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BUCS’ OPPONENT: Oakland Raiders

WHERE: McAfee Coliseum

SPREAD: Raiders by 3

WHERE THE RAIDERS STAND: The Raiders are 1-1 and tied with the Denver Broncos and San Diego Chargers for first place in the AFC West Division.





OVERALL: 30th (220 ypg)
RUSHING: 30th (61 ypg)
PASSING: 26th (159 ypg)

OVERALL: 3rd (236.5 ypg)
RUSHING: 14th (111 ypg)
PASSING: 2nd (125.5 ypg)

OVERALL: 18th (315.5 ypg)
RUSHING: 29th (67 ypg)
PASSING: 7th (248.5 ypg)

OVERALL: 4th (240 ypg)
RUSHING: 7th (87 ypg)
PASSING: 5th (153 ypg)

…Bucs head coach Jon Gruden, general manager Bruce Allen, running back Charlie Garner, guard Matt Stinchcomb, wide receiver Tim Brown, tight end Rickey Dudley, assistant to head coach — football operations Paul Kelly and general counsel Roxanne Kosarzyski all previously worked for the Oakland Raiders organization?

Tampa Bay’s defense dominated Oakland’s offense when these two teams met in the Super Bowl two years ago, but the Raiders aren’t running the West Coast offense anymore. Instead, they’re running head coach Norv Turner’s offense, which features a pass-oriented attack that attempts to stretch the field with some deep balls.

The Bucs will, however, face the same quarterback in Rich Gannon, who is still attempting to digest Turner’s system. Gannon, who is coming off a sub-par 2003 season where he completed just 55.6 percent of his passes, has completed 60.9 percent of his pass attempts for 514 yards and has tossed three touchdowns and two interceptions through two regular season games.

Oakland’s revamped offensive line is having some trouble protecting Gannon, who has been sacked five times in two games. Gannon still has some escapability in the pocket, but he’s not as mobile as he once was due to age. In Super Bowl XXXVII, the Bucs defense showed that pressuring Gannon can produce some good results. Defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin’s troops sacked Gannon five times and intercepted him five times. Three of those picks were returned for touchdowns. The good news for the Bucs is three of the four starting defensive linemen (defensive ends Simeon Rice and Greg Spires, and nose tackle Chartric Darby) that played against Gannon in the Super Bowl will line up in trenches on Sunday night. Gannon and the Raiders are converting 44.8 percent of their third down attempts through two games this season.

The Raiders are still attempting to get their ground game going, evidenced by the fact that they’re averaging just 61 yards rushing per game this season. Raiders running back Tyrone Wheatley has rushed 21 times for 45 yards (2.1 avg.). Turner rotates his backs on occasion, but neither Justin Fargas nor Amos Zereoue have been productive, which has made Turner’s offense one dimensional.

Gannon still has some dangerous targets in the passing game. Wide receiver Jerry Rice is being de-emphasized while younger WRs Jerry Porter, Ronald Curry and Doug Gabriel get more reps. Porter leads to team in receptions with seven for 89 yards. Curry has been impressive, catching six passes for 101 yards (16.8 avg.) and one touchdown. Both players have the speed to stretch the field. Tight end Doug Jolley is also one of Gannon’s favorite targets. He has caught five passes for 50 yards.

Oakland’s defense finished last season ranked 30th overall, which is why the team went out and hired defensive coordinator Rob Ryan and added several new players to his 3-4, or as Tampa Bay head coach Jon Gruden calls it, a 5-2 defensive scheme.

The Raiders used free agency to find players that could thrive in Ryan’s system. Former New England nose tackle Ted Washington and former Tampa Bay defensive tackle Warren Sapp were signed. Washington’s 6-foot-5, 365-pound frame makes him a load in the middle of Oakland’s defense. He’s at his best against the run, which would explain why the Raiders defense is allowing just 87 yards rushing per game.

Sapp is actually playing left defensive end in Ryan’s system. By lining up as an end as opposed to a tackle, Sapp receives more one-on-one matchups and can better utilize the speed and athleticism that helped him notch 77 sacks in Tampa Bay. Sapp will line up against Bucs right tackle Todd Stuessie, who is familiar with No. 99 from his playing days in Minnesota and Carolina. The Raiders right defensive end, Tyler Brayton, leads the team in sacks with 2.5 and will go up against Bucs left tackle Derrick Deese, who has struggled in his first two games in red and pewter.

Ryan’s defense will blitz Tampa Bay quarterback Brad Johnson early and often in this contest. Outside LB DeLawrence Grant has notched two sacks and inside LB Danny Clark has recorded one of his own. Tampa Bay’s offensive line has had trouble protecting its quarterbacks, which could present some problems for head coach Jon Gruden’s offense. The Bucs have allowed nine sacks (ranked 32nd in the league) this season while the Raiders defense leads the league in sacks with nine. To make matters worse, Oakland sacked Buffalo QB Drew Bledsoe seven times last week. Like Bledsoe, Johnson isn’t immobile and needs time to find open receivers.

Oakland’s secondary features one of the NFL’s best cornerbacks in Charles Woodson, who notched three interceptions last season and could be asked to blitz off the corner in this contest. After Woodson, the secondary is suspect. Right CB Phillip Buchanon is talented, but he lacks consistency. Safeties David Terrell and Ray Buchanan, who has one pick this season, are liabilities when Oakland’s linebacker blitzes are picked up.

Gruden has had some of his better playcalling outings against 3-4 defenses. Last season, the Bucs put up an average of 384 yards of total offense and QB Brad Johnson completed 67-of-100 (67 percent) pass attempts for 775 yards and tossed six touchdowns and four interceptions in three contests vs. 3-4 defenses (Atlanta twice and Houston once). But that was when Gruden and Johnson had a healthy and productive set of wide receivers. The good news for the Raiders is former Raider and current Bucs WR Tim Brown has had trouble getting off the line of scrimmage, and injuries, along with Keenan McCardell’s holdout, have depleted the rest of this group.

Although Oakland is allowing opponents to convert 40 percent of their third down attempts, it’s so far so good for Ryan, whose defense is currently ranked 4th overall and is allowing opponents to produce just 240 yards of total offense per contest this season. Ryan is hoping to extend Tampa Bay’s streak of not scoring an offensive touchdown to three games.

Oakland has two solid players in punter Shane Lechler and kicker Sebastian Janikowski.

Lechler averaged 46.9 yards per punt and pinned 27 of his attempts inside the 20-yard line last season. This season, Lechler is averaging a whopping 47.6 yards per punt.

Janikowski has one of the strongest legs in the NFL. He has drilled 4-of-4 field goal attempts this season and made 22-of-25 (88 percent) of his tries last year.

The Raiders have a dangerous kick returner in rookie WR Carlos Francis, who is averaging 20.3 yards per return and is capable of taking one back for a score each time he fields the ball. Cornerback Phillip Buchanon will field punts for the Raiders in this game. He’s averaging 14 yards per return. Tampa Bay special teams coach Richard Bisaccia has his group of players playing outstanding football through two weeks of the regular season. The Bucs could use some help from kicker return Frank Murphy in terms of giving the offense good field position to work with or maybe even a score.

You can probably stick a fork in the Tampa Bay Buccaneers if they fail to score an offensive touchdown for the third consecutive week. Scoring against Oakland’s defense won’t be easy, especially with this contest being played in “The Black Hole”, but I like Bucs head coach Jon Gruden’s chances of having his offense move the ball against a 3-4 (5-2) defense simply because of his track record for success against this type of scheme. The problem is Raiders defensive coordinator Rob Ryan’s players are a lot more talented than the ones that were playing in Atlanta and Houston’s schemes.

As poorly as Tampa Bay’s offense has played through two games, both contests were decided by one score. I expect the same to happen this time around, but the result will fall in the Bucs’ favor because they will score at least one offensive touchdown while either the defense or special teams creates the other. That will be the difference in this game.

Call me crazy, but I call it a hunch.

FLYNN’S PICK: Bucs 17 Raiders 10
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