vs. Denver did not finish the game last Sunday, which could bode well for Tampa Bay’s defense, which was without Kelly (groin) last week. If Kelly can’t play, the Bucs have a capable cover corner in Phillip Buchanon, who shut down Panthers speedy WR Steve Smith last Sunday. If Harrison can’t play, rookie WR Anthony Gonzalez would take his place. Gonzalez has six catches for 107 yards this season. Bucs four-time Pro Bowl CB Ronde Barber likely will spend a significant amount of time covering Colts WR Reggie Wayne, who leads his team in receptions with 21 for 307 yards and three touchdowns. It will be critical for Tampa Bay’s front seven to limit Indianapolis’ ground game. The Bucs need to leave safeties Jermaine Phillips and rookie Tanard Jackson back in coverage as much as possible as Manning likely will attempt to test Tampa Bay’s secondary deep a few times. Phillips and Bucs linebackers Cato June and Derrick Brooks will have to be on top of their game in terms of covering Colts tight end Dallas Clark, who is extremely athletic and capable of doing damage in the passing game, especially inside the red zone. Clark has 19 catches for 251 yards and four touchdowns this season.
Despite the loss of Pro Bowl left tackle Tarik Glenn, who abruptly retired during the offseason, Indianapolis’ offensive line remains a strength of offensive coordinator Tom Moore’s group. Rookie Tony Ugoh, who was a second-round pick in April, has been starting at left tackle for the Colts. He has been protecting the blind side of Manning, but the veteran quarterback releases the ball in a timely manner, which puts the rookie offensive lineman in favorable situations. Ugoh will face Bucs speed-rushing defensive ends Patrick Chukwurah and rookie Gaines Adams, who has yet to record his first career sack. The Colts are also strong in the middle, where Pro Bowl center Jeff Saturday anchors the offensive line and open plenty of holes for Addai and the running game. Saturday likely will help left guard Ryan Lilja double team Bucs nose tackle Chris Hovan, who was extremely disruptive vs. Carolina last Sunday. Under tackle Jovan Haye had one of his better games as a Buc vs. the Panthers, but he’ll have his work cut out for him vs. Colts right guard Jake Scott, who has been fairly consistent in the running and passing games. Indy right tackle Ryan Diem is a solid player, he’s had trouble staying healthy. The Bucs will have veteran defensive ends Greg Spires and Kevin Carter lining up opposite of the 320-pound Diem, who is more of a mauler whereas the rest of the offensive line is more athletic and undersized. Carter could also see some playing time at under tackle, and reserve defensive linemen Greg Peterson and Greg White could also see some playing time on passing downs. Manning has been sacked just three times this season. Tampa Bay’s defensive line has been inconsistent in terms of generating a pass rush, but it will need to get after Manning in order to slow down Indy’s potentially potent offense.
The matchup to watch in this contest will be the one between Colts three-time Pro Bowl defensive end Dwight Freeney and Bucs second-year left tackle Donald Penn, who will be making his first career start in place of Luke Petitgout, who is lost for the season due to a knee injury he suffered in Carolina last Sunday. Freeney is extremely quick off the line and has a series of pass-rushing moves that Penn must be prepared for. Freeney has 57.5 career sacks, but has notched just one quarterback takedown this season. Bad things could happen if Penn can’t hold off Freeney seeing as he will be responsible for protecting the blind side of quarterback Jeff Garcia. Bucs head coach Jon Gruden could leave a running back and/or tight end in to help Penn chip Freeney. He may also call plenty of bootlegs for Garcia in an effort to keep him away from Freeney. Bucs second-year right tackle Jeremy Trueblood must also help protect Garcia on passing downs. He will face Colts left end Robert Mathis, who has notched two sacks this season. Tampa Bay right guard Davin Joseph, center John Wade and left guard Arron Sears will be the key to the Bucs’ ability to run the ball vs. the Colts. The interior part of Indianapolis’ defensive line, which features defensive tackles Raheem Brock and Ed Johnson, is suspect. Indianapolis lost defensive tackle Anthony McFarland for the season in training camp. Tampa Bay’s ground game ranks 8th in the NFL and is producing 137 yards per game. However, it will be without RB Cadillac Williams, who suffered a season-ending knee injury last Sunday. The Bucs feel like they still can run the ball effectively with Michael Pittman and Earnest Graham, who are averaging 5.7 and 4.5 yards, respectively. Pittman and Graham must run the ball well in order to take some pressure off of Garcia and Tampa Bay’s offensive line on passing downs.
Indianapolis’ linebackers haven’t been consistent and have struggled to help defend the run this year. The Colts are surrendering 128 yards per game and allowing opposing offenses to convert 48 percent of their third down attempts. This unit also isn’t healthy as outside linebacker Freddy Keiaho, who has replaced Cato June on the weak side, suffered a sprained left knee vs. Denver last Sunday. Middle linebacker Garrett Brackett is considered one of the leaders of the defense. He possesses good speed and tackling ability. However, strongside linebacker Rob Morris is out for the year with a season-ending injury, which could prompt Garcia and Tampa Bay’s offense to get tight end Alex Smith involved in the passing game. Smith has caught 11 passes for 112 yards through four games. Garcia will also try to get wide receivers Joey Galloway or Ike Hilliard in some favorable one-on-one matchups with one of Indianapolis’ linebackers.
Colts cornerback Marlin Jackson leads the team in tackles, which is never a good thing for a defense. That means running backs and receivers are penetrating the second and third level of Indy’s defense. Jackson, a former first-round pick, has a quad injury entering this game, which could bode well for Bucs WR Ike Hilliard. Hilliard has emerged as a valuable weapon in Tampa Bay’s offense and is one of the main reasons why the Bucs are converting 39 percent of their third down tries this season. He has caught a team-leading 15 passes for 246 yards (16.4 avg.). Hilliard isn’t the fastest receiver in the NFL, but he does have the ability to get open and stretch the field because of his sharp route-running ability. Tampa Bay WR Joey Galloway was held to just one catch vs. Carolina last Sunday. But like Manning, Garcia faces the Tampa 2 defense each day in practice and knows how to attack it, so don’t be surprised if Garcia looks Galloway’s way more in this game. Galloway, who has hauled in 14 passes for 256 yards (18.3 avg.) and two touchdowns, will be matched up with Colts CB Kelvin Hayden, who has been inconsistent in pass coverage. However, Garcia must be aware of Colts strong safety Bob Sanders, who is a hard-hitting defender that is capable of covering receivers despite his 5-foot-8 frame. Indianapolis often times has to call on Sanders to play up near the line of scrimmage and leave free safety Antoine Bethea as the only extra defender in coverage. He is ranked third on the team in tackles and has 2.5 sacks. The good news for the Bucs is Sanders might not play in this contest due to a rib injury. If he does play, Garcia needs to make the Colts defense pay when Sanders plays near the line of scrimmage by going up top to Galloway or another receiver that has a one-on-one matchup. Sanders' absence likely would open things up for the Bucs running game as well.Â
The Colts have one of the league’s best kickers in Adam Vinatieri. He has a strong leg and is extremely accurate. Vinatieri has drilled 9-of-10 (90 percent) of his field goals this season. Indianapolis punter Hunter Smith is averaging 43.9 yards per attempt. However, Indy’s coverage teams haven’t been consistent, evidenced by Hunter’s net punting average of 29.1. Tampa Bay’s kickoff and punt coverage units have been outstanding over the past three weeks of the season. Kicker Matt Bryant has made 6-of-7 field goals and his kickoffs have been solid. Punter Josh Bidwell is averaging 42.5 yards per attempt with a net of 35.3. The Bucs’ coverage units have to be on top of their game Sunday as the Bucs can’t afford to give the Colts offense short fields to work with. T.J. Rushing is averaging 27 yards per kickoff return and just 7.2 yards per punt return for the Colts. Bucs return specialist Mark Jones needs to continue to have success as a punt returner as Tampa Bay’s offense could certainly use favorable field position in this contest. Jones is averaging an impressive 14.6 yards per return. Running back Earnest Graham handles kickoffs for the Bucs. He is averaging 22.5 yards per attempt.
FLYNN’S FORECAST: Colts 24 Buccaneers 21