TAMPA — When was the last time anything special on a national scale happened in Tampa that involved something Tampa? Not even the Bucs 2002 Super Bowl win was in Tampa, it was on the other side of the country in San Diego.
Check this for a peek at reality: the last time anything on a truly national scale involving Tampa teams was in 2008. In October, the Tampa Bay Rays played games one and two of the World Series at Tropicana Field and two months later the Bucs had a Monday Night Football game in Carolina.
This Monday all that changes as both teams are playing at home in big time games separated by mere hours. At 5pm the Rays will get under way with Game 3 of the American League Divisional Round of the MLB Playoffs. Right after that (while it’s the Rays game is still going on mind you) Tampa will host not only their first Monday Night Football game since 2003, but will do it in front of a sold out crowd on national television.
Now that I have that little geekdom out of the way, let’s get on to the game at hand: the Bucs hosting the Colts.
Last week we saw the Bucs actually put together a solid, four quarter performance against the Falcons. They had failed to show up for the first half of both the Lions and Vikings games which saw Tampa outscored 37-13 in the first half. If Donald Penn’s quote that Tampa doesn’t show up until 3:30 is true, Monday’s 8:30 start time will benefit them greatly.
Another thing that will benefit Tampa is the fact Peyton Manning will not be suiting up against them. Not even his back-up for hire Kerry Collins will be under center instead it will be something called Curtis Painter and his blonde lady locks taking the snaps for the 0-3 Colts.
It’s unfortunate for ESPN who thought, at the time of it’s scheduling, they had a golden matchup to pair Josh Freeman with Peyton Manning on a big scale. Instead the roles are reversed and it’s Tampa in the drivers seat and the Colts looking for their first win of 2011. I have to admit I thought this game would be one to sweat when I saw it on the schedule but the absence of Manning makes this a glorified Bucs-Dolphins game where no one outside the local markets really care.
However, that being said Tampa has been a repeat offender of losing gimme games like this Colts matchup. Need I remind us of the end of the Jon Gruden era?
This Bucs squad still has a lot to prove and the major win against the Falcons last week was a giant leap forward but not a final one. This Colts game will be another building block and although it may not be a challenge in the original context we had thought, but it will show if this team is really capable of being good or if last week was just a lucky fluke.
Last week Josh Freeman underwhelmed critics with his under 200 yard performance that saw him toss no touchdowns ( although he did rush the lone TD of the game). Freeman will be facing a much weaker secondary against the Colts who have been lit up in the previous three weeks. The Colts defense has been outscored 84-39 by the Texans, Browns and Steelers respectively. Not even Colt McCoy could be outplayed and held down by this defense so the feeling is that Josh Freeman could have his first huge statisical game of the year.
Another guy who is looking to breakout this year is Mike Williams who has done more blocking that catching this year. Two weeks ago in Minneapolis against the Vikings he had his best chance of 2011 to breakout and he went for negative yardage. Williams success has hindered on the success of an established run game and the lack of that in the previous three weeks as resulted in his productivity taking a dive in terms of stats. If LaGarrette Blount can break free (as it is and will be all season) Williams will see some action. The double coverage he has been getting isn’t helping but the emergence of tremendous slot receiver Preston Parker and tight ends Luke Stocker and Kellen Winslow will draw coverage away from Williams and free him up for deep balls.
The formula for the Bucs remains the same as it has been with Blount needing to establish himself to get the offense moving. The difference between the Bucs and all other teams who want to establish a run game is Tampa avoids becoming predictable due to their plethora of weapons. At any given time in the game, defenses will have to account for Mike Williams, LaGarrette Blount, Kellen Winslow, Luke Stocker, Preston Parker, Arrelious Benn, Earnest Graham and then Josh Freeman. It’s safe to say the Bucs are loaded.
The defense last week impressed many by stifling the Atlanta Falcons offense and all their weapons. They did allow Matt Ryan to have a nice day and allowed over 100 yards to two different receivers, but they kept both out of the endzone. The lone touchdown came one a blown coverage play that saw Tony Gonzalez score. This week the targets are plentiful but the passer is not who the Bucs were expecting (and to some extent wanting). Tampa will still have to account for Pierre Garcon, Anthony Gonzalez, Austin Collie, Dallas Clark and the always dangerous Reggie Wayne. However dangerous these targets are, their furry depends on who is throwing them ball and what’s a top 20 wideout without a quarterback? Monday the Bucs will find out whether their defense is truly for real.
Stopping Matt Ryan last week and shutting down Adrian Peterson in the second half of their game against the Vikings has really boosted this defense and given them confidence. The lack of Peyton Manning will still work out the secondary as those wideout targets for Indy are still top flight, but the task of having to stop Manning is absent.
Joesph Addai isn’t the runner he once looked like he could be but that doesn’t mean he will be a cake walk to stop. Tampa stopping Michael Turner last week was a good sign of what this defensive front can do, but more proof is needed. Stopping Addai, no matter how low on the running back chain he is, will be another necessary building block for the front.
Tampa stunned people who didn’t believe they were for real last Sunday by beating the Falcons to improve to 2-1 and sink the Dirty Birds to the bottom of the division with the likes of Carolina. The Bucs haters are still out there claiming the Falcons aren’t who we thought they were and that’s why Tampa won. The excuse of the Colts are just tanking and that’s why the Bucs won has to be circulating in the minds of critics and to an extent it’s not a completely fallible statement. It won’t be the true test that the Bucs were hoping for , but a win against the Colts is still a win and it would come at home (improving Tampa to 2-1 at the Ray J) and would be in front of a sold out crowd. If this win is nothing more than a win for only things the Bucs care about (like the sellout crowd) than so be it. Tampa will still be 3-1, they’ll still be at the top of the NFC South and they’ll still be in the serious hunt for a playoff spot. Haters beware, when Tampa gets good no one will be safe. This game may just be considered target practice for Tampa now, but they’re honing their sharp hooting skills for a run at the division title.
Prediction: Bucs 31, Colts 17