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BUCS’ OPPONENT: Seattle Seahawks

WHERE: Raymond James Stadium

SPREAD: Seahawks by 3

WHERE THE SEAHAWKS STAND: The Seahawks are 1-0 and tied with the St. Louis Rams for first place in the NFC West Division.









…Bucs head coach Jon Gruden worked under then-Packers and current Seahawks head coach Mike Holmgren as a wide receivers coach from 1992-94? Gruden also worked with Seattle defensive coordinator Ray Rhodes in Green Bay and as Rhodes’ offensive coordinator in Philadelphia from 1995-97.

Seattle’s offense is led by tailback Shaun Alexander, who is coming off an impressive Week 1 performance against the New Orleans Saints. The 5-foot-11, 225-pound Alexander rushed 28 times for 135 yards (4.8 avg.) and scored three touchdowns. Last week was obviously no fluke, evidenced by Alexander’s 1,435 yards rushing (4.4 avg.) and 14 touchdowns in 2003.

Tampa Bay’s defense allowed Washington RB Clinton Portis to rush for 148 yards on 29 carries (5.1 avg.) last Sunday. Since 2000, the Bucs are 0-16 when an opposing feature back carries the ball 24 or more times against them, and you can bet Alexander, who has been limited in practice this week due to a knee bruise, will receive plenty of touches if he’s healthy enough to play in this game. If Alexander can’t go, backup RB Maurice Morris will start in his place.

What makes Seattle’s version of the West Coast offense so potent is the fact that the Seahawks have a strong running and passing game. Quarterback Matt Hasselbeck really took his game to another level while leading the Seahawks to the playoffs last season. He completed 61 percent of his passes for 3,841 yards and tossed 26 touchdowns and 15 interceptions in 2003, and he got off to a good start this season by completing 19 of 29 passes (65.6 percent) for 246 yards and tossing one touchdown and one interception. Hasselbeck isn’t a scrambler, but he’s quick enough feet to buy himself time to throw both inside and outside of the pocket, which will make it even more important for Tampa Bay’s defensive line, which was held without a sack in Washington last week, to get to Hasselbeck on Sunday.

One of the reasons Hasselbeck can be so effective in the passing game is because of Seattle’s receiving corps, which feature Darrell Jackson, Koren Robinson and Bobby Engram. These three receivers combined for 185 receptions, 2,670 receiving yards and 19 touchdowns, and played a big role in helping the Seahawks move the chains on offense (completed a league-high 46.8 percent of their third downs) last season. The only knock on the three talented receivers is they tend to drop passes. The Bucs defense, which features three capable cornerbacks in Ronde Barber, Brian Kelly and Mario Edwards, are hoping that will be the case on Sunday. Even if that’s not the case, Tampa Bay defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin going up against Jon Gruden’s version of the West Coast offense every day during the offseason and training camp will payoff against Seattle head coach Mike Holmgren’s similar style of offense, which finished the 2004 season ranked 6th overall.

In addition to those three receivers, the Seahawks also have two capable pass-catching tight ends in Itula Mill and Jeremey Stevens. The team also has a solid blocking fullback in Mack Strong, who rushed 37 times for 137 yards (4.7 avg.) and caught 29 passes for 216 yards last season.

Seattle’s offense figures to be even better this season since it has all 11 starters from last season back for its 2004 campaign. That includes its starting offensive line, which has Pro Bowl left tackle Walter Jones. Bucs right defensive end Simeon Rice will need to win this battle in the trenches in order to get pressure on Hasselbeck early and often.

Seattle’s defense finished the 2003 season ranked 19th overall. Although the Seahawks went out and added some players to this group via free agency and the draft, its secondary is still suspect.

Although Seattle’s defense only allowed New Orleans to convert 3 of 13 (23 percent) of its third down attempts last Sunday, Saints quarterback Aaron Brooks passed for 223 yards against Seahawks, and some believe Tampa Bay’s best chance of moving the chains Sunday will be in the passing game since the Seahawks’ secondary features two second-year starters in cornerback Marcus Trufant and free safety Ken Hamlin.

Seattle’s best defensive player won’t be playing against Tampa Bay. Weakside linebacker Chad Brown, who notched 86 tackles and a team-high seven sacks last season, suffered a broke leg in preseason. That means backup LB Isaiah Kacyvenski will be playing in his place. The bad news for the Bucs is the Seahawks defense will still have strongside LB Anthony Simmons, who makes an already fast Seahawks defense even faster. He recorded 100 tackles, three sacks and three interceptions last season.

Tampa Bay’s offensive line struggled against Washington last week, mostly because of a plethora of blitz packages thrown the Bucs’ way. Seattle’s linebackers and defensive backs are capable of blitzing effectively, and with defensive tackle Rashad Moore and left end Chike Okeafor on the injury report, Seahawks defensive coordinator Ray Rhodes may choose to gamble by sending some blitzes in an effort to get pressure on Bucs quarterback Brad Johnson. Former St. Louis Rams DE Grant Wistrom, who recorded 7.5 sacks in 2003, and rookie DT Marcus Tubbs, who weighs in at 320 pounds, will give the Seahawks a chance of penetrating the Bucs’ offensive backfield.

Seattle has dangerous return men in wide receiver Bobby Engram and Maurice Morris. Engram handles punts for the Seahawks and averaged 10.3 yards per return and had a 83-yard touchdown return last season.

Morris averaged 21.4 yards per kickoff return in 2003. His longest was a 56-yarder.

Seahawks punter Tom Rouen has a decent leg. He averaged 41.2 yards per attempt and pinned 29 of his kicks inside the 20-yard line last season. He might not be the best kicker in the league, but Josh Brown is certainly serviceable. He made 22 of 30 (73.3 percent) attempts and had a long of 58 last season. However, his depth on his kickoffs isn’t the greatest nor is his accuracy on field goal attempts from beyond 40 yards out. That means Bucs kicker returner Frank Murphy, who averaged 31.3 yards per return against the Redskins, should be able to get the offense good starting field position.

Seattle’s offense is too explosive for Tampa Bay’s offense to go without scoring any touchdowns this week. That said, Bucs head coach Jon Gruden must find a way to get his group of players to score early in this contest. Accomplishing this feat will keep the crowd at Raymond James Stadium in the game, not to mention the confidence it will give the offensive players.

Believe it or not, the Bucs have a couple of things going for them. First, Seahawks running back Shaun Alexander isn’t completely healthy going into this game, which could have a negative impact on Seattle’s potentially potent offensive attack. Second, the hot and humid temperatures on Sunday could take a toll on the Seattle players, who will likely be sporting their dark blue jerseys in this contest. Of course, the long journey from Seattle to Tampa won’t help the Seahawks, either. Seattle was just 2-6 on the road last season.

It would be hard to imagine the Bucs starting the season 0-2, and it’s definitely difficult to imagine the offense playing any worse than it did against the Redskins. That said, I’m going to go out on a very thin limb and pick the Bucs in this one, not because they’re the better team, but because they simply need the win more than the 1-0 Seahawks do.

FLYNN’S PICK: Buccaneers 17 Seahawks 14
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