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OPPONENT: Tennessee Titans
WHERE: Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Fla.
WHERE THE TITANS STAND: The Titans are 3-1 and tied with Jacksonville for second place in the AFC South division. Â TITANS HEAD COACH: Jeff Fisher
TITANS OFFENSIVE COORDINATOR: Norm Chow TITANS DEFENSIVE COORDINATOR: Jim Schwartz
TITANS SPECIAL TEAMS COACH: Marty Galbraith
TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS OFFENSE OVERALL: 25th (293 ypg) RUSHING: 15th (113 ypg) PASSING: 26th (183 ypg)
TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS DEFENSE OVERALL: 12th (313 ypg) RUSHING: 22nd (124 ypg) PASSING: 9th (189 ypg)
DID YOU KNOW … … the Titans are 2-0 on the road and 2-0 against NFC teams in 2007?
SCOUTING THE TITANS
Quarterbacks The good news for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers is they won't be facing quarterback Peyton Manning this Sunday. The bad news is Tennessee's signal caller, second-year quarterback Vince Young, is fairly accurate and extremely athletic and quick. The 6-foot-5, 233-pound Young has Daunte Culpepper's size and accuracy and Michael Vick's mobility, which makes him a valuable weapon in Norm Chow's offense. Young has completed 62 percent of his passes for 583 yards and tossed three touchdowns and five interceptions through four games. He has rushed 29 times for 123 yards (4.2 avg.) and one score. The Bucs defense, which is coming off of a poor performance vs. the Colts, will need to be assignment sound and sharp in terms of tackling in order to limit Young's production in this contest.Â Bucs defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin should be able to disguise Tampa Bay's defensive coverages in an effort to force Young to make mistakes with the football. The second-year quarterback and former top 10 draft pick threw three interceptions against Atlanta last Sunday.
Running Backs Tennessee doesn't want to rely on Young's arm to move the ball on Tampa Bay's defense. Instead, the Titans likely will rely on ground game, which is ranked 4th overall in the NFL and led by LenDale White and Chris Brown. White (6-1, 235) and Brown (6-3, 220) are power runners and tough to bring down. Tampa Bay's undersized defense cannot afford to allow Tennessee to keep the chains moving, especially in hot and humid Tampa. One of the main reasons why the Titans are converting a whopping 48 percent of their third downs this year is because White and Brown have been extremely productive on first and second down. Brown has rushed for 274 yards (5.3 avg.) and White has rushed for 212 yards (3.4 avg.). They have combined for three touchdowns. Neither player is considered a serious threat as a receiver out of the backfield, but Brown does have eight catches for 30 yards. Ahmard Hall can also pack a punch as a lead-blocking fullback in the running game. The Titans essentially have a three-back set with Brown, White and Young. They often times call running plays for Young out of the shotgun formation and could even feature some option plays, which worked well for Atlanta in Week 2 of the 2006 season when the Falcons rushed for over 300 yards against the Bucs. Tampa Bay will have to play much better against the run in this contest than it did vs. Indianapolis if it plans to limit Tennessee's offensive production.
Wide Receivers Young doesn't have a lot to work with at receiver. Titans WR Eric Moulds has caught nine passes for 73 yards (8.1 avg.). He's 34 years old and clearly past his prime. However, Tampa Bay cornerback Brian Kelly's groin injury continues to linger, which means nickel CB Phillip Buchanon could make his third straight start. Buchanon has some familiarity with Moulds from their brief time playing together in Houston during the 2006 season and certainly has the speed to keep up with the veteran receiver at this point in their respective careers. Bucs four-time Pro Bowl CB Ronde Barber will be matched up with Titans WR Brandon Jones, who has hauled in a team-leading passes for 172 yards (13.2 avg.) and one touchdown. Jones is considered an up-and-coming receiver in the NFL, but Barber has the cover skills and experience to limit Jones, who is in his third NFL season. Bo Scaife is a reliable pass-catching tight end. He has caught seven passes for 55 yards and one touchdown. But Scaife is inconsistent as a run blocker, which bodes well for the Bucs.
Offensive Line The leader along Tennessee's offensive line is center Kevin Mawae, who is in his 14th season and made a name for himself with the New York Jets. Mawae is a solid run blocker and athletic enough to pull along the line. Michael Roos is a third-year left tackle that excels in pass protection, which is a plus since he's responsible for protecting Young's blindside. Roos will face Bucs right ends Patrick Chukwurah and Gaines Adams. Neither player has generated a good enough pass rush this season, but they have played fairly well against the run. Titans left guard Jacob Bell isn't that strong, but he's very athletic. Bell likely will work with Mawae to double team Bucs nose tackle Chris Hovan. The Titans actually prefer to run Brown and White up the middle or to the right side behind Mawae, right guard Benji Olson and right tackle David Stewart. Olson, a 10th-year veteran, will be responsible for holding off starting under tackle Jovan Haye and reserve defensive linemen Kevin Carter and Greg White (if White is healthy enough to play in this game). The 6-foot-7, 318-pound Roos is a tough run blocker and will be a handful for Bucs left end Greg Spires and Carter. The Titans offensive line has done a fairly good job of protecting Young, who has been sacked just four times in four games. This unit is definitely at its best on the ground, though, where the Titans are averaging 153 yards per game. This will be an extremely physical football game, and one that could be won in the trenches.Â
Defensive Line What a difference a year makes. Tennessee's defense finished the 2006 season ranked 30th against the run. This season, the Titans rank fifth in total defense and 3rd against the run, allowing an average of just 72 yards on he ground per game. The resurgence of nose tackle Albert Haynesworth has a lot to do with Tennessee's improved play against the run. The 6-foot-6, 320-pound Haynesworth is in a contract year and is making a habit of being disruptive in the trenches. While pass-rushing isn't his specialty, Haynesworth does have one quarterback takedown through four games. He also has three passes defensed. The Bucs likely will have to ask center John Wade and rookie left guard Arron Sears to double team Haynesworth in this contest, but even that might not be enough manpower. Haynesworth's improved play has freed up the players around him to make plays. Defensive tackle Tony Brown (6-3, 285) is undersized, but he's quick off the ball and can get after the passer. Bucs second-year right guard Davin Joseph must play better in pass protection and hold off Brown. The player that has reaped the most benefits of Haynesworth's presence along the line is left end Kyle Vanden Bosch, who has notched two sacks in four games. He will go up against Bucs second-year right tackle Jeremy Trueblood, who has arguably been Tampa Bay's most consistent offensive lineman through the first five games of the year. Donald Penn will be making just his second career start at left tackle for the Bucs, and he'll be charged with holding off Titans right end Antwan Odom, who is tied with Vanden Bosch for the team lead in sacks with two. With Cadillac Williams and Michael Pittman sidelined with their respective injuries, the Bucs will have to rely on Earnest Graham, rookie Kenneth Darby the newly acquired Zack Crockett and possibly fullback B.J. Askew to run the ball, which isn't ideal seeing as neither Graham nor Darby has a career start in the NFL. That said, look for Bucs head coach Jon Gruden to put the ball in quarterback Jeff Garcia's hands early and use the passing game to help open up the ground attack.
Linebackers Tennessee's linebacking corps, which consists of LOLB David Thorton, MLB Ryan Fowler and ROLB Keith Bullock, has played fairly well against the run, but this group of quick playmakers might be even better in pass coverage. Bullock has three interceptions this season while Bullock has one pick and one forced fumble. Fowler has turned out to be a valuable addition in free agency thanks to his run-stuffing ability. Garcia, who has yet to throw an interception as a Buccaneer, will have to be careful throwing the ball in the short-to-intermediate part of the field due to the Titans linebackers' ability to play the ball so well on passing downs.
Secondary It's hard for some believe Tennessee's defense is ranked in the top five without former first-round pick, cornerback Adam "Pacman" Jones, but that's a credit to defensive-minded head coach Jeff Fisher, who recently received a contract extension. With Jones serving a one-year suspension from the NFL, the Titans have replaced him with former Indianapolis Colts CB Nick Harper. Tennessee plays a lot of man coverage, which could bode well for Bucs wide receiver Joey Galloway. Galloway, who has hauled in 18 passes for 306 yards and two touchdowns, has the speed to beat Harper in one-on-one matchups, but as long as Tennessee's front seven continues to play well against the run the Titans can leave safeties Chris Hope and Calvin Lowry back in coverage. The Titans will also have to account for WR Ike Hilliard, who actually leads the Bucs in receptions with 23 for 304 yards. However, Hilliard has been hindered a bit by an ankle injury and might not play. That could prompt the Bucs to play former first-round pick Michael Clayton or second-year WR Maurice Stovall against Titans CB Cortland Finnegan, who has one interception and leads the team in passes defensed with six. Teams have passed the ball with some success against the Titans, evidenced by the fact that their two starting cornerbacks rank second and third on the team in total tackles. Expect Garcia to come out passing the ball early and often against the Titans, who are allowing 204 yards passing per game and opposing offenses to convert 39 percent of their third down attempts.
Special Teams Although Cortland Finnegan is listed as Tennessee's primary return specialist on the team's depth chart, rookie defensive back Michael Griffith and running back Chris Davis have been handling the kickoff and punt return duties, respectively. Griffin is averaging 25.8 yards per kickoff return and has a long of 49. Davis is averaging an impressive 11.3 yards per punt return and has a long of 28. Tampa Bay's special teams coverage units had played well until last Sunday in Indianapolis. This unit must return to form as Tennessee's offense could benefit from having a short field to work with. Titans kicker Rob Bironas has made 7-of-9 (77.8 percent) of his field goals, and both of his misses have come inside of 50 yards. His long is just 40 yards. Josh Miller handles the punting duties for the Titans. He is averaging just 40.3 yards per punt and has an average net of 33.3. Bucs punt and kickoff returner Mark Jones, who is averaging 14.6 and 29.9 yards per return, respectively, will need to help establish favorable starting field position for Tampa Bay's offense, which is facing a stellar Tennessee defense. FLYNN'S FORECAST: Buccaneers 20Â Titans 10
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