Welcome to Opposition Research, where I’ll be taking a look at the next Packers opponent, the thoroughly winless Tampa Bay Buccaneers. I'll admit that I’m actually looking forward to games against teams with winning records. See, I like to add some snark, and I feel bad picking on teams that lose to the Redskins. But, someone has to do it. Let’s take a look at the team against whom the Packers can take out all their post-Vikings rage.
Coming into this game, the Bucs…would prefer not to be reminded of the fact that, as the last winless team in the league, they’re within striking distance of the historic squad that ended the 1976 season 0-14 and went 26 straight games without a W. Returning from their bye week, the Bucs say they've moved past their forgettable 35-7 Week 7 showing against the New England Patriots in the UK. After a pick-6 in the first two minutes of the game, the Pats never looked back, limiting Tampa Bay to 10 first downs and a 26% 3rd down conversion rate while they racked up 414 yards of offense. The Bucs were able to intercept Tom Brady twice, but the offense couldn't capitalize, going 3-and-out on each occasion. These kinds of games (the Bucs have scored 107 fewer points than their opponents) have led to reports that Tampa Bay rookie HC Raheem Morris is losing the respect of his players, and people outside Florida are starting to notice.
The fans at home are…wondering when the team will get its first win, or if 0-10 is the point in the season where the team just says “aw, fuck it.” (Actually, they don’t think so, they're just frustrated.) The bye week afforded time for some mid-season number-crunching, prognosticating, grade-giving (hint: it’s not an A), and…uh…Good/Bad/Ugly-ing (yes, Aaron, it’s a regular feature).
Something to chew on… Before his debut against the Houston Texans in Week 7, 49ers WR Michael Crabtree spent the bye week in full crash-course mode at the team’s training facility. New-starter QB Alex Smith, who lives nearby, came in to throw to him, and so when Crabtree finally got a chance to play, he was familiar with his QB, the playcalling, and his routes. As a result, he had 56 yards against the Texans and another 81 yards against the Colts, and seems to be getting the hang of the SF offense. Meanwhile, the Bucs crowned rookie QB Josh Freeman as Sunday’s starter (a “what the heck” kind of move), but instead of getting an extra week’s worth of practice to develop a rhythm with his receivers, Freeman has a total of 2.5 hours more time to prep for the Packers than he would have had without the bye.
Unlike the starting QB, the Bucs front office kept busy during the extra week, making 11 roster moves since the W7 loss to the Patriots. Their latest edition is CB Mike Mickens, who was plucked today from the Dallas practice squad (great picture here). In addition to being on their 3rd QB, the Bucs are on their 3rd kicker of 2009. K Connor Barth is smart, though – he’s got a back-up plan in case the Bucs decide to fire him before he makes a FG, like they did with K #2.
When looking at the Packers on film…Josh Freeman is ready to “let it rip” on Sunday, but expects Dom Capers to throw a lot at him. Although, in true fashion, that phrase does not mean what you think it means:
It's one of those things where 'let her rip' doesn't mean taking a lot of chances. It means feeling comfortable within the system so that when you get the looks you need, you can let it go.
The SB Nation blog Buc ‘Em has a great preview up, which might rival APC in depth and substantive comparison (all game articles from SBN are here). Basically, CraigT sees the Bucs having success running off-tackle to the left, straight at Cullen Jenkins. He also warns that, if the Bucs – who’ve managed 11 sacks in 2009 – can’t get to Aaron Rodgers, it will be another long day for the Tampa Bay secondary.
What we’re up against: Pete Dougherty’s scouting report boils it down – per the scouts, the Bucs “aren’t very good.” Bob McGinn’s take (sub. req’d) includes the revelation that only 28 of the 53 players who beat the Packers in a heartbreaker remain on the 2009 roster. Gone are QB Brian Griese, DE Gaines Adams, RB Warrick Dunn, LB Derrick Brooks…and two dozen others. This is a very different team than the one we faced in Week 4 of last year.
As far as their offense is concerned, Tampa Bay is a run-first and run-often team. Cadillac Williams and Derrick Ward each average around 4.0 ypc, while former-stud Earnest Graham languishes in the backfield as a part-time FB. This embarrassment of riches on the ground compensates for a receiving corps that looks good in flashes (TE Kellen Winslow, WR Michael Clayton, and WR Antonio Bryant) but has yet to dominate a game.
The Packers may want to at least watch for rookie WR Sammie Stroughter at KR/PR and in the slot – he averaged 32.5 yards on kickoffs (with 1TD) and 21.4 yards per catch in the last two games. He may not be Percy Harvin or Josh Cribbs, but given the Packers’ inability to cover on special teams, he shouldn’t be ignored. If Stroughter doesn’t go, it’ll be RB Clifton Smith, who was still seeing stars a week after being knocked unconscious by Carolina’s Dante Wesley.
The Tampa Bay corners have the potential to be trouble. Ronde Barber, a 13-year vet and perennial Pro Bowler, has a sack but has yet to register an INT in 2009. Aqib Talib, he of “watch him get burned by Jordy Nelson” fame, has shown moments of greatness (though his off-field antics aren’t as exemplary). And yet, Football Outsiders puts Tampa Bay at 31st vs. the pass, with the avg. opposing QB registering a 102.1 rating. (And, as Tony Wilson notes, their run defense isn’t any better.)
- Last week, a radio host from 620 WDAE cited unnamed SEC sources, announced the Tampa Bay Buccaneers were for sale. The host said that the reason for the Bucs being so far under the salary cap stemmed from the Glazer family being in deep post-Madoff debt. Once the owners debunked the rumor, ClearChannel apologized and the host was suspended.
- In 1997, the Bucs changed their uniforms to the now-familiar “red-and-pewter” combination. Within a few years, they shook off their orange-and-awful past and won Super Bowl XXXVII. So what are they doing on Sunday, in order to move past their miserable 0-7 start? Putting the creamsicle orange back on. Yeah, it makes no sense to me, either.
- Tampa Bay shares Florida with not only the Jacksonville Jaguars, but also the Florida Tuskers, a UFL team with 3 ex-Bucs on the roster. Last week, Tuskers HC Jim Haslett offered up his belief that the Tuskers were “pretty close” to an NFL-level team (audio here). RB Michael Pittman went so far as to suggest that some players might think they could beat his former team. Ex-Bronco RB Tatum Bell raised his hand. (I, for one, would love to see it.)
So, what do you think? This game could easily get out of hand by virtue of the fact that Tampa Bay is desperate for a win. Still, I think this is a repeat of the Browns game, with play crisp enough to make me want to tear my hair out in frustration over what should-have-been against the Vikings.
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