Stillers @ Buccaneers Preview (Game #4)
The surging Stillers, winners of 3 straight, travel down to Florida to take on the 2-2 Tampa Bucs, who are coming off a disappointing OT loss to the Titans. This matchup, of course, takes place at the same venue as the hideous, wish-we-could-forget loss at Tampa back in '98, made infamous by the Cowher-Stewart confrontation. With any kind of luck, the '01 version of this game won't be half as miserable for Stiller fans. For those who like hard-hitting defense, this game should be a doozy. On the other hand, those who like to see the scoreboard light up often during the game may be disappointed with these 2 un-prolific offenses.
* When the Bucs have the ball, they�ll try to pound it out with their 1-2 punch of FB Mike Alstott and RB Warrick Dunn. The Bucs possess a decent offensive line, with heralded rookie K. Walker manning the LT, McDaniel at LG, ex-Vike Christy at center, and former 2nd round picks Coleman and Wunsch at RG and RT. But despite a solid OL and the Alstott/Dunn combo, the Bucs have had their problems running the ball, averaging a mere 75 yards/game. Passing wise, QB Brad Johnson pitches the pill to Keyshawn, Jacquez Green, and TE Dave Moore, with Reidel Anthony serving as a sparingly-used 3rd receiver. Johnson is a solid QB, but hardly a game-breaker kind of passer. The key matchup will be DeWayne &/or Chad against WR Keyshawn Johnson. After facing a pretty mediocre WR crew in KC last week, the Stillers will have a sterner test with Keyshawn, who perked up last week with 8 grabs for 140 yards. Sure, the Bucs will attempt to mimic the success that Priest Holmes had last week, but at the same time, the Stillers have hopefully learned a few things and will rectify those problems long before departure to Tampa. Keyshawn is a true impact player and game-breaker who, like Jimmy Smith in Jax, can put points on the board in a hurry.
* When the Stillers have the ball, they�ll again hope to pound the ball on the ground with Bettis performing the bulk of the chores behind an O-line that has begun to gel pretty nicely. What's more, the whole offense is as healthy as can be expected, unlike most other teams that have been hit by the injury bug. QB Kordell Stewart is coming off perhaps his best game of the past 2 seasons, and will hope to continue that success with a combination of designed runs, boots, and rolls. To be sure, the Buc defense is far superior than that of any team the Stillers have faced thus far this season. The D-line is strong and studly, led by all-world DT Warren Sapp. But the other linemen aren't chopped liver. A. McFarland is a force at the other DT, and DE Simeon Rice has seen a re-birth in Tampa. Derrick Brooks leads a tough LB corps, although he's been hobbled and is questionable for this game. (I do expect him to play.) And SS John Lynch acts like another LB, oft-times playing just a few yards from the LOS and delivering a tonnage of hits. The key matchup will be the Ward and Burress against CBs Donnie Abraham and Ronde Barber. TB Coach Tony Dungy knows the Stillers well enough, and he's not foolish enough to allow Bettis to ramble thru 6-foot wide holes all day. Dungy will bring Lynch up near the LOS, and dare the Stillers to run the ball against an 8-man front. I don't expect those massive holes we've seen lately to be quite as large when we face the Bucs. Furthermore, the Bucs got a taste of defending a running QB last week, when McNair burned thm for good yardage on the ground. Look for the Bucs to make some adjustments (using a spy on Stewart), which will mean that Burress and Ward need to make some plays downfield against Barber/Abraham.
* Spec Teams: The Stillers get the luxury of facing another ex-Stiller punter, Mark Royals, who was a royal shitbag of a punter during his tenure here. Kicker Martin Gramatica is an all-world talent, but has struggled a lil' thus far in '01. The return game of Tampa is hardly daunting. In fact, the Buccaneers have returned 1,503 kickoffs in their 26-year history (1976-01) and have never scored a touchdown on a kickoff return. Stiller punter Josh Miller has been a bit sluggish and mediocre this season, and will need to step it up on Sunday if the Stillers are to win the battle of field position. Kris Brown will most assuredly be called upon to boot at least 2 FGs against the Bucs. Hank Poteat had a fumble last week that he recovered, and he'll need to be a bit more responsible this week.
* Synopsis: This is another tough road game for the Stillers, who haven't been overly strong on the road in recent history. The Bucs have had their warts exposed and, while a decent team, are certainly not a dominant team at this point in time. The Stillers have been the recipient of some fortuitous bounces and breaks the past few weeks --- dropped INTs, recovered fumbles, a blocked-punt that goes out of the EZ, numerous dropped passes by enemy WRs, and so on. Plus, the Stillers might be a little complacent after this modest 3-game winning streak. Ergo, the Bucs will eke out a hard-fought, hard-hitting 16-13 win over the Stillers.