LONDON, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 23: Tampa Bay Buccaneers cheerleaders perform during the NFL International Series match between Chicago Bears and Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Wembley Stadium on October 23, 2011 in London, England. This is the fifth occasion where a regular season NFL match has been played in London. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
Here are my three key matchups for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on defense.
Fundamentals vs Maurice Jones-Drew
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers can't tackle. They haven't been able to tackle all year. In fact, they really haven't been any good at tackling as long as Raheem Morris has been here. And now they face possibly the hardest player to tackle in the NFL: Maurice Jones-Drew. Raheem Morris described him as a rolling ball of butcher knives, and that seems pretty accurate. He is very short, which gives him a short center of gravity allowing him to stay upright, while making it harder for big tacklers to get a hold of him. He's elusive and fast, and even runs with power.
The one thing the Bucs can't do on Sunday is allow Jones-Drew to break tackles. It's hard enough to stop the small running back without sloppy tackling, and if the Bucs' fundamentals break down yet again Jones-Drew will run wild.
The Jacksonville Jaguars don't have many weapons in the passing game, but they do have Marcedes Lewis. He's one of the better tight ends in the league, and is equally adept at run-blocking and getting open as a receiver. The Bucs have often used Ronde Barber on tight ends like Lewis, as Barber is smart enough to cover these tight ends, while he's physical enough to at least provide some kind of force in the run game.
And it's the latter issue where the Bucs could really find themselves outmatches. Ronde Barber has been a liability against the run all season, as he shoots inside at every chance he gets. He doesn't stay in his gap, and he gives up contain on edge runs much too easily. If the Bucs want to stop the Jaguars, they need Ronde to beat Marcedes Lewis - not only in the air, but also in the run game.
Adrian Clayborn vs Eugene Monroe
Blaine Gabbert has a major weakness: he can't deal with pass pressure of any kind. If he senses pressure, his eyes drop, he stops looking downfield and he starts to fall away from passes. The best way to take advantage of that is to get pressure on him. And the primary man to pressure Blaine Gabbert is Adrian Clayborn, the Bucs' rookie defensive end.
He'll be going against Eugene Monroe, a mediocre left tackle who was selected with the 8th overall pick of the 2009 draft. Of course, Monroe hasn't really lived up to that status, but he's not a bad left tackle either. The key here is Adrian Clayborn's power: if he can push Monroe back into Gabbert's lap consistently, Gabbert is going to implode. Clayborn doesn't need to beat Monroe - he just needs to create an illusion of pressure.