Observation Deck: Bucs-Lions preview

The view from the "Observation Deck" this week is a good one, as I recount the barbs traded between Jeff Garcia and Roy Williams, plus take you deep inside Sunday's game with analysis, opinion and predictions for the Bucs' game with the Lions. It's a premium service from Bucsblitz.com.

Jeff Garcia can't seem to unload his house in Detroit.

Seems there's a little baggage leftover from his lost season with the Lions, too.

While certainly not a controversy on the level of, say, "Spygate," Garcia and Lions receiver Roy Williams did engage in a bit of long-distance verbal sparring this week leading up to today's game between the Lions and Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

No doubt both players believe they're in a better situation now. The Lions (3-2) appear to be turning things around under second-year head coach — and former Bucs assistant — Rod Marinelli. The Bucs (4-2) lead the NFC South and Garcia hasn't thrown an interception this season.

But Williams and Garcia revisited the past this week.

Williams went first criticizing Garcia's 2005 season in Detroit, saying the quarterback played the blame game — as in blaming everyone but himself.

"I respected the man," Williams said. "I just didn't like the fact that it would be (the receivers') fault and never his fault. It's always the receivers' fault."

Garcia signed with Detroit before the 2005 season and it made sense. Then-head coach Steve Mariucci coached Garcia in San Francisco, where Garcia put up Pro Bowl numbers. But Garcia never got on track. He broke his leg in preseason and returned to play only six games and put up the worst numbers of his career.

He left after the season and signed with Philadelphia.

On Wednesday, Garcia admitted that Lions locker room had some issues built up from several losing seasons.

"That creates a frustrating situation, and it's hard to fight through that when it's year in and year out, and I think that's what created some of the explosion that took place within the locker room," Garcia said. "But it wasn't like it was completely out of control. I thought that guys, for the most part, tried to work through it."

Reporters made Garcia aware of Williams' comments on Wednesday and he tried to be diplomatic about his time in Detroit. But during a later interview Garcia levied some criticism against the work ethics of some Lions from that team.

"I can't force players to take their playbook home with them," Garcia said. "I can't force players to get in the weight room. I can't force players to watch more film. That's up to each and every individual player. And that was something I'm sure was talked about at the time and it's just unfortunate that for whatever reason when you're not winning football games, you're trying to search for answers as to what can we do to be better."

Marinelli appears to have cleared out the malcontents in less than two seasons in Motown. Since taking over last season the Lions have taken advantage of two solid drafts, plus offensive coordinator Mike Martz's imaginative offensive scheme, to become one of the most productive offenses in the NFL right now. The Lions are fifth in total passing (265.4 yards per game) and ninth in points (23.4 points per game).

They've also thrived under the gritty Jon Kitna, the quarterback who raised the bar for the entire organization by predicting 10 victories before training camp.

Marinelli said he loved the proclamation.

"He's in the huddle, he looks at those guys' eyes and says, 'Hey, we've got a chance to be a good team,'" Marinelli said. "He basically challenged our whole organization (saying), 'We're good enough to do this.' Now, the challenge is out. He reminded me of Warren (Sapp) — 'Give us 17 points, we'll win.'"

Garcia has had a similar impact on the Bucs, though more quietly. He is in the Top 2 in the NFC in six categories, including interceptions (0), interception percentage (0.0) and third-down passer rating (102.0). Plus, he has already surpassed his career high of passes without an interception — 164. It's also the best streak in the NFL right now.

It's a far cry from his time in Detroit, that's for sure.

"He's stabilized the position that you have to have," Bucs head coach Jon Gruden said. "He's been consistent; he's been stellar, really. He's given us quality play at a position that you have to have quality play from. He's been inspiring. He's been everything that's been advertised."

On offense

Michael Bennett will play on Sunday, but I would expect the Bucs to give Bennett a package of plays that he and head coach Jon Gruden are comfortable with, plays that will put Bennett in a position to make plays. His speed will be a nice counterpoint to Earnest Graham's power running style. I felt the offense plodded last week with only Graham carrying the football, and Bennett can pick up the pace of the offense, like Michael Pittman did before his injury. That can only help the run game, which has been terrible for two straight weeks. I expect an uptick this week, as the Lions' run defense is average.

The Lions pass defense is awful, however, ranked 30th in the NFL. Philadelphia's Donovan McNabb fried this secondary in Week 3 for four touchdown passes. Their scoring defense is terrible, too. The Lions are allowing 31 points per game, next-to-last in the NFL. Why? I think it may be the Lions' underachieving pass rush, which only has 14 sacks so far. The Lions are also starting a rookie free safety, Gerald Alexander, and offenses are liable to pick on him.

The Bucs have fewer weapons than the Lions on offense, but if the Bucs are able to protect Jeff Garcia and get their running game going again, having only Joey Galloway and Ike Hilliard to throw passes to won't matter as much. At that point, the Lions would have to commit extra defenders to the blitz and leave their secondary in single coverage, which plays into Galloway's hands. This is a game where sustained drives would benefit the Buccaneers greatly on both sides of the ball.

Offensive predictions

Here are my fearless predictions for Sunday's game on offense (we'll get out the scorecard on Monday):

1. Jeff Garcia will not throw an interception for the seventh straight game this season.

2. Between Earnest Graham and Michael Bennett, the Bucs will rush for about 75 yards.

3. TE Jerramy Stevens won't take advantage of the opportunity left open by Alex Smith's injury, catching no more than two passes.

4. Joey Galloway will catch another deep touchdown pass, going at least 50 yards.

5. The Buccaneers offensive line will give up two sacks, one by former Bucs DE Dewayne White.

On defense

Bucs DE Greg Spires told me that beating a Mike Martz-led offense begins with stopping the run. So let's start there.

Kevin Jones should start this Sunday at running back for the Lions and see the bulk of the carries. I think he adds something to the offense that Tatum Bell lacks — a receiving threat. The Lions have the second-worst rushing offense in the NFL and Jones can certainly give it a boost. But how much? Jones will likely see his most extended action this season, and he's facing a run defense that is 21st in the NFL. I've seen this Bucs defense wear down if an opponent can sustain a running game (see St. Louis and Indianapolis), but I'm not sure the Lions will commit to it. I see a slow day for both backs as Martz opts to pass when the Bucs run defense slows down Jones and Bell.

The passing game is another story. The Lions have four viable weapons for QB Jon Kitna to throw to, and it's talent that can put cornerbacks and safeties on the defensive. Rookie Calvin Johnson should be fully healthy this week, too. Martz likes to let his receivers do the work, putting them in situations where they can make plays after the catch. Expect plenty of slant and crossing routes, with Roy Williams working deep. A Cover 2 scheme such as Tampa Bay's should allow Ronde Barber and company to keep those receivers in front of them. But watch the deep middle. Tennessee used it twice to get deep on safety Jermaine Phillips last week, and believe me, Martz knows how to do it. The Rams were 2-1 against Tampa Bay when he was their coordinator or head coach. The best chess match on Sunday will be watching Martz and Bucs defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin match wits.

Defensive predictions

Here are my fearless predictions for Sunday's game on defense:

1. The Bucs will pick off quarterback Jon Kitna twice,

2. Gaines Adams will play in a limited fashion due to his chest injury. I don't see him notching a sack.

3. The Bucs pass rush, which Larry Coyer said was the best it's been all season last week, will be about the same this week as the Lions have a solid offensive line in pass protection.

4. Can we get a big hit out of Tanard Jackson for the third straight week? I think so.

5. Kevin Carter will not get sack No. 100, but Jovan Haye will notch No. 4.

Prediction

I've given this game a great deal of thought, and I think it comes down to this. I trust the Bucs defense more than I trust the Lions defense, and I think that will be the difference. The Bucs have the ability to slow down Mike Martz's offensive attack. They'll play physical with the wide receivers and limit the running game, making the Lions a one-dimensional passing team. That sounds good in theory, but even Martz's offense relies on a semblance of balance (or did you miss those years when he had Marshall Faulk at running back?). The Lions pass defense is weak enough to give Garcia enough time to find his top two targets, Galloway and Hilliard. If Stevens can get into the mix, too, that would give the Bucs a serious boost. In the end, I think the Bucs pull this one out, even though it's a road game, the Lions are coming off a bye and they're relatively healthy. Bucs 24, Lions 21.


Matthew Postins covers the Buccaneers for BucsBlitz.com and the Charlotte Sun-Herald in Port Charlotte, Fla. He is a member of the Pro Football Writers Association and has won national awards for his Buccaneers coverage from the PFWA, the National Newspaper Association and the Associated Press Sports Editors. He is also a contributor to the Scot Brantley Show from 4-7 p.m. weekdays on WHBO 1490-AM in Tampa-Clearwater.


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