The Tampa Bay Buccaneers visit Paul Brown Stadium Sunday for a 1:00 PM tilt with Cincinnati. Tampa should be well-prepared and rested having come off of their bye week, and a 2-1, are a surprise team in the NFC. Cincinnati should be focused after letting an inferior Cleveland team escape with the victory last week. Turnovers, penalties and critical mistakes spoiled a superb passing performance by Carson Palmer, and a chance for the Bengals to seize first place in the AFC North.
On paper, the Bengals are the superior team. They have better and more experienced players at most positions. The Bucs are a very young team, with a young head coach and a young quarterback still learning to play the position. The Bengals are better in nearly all statistical categories, have a veteran quarterback, two outstanding wide receivers, and a better defense. But then, they had all those advantages versus the Browns too.
Much has been said about the Bengals looking to find their identity. If the run-first philosophy Marvin Lewis seems to like is to ever get off the ground in 2010, this is the game to make it happen. Tampa ranks 29th in the league versus the run; giving up 141 yards a game on the ground. If Cedric Benson is to ever have a break out game, this could be it.
On the other hand, aside from veteran CB Ronde Barber, Tampa is thin and inexperienced in the secondary. They are sorely missing suspended safety Tanard Jackson. They’ve replaced him in the starting line-up with rookie Cory Grimm and former Bengal Corey Lynch. Neither has been good in coverage so far.
I look for the Bengals to try to be truly balanced in this game, with an effort made to establish Benson and the running game while also throwing some to T.O., Chad, and Gresham on 2nd and 3rd downs.
On defense, the Bengals must do a better job of rushing the passer, and keeping the quarterback boxed inside the pocket. Browns QB Seneca Wallace burned them a few times on scrambles out of the pocket, and Josh Freeman can do the same. Freeman reminds many of Ben Roethlisberger—a big man but also an elusive runner. Defensive ends Antwan Odom, Michael Johnson and Robert Geathers mustn’t take high angles on their rushes to contain Freeman. This will likely mean more linebacker and defensive back blitz packages from Mike Zimmer.
The Bengals will likely do better against Bucs running back Cadillac Williams than they did against Peyton Hillis last week. Williams is averaging only 2.5 yards per carry. They should also like the matchup of CB’s Johnathan Joseph and Leon Hall (plus a healthy Adam Jones) versus rookie receivers Arrelious Benn and Mike Williams. This is another reason to expect some blitzing this week from Zimmer.
The X-factor here may be tight end Kellen Winslow. Winslow has made plays and helped move the sticks for the Bucs as Freeman’s go-to guy so far this year. I expect Cincinnati to put their best coverage LB, Brandon Johnson and their tallest CB, Morgan Trent on Winslow in an effort to slow him down.
On special teams, Cincinnati must do a better job in the field position game, and maybe finally get some decent punt and kick-off returns. After some extremely impressive return performances in the preseason, the Bengals rank near the bottom of the league in both categories now.
Keys to the Game:
- Control Turnovers: The Bengals are plus-3 on the season. Tampa is plus-4. Whichever team can limit their turnovers and force mistakes will have a huge advantage. The Bengals killed themselves last week with costly turnovers that led to six Browns points.
- Pressure the Quarterback: The Bengals have 3 sacks so far, a paltry sum for all the talent and potential along the line. The last thing they need is to allow second-year man Josh Freeman to get some confidence running or passing the ball. Mike Zimmer will want to put pressure on the young QB early and often.
- Offensive Line play: In a word, this has been atrocious. The line must get better in a hurry before the team heads into the colder months against some brutish teams. Andre Smith should get more of an opportunity this week, and I expect to see some of Evan Mathis or Anthony Collins. This position group has to be the biggest disappointment so far. Improvement is needed immediately.
- No huddle: With such a young defense in Tampa, the Bengals should find success running the no-huddle attack in both the running and passing game. If the Bucs play 2-deep, Cedric Benson should be able to gash them. If they put an extra man in the box, Palmer should be able to slice up their backfield with T.O., Chad, Jermaine Gresham and Andre Caldwell.
The Bengals will be without WR Jordan Shipley, who is still recovering from the concussion he suffered last week, opening the door for Andre Caldwell to reclaim his slot receiver spot. Jonathan Fanene remains down with a bad hamstring, and safety Roy Williams will also likely be inactive with a knee issue. Tampa Bay looks pretty healthy, with all players listed as probable or better for Sunday.
The weather in Cincinnati is supposed to be gorgeous, and I see the Bengals bouncing back. They will feel the pressure to win this one, as going into the bye at 2-3 (and losing to Cleveland and Tampa Bay) could signal an early end to a promising season.
Cincinnati 23, Tampa Bay 13
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