This week brings a battle of two surprise teams on the season. The Bucs and Lions have exceeded expectations already and both teams are competing for not only for a playoff spot, but to be their respective division winners. There is a lot on the line for both teams in this game and expect a close game.
The Lions resurrection is being led by former Bucs defensive line coach Rod Marinelli. He has instilled a sense of discipline and removed players that have been a cancer to the locker room, or do not fit his system. While Rod is known for his defense, it's the offense that is leading the way for the Lions. Offensive coordinator Mike Martz has installed his high flying offense and Jon Kitna has been the perfect quarterback to run the system. Kitna has multiple weapons at his disposal, with the biggest one being wide out Roy Williams. Williams is having fun in the Martz system and has put up some great numbers in the past two seasons. If the Bucs are going to win the game, they will need to shut him down.
The Lions are getting a boost on offense this week with the return of Kevin Jones to the starting lineup. Jones, who led the Lions in rushing last season, has been out or limited for up until now and without him the Lions have been terrible running the ball. Last week the Redskins put only 4 men in the box and dropped the rest daring the Lions to run the ball and they couldn't. The Lions were unable to pass the ball with all the defenders in the secondary and were embarrassed by the 'Skins.
Buc defensive coordinator Monte Kiffen has done well stopping Mike Martz in the past. The rivalry between Martz and Kiffen goes back to the Bucs playoff loss at St. Louis. Kiffen has been able to slow down Martz's high flying offense in the past and will look to do so again this week. The Bucs have not gotten a good pass rush going this season, but if they are going to this should be the week. The Lions have been terrible protecting the passer this season and the Bucs front four are looking forward to reeking havoc in the backfield. If the Bucs can get pressure on the quarterback the defense will be able to stop the offense and lead the Bucs to a victory.
The Lions defense has been terrible on the year and the Bucs will need to take advantage of that in the passing and running game. The Bucs were able to run the ball very well in the early part of the season and controlled the clock. The Bucs need to get back to running the ball well and set up Jeff Garcia and the passing game. Ike Hilliard has been the man for Garcia this season when he needs a play made. Galloway is the deep threat for the Bucs, but Hilliard has been the consistent force for the Bucs wide outs and has been the most dependable receiver. Michael Clayton made a big catch last week and it is important for him to step up once again and keep the momentum going. The Bucs need another option like Clayton to step up and make plays to keep the offense moving.
The Bucs traded for running back Michael Bennett earlier this week and while I think it was a good move, don't expect him to make an impact this week. He has practiced, but Gruden's system is complex and he needs to understand a blocking scheme as well as the plays. He may get a couple of plays in the game, but fans should not be disappointed if he doesn't have a huge game running or receiving. The Bucs will also most likely be without starting tight end Alex Smith who has been a nice safety valve for Jeff Garcia. Jerremy Stevens and Anthony Becht will have to step up and make up for the loss of Alex Smith not only in the receiving game, but also blocking.
This should be a tough game for both teams and expect it to come down to the fourth quarter. The big things to watch will be if the Bucs can get pressure on Kitna on defense and if they can run the ball effectively on offense. If they can do those two things, the Bucs will win the game.