Each week beginning today, I'll be taking a brief look at a Buccaneer player who will have a pivotal role in the outcome of Sunday's game, courtesy of Absolut. This week, that player would be MLB Barrett Ruud.
The reason? Baltimore features an offense chock full of weapons at every skill position that's about as balanced as any in the league. Baltimore comes into Sunday's matchup having thrown the football 332 times and rushed 313 times. As such, play action, misdirection, and deception should all be factors and the Ravens will be looking to keep the Buccaneers off-balanced and take advantage with their main offensive weapon: RB Ray Rice. Rice, a pro-bowler in 2009, is a small, low-center-of-gravity bowling ball who can handle a heavy load of carries and pound down a defense in the run game. On the season, he's rushed for 730 yards and has caught 40 passes for 345 yards. The Ravens should be looking his way early and often, and much like last week, the Buccaneers will need to give Rice the same treatment they gave Frank Gore if they want to even think about containing this Baltimore offense.
However, Ruud and the rest of the linebacking corps will have to be smart. For as much as the Ravens might look to establish that run, statistically, they've shown they've been just as willing to fake the ball and pull out a play action pass, or show pass out of a running down/formation. Todd Heap is having a bounce-back season from an injury-plagued 2009, with 467 receiving yards to date this season. If the Bucs become overly aggressive and creep up against the run, he could make a mess of things in the middle of the field.
Ultimately, what concerns me the most is the Ravens pounding the ball directly off-center with lead blocker LeRon McClain and testing the physicality of Ruud and the belly of the Bucs' run defense. The Ravens' offensive line is certainly a step up from the rag-tag offensive line the 49ers trotted out last week. The aforementioned McClain is an excellent blocker and Center Matt Birk is an 11-year veteran with 6 Pro Bowl appearances to his credit and has been one of the best players at his position in recent memory. Ruud will have to step into those gaps, take on McClain, and shut down primary running avenues for Rice, forcing him to take alternate cutback lanes into (hopefully) the waiting arms of Black, Hayes, and defensive lineman waiting to meet him.
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