WHERE: Paul Brown Stadium in Cincinnati, Ohio
SPREAD: Bucs by 6.0
WHERE THE BENGALS STAND:: 4-6 Record. The Bengals are in fourth place in the AFC Central Division and are four games out of first place.
HEAD COACH: Dick LeBeau (0-0 vs. Bucs head coach Tony Dungy).
OFFENSIVE COORDINATOR: Bob Bratkowski
DEFENSIVE COORDINATOR: Mark Duffner
SPECIAL TEAMS COACH: Al Roberts
MATCHUP TO WATCH:. BUCS CB RONDE BARBER vs. BENGALS QB JON KITNA: Barber has a career-high six interceptions and is keying in on quarterback passes like a hawk this season. Barber also presents problems as a possible blitz threat. Bucs defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin occasionally blitzes Barber from the corner, which proved to rattle Bengals QB Jon Kitna the last time he met Tampa Bay's defense. When Kitna was with Seattle in 1999, Tampa Bay tore the young Seahawks quarterback apart. The Bucs defense unmercifully blitzed Kitna and forced him into throwing five interceptions. Tampa Bay also brought Kitna down three times for sacks. Kitna has grown as a quarterback, but is still having some woes. He has thrown nine touchdowns and 12 interceptions this season. While Kitna is receiving some time to throw behind his offensive line, he is still making some mistakes. Tampa Bay's defense thrives off of creating turnovers and they have 16 interceptions through nine games this season.
HOW THE BUCS RANK IN THE NFL:
OFFENSE: OVERALL: 20th RUSHING: 29th PASSING: 11th
DEFENSE: OVERALL: 9th RUSHING: 15th PASSING: 8th
HOW THE BENGALS RANK IN THE NFL:
OFFENSE: OVERALL: 25th RUSHING: 21st PASSING:23rd
DEFENSE: OVERALL: 10th RUSHING: 17h PASSING: 13th
QUARTERBACK QUANDARY: There's a quarterback controversy brewing in Cincinnati, and the mess doesn't look like it will get cleaned up any time soon. Bengals QB Jon Kitna started the season and had taken all of the snaps until he was pulled last Sunday against Cleveland. Kitna has completed just 55 percent of his passes and thrown nine touchdowns and 12 interceptions. Kitna was pulled for QB Scott Mitchell, who didn't fare well at all. He completed 4-of-12 passes for just 38 yards and threw three interceptions. Mitchell also took two sacks. Even 1999 first-round pick QB Akili Smith completed 1-of-2 passes for just 2-yards and was sacked one time. While Kitna had only been sacked 15 times in nine games, Mitchell and Smith took a total of three in one game. Expect Kitna to be starting when the Bucs and Bengals meet on Sunday, but don't be surprised Cincinnati head coach Dick LeBeau doesn't hesitate to yank Kitna if things don't go well in the early part of Sunday's game.
HOW KITNA FARED LAST TIME HE MET TAMPA BAY'S DEFENSE: Although Kitna left Seattle via free agency this offseason, he is running an almost identical offense. But in 1999, Tampa Bay traveled to Seattle to face Kitna and the Seahawks, and Bucs defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin and Tampa Bay's defense did a number on him. The Bucs defense intercepted Kitna five times and sacked him three times. Kiffin blitzed Kitna often, which confused the young quarterback. Expect Kiffin to do the same when they face each other again for the first time since Kitna's meltdown.
BENGALS HAVE SERIOUS RUSHING ATTACK: It doesn't look like it on paper, but the Bengals have one of the best running back situations in the league. Bengals RB Corey Dillon is quick and elusive back, who can bull defenders over and/or can use his speed and nifty moves to beat them. Dillon is averaging just 3.8 yards per carry and has scored five touchdowns this season, but Tampa Bay's defense has struggled against runners like Dillon, i.e., RB Eddie George. As if Dillon wasn't enough to worry about, Bengals third-down and situational RB Brandon Bennett has added explosiveness to Cincinnati's rushing attack. Bennett is averaging 4.5 yards per carry and helps keep Dillon fresh.
BENGALS SPREAD THE BALL AROUND ON OFFENSE: The Bengals like to spread the ball around on offense, which makes them hard to defend. WR Peter Warrick has 44 receptions for 446 yards and one touchdown this season. Warrick is used more on crossing routes and slants, where as WR Darnay Scott, who has 31 receptions for 454 yards is their deep threat. Bengals RB Corey Dillon can be a receiving threat out of the backfield. He has hauled in 22 passes for 125 yards and caught two touchdowns. The Bengals have completed passes to 11 different receivers this season.
BEWARE OF BENGALS LINEBACKERS Mark Duffner was promoted in the offseason from linebackers coach to defensive coordinator and has made his linebacking corps the heart and soul of Cincinnati's defense. Duffner favors blitzing MLB Brian Simmons and SLB Takeo Spikes, and it certainly shows in the statistics. Spikes leads the team with 60 (50 solo) tackles and has four sacks and has one interception. Simmons is second on the team in tackles with 53 (40 solo). Simmons leads the team in sacks with 4.5 and also has one interception. Both linebackers are very dangerous and play at a Pro Bowl level, but they hardly get any recognition. Tampa Bay offensive coordinator Clyde Christensen better recognize Cincinnati's linebackers, or Bucs QB Brad Johnson could see another 10-sack day like the one he had against the blitz-happy Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 6.
BUCS SOUND OFF ON THEIR UPCOMING OPPONENT
Bucs QB Brad Johnson on the Bengals: "It seems like every week our backs are against the wall," said Johnson. "This week, Cincinnati is a very physical group. They're a tough team to run the ball against. It's hard to distinguish their coverages. They disguise those pretty well and they hope they get some mismatches out there. They're actually a team that turns the ball over, so they've been losing their last few games because they're turning the ball over. They're a very good team."
Johnson on the Bengals' ability to be physical: "This is going to be a physical matchup," said Johnson. "They're very big up front and very tenacious, unlike some of the other teams we've played recently."
Johnson on playing on colder weather: "Guys will have long sleeve shirts and a handmuff to have," said Johnson. "But if we're going to win, we're going to have to win in Cincinnati where we don't know what the weather is like. In two weeks, we'll have to go up to Chicago. It's something you have to face throughout the course of a season. Where we are now, if we get to the playoffs, we're going to be playing away. Regardless of rain or cold weather, you just have to deal with it."
Johnson's response to a statement saying the Bengals don't have anything to lose: "Cincinnati has a lot to lose," said Johnson. "You have a lot to lose in this league every week. Whether it's your record or pride, there's a lot at stake each week. We expect to get their best game."
Johnson on the Bengals blitzing their linebackers: Each team has their own identity," said Johnson. "I think they do a really good job of controlling the line of scrimmage and stopping the run. We're going to see a lot of different types of blitzes, but it's nothing we haven't seen before. Those are always things you really have to focus in on, especially in nickel packages."
KR Frank Murphy on coming close to being the first Buccaneer to ever return a kickoff for a touchdown "I'm almost there," said Murphy. "It's going to come right on time. All we can do is keep working hard at it. I'm working my butt off."
Bucs DT Warren Sapp on Tampa Bay's defense playing better as a unit: "I think we're playing better as a whole unit," said Sapp. "Brooks is getting a little more healthier and we had to get on them last week because they're special. And this week, we have a special back in Corey Dillon and a special O-line that will block you if you're not onto details. This is another week we have to be on our game."
Bucs head coach Tony Dungy on preparing for the Bengals: "I think our guys understand what's on the line and what's at stake," said Dungy. "Cincinnati is playing some good football. They haven't won their last three games, but they're very physical and run the ball well. They've got a Pro Bowl back who's really a big-time player. Defensively, they're playing people real tough, so we know what's in store for us. We have to get our emotion level back up and be ready for that type of game."
Dungy on the Bucs being unfamiliar with the Bengals and trying to prepare for them in a short week: "It's going to be a big challenge," said Dungy. "We don't know as much about these guys as the Rams. Now we've got a short week and a team that has some really good skill position people and big defensive people up front and we don't that much about them."
Dungy on the team's need to meet if not elevate their emotional level from Monday night's game on Sunday against the Bengals "I think we're going to have to pick up our intensity and emotional level a little bit," said Dungy. "It's going to be a different type of game. I think it's going to be a more physical game and I think we're going to need to be better."
Dungy on how Cincinnati is very similar to the Pittsburgh Steelers "It will be very similar (to Pittsburgh)," said Dungy. "They'll try to attack us with blitzes like Pittsburgh did and I think they'll try to pound us with Corey Dillon. They've got some big-time wide receivers, where as Pittsburgh didn't throw the ball as much against us. But I think we'll see a lot of Corey Dillon running it inside."
Dungy on the importance of not overlooking an opponent like Cincinnati "This opponent is not the big name like St. Louis," said Dungy. "But they're tough. We've seen what they've done to some other teams like Baltimore. We know we can't afford a loss and if that doesn't mean anything to you, then nothing will."
FLYNN'S FINAL: Despite winning last Monday night at St. Louis, Tampa Bay still has little room for error, which means they are in a must-win situation, again.
If Tampa Bay can stop Bengals RB Corey Dillon and pick up blitzes from their linebackers, the Bucs should leave Paul Brown Stadium victorious. But stopping Dillon and picking up and reading linebacker blitzes are not going to be easy.
Dillon is one of the best running backs in football, but having a healthy ROLB Derrick Brooks helped the Bucs defense contain Rams RB Marshall Faulk and should aid Tampa Bay in their efforts to halt Dillon and the Bengals rushing attack.
While the Bengals do not play a 3-4 defense, they do blitz their linebackers early and often against opponents. Cincinnati has two of the best linebackers in football in Brian Simmons and Tekao Spikes. Bucs QB Brad Johnson and was sacked 10 times in their game against Pittsburgh earlier this season. Why do I bring up Pittsburgh you ask? Well, the Steelers were unsparing in sending linebacker blitzes and the Bengals will probably not be any different. It will be up to Johnson, Tampa Bay's offensive line and backs Warrick Dunn, Mike Alstott and Jameel Cook to pick up those blitzes. If Tampa Bay's offense can control the line of scrimmage and win the turnover battle by rattling Bengals QB Jon Kitna, the Pewter Pirates should escape Paul Brown Stadium with a much-needed win on Sunday.
FLYNN'S PICK: Bucs 23 Bengals 10
Copyright 2001 Buccaneer Magazine/BucMag.com
This story is intended to be read only by subscribers to the Insiders Pass service of BucMag.com and TheInsiders.com. Sharing of the Insiders Pass content with non-subscribers of this service can result in cancellation of your subscription to the service and/or further actions by the publishers.
Get more analysis, inside information and expert commentary from the Buccaneer Magazine staff by calling 1-800-881-BUCS(2827) to subscribe to Buccaneer Magazine.