In preparation for this weeks exciting game we wanted to spend some time with one of the writers from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers site, Bucs Nation. Jason De La Torre was nice enough to answer a few of my questions and help me understand where the enemy is coming from.
Q1.The rise of Doug Martin has been obvious to everyone, but the fall of LeGarrette Blount is surprising. For a player who topped 1,000 rushing yards his rookie season and went over 1,000 total yards in 2011, what do you attribute to his lack of playing time, even with the drafting of Martin?
A1. While LeGarrette certainly has been a good running back in this league with a number of highlight plays - there were many holes in his game that just hasn't sat well with the new regime in Tampa Bay. He was never a student of the game, instead trying to play with instinct. While he has a big frame, he was always tentative while approaching the line of scrimmage and wasn't very good in short yardage situations. He's a terrible pass protector and is just average as a receiver. Originally, the Bucs envisioned using Martin as the primary ball carrier, getting the lead and letting Blount be the closer. Unfortunately, Blount struggled in that role as well and after fumbling late in a ballgame a few weeks ago, he's barely seeing the football field now. Part of that is Martin's emergence. Martin can run with power, speed and elusiveness, he's a solid blocker in pass pro and he is deadly as a receiver out of the backfield. He may not always run for 100 yds in a game (although he is the 4th leading rusher in the NFL) he will find a way to hurt you. He's third in the league with runs of 20 yds or more and he's also second in the NFL in total yards from scrimmage.
Q2. Josh Freeman really is under the radar this season despite having a season worthy of the Pro Bowl. He had a good season in 2010 but struggled in 2011, what do you attribute to his improvement (scheme, personnel, maturity, etc)?
A2. Josh has been very solid for Tampa Bay this season. A lot of it is the scheme that offensive coordinator Mike Sullivan, which takes advantage of his skillset as a big strong armed quarterback. The emergence of Martin and the arrival of Vincent Jackson has also contributed greatly to his success. Freeman can throw football deep with confidence that the throw will either be caught by his guy or go incomplete.
Q3. The Buccaneers secondary seems to have been depleted with the trading of corner Aqib Talib and the suspension of Eric Wright, how will the Bucs try and stop a quarterback like Peyton Manning from attacking the secondary deep?
A3. Lots of praying. Seriously though, its a very serious disadvantage for the Buccaneers. Their best defense against Manning may be their offense. If they can get Martin going and make some big plays in the passing game, they might be able to control time of possession and keep Manning off the field. While the Bucs defense can be scorched by the big play, Tampa Bay isn't completely inept in the secondary. In fact they're third in the NFL with interceptions with 16 (led by Ronde Barber's 4). They'll be hoping to steal some possessions with turnovers.Tampa Bay is +11 (compared to Denver's -3).
Q4. The Buccaneers have the #1 ranked rushing defense with only three games where they had 100 rushing yards allowed and are 6th ranked defense in terms of creating turnovers, do you attribute this to the maturity of young defensive players like Gerald McCoy or to the arrival of Bill Sheridan, or a mixture of factors? It's really the style of defense they are playing.
A4. The Bucs have ditched the Tampa Two (although you may see a bit more of it this week because of who they are playing) for an attacking aggressive style of defense. They blitz - A LOT which is part of the reason why their secondary gets torched so much. A lot of young players in the secondary left one-on-one with some of the best receivers in the league. But it also allows for a lot of tackles for loss in the running game (Tampa Bay leads the league in TFLs). I'd also add that 2nd round pick Lavonte David has been sensational this season and he is a dramatic upgrade over what the Bucs have had in previous seasons. He is a tackling machine.
Q5. When looking at the Broncos defense, what do you think the focus of the Buccaneers offensive gameplan will be?
A5. We can expect that job one for the Broncos defense would be to deal with Martin. With that, you're going to leave your secondary vulnerable to Vincent Jackson, Mike Williams, Dallas Clark and Tiquan Underwood. The Bucs will complete some deep passes against your defense - there hasn't been a defense that's prevented that this season. With that said, if the Broncos can get pressure on Freeman consistently (the Bucs patchwork offensive line has done a pretty good job at protecting him this season) it will limit his ability to wait for the longer routes to come open.
Q6. Looking at your roster, who do you feel are Pro Bowl worthy?
A6. On Offense: Doug Martin, Vincent Jackson and Josh Freeman.
On Defense: Lavonte David and Ronde Barber.
Special Teams: None
Bonus Question. Who wins and why?
A. As much as I'd like to play the homer card and say the Buccaneers, I just can't with good conscience do that. Manning is too good, the Broncos have a stout defense and they're playing at home. I think the Bucs will play hard and give Denver everything they can handle but in the end, I don't think they'll make enough plays on either side of of the ball to pull it out. I see Denver taking care of business, 30-20.
This looks to be an exciting game and the Bucs present one of the better teams the Broncos have faced this season. Personally I've been exciting for this game a while and I'm pretty excited and nervous, and considering how epic their last game against Atlanta was, this should be a good one.