A lot of the information that I am about to provide to you has been made possible because of the great work at Bucs Nation, especially by a dude named Sander (who claims to be their "General Manager"), so I would like to give a shout out to them .
In four days' time, the Detroit Lions will open up their much anticipated 2011 season against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Of course, the Lions and Bucs are well acquainted with each other as they played in Week 15 of last season and used to be in the same division some years ago. However, things have drastically changed for both teams in the recent past. Both teams have had a new quarterback at the helm since 2009, started promising rookie running backs last year and both drafted a receiver named Mike Williams ... only it worked out better for the Bucs than it did for us.
The Buccaneers offense is currently coached by former Lions offensive coordinator Greg Olson. For those of you that do not recall, Olson was Joey Harrington's quarterbacks coach with the Lions and briefly the offensive coordinator after Steve Mariucci was fired and Ted Tollner (then Mariucci's offensive coordinator) was demoted. After the 2005 season was over, Olson was relieved of his duties only to be picked up by Scott Linehan as his offensive coordinator in St. Louis the same year. In 2007, he was again fired, and then picked up by the Bucs as their quarterbacks coach, which eventually led to him being named the offensive coordinator in 2009.
Long story short: Greg Olson isn't the biggest reason to fear the Bucs offense. However, his background actually tells us a ton about what to expect from the Bucs offense come Sunday. For one, he has a fair amount of exposure to the West Coast Offense having coached under Mariucci and Linehan, but he is also known to have studied Mike Martz's offense. When you watch the Bucs, you can clearly see that the Bucs mix in plenty of both offenses; how much you see of which one depends on who they play.
The Buccaneers are also quite versatile on the offensive line. They are one of the few offensive lines that I know of that consistently use both man and zone blocking schemes for the running game. This offseason, the Bucs actually brought in former Minnesota Vikings offensive line coach Pat Morris, who used to use big lineman like Steve Hutchinson and Bryant McKinnie in Minnesota to zone block. I expect to see similar blocking techniques as the Vikings from the Bucs on Sunday.
As I stated before, the Bucs offensive scheme is sort of a mixture of the West Coast Offense and Martz's Air Coryell type offense, but they played mostly a West Coast type offense against the Lions in Week 15 last season. For those of you not familiar with those two schemes, they are basically exact opposites. The West Coast Offense is basically a short passing game that is meant to get the ball in the hands of play-making wideouts. The Martz system of offense (or Air Coryell offense) is a vertical form of offense that relies on timing and accuracy from both the quarterback and receiver.
The other key difference between the two is that the West Coast uses a zone blocking scheme while the Air Coryell system uses a power or man blocking scheme. That is one of the reasons the Bucs use both forms of blocking. This was pretty apparent when I watched almost the entire second half of the game. It also seemed to me like the Bucs offense played two-wide formations -- whether it's I-formation, split-back, strong or weak-I -- about 70 percent of the time. To me, that makes a ton of sense. The Buccaneers receiving corps isn't particularly deep, and they definitely could use the extra protection against the Lions front four, and I expect them to play a similar style of offense.
Now, what do the Lions have to do to have success against the Bucs? It comes down to one thing for me: tackling. The Buccaneers are one of the most physical offensive units in football. They have a great power back in LeGarrette Blount, a huge quarterback in Josh Freeman and a tough, physical receiver in Mike Williams. What goes in the Lions favor is that the Bucs don't particularly have a deep threat on the roster, so they cannot stretch the field to take advantage of the physicality.
Without a deep threat presence, the Lions should be able to provide plenty of eight man boxes to stop LeGarrette Blount or even bring extra pressure. The tougher question is how to cover guys like Kellen Winslow and Mike Williams. Based on who the Lions matchup with, Mike Williams will tell us a lot on who the coaching staff feels is the better tackling corner. In addition, we will also get a look at exactly how well DeAndre Levy is adapting to his new position and how good of a coverage man Justin Durant is.
In last season's matchup, LeGarrette Blount was able to break a 39-yard run and Mike Williams was able to pick up 26 yards on a screen pass. In addition, Josh Freeman was able to escape a few sacks by running the ball. While the Lions ended up winning the game in overtime, things like that could hurt the Lions again on Sunday. On the other hand, I should mention that the Buccaneers offensive line is somewhat of a work in progress and that they lost their best blocking running back in Cadillac Williams in the offseason.
Both of those factors should make it easier for the Lions to rush Josh Freeman. During the game, I will be interested to see how the Bucs decide to handle the Lions interior linemen. Davin Joseph is one of the most underrated guards in the NFL and should be matched up one on one with Corey Williams. That would leave two linemen to occupy Ndamukong Suh, but it's really not saying much, as Suh consistently faces double teams anyway. Besides, Suh will be matched up with the Bucs 2010 sixth-round pick Ted Larsen at left guard and an aging Jeff Faine at center, which will more than likely help his cause along with the rest of the defensive line.
As far as numbers go, the Bucs weren't too bad offensively. They ranked 20th in points scored per game with 21.3, which was just 1.3 points lower than the Lions. In addition, they did manage to rack up just over 2000 yards rushing, which was good for eighth in the league. Josh Freeman, while not throwing for a ton of yards, did throw 25 touchdown passes to only six interceptions.
All of the numbers above should be taken with a grain of salt, though. Of the 16 games the Bucs played last season, 10 of them were against defenses ranked 16th or lower in the league. In those 10 games, the Bucs averaged 24.4 points a game. In the six games the Bucs faced a defense ranked 15th or higher, the Bucs only managed 16.2 points a game.
All in all, I don't think the Buccaneers offense is something to be petrified of, but it could be a long day if the Lions revert to their early 2010 selves when they couldn't tackle. In addition, I also believe that the physical Bucs are the perfect litmus test for the new look linebacking corps that features what most people think to be more reliable tacklers. Overall, I expect the Lions to do a good job on defense, but the Buccaneers will manage to put up more than two touchdowns in this game.