The Tampa Bay Buccaneers (3-1) come into to town to play the Broncos (3-1) on Sunday. The two teams have not met since 2004, but that doesn’t mean that they’re not familiar with each other. Former Broncos QB Brian Griese is starting for the Bucs, and Michael Pittman, Nate Webster, and Jamie Winborn all played for the Bucs at one point. Even QB coach Jeremy Bates coached for the Bucs from 2004-2004. Tampa finally gets to play their very first game in Denver since Invesco Field was constructed, and they carry a 3-game winning streak into the Mile High City. The Broncos have an all time 4-2 edge against the Bucs, but the last four games in which the two teams met where decided by seven points or less. Expect a close game in which the Broncos’ offense will get back on track against a tough Buccaneers’ defense. My Prediction: Broncos 28 Buccaneers 24.
Broncos - The Broncos are second in the league in total offense and passing yards, and Brandon Marshall and Eddie Royal continue to be the most productive receiving duo in the league. However, in order to beat the Bucs, the Broncos need to have a balanced offensive game. The Bucs are known for stopping the run, so if the Broncos can get their passing game going early on like they did against the Raiders, Chargers, and Saints, then the Bucs will be forced to move their defenders outside of the box. This will create room for the running game, which ranks 14th in the league right now, to take off. Inserting Michael Pittman into the formula more often would benefit the Broncos greatly. He’s a powerful runner, and you know he’s excited to play against his former team. He will be fired up to show Tampa why they should’ve not released him. Utilizing Tony Scheffler and Daniel Graham by throwing short drop off passes should work well against this Tampa Bay defense, but that’s if the Broncos’ receivers get involved early on. Holding onto the ball will be the most important factor in getting the Broncos to 4-1. I’m sure Mike Shanahan has drilled that into their heads this week because of the 4 turnover fiasco that took place in Kansas City.
Buccaneers- Jay Cutler looks like a gold statue compared to Brian Griese right now. Griese went from Denver to Chicago, and finally landed in Tampa to be the backup QB for Jeff Garcia. Garcia was benched after a poor performance in week 1, so Griese stepped up to the plate and has completed 71-128 passes for 716 yards, 4 TDs, and 6 INTs in three games. He’s a head case and the Broncos can make him throw the ball away fairly easily if they get pressure on him. He threw 3 INTs against the Packers in week 3, and his passer rating is 30th in the NFL. Griese will be seeing a very different Broncos team than he remembers. Because Rod Smith (retired) and Tom Nalen (IR) are not playing, there is nobody left on the roster from when he was a Bronco. The Bucs rank 13th in total offense and passing, and 9th in rushing. Antonio Bryant leads the team in receiving yards, but has yet to score a TD this season. Along side of him is the always dangerous Ike Hillard and he has 2 TDs so far. Earnest Graham leads the team in rushing with 57 carries for 334 yards and 2 TDs while Warrick Dunn has 42 carries, 197 yards, and 1 TD. The Bucs have the potential to be a very dangerous offense if they are clicking on all cylinders.
Broncos - If the defense has not learned anything from last week’s performance, then we might as well put this season in the Broncos’ archives right now. Each week, the Broncos manage to find a new way to allow their opponents to score points. Lots of them. They currently stand 29th in the league for total defense, 31st in passing defense, and 24th against the rush. You would think that with Champ Bailey and D.J. Williams being the best two players in the league at their respective positions, this defensive unit would come together and be ranked at the top of the league in defensive performance. While fans say that the problem lies in the defensive scheme, or the coaching, I would disagree. The problem lies within the players, and even they agree. They have given up big yards on third and long and they’ve missed tackles left and right. Elvis Dumervil is still sackless, but the return of Dewayne Robertson should help put a stop to the Bucs’ rushing attack. The Broncos absolutely need to pressure Brian Griese. Force them to run the ball. After a while they will tire in the high altitude, and that’s when turnovers happen.
Buccaneers - It will be no walk in the park for Jay Cutler and the offense. This defense ranks 9th in the league, and is without a doubt the toughest defense that the Broncos have faced thus far. It will be a good test for them because they face Jacksonville and New England in the next two weeks. Barrett Ruud is one of the top all around defensive players in the league with 25 solo tackles and 2 INTs in four games. Another concern is Greg White as he has 3.5 sacks so far. Old guys like Ronde Barber and Derrick Brooks are always threats when they’re on the field. Against Green Bay and Chicago, the Bucs needed big fourth quarter comebacks, and it was their defense that did it for them by creating 9 turnovers. Hopefully, the Broncos are over their turnover woes because if they aren’t, this defense could make them continue their turnover streak.
Broncos - Matt Prater missed his first field-goal last week in KC, but he stepped up by making a big 56-yard field-goal. He’s 3-3 on field-goals that are 50+ yards. This game against the Bucs could come down to the wire, and it may be the first time that we witness Prater’s leg under pressure. Punter Brett Kern was woeful last week booting the ball twice and averaging 38 yards per punt. Special teams coverage allowed 51 yard and 35 yard kick returns, and the Chiefs started in Denver territory on six possessions. They will need to pay special attention to Dexter Jackson as he is averaging 25 yards on kick returns with a long of 45 yards. Special teams can easily win or lose this game for the Broncos.
Buccaneers - Kicker Matt Bryant is coming off of a very emotional week. His infant son passed away just four days before the game against Green Bay where he made all three of his field goal attempts. He has not missed yet this season making 8-8 kicks. Jackson could surprise this Broncos team with a big return at any time during the game.
Broncos - Let’s see what kind of work Shanahan put into the defense this week during practice. He blamed the offense for the loss, but let’s hope some changes were made on the other side of the ball. Shanahan has coached against Jon Gruden numerous times, and it’s definitely a meeting of two great masterminds, but I give the coaching edge to Shanahan.
Buccaneers - Gruden has proven that he knows how to win late in the game. It wouldn’t be a Gruden coached game if you didn’t see his scowl on the sideline. I guarantee that he is chuckling on the inside about the situation in Oakland. Hopefully, he finds that amusing enough to forget about how good the Broncos are.
Tags: Antonio Bryant Barrett Ruud Brandon Marshall Brett Kern Brian Griese Champ Bailey Chargers Chicago Bears D.j. Williams Daniel Graham Denver Broncos Derrick Brooks Dewayne Robertson Dexter Jackson Earnest Graham Eddie Royal Elvis Dumervil Green Bay Packers Greg White Ike Hillard Jacksonville Jaguars Jamie Winborn Jay Cutler Jeff Garcia Jeremy Bates Jon Gruden Kansas City Chiefs Matt Bryant Matt Prater Michael Pittman Mike Shanahan Nate Webster New England Patriots Raiders Rod Smith Ronde Barber Saints Tampa Bay Buccaneers Tom Nalen Tony Scheffler Warrick Dunn