Welcome to the final week of regular season football. It's a sad day, with college football wrapping up and the end in sight for the NFL. Tomorrow, the Bucs will face elimination from playoff contention and the Saints will be looking to secure the top seed in the NFC (need a win and Falcons loss). As we have pointed out here many times, the Bucs get in with a win and both a Packers and Giants loss (not probably, but certainly possible). The great news is, this game means something. Not only are we still clinging to playoff dreams, but we are not playing a team who could be starting Chase Daniel at Quarterback. I hate to use the cliche, but this game will have a playoff atmosphere.
If the Bucs do not win this game, they will finish with 9 wins and carry the moniker into next season as the team who could not beat an above .500 team. I'd rather get that monkey off our back so that the Four-Letter will not over-use the moniker into next season. If the Packers and/or the Giants win, this game still has meaning for the Buccaneers. It would be great to carry a 10 win season into next year and ride the momentum of a win into the offseason.
In their last meeting, Week 6, the Bucs got embarrassed at home 31-6. For me, it was their worst overall performance of the season. Even against Pittsburgh, the Bucs had some real positives. Against New Orleans the defense gave up 7.4 Yards per Play (6.6 run, 8.2 Pass). The gave up 9/12 3rd down opportunities and 27 total first downs (none by penalty). While Talib was having an all-pro season before his injury, this was easily a game he wants back. On two scores, they ran wheel routes on him deep. Not to mitigate his mistakes, but I believe he went into the game with the mentality of watching Brees to pick him off. Both touchdowns he gave up looked as if he lost his position on the receiver because his head was in the backfield. Against the run, the Bucs gave up 158 yards to a virtual unknown. Before that game I scoffed at the notion that Chris Ivory could do anything against our defense. I was mistaken. While the Saints ran at every player, their success came against Ryan Simms, Crowder, Price and Miller, the obvious weakness of the DL. To say we are a different defense is an understatement. 5 Players on that starting defense have been placed on IR. We improved greatly over the year, but it's difficult to predict how the defense may respond to an offense at the caliber of New Orleans with this many injuries.
On offense, the Bucs managed absolutely nothing on the ground. The Bucs scored only in garbage time. Freeman threw the ball over 40 times, probably because we trailed the entire game. Since then, the Bucs have found a running game in LeGarrett Blount with Williams playing the #2 role nicely. Though the offensive line is a shadow of what it was in Week 6 with Jeff Faine and Davin Joesph out and James Lee starting over Jeremy Trueblood. The passing game has also found a fantastic rhythm. Mike Williams is a star in the making and SHOULD (though probably won't) win OROY. Kellen Winslow has done everything asked of him, though taking a slightly smaller role in the offense. For the first time since K2 has arrived in Tampa, I don't have any complaints about his blocking. Benn was (though now injured) starting to find his niche and other receivers have complemented the offense nicely when asked to do so.
Tomorrow won't look the same as it did earlier. The Bucs will want to keep Lynch and Jones deep to prevent any big plays, that ultimately killed us last time. I'm worried about our depth in the secondary in this game. Biggers will be tasked with defending Lance Moore and Robert Meachem, and the Bucs will have to use more than 4 DB's too often. Seeing Mack or Lewis on the field at this point, concerns me. Neither have the abilities/technique to defend at this level. Not to mention Mack abysmal tackling skills. Do you go with Hayward to at SAM to prevent against the run or throw young and inexperienced (though talented) Dekoda Watson into the mix to add speed to the front 7. Likely, Watson will get the start with a healthy dose of Adam Hayward. I also think you will see Blount early. The Bucs would like to run against New Orleans, though they bottled up Turner last week. In order for the Bucs to be successful, Mike Williams and Kellen Winslow will also need to find holes in the defense, something TonyG and Roddy White were unable to do last week.
If the Bucs DO win, they will be watching the later games with angst.
Drew Brees: 300 Yards, 3 TD's, 0 INT
Josh Freeman: 225, 1 TD, 1INT
Blount: 75 Yards, 1 TD
Mike Williams: 60 Yards, 1 TD
Winslow: 45 Yards, 0TD
Score: New Orleans 27 Tampa Bay 17.