The Bucs sacked Lions QB Charlie Batch seven times in September
Almost a month ago to the day, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers defeated the Detroit Lions rather handily, 31-10. That game was in Detroit.
On Thursday, the Lions head down to Tampa for the rematch, and considering the results of the game on Detroit's home turf, odds makers might be justified in establishing the Buccaneers as favorites by about…
Not so fast.
Buccaneer players and coaches will stick to the 'one-game-at-a-time approach', of course, but let's take a look at the season series as a whole. A win on Thursday would give the Buccaneers a sweep of their northern rivals, and that's something Tampa Bay hasn't accomplished since 1990. Both the Lions and Buccaneers have experienced their shares of ups and downs in that span, but somehow Tampa Bay has never managed to beat Detroit twice in one regular season.
Even after handling the Lions very convincingly a month ago, Head Coach Tony Dungy concedes that it might be more difficult to win the second game in the series.
"It's human nature to a certain extent," he said. "You win a game the first time around and you think maybe things are going to be easier than they are. They're a good team, they make some adjustments. They come out and look at what you did. They're a little bit more determined because you beat them the first time. So you have to know that it's going to be tougher. We have to play better this time around, and we can do that."
Detroit has taken both sides of the series three times in that span, the other six have been splits. Four of those six times, the Buccaneers won the first game but couldn't complete the sweep when it came time for the rematch. That includes the 1997 season under Dungy, when the Bucs raced to a 5-0 start that included a win at Detroit, then slumped in October and lost a home contest to the Lions. The pattern is eerily similar to this season, but the Bucs hope to follow a pattern of success this time around.
"I think we controlled the line of scrimmage on defense and made it tough for them to run, making them kind of one-dimensional," said Head Coach Tony Dungy, describing the Bucs' efforts in the Silverdome on September 17.
"Offensively, we did a good job on their pass rush. I thought our offensive line used the help that we gave them. We chipped a lot with the backs and the tight ends and made it tough for them to get off the ball. I thought Shaun did a good job of throwing the ball quickly and making quick decisions."
That's a good description of how the Bucs were able to win in a venue that had treated them rather harshly in recent seasons. Having little success running with James Stewart against the Bucs' active front seven, the Lions abandoned that approach early and finished with just 17 yards on 10 carries. When the Bucs lead started to widen and the Lions became more desperate, Tampa Bay's rushers pinned their ears back and racked up seven sacks.
Detroit surely will look to avoid that trap in the rematch, and they have a runner in Stewart who has rushed for 203 yards and two touchdowns in the Lions' last two games.
"We anticipate them really coming in with the focus of running the ball down here," said Dungy.
Still, he hopes the Bucs can shut down the running game again, which is generally job one on the team's defensive task list. "We've had games up there in the past like that, when we've gotten ahead. We've been effective stopping the run early and getting to a quick lead. That would be the formula again. We'd like to do that again if possible."
The Lions might be even more focused on the running game considering the loss of WR Germane Crowell, who suffered a foot fracture in practice last week. With QB Charlie Batch rounding back into shape after a preseason injury, Crowell, Batch's favorite target, was really coming on. In his last four games, Crowell had tallied 19 catches for 264 yards and three touchdowns.
"They're a very good offense," said Dungy. "They've thrown the ball well against us in the past. Crowell being out obviously takes a little bit away from their passing game, but usually when guys go out it gives other guys a chance to step up. I know Herman Moore's looking forward to playing more…Brian Stablein…so we'll have our hands full with them."
On offense, the formula begins at the line of scrimmage as well. Detroit's defense is allowing an average of 120.7 rushing yards per game and, sure enough, the Bucs had 120 yards on the ground against the Lions in September. It's certainly no secret that Tampa Bay believes in establishing the run first, but Detroit may make it a mission to stop the running game, as Minnesota did last Monday.
The Vikings held Tampa Bay to 63 rushing yards and virtually dared the Bucs to pass it on them. QB Shaun King did just that, completing 26 of 40 passes for 295 yards.
"It depends on who you're playing and how they play," said Dungy. "We really want to come out and run the ball against Detroit, but if they play defenses and fronts and coverages that don't allow that, then you've got to be able to throw. Minnesota was pretty determined not to let us throw the ball. We had to throw it and fortunately we had guys open and we got pretty good protection for the most part."
Protection will be a key issue again on Thursday if the Bucs have to take to the air. Detroit has racked up 17 sacks this season, even though they had none against Tampa Bay in September.
"They've got some excellent pass rushers," said Dungy. "Last week against Green Bay, they really took control of the game. Porcher and Scroggins…that's always been our focus not to let those guys do that. Hopefully, we'll be able to use our snap count and our cadence down here to keep them off balance. We definitely can't let them get where they're teeing off."
Tampa Bay has a formula for winning against the Buccaneers, but they're not trying to add up the season any farther than this week.
"We're not looking at it as, 'Hey, we've got 10 left, or we've got to win three out of the next four, we've got to do this or that,'" said Dungy. "We have to go out and win a game on Thursday. If we do that, we'll have 10 days off and then we'll have a chance to win another game. That's the way you've got to approach it. Every one, the next one, is the important one."