The Buccaneers have had to hear all summer long that their week one opponent beat them on the road and knocked Tampa out of the playoffs. But now, as we sit a mere 23 hours away from round 2 and the kickoff of a new season, Tampa can focus on key matchups that if they can get the edge in, will be able to pull out a victory.
Here are five key matchups to watch Sunday when the Bucs open their season at home against the Detroit Lions.
1. LaGarrette Blount vs. The ‘Dis-Assembly Line’
Last season Blount was the surprise stud of the year. He rushed for over 1,000 yards and solidified a spot for himself in Cadillac Williams shoes. He continued that success when he ran against the Lions last December 19th. Blount went ten yards over 100 against Detroit scored a touchdown. He also continued his success of busting loose a huge run (his longest was a 39 yard romp). Lions fans have been ignorantly ignoring how many Buccaneers were absent last year, but a fact they’re also overlooking is who WAS there for Detroit. Blount busted 110 yards on Detroit with Ndamukong Suh on the line. However, Kyle Vanden Bosch wasn’t on the line and adds a variable to Sunday’s game. If LaGarrette Blount can repeat the success he had last year, it will open up the passing game for Josh Freeman to pick on all those Pro Bowl corners the Lions have on roster.
2. Josh Freeman vs. Lions Secondary
Josh Freeman is will without a doubt always be the ‘X-Factor’ for the Bucs. If he’s on, the Bucs chances of winning increase and if he’s not it’s as though they’ll be playing without their soul. Last season Freeman went 21/32 for 251 yards and one score against Detroit’s defense. This season the Bucs will look to double up on the chemistry Freeman and his receivers have and burn the Lions as first victims. Detroit only has two viable corners in Chris Houston and Eric Wright. Alphonso will most likely not play which drastically reduces the Lions talent in the secondary. Houston will be on Mike Williams and Wright on the second receiver but after that, not a lot of guys are left to cover the rest of Tampa’s weapons. Jim Schwartz may be forced to cover Kellen Winslow with a linebacker which may mean double coverage. If this happens Freeman can dump it off to Blount who has that many less defenders to immediately worry about. If all else fails, Freeman will have Sammie Stroughter, Dezmon Briscoe and/or Arrelious Benn in potential man-to-man situations. The Lions secondary isn’t good at all and if they do shut down Freeman, it’ll be a surprise.
3. Bucs Offensive Line vs. The “Dis-Assembly Line”
The question has been begged as to whether or not the Bucs have Josh Freeman properly protected. Davin Joseph and Jeremy Trueblood both signed fat offseason contracts to remain on the line but will they be enough? The scariest aspect of the Detroit Lions has been and will most likely be their defensive front which, when healthy, includes Ndamukong Suh, Kyle Vanden Bosch and Nick Fairly no to mention Cliff Avril. We’ve all seen what Ndamukong Suh has said “How do you do?” to quarterbacks; it’s not polite. Kyle Vanden Bosch can stuff the run and Avril can do both. Last season the Lions sacked Josh Freeman 3 times and hit him 6 times. the ‘Suh-per Man’ went sackless, but he was hungry for putting Freeman on the ground 2 times. Suh loves to maul quarterbacks and it’ll be his first chance since his Rookie of the Year season to get after one. If the Bucs line can’t stop him, it’s going to be a long day. Expect at least one sack out of Suh Sunday. That being said, if the Bucs O-Line spends too much time on Suh and forgets Vanden Bosch and Avril, things will get just as ugly. I don’t envy being a part of that O-Line come Sunday.
4. Aqib Talib vs. Calvin Johnson Jr.
Last season we didn’t see this matchup. Talib was gone at this point with his leg injury and we all know what Megatron Johnson did to E.J. Biggers. However this year we are treated to the matchup and it should prove to be one of the stronger storyline matchups of the day to follow. Johnson is trying to continue his success at not only running all over the Bucs, but of his reign as one of the NFL’s top wide receivers. Talib avoided suspension and is looking to not only rebound from the ugly offseason he had, but also continue his success as one of the NFL’s top flight corners. Talib had 6 interceptions at the time of his injury which led the team. It’s No. 1 vs No. 1 when Johnson and Talib go at it Sunday and it’s really hard to say who wins the matchup. Talib may give up one touchdown but that’s all I see him allowing. He’s a troubled character off the field but he has proven time and time again that once he sets foot on the field, the only trouble he causes is for the other team.
5. Bucs D-Line vs. Matthew Stafford
They’re both on common ground right now. Matthew Stafford is a guy who had injuries not marred his short career thus far, could be on the same level as Mark Sanchez and Josh Freeman. The Bucs D-Line is long since removed from the Sapp/Rice/McFarland years and are looking to return with more balance. Both go head to head Sunday and really only one will look good. Stafford, it seems, hasn’t gone a season opener in his NFL career with out giving Lions fans that heart stopping image of him grabbing his shoulder. The Bucs D-Line, it seems, can’t decide whether it wants to rush the passer or stop the run. With new additions Adrain Clayborn and Da-Quan Bowers via the Draft, the Bucs front finally looks like it’s solidified. At any given time the Bucs will have Gerald McCoy, Brian Price, Adrain Clayborn, Da’Quan Bowers, Roy Miller and/or Michael Bennett out on the field. Stafford has looked good all preseason, but the Lions are the New England Patriots, Green bay Packers and Pittsburgh Steelers all rolled into one when it come to winning Super Bowls in August. Before Stafford can be viewed as a real threat, he needs to prove it. Another X-Factor is Stafford has never played against the Bucs before and has only film of a depleted team last year to go off of. Stafford will try and fail on Sunday making maybe one or two major touchdown burns to Calvin Johnson. His other weapon, Jahvid Best, will run into a brick wall much like Frank Gore did last year against the Bucs when they shut out the 49ers. I’m not predicting a shut out, but I am predicting a difficult day for Stafford IF the Bucs D-Line plays as good as it looks and can be.