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Keeping the Bills at Bay

Posted Dec 4, 2013

Wednesday Notes: After taking on two strong defensive fronts in Detroit and Carolina, the Buccaneers' offense gets another serious test with the NFL's top sack team…Plus injuries and other notes

In the last two weeks, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' offense has had to contend with two of the more talented and aggressive defensive fronts in the NFL. The Detroit Lions, led by defensive tackles Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley rank third in the NFL in rush defense and are adept at disrupting the pocket.  The Carolina Panthers rank sixth against the run and fourth in sacks per pass play, and even rolling without leading sack artist Charles Johnson last week were able to bring the pressure on Buccaneers quarterback Mike Glennon in waves.

The Bucs split those two games, winning at Detroit and losing at Carolina, but the attendant statistics show that dealing with those two fronts was a major chore in both cases.  The Buccaneers had not allowed their quarterback to be sacked more than three times in any of their first 10 games; Detroit got Glennon down four times and Carolina dropped him five times.  The Bucs also came into that Week 11 game against the Lions with a rushing attack that had averaged 177 yards over its previous three outings, but the Lions held them to 22 yards and the Panthers to 66.

Now the Buccaneers welcome the Buffalo Bills to town in Week 13, knowing full well that their opponent is bringing one of the most productive defensive fronts in all of football with them.  However, there is a glimmer of hope for Tampa Bay's offense, particularly if it can find a way to get back to what had been a growing strength.  The Mario Williams-led Bills may lead the NFL with 43 sacks, but they are also giving up 121.5 rushing yards per game and 4.2 yards per carry.  Those totals rank 24th and 20th in the league, respectively.

“They’ve got some good players on that front," said Tampa Bay left tackle Donald Penn. "They’re really underestimated.  Mario is playing good, both Williams’ [defensive tackle Kyle Williams] are playing great football. The other d-tackle [Marcell Dareus], he’s a real good, physical player. [Number] fifty-five [defensive end Jerry Hughes], he’s a great pass-rusher that really gets no credit coming off the edge. They’re doing some good things. They’ve kind of got a lot of similarities [to us]: [they] do some good stuff ‘here,’ they do some good stuff ‘here,’ but they haven’t put it all together. At times, they do. At times, they don’t. We’ve got to go out there and just make sure we attack them and do what we can do well and just keep doing it consistently.”

-- T D. Penn and the Bucs' O-Line will be facing a Bills front that has produced an NFL-high 43 sacks
Buccaneers quarterback Mike Glennon, who has shown remarkable poise for a rookie and is eighth among all NFL passers in lowest interception percentage, has proved he can handle a wide variety of adverse situations.  He still managed to put up fantastic – and game-winning – numbers in Detroit despite a non-existent running game and a fierce Lions' pass rush; however, both of his turnovers in Carolina came on scrambling plays.  Glennon knows he'll have a short window in which to get rid of the football at times on Sunday against Buffalo.

“They’re really good," he said. "Those pass-rushers up front, they do a lot of stuff – they put the defensive backs on an island pretty much. They think that they can get to the quarterback and that those defensive backs can shut down our receivers. It’s something that we know we’ll have to handle. Our offensive line will do a great job against them, but those guys up front for them are playing really well, and it’s something that we have noticed and we’re aware of, that they are leading the league in sacks.

"We’ll have to do different things to slow down that pass rush because they are so good. We’ll have to run the ball, we’ll have to work our quick game and we’ll have to take our shots when they’re there, because it’s tough against a pass rush that good that we can’t be holding the ball all day. Our coaches will do a good job making sure we get the ball out of our hands and don’t let them get to us.”

Glennon's hot streak started before the Detroit game – he had a 119.7 passer rating in the month of November as a whole – and it coincided with the Buccaneers' concerted effort to get the running game going.  They did just that, and they need to do it again after two down games in order to increase Glennon's chances of successfully dealing with Williams and company.

"We've definitely got to bounce back, because it's going to be a tough challenge," said right tackle Demar Dotson.  "Buffalo's got a great defensive line.  We've got to bounce back and get back to what we do best, which is run the football.  We've got to get back to what we do.

"It's a lot of fundamentals.  When you get late in the season, your fundamentals can slip.  If you're not careful, those things that you know you're supposed to be doing you don't pay attention to them because this is Week 13 and your body's tired, you're hurting and you're aching.  We've got to put that stuff out of our minds and get back to the fundamentals."

Again, the Bucs are preparing to face a Buffalo run defense that, on paper, looks like less of a challenge than what they faced in either Detroit or Charlotte.  But Penn says the Buccaneers should be able to get the ground game going and protect Glennon against any caliber of defense.

"I'm not going to sit here and make excuses," he said.  "As an offensive line as a whole we have to get better at that.  Whatever the defense throws at us, we have to block it no matter what.  We've done that at times, but we have to do it all the time.  It's something that's a work in progress.  I wish it was working every week but it seems like we haven't been.  It's been good here and there, but that's not good enough in this league."

* The Buccaneers held just three players out of practice on Wednesday, though that doesn't include linebacker Jonathan Casillas, who was placed on injured reserve.  Of those three, guard Carl Nicks is the only one who is likely to miss Sunday's game against Buffalo; Nicks hasn't played or practiced since undergoing foot surgery in October.

Wide receiver Vincent Jackson has a mild hamstring strain but was scheduled for a late-season off day anyway.  He and guard Davin Joseph (knee) were given an extra day of rest but will probably be back on the practice field on Thursday.  Even better, cornerback Darrelle Revis was a full participant in practice Wednesday despite missing a good portion of the second half last Sunday with a chest/shoulder injury.

The Bucs actually have one of their shortest injury reports of the season to begin the week of preparations for the Buffalo game.  The Bills have trumped that, however, with a one-person report, albeit a report with one very significant name.  Defensive tackle Kyle Williams, who has an Achilles tendon ailment, has seen of the team's 43 sacks and a team-high 15 quarterback pressures.  The two-time Pro Bowler is also second among all NFL DTs in tackles since 2006, and his potential absence would make Buffalo's struggling run defense that much more susceptible to the Bucs' ground game.

The full Wednesday injury reports for both teams are below.  Game status designations (e.g. questionable, probable) won't be added until Friday.

Buccaneers:

Player

Injury

Practice Status

WR Vincent Jackson

Hamstring

Did Not Participate

G Davin Joseph

Knee

Did Not Participate

G Carl Nicks

Foot

Did Not Participate

CB Darrelle Revis

Chest/Shoulder

Full Participation

DT Akeem Spence

Wrist

Full Participation


Bills:

Player

Injury

Practice Status

DT Kyle Williams

Achilles

Did Not Participate


* Despite being outscored by their opponents by 68 points this season, or about six points per game, the Buccaneers actually have an eight-point edge in points scored before halftime.  The Bucs have 52 first-quarter points and 98 second-quarter points for a total of 150, while their opponents have put up 40 and 102 respectively, for a total of 142.

It doesn't take a degree in advanced mathematics to figure out what that means in terms of the Buccaneers' collected second halves this season.  The third quarter in particular has been troublesome for Tampa Bay, with their opponents holding a 60-24 scoring margin in that period.  Offensive Coordinator Mike Sullivan says there isn't a single specific issue that is haunting the Bucs' offense in the third quarter, but that the unifying factor is the momentum-killing miscue.

"A couple of weeks ago [against Atlanta] we had one where it was a great day and we took it down there and life was good…and then you stub your toe," said Sullivan.  "You go back to this previous game, you’ve put yourself in a position [with] a couple of big plays and then comes a turnover. I think it’s always a bunch of factors that are involved, but I think at the scene of the crime, so to speak, that every one of those things is when we have some sort of significant penalty or sack or just the negative plays that are very, very tethered. It’s my job to get us to overcome it, it’s the players job to overcome it and obviously those things happen and we’ve got to continue to push forward.”

Both Sullivan and Schiano downplayed the concept of "halftime adjustments," noting that halftime itself is very brief and that adjustments are made throughout the game, not just in the middle.  Sullivan says that he does save some plays and looks for the second half, and that it is possible to script the opening of the third quarter like one would the beginning of the game.  The Buccaneers' staff, in fact, has looked at the issue from every angle to try to figure out how to carry their offensive momentum into the second half.

"The second quarter is really the quarter – I think we've scored 90 something points in the second quarter  this year, so that seems to be our hot spot," said Schiano.  "We need to be able to pick that up in the third and fourth quarter. It’s not for the lack of trying. The offensive coaches have gone through some different scenarios, different scripting of the openers in the second half, I mean, everything you can imagine to try to break the [dam].  And, you know, we did it … two games ago, we came out and we scored on the opening drive of the second half. I don’t know if there was a bigger cheerleader in the house on that drive because we were able to do that. We’re definitely working at it but we’re working at everything on offense.”

Game Rewind: Tampa Bay Buccaneers

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