It’s pretty much the last chance saloon for the Buccaneers this week as, sitting at 4-6 in a crowded NFC Wild Card picture, they are realistically one loss away from being out of it altogether. How they’ve played so far this season makes at least one more loss look more than likely. This is a team that is closer to 4-12 than 10-6 at this stage in their development.
Tennessee seems to have been dealt a post season lifeline with Matt Schaub’s foot injury in Houston. They still trail the Texans by two games and come into this week banged-up on offense. With the way the Texans are running the ball, Tennessee may need to win out and get some help to win the division.
It all makes for an exciting game this Sunday. Neither team can afford defeat here if they want to keep their slim playoffs hopes alive. So, with that in mind, let’s look at the three key match-ups to focus on.
Tampa Bay’s Defensive Line vs. Tennessee’s Offensive Line
As rough a year as it has been thus far for Tampa Bay, their defensive line has featured some nice performances. Sadly the man leading the line, defensive end Michael Bennett (+18.2), looks likely to miss at least this week due to injury. Bennett’s season has been highlighted by a simply dominant performance against the run against the Indianapolis Colts on Monday Night Football. Rookies Adrian Clayborn (+7.0) and Da’Quan Bowers (+2.2) have contributed and while they haven’t made headlines around the league they have still been solid. Bowers stands a good chance of getting his first start of the season if Bennett does sit. Bowers has a positive grade both as a pass rusher and against the run so far this year. Clayborn has played more snaps than any other Tampa Bay defensive lineman and has registered four sacks, six hits and 21 pressures. Inside, both Brian Price (-13.5) and Roy Miller (-10.4) have struggled both as pass rushers and against the run. Also keep in mind that Clayborn and Bowers are rookies, Price is in his second season after missing most of 2010 with a hip injury and this will be Miller’s 19th career start in his three years. This week they face a Tennessee offensive line that is also dealing with its own fair share of injuries. Michael Roos (+12.2), David Stewart (+3.9) and Eugene Amano (-15.4) all missed practice on Thursday with various ailments. Stewart’s absence would be costly as his backup, Mike Otto (-5.0) has given up a sack, a pressure and four hits on just 39 pass blocks.
Tennessee’s Cornerbacks vs. Tampa Bay’s Receivers
Tampa Bay’s passing offense hasn’t been quite what we expected this season. Coming off an impressive rookie debut, I expected much more from Mike Williams (-6.2) in his sophomore season. However, he has failed to live up to that as his 10.6 yard per catch average, two touchdowns and eight drops are all highly disappointing numbers. Arrelious Benn (-4.1) has shown himself to be more of a big-play threat than Williams this year owning a 16.1 yard per catch average along with an average of 7.4 yards after the catch per reception; both impressive. Benn has also struggled to catch the ball with six drops on just 38 targets. Preston Parker (+0.1) has been their most dependable target with 70.7% of the passes thrown to him going for receptions with just three drops. This week they go against a Tennessee defense that, for me anyway, has the best trio of cornerbacks in the league. They are led by Cortland Finnegan (+9.5), who has allowed just 311 yards receiving in his coverage while giving up just two touchdowns. Finnegan has broken up six passes and picked off another but his play in coverage is just half the story – his +4.5 grade against the run the best of any Tennessee player bar Jurrell Casey (+8.1 against the run) and fifth-best amongst all corners. Opposite him, Jason McCourty (+5.4) isn’t having as quite as good a year with 537 yards allowed but he has only allowed one touchdown through 10 games. Last but not least, Alterraun Verner (+7.1) is following up his impressive rookie year with an equally impressive second season. Giving up receptions on just 47.5% of the passes thrown into his coverage, Verner has yet to allow a touchdown while breaking up six passes and picking of another.
Chris Johnson vs. The Tampa Bay Defense
If you read Khaled’s piece on Missed Tackles this week you’ll know just how bad the Tampa Bay defense has been this year. Through 10 games they have missed a staggering 92 tackles, 23 more than the next worst team. That means this week represents a good chance for Chris Johnson (-2.9) to show us that he can still break a long run or two. He has yet to live up to his lofty contractual expectations with a poor 3.2 yards per carry average but Johnson has shown what he is capable of in three games this year. That’s not a large indication of success but if he can turn in another of those performances against a Buccaneers defense that clearly just doesn’t like to tackle, then Tennessee should be on their way to another victory.