I know, I know, it’s playoff week. The Rays have certainly captured the attention and hearts of Tampa Bay but despite the drubbing two weeks ago at the hands of a very talented Steelers team, the Rays are not the only winning team in town.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers return to action this Sunday following their obscenely early bye week at a surprising, and possibly deceptive, 2-1. The early bye is often considered a curse as most teams want that break late in the year to give banged up players some much needed rest heading down the stretch but the Buccaneer coaches were happy to use the off week to iron out some inconsistencies in the team's play.
Tampa Bay came out with a bang against Cleveland and Carolina, sporting a young, fast and hungry defense that forced turnovers at a rapid pace. The offense and special teams did enough to win games and the team looked gritty and inspired. Josh Freeman showed us the future was bright as he led scoring drives late in games to cap victories.
Then Pittsburgh brought us back to earth.
The Bucs had showed the warning signs in the first two games: a running game stuck in neutral, a potentially porous secondary, and a quarterback with still a lot to learn. Charlie Batch and the Steelers took advantage of all of the weaknesses in a 38-13 rout.
Head coach Raheem Morris hopes that the bye week has given the team time to find solutions going forward. News broke this week that struggling running back Cadillac Williams would receive less carries in favor of rookies Kareem Huggins and the hard-running LeGarrette Blount. Offensive coordinator Greg Olson hopes that the two young guys will give Caddy some rest while also bringing a new toughness to a running game that has failed to record a single run over 10 yards all season and is averaging 3.4 yards per carry.
Rookie receiver Arrielous Benn and rookie defensive tackle Brian Price are also expected to see more playing time and Morris hopes they can make an impact immediately. The success of the defense will also hinge on the maturation of Cody Grimm, something that will need to happen quickly if Tampa hopes to contain the dynamic "Batman and Robin" receiver duo that they will face Sunday.
The Bucs will travel to Cincinnati to do battle with a Bengal team dealing with some inconsistencies of their own.
The Cincinnati Bengals, just months removed from a playoff berth, find themselves at 2-2 and in third place in the AFC North. The North is perhaps one of the best divisions in football at the moment with both Baltimore and Pittsburgh sitting atop at 3-1. The Bengals are coming off a frustrating loss to in-state rival Cleveland in which they moved the ball well but were unable to put up points when it counted. The Bengals have struggled all season long in the red zone, scoring only three touchdowns on 11 trips inside the 20.
No disrespect to Charlie Batch, but Bengals quarterback Carson Palmer is a lot better than any of the signal callers the Buccaneers have faced so far this year. Last week he completed 25 of 36 passes for 371 yards and two touchdowns, including over 200 yards to embattled receiver Terrell Owens. Palmer, with the help of Owens and Chad Ochocinco, will definitely look to exploit a Bucs secondary that features rookie seventh round pick Cody Grimm still learning the ropes and an aging Ronde Barber. Cornerback Aqib Talib is very good but he will only be able to cover one of the Bengals standout wideouts so the play of Ronde and the safeties will be key.
Going on the road and winning is tough for any team but it is particularly tough when you are unable to run the ball. Browns running back Peyton Hillis ripped apart the Bengal defense last week and the Bucs will need to continue that trend if they hope to be competitive in this game. Tampa Bay cannot expect to succeed if they can’t move the rock on the ground, especially in the hostile territory of a loud opposing stadium. The Buccaneer defense will also need to put an emphasis on not letting Batman or Robin beat them deep, something they have great potential to do at any moment.
The Bucs have won five straight against the Bengals and if the Buccaneers can achieve both of these goals then they may have a shot of making it six.
3-1, wouldn't that be something?