The Arizona Cardinals come in fresh off a butt kicking by the Saints and their routine has been broken up a bit. Instead of returning to Arizona, they have trained all week in Bradenton, trying to acclimate to the weather and time change.
As Freeman's demise was being reported, it was revealed that Cardinals QB Carson Palmer was nearly a Buccaneer. He could have been the one starting this Sunday in the white, red and pewter. Apparently the Cards came in with an 11-hour offer and Palmer's agent David Dunn decided his future was better placed with Arizona (per ESPN's Adam Schefter).
So how will the Bucs react to Freeman's benching? Will the vets tank? Will Glennon look like the second coming of Peyton Manning or will he be the next Derek Anderson?
Oh and it's Revis vs. Fitzgerald...we think. Or maybe not.
It's all the intrigue you can have in a game that boasts one victory between the two teams.
Series: Tampa Bay leads 9-8
Last Meeting: October 31st, 2010 - Tampa Bay 38, Arizona 35
Tampa Bay Buccaneers Passing Game vs. Arizona Cardinals Pass Defense
Well, it's going to be an interesting start for rookie QB Mike Glennon. Glennon takes over an offense ranked 31st overall and 31st passing. He may also be without his two top wide outs, Mike Williams and Vincent Jackson who are both listed as questionable. At least Williams is expected to play while Jackson is going to be a game time decision. Tight End Tom Crabtree remains out and with Luke Stocker going on injured reserve, the Bucs have Nate Byham and Tim Wright as their starting tight ends this week. If you said, "Who?" you're definitely not alone.
If Jackson and/or Williams are down, you can expect to see a lot of Kevin Ogletree and Eric Page. The good news is Glennon worked with both extensively during the pre-season and has some familiarity throwing the football to those guys.
While they face a Cardinals pass defense that's ranked 26th in the league, Arizona certainly has some talent. Patrick Peterson is one of the best cornerbacks in the game and rookie Tyrann "Honey Badger" Mathieu has stayed out of trouble and become a playmaker for the Cards. While their linebacking core has been ravaged by injury, Arizona still has Darnell Dockett, who already has 3 sacks on the season.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers Running Game vs. Arizona Cardinals Run Defense
Despite what seems to be a slow start to the season, Tampa Bay running back Doug Martin is the second leading rusher in the NFL. Expect him to get a significant amount of carries this week in support of Glennon.
Arizona will load up against the running game and they're definitely solid against the run, surrendering just 73.3 yds a game (3rd in the NFL). As we mentioned before, the Cards have been decimated in their linebacking core. With inexperienced players assuming those roles, it's quite possible that the Cards strength on defense could quickly turn into a weakness.
Arizona Cardinals Passing Attack vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers Pass Defense
Carson Palmer finally makes his start in Tampa Bay but for the Cards, not the Bucs. He's off to a slow start this season, completing just 57% of his passes while tossing 3 touchdowns and 4 interceptions. Arizona has had problems protecting Palmer, who has been sacked 9 times this season. That's not a good sign against a Buccaneer team that's tied for third in the NFL with 12 sacks.
Larry Fitzgerald looks like he's healthy and is back to playing at Hall of Fame level. We think he's going to be up against Revis the majority of the time on Sunday - but coach Greg Schiano hinted to the local newspapers that it may not always be the case.
"Will they be on each other all the time? Probably not,’’ Bucs coach Greg Schiano said. "But when they are, you are talking about two Hall of Famers, so it should be exciting.’’
Bucs fans, don't start throwing your beverages at the computer screen yet. It could easily be gamesmanship by the Bucs Head Coach. Also, the Cards like to move Fitz into the slot (much like the Bucs like to do with Vincent Jackson), Tampa Bay prefers to keep Revis outside on the edge so its conceivable that when Fitz moves inside, Revis may not follow. Of course, it's buyer beware for any receiver coming over the middle against Tampa Bay's defense with headhunters Dashon Goldson and Mark Barron at the safety position.
Andre Roberts has been a solid second receiver for the Cardinals but like the Bucs, they don't get much from the tight ends.
Advantage: Tampa Bay
Arizona Cardinals Running Game vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers Run Defense
Oft-injured Arizona running back Rashard Mendenhall is banged up once again. While he's listed as probable for Sunday, Mendenhall is plagued by a toe injury that could slow him down a bit. That's not good news for a running back who already is only averaging 3.9 yds a carry. If Mendenhall is limited, you can expect to see more Alphonso Smith and Andre Ellington, the latter averaging 5.6 yds a carry in limited reps.
The Bucs uncharacteristically surrendered 156 yds on the ground against New England's trio of Stephen Ridley, LaGarrette Blount and Brandon Bolden. Before that slip up, Tampa Bay was surrendering 2.8 yds a carry to opposing running backs.
I fully expect Tampa Bay to get back on track in regards to containing the running attack. Arizona enters Sunday's matchup with the 23rd ranked rushing offense in the league. Tampa Bay has a disappointing rank of 16th against the run.
Advantage: Tampa Bay
A big question for the Bucs this week is will sprinter and former Florida Gator football standout Jeff Demps be active for Sunday's game? Demps was added to the active roster on Monday and could see some action as a punt and kick returner. If Demps doesn't go, Tampa Bay's Eric Page has been doing a solid job in return duties. Page is 30.0 yds a return on kickoffs and 7.8 yds a return on punts.
Tampa Bay's kicking duties are handled by veteran Rian Lindell. Lindell has struggled this season and another rough week could spell the end of his tenure with Tampa Bay. The vet is 2 for 4 this season with a long of 37. Tampa Bay's punter Michael Koenen has been solid, averaging 44.9 yds a punt and pinning opponents inside the 20 five times.
Arizona's Patrick Peterson is one of the most dynamic punt returners in the NFL. So far this season though, Peterson has been limited to just 4.3 yds a return. Javier Arenas has been handling the kick return duties and is doing a solid job, averaging 24.5 yds a return.
Tampa native Jay Feely is kicking for the Cards. Feely is 5 of 6 this season with a long of 47. Considering the Bucs have lost games on last second field goals twice this season, Feely could could come into play. Arizona has veteran Dave Zastudil as their punter. He's averaging 42.8 yds a punt and has pinned in opponents 11 times this season.
By the Numbers
- Tampa Bay is 1-8 in their last nine games.
- Arizona has lost nine straight on the road.
- Arizona has lost four of their last six games in the Eastern time zone.
- Since moving to Arizona from St. Louis in 1988, the Cardinals are 2-6 against Tampa Bay
- Arizona's last victory in Tampa was in 1988, when they were the Phoenix Cardinals.
- The Cardinals visit Raymond James Stadium for the first time since losing to the Pittsburgh Steelers in Super Bowl XLIII. The Cardinals also lost in the only other trip to Raymond James in 2007.
- The Cardinals are the first team in NFL history to have 700 losses.
- Arizona has lost 5 of the last 7 meetings with NFC South opponents.
- Arizona has lost it's last 5 road games against NFC South opponents
- Tampa Bay has won 3 of the last 4 home games against NFC West opponents
- Tampa Bay has won 7 of the last 9 against NFC West opponents
The question now is - are the Bucs still in turmoil or has sitting down an obviously disinterested Josh Freeman cured a festering cancer in the Bucs locker room? Insider reports indicated that the players certainly weren't up in arms at the decision and some may even be pleased by the development. Still, you have to wonder with rookie Mike Glennon starting his first NFL game how the vets will react.
If this was week 9 or 10, we could say that the vets would start mailing it in. But there's 13 games left in this football season and if Tampa Bay can get off the snide and get a win, it just may be what they need to turn this thing around.
The Bucs are a talented football team who deserves better than to be 0-3. Yet the Arizona Cardinals won't feel sorry for them. They have their own ills to cure and want to try to stay in the race in the NFC West.
If Glennon can manage the game, the Bucs can win this football game. Having Mike Williams and Vincent Jackson to throw to would certainly help but its really on Glennon to protect the football and keep his defense out of trouble.
I think he can do it. It may not be pretty but a win is a win in the NFL and the Bucs desperately need one.
Prediction: Buccaneers 16, Cardinals 13