Today is the day that the Buccaneers will face off against the Arizona Cardinals at University of Phoenix Stadium in what Fox has dubbed “the other 4 o’clock game.” If you live in Tampa, you may actually get a chance to see this one as the Bucs are on the road and blackout restrictions will not be in place.
Can the Buccaneers back up the brash words of their head coach, Raheem Morris, who professed to have the best team in the NFC earlier this week? The next two weekends these Bucs will travel to Arizona and Atlanta, if they can pull out wins in both places (and move to 6-2) then you really will hear the NFL start to legitimately ponder the Bucs place atop the NFC, not just mock the idea. Even I’m skeptical right now. But fortunately, none of what the media, the fans or even the much-maligned blog world believe matters. It matters what these Bucs believe. This team is young, but they’re quickly building a degree of confidence in themselves that’s necessary to win in this league.
Today in Arizona the Bucs need to play a smart game, focus on ball control and defensively they need to make rookie QB Max Hall beat them. Let’s take a closer look…
Bucs Offense vs. Cardinals Defense
According to Scott Allen from Raising ‘Zona (Fansided’s Cardinals blog) the Arizona defense has looked the best it’s looked in the past few years over the last two games. Personally, I just don’t see how you can make that sort of proclamation when you dropped your last game to the Seahawks. I also find it hard to believe that the Cards Superbowl team (with Karlos Dansby and Antrel Rolle on it) wasn’t a stronger unit.
Looking at the numbers, this is a defense that high-powered offenses can really exploit. Twice this year a team has gone for 41 against the Cardinals defense. The Buccaneers may not be at the point of having an elite offense quite yet, but it’s Halloween, maybe today they can dress up like one. It all starts on the ground, the Cardinals are 27th in yards allowed, 29th in rushing yards allowed (and 28th in points allowed). Chances are when a corner (Greg Toler) leads your team in tackles you’re not playing the run well.
The Bucs bring a banged up offensive line into this game but they should still be able to get something going behind LeGarrette Blount. If Tampa Bay can establish a strong running ground it will open up their entire offense. Josh Freeman will be able to use the play-fake effectively for the first time all season, the receivers should see some man-to-man and the Bucs may actually have a chance to have a banner day offensively.
So far this year fast starts have eluded the Buccaneers. Today it’s going to be integral to their success that the Bucs jump out to an early lead. It’s not often the Bucs come into a game with a quarterback who without question is the best in the game, but Freeman is a lot better than Arizona QB Max Hall, who has been pressed into starting duty as a rookie. If Tampa can jump out by a couple scores it will force Hall to beat them. That starts on the offensive side of the ball by taking advantage of a struggling defense.
Bucs Defense vs. Cardinals Offense
If the Bucs were going to pick a game to find a pass-rush, now would be a good time. Current Cardinals linebacker Joey Porter once said of facing a young quarterback, that you throw the kitchen sink at the kid. Hopefully he shared that insight with Max Hall, though I’m sure Hall realized it the moment he took his first snap.
If the Bucs can overcome their pass-rushing deficiencies and pressure Max Hall, they’ll be in a very good position. Hall is inexperienced, has a career passer rating just a hair over 46 and has yet to throw a touchdown pass. The Bucs would be crazy not to pin their ears back and come after him. For Arizona they’re going to need to run the ball with some level of proficiency in order to keep the Bucs from coming after Hall too hard.
Fortunately for Bucs fans Arizona is one of the few teams that’s been even worse running the ball than the Buccaneers have. The Cardinals offense is last in yards gained and 29th in points scored. Here’s the problem though, after the first snap stats don’t really matter. Arizona is still a team with some players that can really hurt the Bucs if they’re not careful. Larry Fitzgerald comes to mind first, he’s the type of player that doesn’t need to be open or even on a good offense to be productive. Tampa is going to need to lock Aqib Talib on him all day and probably double him from time to time. If one receiver beats Tampa, they need to make extra sure it won’t be Fitzgerald.
This is the type of game that’s frustrating because on paper Tampa really should win it. But it’s going to come down to being disciplined, maintaining your responsibilities and not trying to make too much happen at once. This is the type of game a young, upcoming team needs to win. And they need to do in a way that builds their confidence. Next week is going to be a different type of test, the Bucs will need to play up to the level of a top-tier team on the road. This weekend the Bucs need to take care of business and win a game they ought to.
I think the Bucs win a close one. Hopefully Josh Freeman doesn’t have to bail the Bucs out after a bad half but I think this one will ultimately end up closer than it should be.
Buccaneers 21 Cardinals 20