TAMPA, FL - SEPTEMBER 25: Quarterback Josh Freeman #5 of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers releases a pass against the Atlanta Falcons September 25, 2011 at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida. (Photo by Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images)
Here are my three key matchups for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on offense.
Davin Joseph vs Drake Nevis
Drake Nevis is just a rookie defensive tackle for the Indianapolis Colts, but he has been playing very well, especially against the run. The Bucs will want to establish the run, but they need to create some room inside to do so. In steps Davin Joseph, who has had a terrific start to the season.
Joseph is a powerful drive blocker and a good but not great pass blocker. He was rewarded with a big contract extension this offseason, and has actually justified that with his play thus far this season. Josh Freeman has not had to deal with much interior pressure this season, while the running game has functioned well in spurts, especially to the right side. Most impressively, Joseph shut down Ndamukong Suh against the Detroit Lions. For the Bucs to have success he needs to do that again, this time against unheralded rookie Drake Nevis.
Josh Freeman vs the Tampa 2
Another week and another team that runs the Tampa 2. And this time, the Bucs really need to shred it to bits. It can be done. If you're willing to take what the defense gives you and throw some balls into tight holes you can destroy that defense.
But in recent weeks, Josh Freeman has struggled to do that. He has not looked very comfortable in the pocket, even when it's clean. Last week he wasn't as accurate as he needed to be, sailing quite a few balls to open receivers. What's more disturbing than that is that he hasn't been willing to move the ball down the field aggressively. That's something Freeman did very, very well at the end of last year, especially against the Seattle Seahawks.
To win this game, Freeman needs to start showing he's still the same quarterback he was a year ago. This Colts defense is no pushover, though, and may present a challenge for the third-year quarterback.
Jeremy Trueblood vs Robert Mathis
Of course, no quarterback can complete passes when he's on the ground. Which is why this matchup is so important. Jeremy Trueblood has played better than he has in recent years, but he's still a liability in pass protection against speed rushers.
Robert Mathis is, of course, a speed rusher. So that's a problem. If the Bucs want to move the ball downfield successfully they need to find a way to slow the rush down, they need to have Trueblood playing well, or they may need to use running backs and tight ends to help him out in pass protection. If Trueblood can hold his own, though, the Bucs could have a very good game.