Overview: The Tampa Bay Buccaneers' quest for their second win of the season... or for their continued eligibility in the Ndamukong Suh sweepstakes... continues at the appropriately-named Quest Field in the great Pacific Northwest, where the Bucs and Seattle Seahawks clash at 4:15 ET today. The Seahawks come into Sunday's contest at 5-8, fresh off of a difficult 34-7 loss at Houston that basically eliminated the remaining minimal hope Seattle might have had in making a late run at the division title. Although Seattle did what it does best defensively, hold the opposing running attack to under 100 yards rushing, they yielded a monster game to Andre Johnson, Matt Schaub, and the Houston passing attack. Similarly, the Bucs come into Sunday's game off of a similar lopsided loss...26-3 at the hands of the New York Jets and their top-ranked defense. A win today, while not relevant in the playoff picture, would go a long way towards earning some goodwill for the prevailing head coach.
Keys to a Buccaneer Victory:
First thing's first... cut out the bad throws and turnovers. Josh Freeman has put his team in the hole the past few weeks with some questionable decision-making and off-target throws. There's no other way to put it. Bad throws to undisguised underneath LB zone coverage. Badly missing open receivers coming across the middle. That's not to discredit some of the good things he's done. He showed up well at times in that Carolina game, making some fine deep throws to KW and Bryant. He was pretty good at Atlanta for most of the game. However, for the good he does, the turnovers have to go, especially with the defense starting to play well again. Punting or throwing the ball away isn't always a bad thing by any means. Put the inconconsistent Seattle offense in a long field and let your defense continue to improve and give you a chance to win.
On defense, the Bucs actually match up decently well with Seattle's offense. Seattle ranks a lowly 28th in the league in rushing yards per game with 91 and boast a running back that, in my opinion, isn't starting material while keeping a budding young star on the bench. Jim Mora has been known in the past to be loyal to a fault to veterans, and that appears not to have changed by continuing to feature two-yards-and-fall-down-at-first-contact Julius Jones as the starter while keeping the surprisingly effective Justin Forsett in a secondary role. As such, as long as the Bucs can continue to get good gap penetration, they can give the LBs the opportunity to make tackles, take away the threat of play action, and effectively keep the Seattle offense in 2nd and 7's, 3rd and 5's... where the Seahawks have not shined this year with a paltry 33% conversion percentage on 3rd down.
Keys for a Seahawk Victory:
There's a guy on that Seattle defensive line in the 4-3 that's made a big difference.... DT Colin Cole. He's a guy I wrote a piece on in the offseason that the Bucs needed to kick the tires on, especially when implementing a 2-gap system and with the absence of ideal 4-3 big-bodied undertackles. Instead, the Bucs passed on him and he went to Seattle, where he's anchoring a defensive line that ranks near the top of the NFL in stopping the run, allowing only 81 YPG. If the defensive line can continue to limit the Buccaneer running game and force them to completely abandon it, that'll allow them to stay in a 4-2-5 set, which will allow them to use the nickleback to double cover Antonio Bryant in most non-spread sets and take away Josh Freeman's primary target. That's essential, because the Seahawks have struggled to stop the pass lately, giving up solid receiving numbers to Andre Johnson, Michael Crabtree, Donnie Avery, and Sidney Rice.
On offense, the Seahawks need to find a way to get the running game going, because the absence of Nate Burleson will be felt in the passing game. They need to get Jones and Forsett involved in the short passing game and outside runs and get the linebackers off-balance and out of the middle of the field to set up the mid-range passing game to TE John Carlson and slot receiver Deion Branch.
Prediction: The absence of a running game will put the game Freeman, who will find Antonio Bryant often. However, he won't be quite consistent enough to sustain scoring drives and will set up Seattle a time or two with a short field. Seattle won't blow up on the ground, but they'll open up the run in passing formations through a relatively successful passing game that will have enough balance to move the ball and control the time of possession. Seattle 20, Tampa Bay 13.