Jeremy Zuttah and the Bucs' offensive line got off to a good start in Week One but will be without its man in the middle in Buffalo
Byron Leftwich says he's been on good offenses and bad offenses during his six-plus years in the NFL. On paper, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' 2009 attack looks like a good one to him.
A 450-yard outing in the season opener doesn't prove that he's right, not even to him, but it is obviously a promising start. Leftwich believes the Buccaneers can indeed become a legitimately strong offense if they continue to work hard on their development.
One area that shouldn't be a concern, though, is the offensive line.
"I just see what we do every day," he said. "I see what we do every day in practice. Every time we go out there, we get better. We get better as a team and that's all you can ask for. I see it every day so I have no real worries with the offensive line."
Buccaneers management believed in the potential of its young and talented O-line back in February and March, which is why they centered much of their offensive strategy around a presumably strong rushing attack. The signing of running back Derrick Ward and the return from injuries of Cadillac Williams and Earnest Ward gave them the weapons they needed to exploit that strength. And the hiring of Offensive Line Coach Steve Mangurian focused the plan; the Bucs would use a zone-blocking scheme to make the most of their mobile linemen and rugged, one-cut backs.
Still, it was difficult to see how that plan was coming together in the offseason because of the lack of contact on the practice field. Whole portions of the blocking scheme could be pantomimed but not actually put into practice. Even in training camp, the coaching staff was reluctant to have their linemen employ some of their blocking techniques against their own teammates.
The preseason games provided some more compelling evidence, but it was still incomplete, as the starting line never played 60 minutes together. That made the opener against Dallas the true debut of that highly-anticipated rushing attack, and it didn't disappoint. With Williams and Ward getting most of the work on that day, the Bucs rushed for 174 yards and two touchdowns, averaging 5.6 yards per tote.
More impressively, they did so against the Cowboys' 3-4 defensive front, a scheme that has given the Buccaneers problems in the past. They also managed to hold Dallas, the league's top pass-rushing team in 2008, without a sack of Byron Leftwich. Many games against the 3-4 front in the Bucs' recent past have been tough ones on the quarterback, with complicated blitzes leading to pass-rushers steaming in unblocked.
"I think the good thing is, we got a head on a hat," said an appreciative Leftwich. "Any time you are playing a 3-4 team with the things that they do defensively, especially with the players they have, you want to get a hat on a hat. We did get a hat on a hat and with that said and done, I think we are all fine with that."
It wasn't all good news for the offensive line against Dallas, unfortunately. Center Jeff Faine sustained a triceps strain and will miss several weeks due to the injury. The Buccaneers believe Faine is one of the best in the league at his position, and his absence will be a difficult one for the team to account for. A replacement for Sunday's game hasn't been announced yet, but it will be either veteran Sean Mahan, re-signed just this past week, or rookie Jonathan Compas, an undrafted free agent who just joined the Buccaneers shortly before the preseason finale.
"We ran both guys at center all week," said Head Coach Raheem Morris. "We'll have Compas and we'll also have Mahan out there, give them an opportunity to go out there and play. We played two centers last week. I don't want to say we might not do that this week. The chances of that are highly unlikely, but we'll get one of the guys out there. You'll just have to wait until they run out of the tunnel."
Game Notes: Buccaneers at Bills, Sunday, September 20, 2009
- Kickoff: 4:05 p.m. ET * Site: Ralph Wilson Stadium (73,079), Orchard Park, New York * 2009 Records: Tampa Bay 0-1; Buffalo 0-1 * Network Television: Fox (Kenny Albert, Daryl Johnson, Tony Siragusa) * National Radio: Compass Media Networks (Chris Carrino, Brian Baldinger) * Bucs Radio: US 103.5, flagship station (103.5 FM, 620 AM; Gene Deckerhoff, Dave Moore, T.J. Rives) * Up Next for Tampa Bay: vs. N.Y. Giants (9/27) * Up Next for Dallas: vs. New Orleans (9/27)
All-Time Buccaneers-Bills Series Results
The Buccaneers lead the all-time series, 6-2, including wins in six of the last seven meetings. This is the first time the Buccaneers will travel to Buffalo in the regular season as all eight previous games have been played in Tampa.
Five of the eight contests have been decided by seven points or less though Tampa Bay took the last meeting by a 19-3 in 2005. In 1991, Buffalo broke a four-game losing streak in the series with a 17-10 win in Tampa.
The two teams first met in 1976, Tampa Bay's inaugural season, with Buffalo claiming a 14-9 victory. The Bucs won each of the next four meetings, starting with a 31-10 win in 1978. Tampa Bay also posted wins in 1982 (24-23), 1986 (34-28), 1988 (10-5) and 2000 (31-17).
Tampa Bay's .750 winning percentage against the Bills ranks as the highest all-time winning percentage against an opposing team in Buccaneers history.
On Sept. 18, 2005, Tampa Bay defeated the Buffalo Bills 19-3 to begin a season 2-0 for the first time since 2000; the Bucs also won their home opener for the first time since 2001.
The Buccaneer defense was suffocating, holding the Bills' offense to 147 total yards, including 47 rushing yards, while not surrendering an offensive touchdown for the second consecutive week. Additionally, the Buccaneers forced the Bills offense into six three-and-out possessions while limiting Buffalo to only eight first downs, including just one in the first half.
Rookie RB Cadillac Williams rushed for 128 yards and one touchdown on 24 carries, marking his second consecutive 100-yard rushing performance. Tampa Bay took a 2-0 lead with 9:29 remaining in the second quarter when Buccaneers LB Shelton Quarles forced Bills QB J.P. Losman out of the back of the end zone for a safety. Following the free kick, the Buccaneers drove 67 yards on 11 plays to extend the lead to 9-0 on a one-yard touchdown run by FB Mike Alstott.
Buffalo closed out the first half by scoring on the ensuing possession as K Ryan Lindell connected on a 40-yard field goal with 1:01 remaining in the half. Tampa Bay extended the lead to 16-3 late in the third quarter on Williams' three-yard touchdown run. K Matt Bryant closed out the scoring with 9:22 left in the contest, converting on a 40-yard field goal attempt.
On Friday, the Buccaneers ruled out two players, including rookie cornerback E.J. Biggers (shoulder), who was subsequently placed on injured reserve. Tampa Bay also designated center Jeff Faine as out due to the triceps injury he suffered a week earlier.
Wide receiver Antonio Bryant was listed as doubtful on the Friday injury report but he didn't travel with the team so he is obviously out as well. Rookie defensive end Kyle Moore was considered questionable at week's end due to a groin injury though he did return to practice on Friday.
The Bills will be without starting middle linebacker Paul Posluszny, who suffered an arm injury last Monday night and was listed as out on Friday. The team's two starting defensive ends, Chris Kelsay (knee) and Aaron Schobel (back) were on the injury report but considered probable. Starting cornerback Terrence McGee was added to the report on Friday as questionable with a back ailment.
Some of the players and coaches in Sunday's game have ties to the other team or to the opposition's region.
- Bills Offensive Quality Control Coach Nathaniel Hackett served in the same position with the Bucs from 2006-07. * Bills Offensive Line Coach Sean Kugler coached at Gaither High School in Tampa, Florida in 1992. Kugler also coached at Tampa Bay Vocational Tech from 1990-91. He also attended the University of South Florida in Tampa, Florida. - Bills LB Kawika Mitchell attended the University of South Florida in Tampa, and is from Water Springs, Florida. - Former Buccaneers TE/LS and current Buccaneers Radio Network Color Analyst Dave Moore played for the Bills from 2002-2003.