The Buccaneers (3-9) take on the Buffalo Bills (4-8) and are trying to extend their winning streak to four games. What are the six things PewterReport.com publisher Scott Reynolds is looking for in Tampa Bay’s upcoming game?
1. RISE TO THE OCCASION IN PASS PROTECTION Tampa Bay’s offensive line has been overwhelmed in the last two games against stout pass-rushing teams. The Bucs gave up four sacks at Detroit and surrendered a season-high five sacks against Carolina as the offensive line played poorly in both contests and allowed quarterback Mike Glennon to be pressured too often. In order for the Bucs to win on Sunday against Buffalo, the offensive line needs to play the best game of the season and keep Glennon upright.
Buffalo leads the NFL in sacks with 43, led by defensive end Mario Williams, who is third in the league with 12. But stopping Williams is not all Tampa Bay has to contend with. Defensive lineman Marcell Dareus has six sacks, reserve defensive end Jerry Hughes has eight sacks as a pass-rushing specialist, and linebacker Manny Lawson has three sacks, while rookie linebacker Kiko Alonso has two, to go along with four interceptions. Simply put, the Bills have a number of players that can get to the quarterback on any play.
Tampa Bay will try to combat those players and the multiple looks that Buffalo presents on defense with tight ends and running backs to help pass protect. But when the Bucs want to dial up a big pass play and send four or five eligible receivers out into routes, the offensive line will have to do a much better job in man blocking and prevent Glennon from getting pressured or sacked.
2. MAKE GOOD USE OF THE QUICK PASSING GAMEBecause Buffalo’s pass rush is so dangerous, this may not be the game for Mike Glennon to stand in the pocket on a five- or seven-step drop and launch bombs down the field to Vincent Jackson or Tiquan Underwood. Instead, Glennon, whose accuracy over the past five games is close to 70 percent, will have to be accurate on short, rhythm passes from a three-step drop because he’s not going to have time to hang in the pocket and allow routes to develop downfield.
Offensive coordinator Mike Sullivan needs to help Glennon out by incorporating some screen passes against Buffalo to take advantage of the Bills’ pass rush. Whether it is a screen pass to running back Bobby Rainey or a middle screen to tight end Tim Wright, the Bucs must keep Buffalo off balance and make the Bills pay for sending too many defenders at Glennon.
Jackson, Underwood and Wright also need to a do a good job of puncturing the Bills defense by catching the ball, breaking tackles and getting yards after catch. Buffalo’s style of defense could lend itself to giving up big plays if Glennon is on target with his passes and Tampa Bay’s receivers can get vertical quickly and turn short passes into long gains. 3. WIN THE BATTLE OF TWO DIMENSIONSThe offensive game plans of both Buffalo and Tampa Bay are eerily similar. Both teams have rookie quarterbacks that like to throw deep balls, and both offenses need to establish a strong running game to take pressure off the QB and create a balanced attack. The defensive game plan for the Bills and the Bucs will be to try to make the opposing offense one-dimensional by taking away the run and forcing a rookie quarterback to try to beat them.
The winner of Sunday’s game will likely be the team that remains two-dimensional and balanced throughout the contest. If Tampa Bay’s defense can take away the running game by winning the line of scrimmage on first and second down and tackling much better than it did a week ago at Carolina it will significantly increase the Bucs’ chances of winning. Tampa Bay’s offense can help the defense by jumping out to an early double-digit lead and forcing Buffalo to have to throw the ball to catch up.
4. BE WARY OF BUFFALO’S SCREEN GAMEBuffalo has a two-headed monster at running back with Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller. Jackson is a physical brute that is tough to bring down, and has rushed for 633 yards and seven touchdowns on 152 carries (4.2 avg.). Spiller is a smaller, fast back that has rushed for 656 yards on 138 carries (4.8 avg.) and two touchdowns with a long of 77 yards. In addition to trying to stop the Bills rushers, the Bucs must also be wary of their receiving ability out of the backfield.
Tampa Bay has been susceptible to getting hit by screen passes by its opponents this season, and must be wary of Buffalo trying to take advantage of the Bucs’ aggressive attempts to get to E.J. Manuel. Jackson has 37 catches for 293 yards (7.9 avg.) and a touchdown this season, and does a good job of reading his blocks. While Spiller only has 23 catches for 104 yards, he had a 66-yard catch last year, which showed how dangerous he can be with the ball in his hands in the open field.
5. MAKE MANUEL LOOK LIKE A ROOKIEMike Glennon isn’t the only rookie quarterback that is having a successful initial season in the NFL. Buffalo’s E.J. Manuel, a first-round pick, has also had a nice year after shaking off an early-season knee injury. Manuel has thrown nine touchdowns and just four interceptions. He’s thrown four touchdowns and rushed for another score in the past three games, while only throwing one interceptions.
Tampa Bay needs to pressure Manuel and make him look like a rookie. He’s been sacked 17 times in eight games and has also fumbled four times this season – twice in the pocket, and twice as a runner. The Bucs need a big game from defensive tackle Gerald McCoy, who had his worst game of the season last week in Carolina. McCoy and the defensive line need to not only sack the rookie quarterback, but also pressure Manuel into making mistakes and create turnovers.
6. FEED THE HOME CROWDTampa Bay head coach Greg Schiano said he regretfully left some tricks in the bag against Carolina in last week’s 27-6 loss to the Panthers. He needs to empty his bag of tricks this week in a game that could very well decide whether he stays in Tampa Bay for the 2014 season or not.
The Bucs’ best win of the season was a 41-28 victory over Atlanta in which the Bucs attempted a halfback pass, a fake field goal pass, blocked a punt and recovered a surprise onside kick. Schiano and his coordinators need to get creative and pull out all of the stops against the Bills. When the Bucs attempted those stunts against the Falcons the home crowd loved it and it created an amped environment that the players used to give them some added momentum.
Scott Reynolds is in his 23rd 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 enjoys 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 protected]
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