Buccaneers vs. Broncos Big Darn Preview

That guy over there cannot stop me. - Peter Aiken

The Bucs hope to keep their playoff hopes alive but futuere Hall of Famer Peyton Manning stands in their way.

There are games that are logical losses. Of course, for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at the beginning of the season - most of the schedule had the look of a logical loss. The Bucs have come together faster than anyone could have expected and are a force in the NFC playoff picture.

The same could be said for Peyton Manning. No one really expected Peyton to come back and be...well Peyton Manning. Yet here he is playing at an MVP level once again.

He has turned the Broncos from a borderline playoff team into a Super Bowl threat - just by his presence.

So when you look at the Buccaneers at Denver - it's a logical loss, right?

As Lee Corso is fond of saying, not so fast my friend.

Series: Denver leads 5-2

Last Meeting: October 5th, 2008: Denver 16, Tampa Bay 13

Tampa Bay Buccaneers Passing Offense vs. Denver Broncos Pass Defense

Few quarterbacks have been as on fire as the Buccaneers Josh Freeman the last seven games. The Freechise has put up a 104.7 QB Rating throwing for 16 touchdowns and just 3 ints in that span. However, in the last couple weeks, the Bucs passing game has simmered down a bit.

Whether the teams have adjusted to take away the deep ball or the pass protection is finally showing the effects of losing All Pro guards Carl Nicks and Davin Joseph. Freeman just not being as consistent as he was earlier and as a result Tampa Bay hasn't been quite as dynamic in their last two ball games as they have in the previous four.

Some of that could be the divisional rivalry factor. Who knows you better than those in your own division? We'll find out this week whether Vincent Jackson, Mike Williams, Dallas Clark and Tiquan Underwood can get the Bucs passing attack explosive once again.

They'll be facing a talented Broncos defense that sports two of the league's premiere pass rushers in Elvis Dumervil and Von Miller as well as talented corners Tracy Porter (a former Saint) and the venerable Champ Bailey. Dumervil and Miller combine for 22 of the Broncos' league leading 37 sacks.

The Broncos are 5th in the NFL in pass defense.

Advantage: Denver

Tampa Bay Buccaneers Running Game vs Denver Broncos Rush Defense

Atlanta showed that you can take Doug Martin away - but to do that, you have to expose your defense to one-on-one matchups with the Bucs' dynamic receiving core. In most games this season, it's resulted in big offensive numbers for the Buccaneers. Last week though, Josh Freeman was unable to make Atlanta pay for focusing on Doug.

The result was Atlanta continued to remove Martin's opportunities to make an impact and it helped them squeak by the Bucs.

To slow Martin down, the Broncos may not need to put 9 guys in the box like Atlanta. Denver is surrendering just 98.7 yds per game on the ground to rank 9th in the NFL against the run. Von Miller is tied for the league lead in tackles for loss with 24.

Still, Martin has the ability to gash any defense if they make a mistake and the Broncos struggled to stop Jamaal Charles between the tackles so they're not impenetrable.

Advantage: Push

Denver Broncos Passing Attack vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers Pass Defense

What is there really to say about this matchup? Peyton Manning versus the Bucs' 32nd ranked pass defense. The Bucs best hope is to pick off a few balls (they're third in the NFL with 16 interceptions) and try to keep everything in front of them.

The front four will have to get pressure on Manning because you can't blitz him. He's seen every single blitz ever created and his ridiculous mind will diagnose it and deliver the football to the open guy before you ever get there.

For the Bucs Gerald McCoy, Teo, Roy Miller, Bowers and Michael Bennett must come up big in this one for the Bucs to have any chance to slow Manning down.

Advantage: Tampa Bay....just kidding, of course Denver.

Denver Broncos Rushing attack vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers Run Defense

If there's one area the Bucs have a clear advantage it's in this matchup. Despite a game with shoddy tackling against the Falcons, the Bucs still have #1 defense in the league against the run, giving up just 81.5 yds a game on the ground. The Bucs as a team lead the league in tackles for loss, led by LaVonte David's 14.

Denver's running game went when Willis McGahee went down with a knee injury, leaving veteran Knoshown Moreno and rookie Ronnie Hillman to try and pick up the slack.

Moreno had a decent day against Kansas City, rushing for 85 yds and appears to have taken over the role as the primary ball carrier in Denver.

Advantage: Tampa Bay

Special Teams

Denver has one of the better special teams in the league with kicker Matt Prater (16 of 20 with a long of 53), Britton Colquitt (47.7 yds a punt, 19 inside the 20) and returner Trindon Holliday (averaging 39.0 yds a kick return including one for a touchdown).

Tampa Bay counters with kicker Connor Barth (20 of 25 with a long of 57), punter Michael Koenen (44.9 yds a punt, 16 inside the 20). LeQuan Lewis and Roscoe Parrish haven't scared anyone as the kick returner and punt returner respectively.

Advantage: Denver

By the Numbers

  • Tampa Bay is 1-3 all time in Denver with their only victory coming in 1993.
  • Denver has won 3 of the last 4 in the series.
  • Tampa Bay is 6th in the NFL in turnover ratio at +11. Denver is 21st in the league with a -3.
  • Tampa Bay is 3rd in the NFL in red zone touchdown scoring percentage at 66.7%. Denver is ranked 21st defensively at surrendering touchdowns in the red zone, allowing TD scores 61.2% of the time.
  • Denver is 8th in the NFL in red zone touchdown scoring percentage at 60%. Tampa Bay is ranked 8th defensively at surrendering touchdowns in the red zone, allowing TD scores just 46.8% of the time.
  • Tampa Bay is 1-2 against teams currently with a winning record.
  • Denver is 2-3 against teams currently with a winning record.
  • Denver has surrendered 354.6 yds a game and 24 pts a game against teams with offenses ranked 13th or higher.
  • In the past seven games, Denver has averaged 30.5 points per game. Tampa Bay is averaging 31.6
Outlook
When doing these types of outlooks, I have to take my fan hat on and put my columnist hat on. It's not easy. I truly believe the Bucs have a chance to beat Denver. They'll have to play a perfect game and get some fortunate bounces, but there's been plenty games this year that I expected the Bucs to be demolished and they rose to the occasion and either made a good effort of it or won the game outright.

With that said, I'm not sure the Buccaneers have faced an opponent this season as balanced as the Broncos. Not only can they attack your offense, they can dominate you with their top flight defense. Maybe last week's game against the Chiefs is an example that Peyton and the Broncos are starting to wear down as we hit the home stretch. We'll see.

I anticipate the Bucs making a heck of an effort on Sunday but I think they just don't have enough to overcome the thin Mile High air, the Broncos defense and Peyton Manning.

Prediction: Denver 30, Tampa Bay 20

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