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Enemy Intelligence: Last week’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers game

A belated Happy Thanksgiving to all our readers. Due to the holidays, no Q&A this week and this’ll be a slightly less detailed EI than normal.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are coming off a 35-26 road loss to the Green Bay Packers. The Packers went up 14-0 and 21-10 in the first half, but the Bucs twice cut the deficit to two points in the fourth quarter. The Packers scored a game-clinching touchdown with 2:55 to play, though, and hung on for the nine point victory.

What I saw from Tampa Bay that game, and the others of theirs I’ve seen, after the jump.

  • Josh Freeman: eh third year. I thought he’d really turned a corner last year, but as Greg Cosell likes to note, a lot of his success last year came on improvisation after the protection broke down, and that tends to be highly inconsistent.
  • Wideout Mike Williams is Freeman’s top target, but he’s having a very mediocre sophomore season. I thought he could be a star, but this year he looks more like a plus version of the Bengals’ Jerome Simpson. The other wideouts are just guys and don’t scare me.
  • The big storyline for the Bucs’ offense is LeGarrette Blount. I’m one of the few people who was fine with the Titans cutting Blount. He’s improved some as a back, running more like 2010 Chris Johnson than 2011 Chris Johnson in terms of decisiveness. When he gets a head of steam going, he can run with good power; see a 54-yard touchdown run against the Packers last week where he got 5 yards downfield untouched and ran through a bunch of arm tackles. Vision is still mediocre, and he doesn’t play in obvious passing situations.
  • The other pseudo-homecoming is obviously Albert Haynesworth. Fortunately, from what I saw he looked like Albert c. 2006 instead of Albert c. 2008: capable of dominating one or two blockers on any particular play, capable of getting dominated the next play. Yes, he apparently still is the designated fake injury guy.
  • I’ve been impressed with the year rookie DE Adrian Clayborn is having. I don’t think he’s a dynamic edge rusher, but like Iowa Hawkeye teammate Karl Klug, he has good hands for a rookie.
  • FO numbers have the Bucs as a poor pass defense (30th in the NFL), but they held Rodgers to his worst day of the year (still pretty good). I’m not sure from TV coverage exactly what they were doing downfield. At corner, Ronde Barber is still out there and kicking. I’d just assume he knows the Titans’ offense better than the non-Washington receivers. Aqib Talib is the other starter at corner; he’s a dynamic guy who’s a headcase off the field and I think a little inconsistent at actually playing cornerback. The third guy, who started when Talib was on suspension but is playing nickel now, is E.J. Biggers, who’s a battler with decent height.
  • I’ve liked Sean Jones as a safety for most of his career, but he needs a better range player next to him at FS than Corey Lynch. The Titans didn’t really take advantage of the Falcons’ safeties, but I think this is another chance for Jared Cook to have a good game. The wild card is Tanard Jackson, who’s questionable with a hamstring injury. If he’s active and isn’t too limited by the hamstring, he’s a big upgrade.
  • Tampa has had a revolving door at linebacker, primarily because none of the guys is that good. I’d have been happy to see MLB Mason Foster in two-tone blue, but he’s still making mistakes due to inexperience, and the other guys are just guys.
  • Oh, yeah, Kellen Winslow Jr. is on this team. Remember when he was a ridiculous matchup threat and a top six pick in the draft? That feels like a long time ago. I don’t see him as a difference-maker in the passing game, though he does present a matchup threat on the occasions they flex him outside. He dropped a two-point conversion that would’ve tied the game at 21 early in the fourth quarter.
  • The DTs gave Packers RG Josh Sitton, who was really good last year but has been much more average this year, some real troubles. Will they do the same to Jake Scott? I’m worried about this, particularly if Stewart is out.
  • I probably should’ve taped the Texans game as well. Though that wasn’t a particularly competitive game, I found it difficult to evaluate TB against the Packers with an eye to what they do against the Titans. The Packers defensively run a lot of 2 DL sets and are much softer against the pass than they were last year, while defensively the Bucs spent a lot more time in nickel and dime than I expect them to against the Titans. There’s a much broader range of uncertainty in my mind about the Buccaneers than normally is when I do one of these writeups.

My best guess, the Bucs feel like a thoroughly average team, neither great nor exceptionally poor in any particular area. Subjectively, the Vegas line of Titans by three feels about a point or two too high. This is a game the Titans can win, but overall I think the Bucs have a higher top-end than the Titans do. Defensively, I’d look to force Josh Freeman to execute consistently from inside the pocket more than I look to hurry him. I’m not too worried about Blount running up and down the field; he’ll get some yards, but I doubt he’ll be a sustaining force. Defensively, I think you scheme for ways to attack the middle of the field and the linebackers specifically. In a regular offense, I might suggest shallow crossing routes. For the Titans, well, they’ll throw short passes to the wide receivers between the numbers anyway, and hope they can force a defender to miss. That, I like less, but whatever.