3TFO: Cardinals @ Buccaneers, Week 4
Tampa Bay and Arizona come into this matchup with one combined victory, and have many more questions than answers so far this season. For the Buccaneers, coming off their third straight loss in New England, they did answer one important question this week as to whether or not Josh Freeman is their quarterback of the future. They responded with a resounding “No”. On Wednesday they announced that rookie Mike Glennon will be getting his first career start at quarterback. This isn’t a huge surprise, given not only Freeman’s performance, but also the reported conflicts between he and head coach Greg Schiano, although most people didn’t expect a switch this early.
Meanwhile in New Orleans, a promising start by the Cardinals, with a long touchdown drive, gave way to eight straight punts and a 24-point loss. The offense stalled under heavy pressure from the Saints’ defensive line, and the running game wasn’t effective enough to help out. The Cardinals’ defense held on as long as it could but eventually wilted under the nightmare task of matching up with tight end Jimmy Graham, who lit up the Cards for 9 catches, 134 yards and 2 TDs. The defense actually managed to put good pressure on Drew Brees, but his nimbleness in the pocket was impressive and he escaped multiple times, leading to big plays with both his feet and arm.
Mike Glennon vs. Todd Bowles
With Glennon starting his first NFL game, it will be up to Arizona defensive coordinator Todd Bowles to confuse the rookie as much as possible with different looks and formations. Bowles is going to be short-handed in this game, with Arizona having lost three outside linebackers against the Saints. Lorenzo Alexander, Sam Acho, and Alex Okafor are all out for the year, while inside linebacker Daryl Washington (+12.8 in 2012) serves the final game of his four-game suspension. In addition, starting free safety Rashad Johnson lost part of a finger (I hate it when that happens!) against New Orleans, and starting nose tackle Dan Williams is out for personal reasons. Backups Matt Shaughnessy and John Abraham will take over, but neither is ideally suited as an every down OLB. Both spent their entire careers as down-lineman, not standing up, and they have only started adjusting to the position. Abraham especially was brought in this year as strictly a pass rush specialist in nickel situations, not as a full-time linebacker. Also, their backups are now guys who’ve essentially never seen the field in games that actually count. Arizona may consider going more often to a four-man line, which they used on 25 of 75 snaps against the Saints. Darnell Dockett especially has thrived in a 4-3 for most of his career, although he is coming off a monster outing.
Look for Tampa to keep it simple for Glennon and to lean on running back Doug Martin more. Glennon has a huge arm, but had accuracy issues coming out of NC State. The good news for him is that Tampa Bay’s pass protection has been stellar so far this year (No.1 in Pass Blocking Efficiency), so he should have time to throw, even if Arizona blitzes often.
Vincent Jackson vs. Cardinals Defensive Backs
After finally getting his big free agent contract with Tampa Bay in 2012, Vincent Jackson has been an impact player since Day 1, and this year he has been one of the few bright spots in an otherwise dismal passing attack. Lining up in the slot on 53% of his snaps, he has been targeted 30 times, which is seventh in the league. He is second in the league in slot receiving yards with 204, including an outstanding 4.64 Yards Per Route Run (second place is only 3.25 YPRR). He has obviously been the go-to-guy for the Bucs, having been targeted on 36.1% of his routes. However, Freeman had a QB Rating of just 41 when throwing to Jackson, which means he may have been forcing the ball into him, and it may behoove Glennon to spread the ball around more on Sunday.
Since Jackson’s size can present real matchup problems for a lot of defenders, expect Patrick Peterson to cover him most of the game. Tyrann Mathieu is the usual starter at slot cornerback, but he may be too vertically-challenged to slow down Jackson. Arizona had no answer for Jimmy Graham last week, and by the time they put Peterson on him in the fourth quarter it was too late. The Bucs have fewer receiving threats than the Saints, so look for Arizona to really try to minimize any potential damage done by Jackson. He is battling some sore ribs, and any lack of availability would be a huge blow to an already struggling offense.
Carson Palmer vs. Buccaneers Pass Rush
After opening the season on our coveted PFF Team of Week 1, Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer has started to really look uncomfortable in the pocket, and this was never more evident than last Sunday in New Orleans. Thanks to a strong pass rush led by Cameron Jordan and Junior Gallette, his mechanics began breaking down, he started getting antsy in the pocket, and was just flat-out missing throws he should have been making. This was never more apparent than in the fourth quarter, when he missed a wide-open Rob Housler high and wide, giving Kenny Vacarro, who was well behind Housler, an easy interception.
Palmer has seen pressure on 37.9% of his drop-backs, which is 12th-highest in the league. Of course most quarterbacks do worse under pressure, but Palmer’s Accuracy Percentage drops to just 48.5% when pressured (along with 3 INTs and zero TDs), which ranks him 29th out of the 32 starting QBs. Even with Larry Fitzgerald and Michael Floyd at wide receiver, who excel at going up and getting the long ball, he is just 3 of 13 in Deep Passing, which was supposed to be a staple of Bruce Arians’ offense.
Tampa Bay, led by defensive tackle Gerald McCoy (+6.9 pass rush) and outside linebacker Lavonte David (+4.2 pass rush), have already accumulated 14 sacks, 13 hits and 40 pressures, and have been instrumental in keeping the Bucs in games while their offense stagnates. If they can get to Palmer early in the game, that may be enough to rattle him and affect his performance for the rest of the afternoon, as it did against the Saints.
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