With its front line as healthy as it's been since Week Two, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' defense dialed up the pressure a week ago in a lopsided win over the Chicago Bears. The Buccaneers have averaged three sacks per outing over the last four weeks and would like to continue that trend in Week 11 against a 7-2 Kansas City Chiefs squad. Before they can get after quarterback Alex Smith, however, the Bucs have some other business to which to attend.
"Kansas City's offense is not primarily a drop-back offense," said Buccaneers Head Coach Dirk Koetter. "They're more of a play-action and screen and run-it-at-you offense, and they haven't been behind very much. We were fortunate last week – we got the lead and put Chicago in a situation where they had to throw maybe more than they wanted to. That would be great if we could do that today, but we've got some other things that we have to stop first before we can stop drop-back passes."
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Smith has had a strong four-year run with the Chiefs after starting his career in San Francisco, especially in the win-loss department. Kansas City is 36-18 in the regular season in his starts, including last week's road victory over Carolina. He's thrown only three interceptions this year and rarely gets his team in trouble. The Chiefs don't generally go for the deep shot often – Kansas City's passing attack is 22nd in yards per pass attempt and tied for 26th in big-play percentage – but they move the ball effectively and will give the Bucs' improving defense a different kind of challenge.
Fortunately, Tampa Bay is coming off its most complete game of the season.
"We played good football all around last week in Chicago," said Koetter. "Good football – when you play good football, the defense plays well, the offense and special teams complement, you want to just carry that over, because we're playing a good football team in the Chiefs. We need to play good, complementary football today."
Sunday's game could actually be a bigger challenge for Tampa Bay's offense. The Chiefs have won 10 straight games at Arrowhead Stadium, in part because the overwhelming noise of the place makes it more difficult for opposing offenses to operate. Kansas City is also extremely opportunistic on defense, leading the league with 22 takeaways.
"As far as outdoor stadiums, Arrowhead's right at the top as far as loudest stadiums," said Koetter. "It's a fun place to play, a great competitive atmosphere. We worked hard with our crowd noise this week. I'm not going to say it's not going to be an issue – probably more so when we're in the shotgun than under center – but we've worked on it. Every place is loud so it shouldn't be a huge issue."
Communication problems in a noisy stadium usually manifest themselves in offensive line penalties, and the Buccaneers will be down one of their regulars on that five-man unit. Left guard Kevin Pamphile remains in the league's concussion protocol and will be replaced for a second straight week by rookie Caleb Benenoch. However, starting center Joe Hawley returns after his own one-game absence, which is particularly helpful since his top replacement, Evan Smith, is out with a knee injury.
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"Joe's going to be up, Joe's going to be ready to go, so he'll be able to help us," said Koetter. "If for some reason he can't finish the game, then Ben Gottschalk will come in. He played 69 plays there last week [and] did a nice job. Kevin's going to be out. [He] wasn't able to get out of the protocol and we wish him a speedy recovery. That's nothing to fool around with. So we're going to have to make an adjustment at left guard."
That front line will be more than happy to open holes for Doug Martin, who just returned from a lengthy injury layoff in last week's win over Chicago. Martin was limited to 17 touches in that game but will likely see a large workload on Sunday, assuming the rushing attack can get going early. That might be the key to victory for the Buccaneers, in fact.
"Today, we need Doug to be Doug Martin and then we need to play-action off that," said Koetter. "That's when we play our best, when Doug's rolling and then Jameis is working his downfield play-actions off those runs."
In addition to Pamphile and Smith, the Buccaneers also deactivated QB Ryan Griffin, RB Jacquizz Rodgers, T Leonard Wester, DT John Hughes and DT Sealver Siliga. Rodgers is also out due to injury.
The Chiefs will be missing two of their starters on defense, as DE Jaye Howard and CB Marcus Peters are both inactive due to injury. Peters leads the Chiefs' defense with five interceptions this year and has an NFL-high 13 picks since the start of 2015, his rookie campaign. Second-year man Steven Nelson will start for Peters.
Kansas City's offense will operate without one of its main weapons, WR Jeremy Maclin, for the second week in a row. In addition to Maclin, Howard and Peters, the Chiefs deactivated QB Tyler Bray, RB Bishop Sankey, LB Dadi Nicolas and OL Mike Person.
The Buccaneers take on the Chiefs on Sunday, with kickoff scheduled for 1:00 p.m. ET at Arrowhead Stadium. The game will be broadcast locally by FOX and on radio through the Buccaneers Radio Network and its flagship station, US 103.5 FM.