G Frank Middleton says he's glad the Bucs have to win on the road to get to the Super Bowl
As much as Philadelphia is often billed as a one-man team, there is this little matter of the Eagles' 10th-ranked defense. Most notably, the aggressive Philly front finished the season with 50 sacks, just five less than the Buccaneers, who set their own team record with 55.
That presents quite a challenge for the Bucs' offensive line, which held opponents to 38 sacks, though 24 occurred in the last six games. In the middle of that line, and usually in the middle of the pre-game conversation, is right guard Frank Middleton.
Middleton discussed the Eagles' aggressive defense and a number of other topics concerning this Sunday's game in Philadelphia, during a lengthy media session. Here are some of his thoughts:
Is the Eagles' defense one of the toughest you'll face this year?
"They've got a pretty nice defense, but we've played against some great defenses, so we've just got to go up there and prepare and get ready to play a hard, tough game. They blitz a lot just like the Rams do, so hopefully we can take advantage of their defense like we had a good day against the Rams."
How will you move the ball and score points on that defense?
"We've just got to get the ball to (Warrick) Dunn, hopefully get it to him 20 or 30 times. Last week, he didn't get his 22 carries and it kind of showed in our stats. We've just got to get the ball to Dunn more and make him work a little harder."
Is this a meeting of two of the most dominant defensive fronts in the league this year?
"They do it a different way. They have more blitzes, while we're more lining up and letting (Warren) Sapp and those guys go at it. They're going to do a lot of blitzes and try to hide some things and make us do some things on the run. And (Shaun) King can do that, so I don't really worry about that. I just hope everybody comes out and plays hard."
Does that mean the play of the offensive line is going to be key to the Bucs' success on Sunday?
"We're key every week. Coach (Tony Dungy) always says that it starts in the trenches, and if we can win up front we can win anything that we're in. It's not new to us. We like games like that. We want to win games and be the heroes. The more pressure you put on us, the better we play."
Are you worried about playing on the notoriously bad Philadelphia turf?
"It's football, man. I like bad turf, or whatever. The more things y'all put against us, the better, because when you win it makes it that much better. If you can play in Green Bay and have a little success, you can play anywhere, because that place was pretty much frozen up. We don't care about the turf, we just worry about the people we have to play against."
What about the hostile crowd?
We played Minnesota in Minnesota, we played Detroit in Detroit, we played Green Bay in Green Bay. It can't get any worse than that. To me, those three places are probably the loudest places I've ever played in. We played the Rams last year up there. We don't care about the fans. We don't have to play the fans. We have to play the Philadelphia Eagles, and that's who we're worrying about right now."
Is the Bucs' offense picking the right time to peak?
"Naah, we had 14 points last week! We're not peaking, but we're playing pretty good ball. We're a hit-and-miss offense right now. Sometimes we do good and sometimes we don't. It's time for us to step up and get ready for the playoffs."
Why do you think the Bucs are favored in a game being played in Philly?
"I didn't know we were favored. Kind of (surprised). Right now, they're playing great. They've won their last couple of games, they have a pretty good offense, they've got a nice quarterback and they've got a good defense. So it's going to be a tough game. We can't take anything for granted. We just have to go out there and play hard."
Do you think the Bucs' offense would perform better if it used the two-minute drill more often?
"It's not better for me. I weigh 350 sometimes. The more you do like that, the less time you have to breath. Wide receivers and quarterbacks like it, so if it works for the offense, I'll do it. But it's not something I'd want to get into doing every day."
The Bucs' road to the Super Bowl is now pretty tough, wouldn't you say, considering it will probably take three consecutive road wins?
"That's good. I know how to play in Raymond James and I know how to win in Raymond James. Let's go to somebody else's house and win and make it look a little better. If we win it here, (people will say), 'Oh, they had all their games at home, they really aren't that good.' But if you go out and have three road games and do something – only one team has done it in NFL history – it would be fun."
So, should we expect a low-scoring slugfest in Philadelphia?
"History says so, but hopefully not. I like to score points, and the more we score I think the better our offense plays. We've just got to score as many points as we can and hopefully outscore them."