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OPPONENT: Houston Texans
WHERE: Reliant Stadium in Houston, Texas
WHERE THE TEXANS STAND: The Texans are 5-7 and in last place in the AFC South division. TEXANS HEAD COACH: Gary Kubiak TEXANS OFFENSIVE COORDINATOR: Mike Sherman TEXANS DEFENSIVE COORDINATOR: Richard Smith TEXANS SPECIAL TEAMS COACH: Joe Marciano
TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS OFFENSE OVERALL: 19th (325 ypg) RUSHING: 12th (120 ypg) PASSING: 17th (205 ypg)
TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS DEFENSE OVERALL: 4th (291 ypg) RUSHING: 16th (106 ypg) PASSING: 4th (186 ypg)
DID YOU KNOW … … Houston ranks 31st in the NFL with a minus-10 turnover ratio through 12 regular season games?
SCOUTING THE TEXANS
Quarterbacks After spending the first year of head coach Gary Kubiak's tenure in Houston learning his West Coast offensive system, the Texans offense is executing it quite well this season, evidenced by the fact that they rank No. 8 overall and are averaging 344 yards per game.
Kubiak prefers to move the ball via the passing game, where the Texans rank 6th in the league, but that strategy could change Sunday since the Texans likely will be without starting quarterback Matt Schaub, who is nursing a separated shoulder he sustained last Sunday in Tennessee.
Schaub had completed 66.4 percent of his passes for 2,241 yards and tossed nine touchdowns and nine interceptions before the injury occurred.
He likely will be replaced by seventh-year QB Sage Rosenfels, who has completed 78-of-123 (63.4 percent) of his passes for 914 yards and thrown eight touchdowns and seven interceptions this year.
Rosenfels, who is more mobile than Schaub, will have some talented receivers to throw to in the passing game, but Schaub's injury and absence likely will prompt the Texans to run the ball early and often against the Buccaneers.
Running Backs With former Green Bay running back Ahman Green sidelined with a knee injury, the Texans have leaned on Ron Dayne in the running game.
Dayne, a former first-round pick with the New York Giants, has carried the ball 155 times for 601 yards (3.9 avg.) and three touchdowns. While he's not a real threat to break off a huge chunk of yardage, Dayne's 5-foot-10, 245-pound frame makes it difficult for opposing defenses to bring him down. He isn't a huge threat in the passing game, but Dayne has hauled in 14 passes for 93 yards.
Containing Dayne and limiting Houston's production on first and second down will be critical for Tampa Bay's fourth-ranked defense. Houston is converting 42 percent of its third down attempts this season.
Wide Receivers One of the reasons why Schaub and Rosenfels have been so successful via the passing game in terms of producing big yardage is because of the talented players they have to throw to.
Houston's biggest receiving threat is wide receiver Andre Johnson. His numbers wouldn't suggest he's Houston's primary target on passing downs, but that's because he missed several games earlier in the season due to injury. However, Johnson (6-3, 219) is back, evidenced by his nine catches for 116 yards and one touchdown last week vs. the Titans. Johnson has caught 32 passes for 535 yards (16.7 avg.) and five touchdowns this season.
Johnson has an impressive combination of size and speed and will be tough for Bucs cornerback Ronde Barber to defend. However, Barber has made several key plays over the past three games, recovering a fumble and returning it for a touchdown vs. Atlanta, intercepting a pass vs. Washington and recording a sack vs. New Orleans. Barber could make the Texans pay for throwing to Johnson to often.
Texans WR Kevin Walter (6-3, 214) became Houston's primary receiver when Johnson was out. He has caught 53 passes for 652 yards and two touchdowns. Walter will be matched up with Bucs CB Phillip Buchanon, who gave up two big plays to the Saints last week but has played fairly well throughout the season.
Houston's offense features quite a few three-receiver sets. Texans WR Andre' Davis (6-1, 195) usually gets the nod as the No. 3 receiver in those situations. He has caught 32 passes for 535 yards and three touchdowns. The Bucs likely will use CB Brian Kelly as their nickel cornerback in those situations. He has been playing better each week since missing a significant amount of playing time earlier in the season with a groin ailment.
Tampa Bay linebackers Derrick Brooks and Cato June and safeties Jermaine Phillips and Tanard Jackson will have to account for Houston tight end Owen Daniels (6-3, 246), who leads the Texans in receptions with 54 for 666 yards and one touchdown.
Daniels will also help block at the line of scrimmage. It will be critical for Tampa Bay's defense to limit Houston's production via the ground game with its front seven. That will allow the Bucs to keep Phillips and Jackson back in coverage to help cover Daniels, Johnson and Walter, each of whom are dangerous when left in one-on-one situations.
Offensive Line Houston's roster has been depleted by a rash of injuries. In fact, the Texans have a league-high 15 players on injured reserve, including center Steve McKinney and most recently right guard Fred Weary, who is headed on IR with a knee injury.
This unit isn't opening up a lot of holes in the running game, but it has done a decent job of protecting the quarterback, evidenced by the 18 sacks the Texans have surrendered through 12 games.
Wearly, a 10th-year veteran, likely will be replaced by rookie Kasey Studdard, who entered the league as a sixth-round pick in April. He and center Mike Flanagan (6-5, 301) probably will double-team Bucs under tackle Jovan Haye, who recovered the fumble that led to Tampa Bay's game-winning touchdown in New Orleans last week.
Bucs nose tackle Chris Hovan, who normally fields double teams from the center and guard, could see some one-on-one matchups vs. left guard Chester Pitts (6-3, 320) since the Texans might not be comfortable leaving Studdard (6-3, 310) alone vs. Haye.
Texans left tackle Ephraim Salaam (6-7, 300) will be responsible for protecting the blind side of Rosenfels. He will go up against several players in the Bucs' rotation, including Greg White, who leads the team in sacks with 5.5 sacks and Patrick Chukwurah.
Bucs rookie defensive end Gaines Adams has notched 4.5 sacks and is seeing more and more playing time at left end in place of injured DE Greg Spires. Veteran DE Kevin Carter also plays on the left side, but Adams is really starting to come on as a pass rusher and likely will see the majority of playing time against Texans right tackle Eric Winston (6-7, 310), a former third-round draft pick.
Defensive Line With the exception of second-year defensive end Mario Williams, this unit has performed very poorly this season, especially against the run, where the Texans are surrendering 122 yards via the ground per game.
Williams (6-7, 291), the No. 1 overall pick in the 2006 NFL Draft, has come a long way since his rookie campaign. He leads the team in sacks with eight and has forced two fumbles this year. Bucs left tackle Donald Penn is better as a pass blocker than he is as a run blocker, but he'll have his work cut out for him against a dangerous pass rusher like Williams.
Houston first-round pick Amobi Okoye mans the Texans' under tackle spot in their 4-3 defensive scheme. Okoye (6-2, 302) is quick, but he's also considered undersized and has had trouble holding up against the run. Okoye, who has recorded five sacks and one forced fumble, will be matched up with Bucs second-year right guard Davin Joseph, who is also a first-round pick and has had mixed outings this season.
The Texans rely heavily on Williams and Okoye to generate a pass rush as neither left end Anthony Weaver (6-3, 280) nor nose tackle Travis Johnson (6-3, 305) have recorded a sack this season. Weaver will go up against Bucs right tackle Jeremy Trueblood, who should be able to open up some running lanes for running back Earnest Graham off the strong side. Graham needs to average just 66 yards per game to eclipse the 1,000-yard mark on the season.
Bucs center John Wade and rookie left guard Arron Sears likely will spend a significant amount of time double teaming Texans nose tackle Travis Johnson (6-3, 305). The Bucs will also use Sears to pull on running plays as he's excelled in this area throughout the year.
There's a good chance Bucs head coach Jon Gruden will give Graham, who is averaging 4.2 yards per carry and has scored seven touchdowns, a heavy dose of carries against Houston's suspect run defense.
Linebackers Houston's defense features one of the league's best middle linebackers in DeMeco Ryans. A second-year player, Ryans (6-2, 236) has a nice combination of size and speed and he's one heck of an athlete. Ryans currently leads the Texans in tackles and has notched two sacks and one interception.
Tampa Bay could have some success running the ball along the perimeter against Houston. Strongside linebacker Danny Clark (6-2, 245) and weakside linebacker Morlon Greenwood (6-0, 238) each have notched one interception on the season, and Greenwood currently ranks second on the team in total tackles.
Clark has good size, but not great speed, which could prompt the Bucs to get tight end Alex Smith, who has caught 22 passes for 238 yards and three touchdowns, involved in the passing game on Sunday.
Secondary Houston's secondary is not playing at full strength this season. Cornerback Dunta Robinson and strongside Glenn Earl are on injured reserve with their respective injuries.
Bucs wide receiver Joey Galloway is coming off an impressive game vs. the Saints and will go up against Texans cornerback Fred Bennett. It is unclear whether Jeff Garcia will return to the starting lineup or if Luke McCown will start in his place at quarterback for the second straight week, but whoever the signal caller is must be careful when throwing the ball Galloway's way as Bennett leads the team in interceptions (three) and passes defensed.
Bucs WR Ike Hilliard has been battling an ankle injury this year, which is why he's cooled off a bit since his hot start to the season. However, Hilliard still is a solid route runner and reliable target in the passing game. He'll be matched up with Texans CB Demarcus Faggins, who still is looking for his first interception in 2007.
Tampa Bay likely will continue to work Michael Clayton and Maurice Stovall in at the No. 3 receiver spot. Texans CB Jamar Fletcher will get on the field when the Bucs opt to feature three-receiver sets.
The Texans have had to play strong safety C.C. Brown near the line of scrimmage due to their front seven's inability to stop the run on a consistent basis. If Brown and free safety Will Demps have to play near or inside the box, Galloway and Hilliard should find themselves in some favorable one-on-one matchups in the passing game.
The Texans are allowing opposing offenses to convert 42 percent of their third down attempts this season.
Special Teams Kris Brown is one of the league's most accurate field goal kickers. He has made 24-of-27 (88.9 percent) of his attempts this season, including 5-of-5 from 50-plus yards out. The Bucs could have Michael Clayton return kicks again for the second straight week. If not, Michael Spurlock could be activated to handle those duties.
Texans punter Matt Turk is averaging 41.9 yards per attempt. He's pinned 14 of his 41 attempts inside the 20-yard line. The Bucs' punt return game has struggled since losing Mark Jones (knee) for the season. They will continue to use Phillip Buchanon, Ike Hiliard and possibly Joey Galloway to field punts.
Tampa Bay punter Josh Bidwell is having an outstanding season. He will be punting to Texans PR Jacoby Jones, who is averaging 10.2 yards per attempt.
Bucs kicker Matt Bryant will not have to worry about kicking to dangerous return specialist Jerome Mathis, who is on injured reserve. The Texans have Dexter Wynn, who is averaging 23.8 yards per attempt, filling in for Mathis.
FLYNN'S FORECAST: Buccaneers 24 Texans 13
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