The Bucs will be taking on the Seattle Seahawks in Seattle to start the season. Lucky for us our Behind Enemy Lines alliance includes a member from the Seattle area who we will be sharing breakdowns with. I will include our affiliates breakdown later this week, but in the meantime make sure to check out their site Seattle Sports Report.
This will be the first of many tests for a Buccaneer team that needs to at least make the playoffs for head coach Jon Gruden to keep his job. The last time these two teams met was a 23-7 beat down by the Seahawks at home in the last game of the 2006 season. The Bucs will not only have to beat the Seahawks, but will also have to overcome their west coast woes. The Bucs are 6-26 in regular season games on the west coast, including an o-5 record under Gruden in the regular season. Whether it's jet lag or a phobia of the Pacific Ocean the Bucs will need to get over it and play some of their best football against the Seahawks, whom play very well at home and have a record of 6-1 against the Bucs in the regular season.
We will get our first real look at the new Buc offense with Jeff Garcia at the helm. Gruden finally has his veteran quarterback that can make plays with his legs as well as his arm. Garcia showed that he can make things happen when the play breaks down in the past and in the preseason game against the Miami Dolphins. While Garcia is a huge upgrade over any quarterback the Bucs had on the roster last year, he still has to have someone to catch the ball.
Joey Galloway will be the number one wide out once again for the Bucs and while he has not shown signs of slowing down, he is only one man. Other than Galloway the only wide out who looked good in preseason was Paris Warren and he is out for the season with a broken ankle. As of now the depth chart shows that second year man Maurice Stovall will start opposite Galloway on Sunday, but expect the Bucs to rotate wide outs at that position because although Stovall looked great in OTA's and Training camp, he struggled in the preseason. Other options at wide out will be Michael Clayton, David Boston, and Ike Hilliard. David Boston has looked good at times, but it is still unknown how he will be in a real game position, and the Bucs have yet to hear back about his drug test from his recent DUI stop. Hilliard always seems to come up with the play on third downs, but is not an every down receiver anymore. Clayton has struggled since his rookie year and was almost cut during the preseason. The Bucs will need one of these guys to step up and make plays when Galloway is covered.
The offensive line has looked better this year than anytime while Gruden has been here. Luke Petigout has been healthy since the end of training camp and has solidified the left side of the line. Rookie Aaron Sears has been a dominating force on run and pass plays and will back up Anthony Davis on the left side. The right side has continued to improve with Davin Joeseph and Jeremy Trueblood getting more reps. The second year starters have looked great in preseason and have that nasty side that you look for in offensive lineman. The Bucs will need a great game from them to protect Garcia and open holes for Cadillac Williams.
The Bucs hope that Cadillac Williams will return to the first half of his rookie year and not what they have seen from him since that time. Williams played through injuries last year, but looks to be fully healthy this year. The Bucs lost Mike Astott for the season due to a neck injury so Michael Pittman and BJ Askew will fill in for Alsott at the full back position. Williams will have better holes to run through this year with the improved line, so it will be up to him. Pittman will play the role of blocking back and the pass catching threat that Alstott once was. Look for Earnest Graham to get carries inside the goal line in place of Alstott due to his physicality and great play in the preseason.
The Bucs will start their first round pick Gaines Adams this week becuase free agent Patrick Chukwurah will be out 3-6 weeks with an MCL tear. Adams has looked good at times during the preseason, but has sturggled mightly at others. Adams will have his toughest test this week as he goes up against Pro Bowler Walter Jones. Adams still is not physical enough and tries to rely too much on his speed to get past the lineman. Kevin Carter will get the start on the other side and the veteran has looked great in the preseason. Carter has been the Bucs best defensive lineman all preseason. Journeyman Jovan Haye will start at the undertackle position next to Chris Hovan and will try to give the Bucs a presence there for the first time since Warren Sapp left. The Bucs did not get much pressure from the front four during the preseason and that will need to change. The Bucs defense relies heavily on the front four getting pressure on the defense. If the Bucs cannot get pressure with the front four it will be a long day for the Buc defense.
The Bucs will have two new starters in the linebacker core on Sunday. Cato June will start at SLB and Barrett Ruud will replace Shelton Quarles at the MLB spot. Ruud has not seen much action this preseason and will have big shoes to fill. The Buc defense runs through the middle linebacker and he will be expected not only to stop the run, but cover the middle of the field. Ruud was a second round draft choice in 2005, but has seen little action since being drafted. He has not looked terrible in his starts, but has not looked good either. If the Bucs want to be able to stop the run they will need great play out of Ruud. The Bucs also signed former Eagle Jerimiah Trotter on Monday to back up Ruud in the middle. Expect Trotter to come in on obvious run downs only as he has problems in coverage and has not had time to learn the system. The Bucs have also experimented with running the 3-4 defense in the preseason, so look for the Bucs to implement that into the game plan. Rookie Quincy Black has outstanding speed and could be a great rusher from the outside as well as a cover man. The linebackers are the heart of the defense and will need to play well against the run to stop Alexander.
The secondary of the Bucs got boost with the return of Brian Kelly from injury. Kelly missed all of last season and the Bucs could never really find a replacement for him. Phillip Buchanon was signed during last season and looked good enough last year and in the preseason to earn the starting nickle corner spot. Buchanon struggled in Oakland and Houston, but has found a home here in Tampa with the Cover 2 defense. The safety play last year was horrendous and led to many of the big plays in passing and running. The Tampa 2 defense relies heavily on the safeties in run support and pass coverage. Will Allen and Jermain Phillips seemed to take a step back last season with the loss of Raheem Morris as the secondary coach. Morris is back and the play of the secondary has shown remarkable improvement. Phillips has been in the right position to help stop the run and deliver crushing blows to the wide outs. While Allen has not looked bad, Rookie Tanard Jackson has looked outstanding and will see plenty of time at safety. Jackson has been practicing with the first team and may get the starting nod come Sunday. He was a fourth round pick by the Bucs out of Syracuse and has shown the smarts, speed, and drive the coaches are looking for. If the safeties are not in the right spot on the field the Bucs defense can be gashed for big run plays or picked apart by an able quarterback.
The Bucs are a different team from the one that was destroyed by the Seahawks last season, but different may not be good enough. The Bucs still have questions on offense and defense that will need to be answered in a hurry. The Bucs will need to play great to beat the Seahawks who have great fans at home that get behind the team and become the 12th man. My feeling is the Bucs will not be able to pull this game out and the Seahawks will win, but the Bucs may be able to pull it out if they can run the ball and get pressure on Matt Hasselbeck.