WHERE: Paul Brown Stadium in Cincinnati, Ohio
SPREAD: Bucs by 7
WHERE THE BENGALS STAND: The Cincinnati Bengals are 0-3 and in last place in the AFC North Division.
BENGALS HEAD COACH: Dick LeBeau
BENGALS OFFENSIVE COORINATOR: Bob Bratkowski
BENGALS DEFENSIVE COORDINATOR: Mark Duffner
BENGALS SPECIAL TEAMS COACH: Al Roberts
HOW THE BUCS RANK IN THE NFL (2002):
OFFENSE: OVERALL: 23rd RUSHING: 29th PASSING: 12th (T)
DEFENSE: OVERALL: 13th RUSHING: 9th PASSING: 21st
HOW THE BENGALS RANK IN THE NFL (2002):
OFFENSE: OVERALL: 28th RUSHING: 21st PASSING: 24th
DEFENSE: OVERALL: 19th RUSHING: 21st PASSING: 7th
MATCHUP TO WATCH Bengals Outside Linebacker Takeo Spikes vs. Buccaneers Quarterback Brad Johnson: Bengals defensive coordinator Mark Duffner does a great job of disguising linebacker blitzes with outside linebacker Takeo Spikes and middle linebacker Brian Simmons. Both players are tremendous playmakers and combined for 312 tackles and 12.5 sacks last year and they both lead the team in tackles this season. The Bengals secondary is the defense's weakest link and if Tampa Bay's offensive line and backfield can recognize Cincinnati's blitzes, Bucs QB Brad Johnson will have enough time to pick apart the secondary and move the chains quite often on Sunday. Cincinnati's defensive line hasn't been able to sustain much of a pass rush this season, which will call for Duffner to send Spikes and Simmons in on blitzes often.
DID YOU KNOW…
…the Bengals have been outscored 57-3 in the first half of its three games this season?
SCORELESS IN CINCINNATI:
Actually, the Bengals have scored points this season, but not many of them. Cincinnati has scored 16 points in three games this season, which averages out to be 5.3 points per game. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out why the Bengals are 0-3 thus far after seeing that statistic. To make matters worse, Cincinnati is allowing 28 points per game this season. They've been outscored 84-16 through three games. If the Bucs don't feel like its offense is gelling yet, Sunday's game might be a good opportunity to move the chains and score some points.
Why has Cincinnati's offense sputtered through three games? Well, you can start at the quarterback position first, where QB Gus Frerotte completed just 44-of-85 passes (51.8 percent) for 437 yards and threw one touchdown and five interceptions as the starter. Things were so bad at that position that backup QB Jon Kitna played on a few occasions, including last Sunday's game against Atlanta. But Kitna hasn't fared much better. He completed 18-of-35 passes (51.7 percent) for 136 yards and threw one touchdown. The quarterbacks haven't received much help from its wide receiver corps or offensive line, either. In fact, Frerotte has been sacked 10 times and Kitna has been sacked once.
That's part of the reason why the Bengals have decided to start fourth-year quarterback Akili Smith on Sunday. While he's inexperienced, he's much more mobile than Frerotte and Kitna, and at this point, Cincinnati would like to see if they can get some sort of return on their 1999 first-round pick/investment.
If Tampa Bay's defensive line can sustain an effective pass rush, the Bengals won't generate a lot of offense and will likely turn the ball over often on Sunday. Tampa Bay defensive coordinator has never made life easy for young quarterbacks and Smith won't likely be an exception.
WHAT A RUSH:
As bad as Cincinnati's offense might be, they do have some dangerous weapons on this unit. Bengals running back Cory Dillon is the most lethal offensive weapon on the team. He's not having his best season, but still has rushed 49 times for 184 yards (3.8 avg.). If the Bengals could keep games close, Dillon would get more carries. But they've been outscored 57-3 in the first half of games this season, which has caused head coach Dick LeBeau to abandon the running game early. Dillon is also an effective receiver out of the backfield. He leads the team in receptions with 14 for 104 yards. Cincinnati offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski likes to call Dillon's number on screen plays and swing passes, but unfortunately for the Bengals, Dillon doesn't really have the blockers up front that can turn those into long plays. Tampa Bay's defense held Dillon to 79 yards on 23 carries last season and they'll need to do the same this time around.
Cincinnati's defense has yet to record an interception through three games this season. This might prompt Bucs head coach Jon Gruden to take more chances in terms of play calling and could prompt QB Brad Johnson to take more chances downfield. The Bengals haven't allowed a quarterback to throw for over 200 yards in a game yet, which is because the Bengals' run defense is horrible. Teams haven't had to go deep on Cincinnati because they can move the ball on the ground effectively and can move the ball through the air on intermediate routes. Look for the Bucs to do the same.
SPREADING IT AROUND:
Twelve different Cincinnati receivers have caught passes this season. Dillon leads the team in receptions and wide receivers T.J. Houshmandzadch (10) and Peter Warrick (9) are right behind him. The Bengals assembled a wealth of college talent at the receiver position, but none of them have lived up to the hype. Although Warrick is a speedster, he has underachieved in the pros and is not a very polished receiver. Chad Johnson, Danny Farmer and Ron Dugans all have their moments, but lack consistency. Of course, they'd probably fare better if they had someone better throwing to them. Tampa Bay's cornerbacks shouldn't have much of a problem covering and containing Cincinnati's receiving corps.
FOR MORE INFORMATION ON THE CINCINNATI BENGALS:
Visit the Cincinnati Bengals' site and TheInsiders Cincinnati Bengals' web site for more information on Tampa Bay's next opponent – the Cincinnati Bengals.
BUCS SOUND OFF:
BUCS DT WARREN SAPP ON BENGALS QB AKILI SMITH:
"I've never seen him play. We are going to expect him to be a 3 or 5 step drop behind the center, but a little more mobile, maybe a little more boots here or there, but no different than we face with Kordell Stewart or Donovan McNabb or any other fast guys we face in the year. We are going to be more conscious of our rush lanes and keep him in the pocket, but we aren't going to change anything crazy."
BUCS SS JOHN LYNCH ON FACING QB AKILI SMITH:
"One thing you learn in this league is conventional knowledge would tell you that you can't blitz as hard, but as soon as you do that you play into their hands. So, you have to go at him hard, maybe harder. He has some escapability, but the way the league is you face a lot of quarterbacks like that. It's more of a rarity to face a quarterback that doesn't have the mobility, so we're kind of used to it. Sure it's an added plus for them, but he also doesn't have that much experience and we need to use that to our advantage."
BUCS HEAD COACH JON GRUDEN ON PLAYING CINCINNATI:
"Our mentality is to start fast and apply as much pressure as we can in all three phases of our play. They have struggled on offense. They haven't hit the level that they will hit sometime this year, but we need to start fast and apply pressure in this league to win, especially on the road. They are going to be an emotional football team with a lot to prove. They have a lot of pride in that locker room, I know some of those guys and I know some of those coaches and I know our players respect that. We need to get ready for a physical game Sunday."
BUCS QB BRAD JOHNSON ON THE SHORT WEEK:
"That's the good and bad thing about playing on Monday night, last week we had an extra day of practice and felt fresh and prepared to play, and this week you're really preparing on five days of rest. We'll get our regular work in, as far as our three days of practice, and we should be ready to go. But it does make it tough, but we need to go up there (Cincinnati) and find a way to win."
TAMPA BAY WR KEENAN McCARDELL ON AVOIDING A LETDOWN IN CINCINNATI:
"We need to be aggressive, stay aggressive, and keep the same passion we had for Monday night. Regardless of how short the week is you have to go out and realize that you have to prepare for Sunday. Sunday is near, it's close and it's a road game. That is one thing that should get us up, it's a road game. You need to have your best on the road and going into Cincinnati is not going to be an easy thing."
Should the Bucs even bother making the trip to Cincinnati for this one? Can't the Bengals forfeit or something? Ok, so maybe that was a bit harsh, but the truth of the matter is Cincinnati is just not a very good football team. In fact, they might be the worst team in the National Football League, but it's difficult to officially declare that right now since they don't play the Detroit Lions this season.
There are two things that bode well for the Bengals. First, they're hosting the Bucs in Paul Brown Stadium. They'll have home field advantage and no matter how bad a team is, it's never easy to win on the road. Second, Cincinnati is catching Tampa Bay on a short week after they played a very physical game against the St. Louis Rams last Monday night. The same situation presented itself last season and the Bucs nearly lost to a very bad Bengals team then. So, it could happen again. Tampa Bay must take this game seriously.
What must the Bucs do to win this game? Run, run and run some more. The Bengals are allowing an average of over 150 yards rushing per game. Tampa Bay must give the ball to RB Michael Pittman and FB Mike Alstott early and often. Cincinnati's defensive line and secondary have played horrible this season and even their linebackers, who are some of the best in the league, haven't played particularly well. The Buccaneers must also get a quick start just as they did against Baltimore in Week 2, when the Bucs scored 10 points in the first quarter. Teams have proved they can secure a victory early against the Bengals if they get a fast start.
Tampa Bay is one game behind the Carolina Panthers and New Orleans Saints, who are both 3-0 and atop the NFC South Division, so they can't afford to fall any further behind. Plus, Tampa Bay has a tough road game next Sunday when they travel to Atlanta to take on the Falcons.
The Bucs shouldn't have a problem winning this game. A loss would severely damage their playoff hopes, but then again, if Tampa Bay loses to Cincinnati, they don't deserve to be in the playoffs.
FLYNN'S PICK Buccaneers 31 Bengals 9
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