3TFO: Buccaneers @ Raiders, Week 9
Both the Tampa Buccaneers and Oakland Raiders are coming off of big wins on the road. Now the two teams will try to gain some much needed momentum as they head toward the second half of the season, but with each team at 3-4, a loss would be a big setback to their playoff hopes.
For the Raiders, the win in Kansas City was good, but they will need to up their performance going against a team that has been as hot on offense has Tampa has been. With Carl Nicks out, will the Bucs instead choose to pass more and put a larger burden on Josh Freeman? He’s played well this year, but still misses plenty of throws that you’d expect any quarterback outside of Tim Tebow to complete.
These are just a few of the game’s potential storylines. Let’s take a look at three to watch.
Tampa’s Rushing Attack
It will be interesting to watch how the Bucs fare without Nicks, who’s now done for the season with a toe injury. He’d been a great addition, ending his half-season stint as Tampa’s highest-graded lineman, and was particularly strong in the run game; the Bucs averaged 6.8 and 5.9 yards per carry to the left side A- and B-gaps. Compare this to the rushing averages of 2.2 and 3.3 ypc to the right side A- and B-gaps and you’ll see Nicks’ impact on the Tampa rushing attack.
A guy who’ll definitely feel the loss of his left guard will be running back Doug Martin. The rookie has really come on in recent weeks after a slow start to the year; he’s forced 19 missed tackles on the ground and has averaged 5.1 yards per carry in the three games since Tampa’s Week 5 bye, after averaging just under 3.5 ypc and forcing seven missed tackles in his first four games. And with 29 carries against the Vikings last week, he’s starting to become a workhorse in that offense.
The Raiders have been pretty stout against the run; they come in allowing 3.9 ypc on the ground and rank as our second-highest graded team in cumulative run defense. Up front, Matt Shaughnessy, Richard Seymour, and Lamarr Houston all have graded positively thus far against the run and have only three missed tackles combined. Shaughnessy and Seymour play almost exclusively on the offenses’ left side at DRE and DRT, so it will be interesting to see whether the Bucs test those two on the ground without Nicks — so far Tampa has run slightly more often to the left of center (58%), and rightly so. Regardless of where they run, they’ll have to deal with Philip Wheeler, Rolando McClain, and rookie Miles Burris at the second level (though McClain’s been limited in practice so far this week). The LB trio has combined for 38 run stops and just five missed tackles on runs for the season.
Raiders Passing Game
The Raiders come into this game as one of the more pass-heavy teams, with quarterback Carson Palmer ranking 10th among all quarterbacks in attempts, even with a bye week. Expect them to remain pass-heavy, as Tampa owns one of the league’s top run defenses and is allowing just 3.5 yards per carry, though the Raiders barely surpass that at 3.7.
Palmer’s been up and down so far this season — he’s capable of putting together good games, like in Week 3 against Pittsburgh, but struggles to move the chains in others. He’s also been abysmal on the deep ball, with an Accuracy Percentage of 27.6% with two interceptions and no touchdowns on balls thrown over 20 yards. The deep middle is particularly rough, as he has no completions in 10 attempts in that area. Conversely, Tampa has allowed opposing quarterbacks to complete roughly 37% of deep passes, just above the league-wide quarterback average of about 35%. So, the Raiders have some potential for success if Palmer can get the deep ball on target, something he’s been unable to do so far.
Oakland will want to get the ball to Denarius Moore, whose 50 targets lead the team. He’s been their best playmaker on the outside and provides a good deep threat, with an average of 16.1 yards per catch. However, four of Palmer’s five interceptions have come when throwing at Moore, so the QB will have to be more careful going to his favorite target. Moore should see time against the entire Tampa secondary (that will likely be without Eric Wright), as he lines up at both outside receiver slots and isn’t limited to a certain part of the field in his route running.
Willie Smith vs. Michael Bennett
A week after barely touching Drew Brees in the Week 7 loss, the Buccaneers were able to get to Christian Ponder early and often; not surprisingly, Tampa came away with a big win on the road. A lot of the pressure came from left defensive end Michael Bennett, who was all over the quarterback with five pressures following two consecutive sub-par games. Even with the two game skid, he has been one of the most productive pass rushers in the league this season; his 33 total QB disruptions ranks eighth in the league at his position.
This week, Bennett gets to go up against Willie Smith, who has allowed the most pressure of any Raider lineman. Smith’s play this season hasn’t just been poor in comparison to his teammates, however, as his Pass Blocking Efficiency rating of 91.1 is the seventh-worst mark among the league’s tackles. The good news for Oakland is its starting right tackle is coming off his best performance of the year, having given up just a single QB hit against a talented Kansas City front. Unfortunately for Oakland, Smith has been limited in practice this week with an ankle injury.
With Smith potentially hobbled, it will be interesting to see if Oakland leaves RB Darren McFadden or TE Brandon Myers in pass protection more often; the two block on just 26% and 23% of passing plays, respectively. Of the two, Myers is undoubtedly the better option to leave in the backfield; he’s allowed just one QB hurry on the year, compared to the nine total pressures given up by McFadden.
Follow John on Twitter: @PFF_JManey