The 1-1 Tampa Bay Buccaneers earned their first NFC South win in two years with a 26-19 win at New Orleans and have a chance to win two road games in a row in Houston against the 0-2 Texans on Sunday. What are the six things PewterReport.com’s Scott Reynolds is looking for in Tampa Bay’s upcoming game? Find out right here in SR’s Pick 6.
Who: Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Houston Texans Where: NRG Stadium – Houston, Texas When: 1:00 p.m. ET – FOX Last meeting: 39-7 loss at Tampa Bay in 2011 Series notes: Texans have a 2-1 advantage over Bucs all-time
1. JACQ UP HOUSTON’s HURT OFFENSIVE LINE
Tampa Bay defensive end Jacquies Smith leads the NFL with four sacks through two games, including a career-high three in last week’s win at New Orleans. Smith also forced two fumbles and hurt quarterback Drew Brees’ shoulder. He and defensive tackle Gerald McCoy, who has a sack in each of Tampa Bay’s games this year, needs to wreck havoc again this week against an injury ravaged offensive line in Houston.
Smith could see time at right defensive end after playing left defensive end the first two games because the Texans are on their third left tackle. Starter Duane Brown has a broken thumb, and his replacement Jeff Adams, was lost for the season to a torn patellar tendon at Carolina. Oday Aboushi was signed this week and will likely get the start at left tackle. Starting left guard Xavier Su’a-Filo is still sidelined with a calf injury, which should allow McCoy and defensive tackles Clinton McDonald and Henry Melton to have their way. Advantage: Buccaneers
2. MAKE MALLETT BEAT YOU
Houston head coach Bill O’Brien named Brian Hoyer the starter for Week 1, but he got a quick hook after the Texans were ambushed at home, 27-20. Backup Ryan Mallett was named the starter for last week’s game at Carolina, which Houston lost, 24-17. The 6-foot-6, 245-pound Mallett has a strong arm and can make all the throws, but his problem is accuracy. He has a career completion percentage of 51.3 percent with four touchdowns and four interceptions, but has completed just 49.3 percent of his throws this year.
By taking away Houston’s running game, which is led by Chris Polk and Alfred Blue, the Bucs will force Mallett to beat them with his inaccurate arm. Tampa Bay is catching Houston at a good time, as Arian Foster will not play due to his groin injury. Expect the Bucs to have a safety in the box to form an eight-man front on obvious run downs to get Mallett into third-and-long situations where the Bucs should have the advantage. Advantage: Buccaneers
3. DON’T CLOWN AROUND WITH PASS PROTECTION
The Bucs will be focused on stopping Texans defensive end J.J. Watt, and rightly so considering he’s the NFL’s Defensive Player of the Year. Watt, who has three sacks this year, tied his career high with 20.5 sacks last year and will command extra attention whether he’s lined up against aging veteran right tackle Gosder Cherilus or rookie left tackle Donovan Smith. The Bucs simply cannot afford to leave him alone in one-on-one blocking, especially on passing plays.
But Tampa Bay can’t just concentrate on Watt and lose focus on Houston’s other pass rushers. Outside linebacker Jadeveon Clowney has tremendous pass rushing ability and is on the verge of breaking out after missing most of last year with a knee injury. Whitney Mercilus had 18 sacks in the first three years in the league and is no slouch, either. The best way to handle Houston’s pass rush is to use backs and tight ends to chip the edge rushers, get the ball out of Jameis Winton’s hand quickly and run the ball effectively to limit third-and-long situations. Advantage: Texans
4. BRAWL WITH BIG VINCE
New Tampa Bay center Joe Hawley will likely get his first start at center for Tampa Bay in place of the injured Evan Smith, who sprained his ankle last week at New Orleans. Hawley was able to step in and the offense didn’t miss a beat largely due to the fact that he spent three years in Dirk Koetter’s offense in Atlanta and the fact that he faced a familiar opponent in NFC South division rival in the Saints.
Hawley faces a much bigger task this week – literally and figuratively – in battling nose tackle Vince Wilfork. Hawley is an undersized center at 6-foot-3, 302 pounds, especially compared to Wilfork, who weighs in excess of 350 pounds. It may be difficult for the Bucs to run inside against Wilfork without double-teaming him. Either way, Hawley will have his hands full against the massive veteran. Advantage: Texans
5. BUCS SECONDARY MUST BE SECOND TO NONE
Tampa Bay’s secondary played a huge role in the team’s 26-19 win at New Orleans last week with forced fumbles by safety Chris Conte and cornerback Sterling Moore, an interception by Conte and a fumble recovery by safety D.J. Swearinger helping seal the Saints’ fate. Johnthan Banks, who has picked up where he left off from last year as a shutdown cornerback, also had great coverage and made a clutch tackle on New Orleans’ unsuccessful two-point conversion. The Bucs’ secondary will need to continue their ballhawking ways and outplay the Texans’ defensive backfield.
Veteran safeties Rahim Moore (four tackles, one interception) and Quintin Demps (13 tackles, half a sack) are solid players, and cornerbacks Johnathan Joseph and Kareem Jackson play with confidence and physicality. Cornerback Kevin Johnson, the Texans’ first-round pick, has shown great promise in coverage, too. Bucs rookie quarterback Jameis Winton will have to continue to be accurate and avoid interceptions because the Texans secondary is capable of making game-changing plays at any instant. That may be a tall order. Advantage: Texans
6. HAPPY HOMECOMING IN HOUSTON
With tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins sidelined for the Texans game with a shoulder injury, look for Koetter to get the ball to wide receiver Mike Evans with great regularity. Evans, a Houston native, missed the first game of the season due to a hamstring injury and was held to no catches last week at New Orleans. Look for Koetter have Winston get the ball to Evans early in the game so they can get some chemistry going with some quick outs or bubble screens.
If Tampa Bay can effectively run the ball, Winston should be able to connect with Evans a few times down the field for big plays on play action. Evans has yet to catch a pass from Winston in a game – preseason or regular season – and that has to change in a big way on Sunday in order for the Bucs to have a chance at another road upset. Look for Evans to have a big day in front of his family and friends in Texas. Advantage: Buccaneers
Scott Reynolds is in his 25th year of covering the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as the vice president, publisher and senior Bucs beat writer for PewterReport.com. Author of the popular SR's Fab 5 column on Fridays, Reynolds oversees web development and forges marketing partnerships for PewterReport.com in addition to his editorial duties. A graduate of Kansas State University in 1995, Reynolds spent six years giving back to the community as the defensive line coach for his sons' Pop Warner team, the South Pasco Predators. Reynolds can be reached at: email@example.com
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