Remember the good old days, of dominant Buccaneer defense and a low-scoring offense? The days of Warren Sapp, Derrick Brooks, Simeon Rice and John Lynch? The days of Trent Dilfer and Mike Alstott? Well, those days are gone, and the only player to live through them to still be with the team is now a key part of one of the worst pass defenses in the league. Ronde Barber must be shaking his head at this defense -- then again, at least they're winning.
The Buccaneer defense is outstanding against the run, but it is absolutely horrid against the pass. The secondary is getting sliced up on play after play, while opponents stroll up and down the field. 22 forced turnovers make up for this deficiency, but that's not a sustainable mark. Even when the Bucs force those turnovers, they often lose. Three turnovers each against the Giants and Cowboys early in the season weren't enough, and neither were two turnovers against the Atlanta Falcons this past weekend.
No, Tampa Bay now has to outscore opponents with a high-powered offense. That's going pretty well: only three teams have managed to score more points than the Bucs' 310. The Bucs are averaging 4.5 yards per carry on the ground, the eighth highest mark in the NFL, while they're managing 7.3 net yards per pass, the second highest mark in the NFL. Of course, their 7.8 net yards per pass allowed ranks dead last.
With Peyton Manning on the slate next, in Denver, the Bucs' defense is doomed. The Bucs have faced Manning twice since he entered the league, and both times the team lost as Peyton managed to score at least 33 points. The 2003 loss featured an infamous 'leaping' call and a close overtime win, but the 2007 game was a slaughter as the Bucs lost 14-33.
The Bucs defense has little hope of stopping Peyton Manning, who is leading one of only three teams to score more points than the Bucs this defense. This Sunday, we're likely to see a classic shootout. Unfortunately for Tampa Bay, the Denver defense is no slouch, and features two of the league's best pass rushers in Elvis Dumervil and Von Miller. In short: the Bucs have a high-powered offense, but they're not facing the Tampa Bay defense.
Is all hope lost, then? Of course not. Any team can win any day, and the Broncos have managed to lose three games this season. Perhaps the Bucs can add to that tally. If they can, that will be the surest sign that this team is playoff ready. But if they can't, hope is not lost either: they're facing one of the best teams in the NFL, and have four games against much worse opponents to get to 10 wins and likely the playoffs.
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