This NFC/AFC showdown features two teams looking for their second victory of this young season. The last time the Kansas City Chiefs and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers played was in 2008, and Tampa Bay was able to walk away with a 30-27 win in overtime. The fact that both franchises have fired two head coaches since then tells you all you need to know about how they have fared thereafter.
The Buccaneers are coming off a bye week following a close loss to the Washington Redskins. Under new coach Greg Schiano, they have been competitive in every game yet, following an opening weekend win over the division rival Carolina Panthers, have gone 0-3 against the NFC East.
The Chiefs, on the other hand, have not performed admirably in every game. Despite beating the defense-less New Orleans Saints in overtime, they were blown out in every other contest but the last one, a close loss to the Ravens at home, where maligned starting signal-caller Matt Cassel was knocked out with a concussion. Cassel has already been ruled out, leaving Brady Quinn as the starter. Quinn hasn’t started a game since Week 15 in 2009, so it will be interesting to see if he can perform any better than Cassel. Let’s take a look at some matchups that will shape this battle between two desperate teams.
Chiefs Running Game vs. Buccaneers Run Defense
The Chiefs love to run the ball (averaging 180.8 yards per game, best in the AFC), while the Buccaneers have one of the best run defenses (allowing an average of 73.8 yards per game, fourth best in the NFL). The Chiefs love running the ball so much that they’ve only passed two more times than they’ve rushed (176). So it follows, the main question here is whether or not Tampa Bay can stop them. The Buccaneers surrendered only 10 yards to the Panthers and 38 yards to the Cowboys, but did allow the Giants to gain 94 yards on the ground. Their last performance was the most troubling though, as the Redskins gashed them for 153 yards — although they did step their game up in the second half, holding Alfred Morris to only 38 yards on 10 carries. Starting defensive lineman Gerald McCoy has been the best run defender of this group, earning a +3.9 grade in this area with six defensive stops in those four games without any negatively graded performances. The two linebackers taking the majority of snaps, rookie Lavonte David and Mason Foster, have also been key to their success, as has rookie strong safety Mark Barron (+3.0). The biggest liability in this area would be the aging Ronde Barber (-1.5), who has missed four tackles on runners– the most egregious mishap came with 5:25 left in the second quarter of the Washington game where he allowed Morris to get a 39-yard score.
Tampa Bay has to know they can’t let Jamaal Charles get at the second level with a chance to juke Barber. Charles is averaging 5.5 yards per carry despite being a focus for defenses, and has forced seven missed tackles. Backup runner Shaun Draughn is no slouch either, gaining 165 yards on 34 carries with an average of 4.9 yards. Charles and Draughn have received help from their offensive line with starters Ryan Lilja, Jon Asamoah, Eric Winston, and Rodney Hudson combing for a +15.8 run blocking grade. Not aiding the Buccaneer’s cause is the fact that their fullback, Nate Eachus, is one of the best run blocking fullbacks in the league (+3.4). Who wins this matchup will go a long way in determining which squad gets their second victory of the year.
Talib vs. Bowe
Buccaneer’s cornerback Aqib Talib is one of several starters in the league with the freedom to track the opposing team’s best wide receiver all over the field. There has been one exception: in Week 1, no doubt by the team’s design, he lied to the media about being responsible for Steve Smith but then preceded to go everywhere he wasn’t. Aside from that, he’s been following No. 1 wide receivers, including Hakeem Nicks, Dez Bryant, and a less-than-100% Pierre Garcon (lingering foot injury). Talib has a +3.9 coverage grade for his efforts, despite getting burned by Nicks for 168 yards and a score in a performance that, in the end, was much better than it may have seemed — you can read more about that matchup and how Talib was able to walk away with a +1.0 grade despite the alarming yardage surrendered, here. The fifth-year DB’s worst performance actually came against Washington where, because of Garcon’s limited snaps, he was sometimes left to cover Leonard Hankerson and Josh Morgan, allowing 78 yards on five catches with two missed tackles and only one pass successfully defended.
Talib will no doubt be following around Pro Bowl wide out Dwayne Bowe. Bowe, in a contract year, has accumulated 402 yards on 31 catches and three scores despite his team’s erratic QB play. The talented wide out does have three drops on the season though, including one with 3:56 left in the third quarter in the three point loss to the Ravens where the pass went right through his hands, bounced off his helmet and was picked off. It should be also be noted that much of the damage he’s done has come with the game out of reach, including his two fourth-quarter TD grabs against Buffalo when his team was down 35-3. This has earned him the nickname “The King of Garbage Time”. The Chiefs will want to get him involved early and often, but Talib presents one of the bigger challenges Bowe has faced this year.
Demar Dotson and Donald Penn vs. Justin Houston and Tamba Hali
Another crucial matchup will pit Pro Bowl LT Donald Penn and RT Demar Dotson (who came in for an injured Jeremy Trueblood, and then held onto the job when Trueblood got healthy) and the terrifying duo of pass-rushers Tamba Hali and Justin Houston. Sophomore Houston has been especially dangerous, grading out as our third-best 3-4 OLB at rushing the passer, behind Clay Matthews and DeMarcus Ware, despite drawing a blank against the Chargers in Week 4. His partner, Hali, has likewise terrorized opposing offenses with a combined 15 pressures despite missing the first game. The pair also switch sides, so each of them will get to meet Penn and Dotson.
Penn, despite struggling to protect his QB in three of the last four games, earned an admirable +7.5 pass blocking grade last year. He has not continued that level of play through four games this year however, allowing only one sack (to Ware, which is nothing to be ashamed of) but an inexcusable 11 hurries. Dotson has performed better, also allowing only a single sack (to Ryan Kerrigan, also no reason to hang his head low) and four hurries. That stat is slightly misleading however, as he would have allowed another on the second offensive play of the Giants game where Mathias Kiwanuka ran him over, yet Freeman’s pass was thrown so quick it didn’t matter. These two will have their hands full on Sunday against Hali and Houston, and they will have to perform well since Freeman’s NFL QB passer rating drops from 100.6 to a horrific 19.2 when he’s pressured.
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