TAMPA — The joke has entered it’s second week and it’s as unfunny as they play of the Buccaneers. Last week the Bucs were sloppy, unorganized and lost a big time game that would have made them a legitimate threat to win the NFC South.
Now their in danger of finishing the way they did last year: a good team that just needs to get better.
This would mean, like last year, the Bucs aren’t a playoff team and unlike last year, will have made zero progress as a unit. That can all change a little bit for the better on Sunday when Tamp a squares off against the Texans. Houston is surging team in the AFC but much like the Bucs, they can at any random time, lose themselves. They just tend to lose themselves to really good teams like Baltimore, New Orleans and Oakland.
But the Bucs can make a real statement here because it’s the second game in a tough three game stretch that will define their season. Last season they had a 10 win season that largely included wins against inferior teams not just to Tampa but to the league. This year Tampa has lost four games to playoff caliber units and won two games against teams not going anywhere. Worth mentioning is that the two wins against the Vikings and Colts were games Tampa had to come back in.
But what makes the Bucs hard to figure out is the fact they won games against the Saints and Falcons. This team is still trying to find an
identity and as the season enters double digits, now is the time to get it together.
Broken record alert: the key to winning Sunday is getting Josh Freeman to make smart plays and have the passing game opened up by the running game. That’s what I’d normally say but this weeks it’s the reverse.
Victory may be approached in many ways Sunday however. The Texans boast one of the NFL’s best defenses; ranking in the top five against pass and run. The key will be to confuse the Texans with an actual gameplan. This means LeGarrette Blount carries the ball, busts up the line and the Freeman drops back to pass. Seems predictible but if you try both right away you can’t lose.
By this, if you fail in the run and the pass, continuing to do it will be just as confusing as when you first did it. It’s called wearing down a defense. The Texans have corners that play tight man coverage. If the Bucs receivers can get separation then big plays will be there to be made. This will put the Texans on pass alert and pressure will be applied to Freeman to break up his rhythm. This is when LeGarrette Blount Force Trauma takes charge and pounds the pressure right back at the Texans.
Play aggressive. Tampa needs to play very aggressive to get anywhere against a Texans defense that prides themselves on that very thing.
But the trouble in this is Freeman. He’s been very inconsistent lately and very trigger happy. He zings passes into spots he thinks he can fit them and only finds out he can’t when the guy wearing the other colors has the ball. If Freeman tries to force the big plays into happening bad things will follow. Look back at when things worked for the Bucs against the Saints. Freeman wasn’t forcing passes, he was letting the play develop then reacting to it. This is in stark contrast to when Freeman tries to rush a play into development to get a step on the defense. It’s a nice thought but it’s almost always poorly executed; chiefly because it’s rushed and his intelligence doesn’t have time to assess the situation and come up with the best solution.
If Freeman can calm down and return to being a leader who makes informed and educated decisions, then the Bucs will have the best chance of winning. If he plays sloppy again and can’t get a rhythm going — well we have all seen the result of that scenario.
The Bucs have had a pretty interesting season defensively. Much like the offense they’ve been so up and down if you’re not sea sick by now you must be living in Tampa where the games are always blacked out.
That’s the upside of the blackout, you are only told the terrible things that are happening you don’t have to witness them first hand.
But the Bucs defense is going to look to avoid being the butt of jokes and return itself to a unit that has a chance to win. They are the real X-factor Sunday. They are a young unit that is facing a not so easy offense. It’s not the Saints or the Packers by any stretch, but anytime you’re facing a top 5 rusher you’re day won’t be a cake walk.
Speaking of cake and fat things: Albert Haynesworth was claimed off waivers by the Bucs and looks to do some restoring of his own in Tampa, the restoring of his reputation as an actual good football player. Forgive me for not being sold on Haynesworth, because nobody is. But with Gerald McCoy out for the season and the Bucs hurting in the middle of the line, especially against the run, they have little to lose in adding a player like Haynesworth who was once actually a pretty good defensive tackle, albeit for one and a half years.
The Bucs face Arian Foster this week and he’s proven me wrong in being a one year wonder. He’s not quite ‘the real deal’ yet but he’s a top five rusher and that’s not something to ever take lightly. Foster is a speed guy who knows how to find holes and make teams pay for not plugging them. After games for this Bucs line against the 49ers, Bears and Saints you have to believe Foster is salivating over the prospect of running at them Sunday.
But he’s the only real threat. Andre Johnson, a guy who when the game was announced struck fear into Bucs Nation, won’t be playing. Owen Daniels is hardly a deep threat and Jacoby Jones and Kevin Walter aren’t going to kill you with Matt Schaub pitching. However, that doesn’t mean the secondary can play laxed defense.
The Texans passing game and the ability to stop it will be a weakness the Bucs can take advantage of. They won’t be able to bring eight in the box right away but there may come a point when they can for a play or two. Foster will get yardage, this defense has shown nothing to make anyone think otherwise. But ponder this: Adrian Peterson, the best back in football, went 120 yards on the Bucs but the defense still won. They won by exploiting a terrible passing game and taking advantage of the opportunities it brought about.
That can be a strategy to consider Sunday. The Texans are much better then the Vikings, but the passing game being inferior to the running game can be used against them the very same way. It won’t be easy but the Bucs can stop the Texans and should if they play tight football.
The Bucs don’t have an easy task ahead of them. The Texans are the second of three consecutive first place teams the Bucs will be playing. Being in third place in the division, the pressure is on the Bucs not to slip up. New Orleans and Atlanta are doing battle Sunday which opens up a chance for the Bucs to get back in it should Atlanta win. Even if the Falcons lose, Tampa can’t afford to fall behind them anymore then they are now. It’s a win/win for the Bucs in that game, but the catch is Tampa needs to themselves win first.
The Texans are a running team without Andre Johnson and they’re damn good at it. They rank third in running and have two backs to kill you with, the other being Ben Tate. Tampa will need to plug the holes and fill the running lanes much like they did against Adrian Peterson in the second week of the season.
This is a winnable game for the Bucs but they need to play air-tight football to win. They need to play air-tight not just to win, but because that’s how elite teams play. Yeah the Packers are a pretty boarderline defense sometimes, but that offense is as tight as tight gets and Tampa needs both sides of the ball to play that way from here on out .They don’t have the slack or the team that others have that allows mistakes, those points are gone. Tampa needs to not make stupid decisions like they did last week and need to show the critics and the rest of the NFC that the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are down and not out. It’s a home game, it’s a big game and it’s a must-win game for the Buccaneers. Now all they need to do is go out there and make it official.
Prediction: Bucs 31, Texans 28