Titans at Buccaneers preview

Good football teams must win on the road and the 2007 Tennessee Titans are off to a great 2-0 start in that category. They’ll be tested in another road contest Sunday when they face the 3-2 Buccaneers in Tampa. Tennessee is coming off a 20-13 victory over the Atlanta Falcons while the Bucs were forced to walk the plank last week by the Colts.
Field: grass. Forecast: Isolated showers after 2pm. Partly cloudy, with a high near 88°. ENE wind 7-9 mph. 20% chance of precipitation.
Tampa Bay scouting report:
Overview — The Bucs have had only one winning season since their Super Bowl victory five years ago. Their 4-12 season last year put Jon Gruden’s name at the top of the list of coaches on the proverbial hot seat but the Bucs are off to a surprising 3-2 start this year, good enough to be tied for first place in the NFC South. It should be noted that two of their wins came against thus-far winless teams and the other against a team without their starting quarterback.
Offense — As you would expect, it’s Gruden’s typical West Coast offense, led by a typical West Coast quarterback in journeyman Jeff Garcia, who was probably around when Paul Brown taught the offense to Bill Walsh and Sam Wyche. The short passing game will have to be used even more frequently Sunday, since the Bucs’ top two running backs, Cadillac Williams and Michael Pittman, are out. Third string RB Earnest Graham will make his first NFL start, backed up by Kenneth Darby, whose next carry will be his first in the NFL. Newly acquired FB Zack Crockett may see playing time as well. WR Ike Hilliard is Garcia’s favorite target with deep threat Joey Galloway on the other side.
Defense — Coordinator Monte Kiffin has been, and probably always will be, a Tampa-2 coach. (For those of you not familiar with the Tampa-2, it’s the same defense the Indianapolis Colts play.) The linebackers are the heart of the defense, led by future Hall of Fame candidate Derrick Brooks, SLB Cato June and MLB Barrett Ruud. Four-time Pro Bowl corner Ronde Barber is the stud in the secondary.
Matchups to Watch: Tampa rookie LG Arron Sears vs Albert Haynesworth. Welcome to the NFL, Arron. Bucs LT Luke Petitgout is out, replaced by second-year man Donald Penn, who was inactive last year. His first career start was against Dwight Freeney last week and he played reasonably well under the circumstances. This week he has the unenviable task of trying to block Kyle Vanden Bosch. A pair of speedsters will be matched up often, with Titans CB Cortland Finnegan defending Galloway.
Connections: Former Titans DE Kevin Carter is now with the Bucs. Tampa rookie DT Jovan Haye played at Vanderbilt. It will be homecoming for WR Chris Davis, who’s from St. Petersburg, just across the bay from Tampa.
Outlook: Tennessee will try to run the ball against Tampa’s 22nd ranked run defense. Three backs have gained over 100 yards rushing on them and according to the old adage in the NFL, until a team proves they have an answer for it, you keep doing it to them. Question: Will Kiffin get out of his two-deep zone occasionally and put eight in the box to stop the run? With problems on their o-line and in their backfield, expect Garcia to throw the ball more than usual.
Prediction: The oddsmakers have made the Bucs a three-point favorite and the bettors haven’t changed that opening line. I don’t know why, unless people are blinded by the five turnovers and overall poor offensive performance last week.
Tennessee 20
Tampa Bay 13
For a look at the game from the Bucs’ point of view, please check out Atop the Crow’s Nest here on MVN.

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