WHERE: Ravens Stadium at Camden Yards in Baltimore, Maryland
SPREAD: Bucs by 3.5
WHERE THE RAVENS STAND: The Baltimore Ravens are 0-1 and are tied for last place in the AFC North Division.
RAVENS HEAD COACH: Brian Billick
RAVENS OFFENSIVE COORINATOR: Mike Cavanaugh
RAVENS DEFENSIVE COORDINATOR: Mike Nolan
RAVENS SPECIAL TEAMS COACH: Bennie Thompson
HOW THE BUCS RANK IN THE NFL (2002):
OFFENSE: OVERALL: 16th RUSHING: 23rd PASSING: 10th
DEFENSE: OVERALL: 21st (T) RUSHING: 20th (T) PASSING: 22nd
HOW THE RAVENS RANK IN THE NFL (2002):
OFFENSE: OVERALL: 21st RUSHING: 20th PASSING: 15th
DEFENSE: OVERALL: 7th RUSHING: 25th PASSING: 2nd
MATCHUP TO WATCH Ravens' 3-4 Defense vs. Tampa Bay's Offensive Line: Tampa Bay's offensive line was woeful in preseason and they were even worse against the New Orleans Saints last Sunday. Baltimore's defense has lost some key players and it has a new scheme (3-4 defense), but they're still a very dangerous group. The 3-4 defense is tough to move the ball against because teams can disguise blitzes more in that particular scheme. The Bucs' offensive line has not been good in terms of recognizing blitzes, but they'll have to fare well against the Ravens on Sunday if they plan on escaping Baltimore with a win. Tampa Bay quarterback Brad Johnson proved during his tenures in Minnesota and Washington that he can be a very dangerous quarterback when given time to throw. The Bucs will also have to get the ground game going, which will put even more pressure on the offensive line. Baltimore's linebacker corps are the strongest part of the defense and they could present plenty of problems for Tampa Bay's offense if their offensive line doesn't play better than they did last Sunday.
DID YOU KNOW…
…the Ravens cleared nearly $26 million in salary cap room during the offseason by parting ways with several veteran players?
LOOK OUT FOR LEWIS:
Tampa Bay's defense allowed Saints running back Deuce McCallister to rush for over 100 yards last Sunday. They'll face another tough, but different type of back this Sunday in Ravens RB Jamal Lewis. Baltimore's running game didn't get going against Carolina last Sunday. Lewis was only able to rush for 64 yards on 17 carries (3.8 avg.). He missed the entire 2001 season with a torn ACL, but as a rookie in 2000, he rushed for 1,364 yards. Lewis has an excellent blocking fullback in Sam Gash, which will make it tough for Tampa Bay's undersized linebackers to stop him. The Bucs were able to hold the Ravens to 90 yards rushing in Ray-Jay last season.
BUCS MUST RATTLE QB REDMAN:
The Ravens are no longer led by QB Elvis Grbac. Third-year QB Chris Redman is Baltimore's signal caller on offense. While he's had a chance to groom in head coach Brian Billick's offense for two seasons, he's a first-year starter. Redman completed 20-of-34 passes (58 percent) for 218 yards and threw one touchdown and one interception against Carolina last Sunday. Redman was pressured often and was sacked twice, which caused the young quarterback to struggle against the Panthers. Tampa Bay's front four hasn't been able to get pressure on opposing quarterbacks, which might tempt Bucs defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin to send some corner, safety and linebacker blitzes. Kiffin has been known to rattle first-year starting quarterbacks and Sunday can't be an exception if the Bucs are planning to escape Baltimore with a win.
BUCS' CORNERS MUST CONTAIN WR STOKLEY:
Baltimore lost its two leading receivers during the offseason in WR Qadry Ismail and TE Shannon Sharpe. Both players combined for 147 catches last season. But WR Brandon Stokley stepped up against the Panthers last Sunday. The Ravens' speedy receiver hauled in six passes for 83 yards (13.8 avg.). The Bucs' cornerbacks had trouble containing the Saints' speedy receivers last weekend. Ravens WR Travis Taylor is another deep threat. He caught two passes against the Panthers for 53 yards (26.5 avg.). Tampa Bay's secondary can fare well against the receivers if their front four can get pressure on Redman early and often.
BEWARE OF THE 3-4 DEFENSE:
Tampa Bay's offensive line allowed QB Brad Johnson to get sacked 10 times the last time they faced the 3-4 defensive scheme. While they won't face Pittsburgh's personnel, the Ravens' newly installed 3-4 scheme could present problems for the Bucs' woeful offensive line. Look for the Ravens to blitz Tampa Bay throughout the entire football game. The Bucs' offense will have to start making defenses pay for blitzing before teams will stop doing it. If Johnson gets knocked around like he did by New Orleans' defense, the offense won't be very productive. If the offensive line can give Johnson time to throw, he will have a chance to pick apart Baltimore's inexperienced secondary.
BUCS MUST HOLD OFF LB LEWIS:
Baltimore Pro Bowl linebacker Ray Lewis still carries the torch for the team's defense, but when the Ravens switched from a 4-3 to a 3-4 defense, he moved from middle linebacker to right inside linebacker, which means he'll have to shed more blocks than he's used to. Lewis recorded 10 tackles last Sunday, but struggled to shed blocks. Tampa Bay will have to keep him out of their running lanes. Lewis isn't as big of a blitzing threat as LB Peter Boulware, who sacked Panthers QB Rodney Peete once last Sunday.
BUCS SOUND OFF:
Bucs SS John Lynch on Ravens QB Chris Redman:
"He's a first-year starter, but he's a third-year guy in the league," Bucs SS John Lynch said of Chris Redman. "He looked pretty good against Carolina. The Panthers had a great defensive effort, but he handled himself well in the pocket. He's got a great offensive coordinator in Brian Billick."
Bucs head coach on the Ravens' defense:
"No one's really scored on them throughout the preseason. They've been very stingy. They gave up 10 points last week and seven of those were set up on a flea-flicker in a second-and-one situation. They have a lot of pride with Ray Lewis and (Peter) Boulware and (Chris) McAlister and (Michael) McCrary. They know how to play defense in Baltimore."
Gruden on accounting for Pro Bowl LB Ray Lewis:
"You better, otherwise he'll have double-digit tackles and he'll have double-digit solo tackles. They're going to blitz him and they're going to ask him to do things in coverage. And they're going to do things for Ray Lewis to try to help free him to read off blocks, get to the ballcarrier and make impact plays."
Gruden on the Ravens' defense and how they vary their defensive alignments:
"Peter Boulware is what you would call an interesting football player. Here's a guy who can put his hand down and be a premier pass rusher and be an outstanding defensive end. And when he's playing outside linebacker in this 3-4 system, it's pretty easy for them to get him matched up against the back at times. You've got to be conscious of where Boulware is at all times, and you know they're going to create some games internally to get Ray Lewis freed up to make plays. When you talk about the 34 defense, you talk about linebackers, and when you start with Ray Lewis and Peter Boulware, you're starting with some real clout."
Gruden on the challenges of facing the 3-4 defense:
"Fortunately, we saw it against the Houston Texans. The rules are different. The guards are uncovered, the combinations of blitzes on these bubbles are very, very intense. There are a lot of different types of blitzes and it's a different type of defense all in all. But we do have some rules that are in place. I think our guys picked it up, had a good practice today and it was a physical practice."
Is Tampa Bay in a must-win situation in Week 2 of the 2002 regular season? You bet. The Bucs play five of its first eight games on the road and they lost their first home game of the season last Sunday against New Orleans. If the Bucs lose to the Ravens, which they can't have happen, they'll come home 0-2 and prepare for the St. Louis Rams, which would not bode well for the Pewter Pirates.
Tampa Bay's secondary got picked apart by Saints QB Aaron Brooks last weekend, but one of the reasons that happened was because the front four couldn't get enough pressure on Brooks. Redman might be able to do the same thing if defensive tackles Warren Sapp and Anthony McFarland along with defensive ends Greg Spires and Simeon Rice can't sustain a serious pass rush. That said, Ronde Barber, Brian Kelly and Dwight Smith will have to play the Ravens' receivers a little tighter this Sunday.
Tampa Bay's offensive line must give QB Brad Johnson an adequate amount of time to throw out of the pocket. Teams will continue to relentlessly blitz Johnson until the Bucs' offense can make them pay for it by taking advantages of one-on-one matchups. But if Johnson's face is in the dirt seconds after he takes the snap, he won't be able to find those matchups.
The Bucs' running game must get going, too. Tampa Bay running back Michael Pittman, who averaged 4.2 yards per carry against New Orleans, could have a big day rushing against Baltimore. Carolina, who ranked near last in the league in rushing in 2001, rushed for 146 yards against Baltimore's defense last Sunday.
The Bucs can't afford to come back to Tampa with another loss. The first part of their schedule will not make it easy for them to overcome an 0-2 start. It's never easy to win on the road, but if the Pewter Pirates had to play somebody on the road at this point in the season, the Ravens would probably be one of their top preferences.
Tampa Bay won't win a lot of games this year if they play like they did last weekend. Can the offense look any worse? If they do, the Bucs won't likely win. Look for the offense to continue to work through their growing pains and the defense to carry the torch in this one.
FLYNN'S PICK Buccaneers 17 Ravens 16
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