Observation Deck: Bucs-Cards preview

In this "Observation Deck" preview of Sunday's game, find out why Maurice Stovall is the offense's most pivotal player, why Gaines Adams may start and why the Bucs could have done a lot better than calling up a practice squad player to fill out their roster. Plus game predictions, key matchups and more.

On Thursday the Tampa Bay Buccaneers filled out their 53-man roster for Sunday's game by promoting Michael Spurlock from the practice squad.

Who? You and me both. He spent all season on the Cardinals' practice squad before a week 17 promotion. Then he caught four passes for 31 yards.

Scintillating. But then, at this point in the season, I don't really expect the Buccaneers to unearth Jerry Rice.

This is the sad state of the Buccaneers in 2007. It seems every week a golf cart races onto the field and whisks off another injured player. Often, we never see them again.

Carnell Williams? Haven't seen him since September. Luke Petitgout still hangs around but does a bee line for the locker room door when any reporter starts sniffing around about his injured knee. Torrie Cox? Absent since arriving on injured reserve on Tuesday.

And don't forget the seven Bucs on the injury report right now. That would be practically the entire inactive list for Sunday's game, should none of them play.

Snake-bit would actually not give this situation enough credit. And, yet, after all this, the Buccaneers are still NFC contenders. Kudos to them for overcoming all of this.

But, really — is Spurlock the best they could do?

No offense to Mike. I'm sure he's a fine receiver, even though he played quarterback and running back at Mississippi (finally, I remember him).

It feels like between Spurlock and Chas Gessner, who signed up for another tour on Tuesday, the Bucs are scraping the bottom of the barrel for reinforcements.

Why do I feel this way? Consider:

-- Chad Owens is out there. Remember him? He competed with Mark Jones and kickoff returner in training camp. He's plenty quick and knows the system. The Bucs don't want to use Phillip Buchanon there on Sunday, but that's looking more and more likely. Why not Owens?

-- Why not Bethel Johnson for that matter? A league source informed me Tuesday that he and Owens worked out with the Bucs. Johnson has returned 147 kickoffs in his career with two touchdowns. Plus, we know he can catch the football. He has 39 receptions — and a Super Bowl ring.

-- How about Mike Williams? The former first-round pick — he's the guy the Bucs almost took instead of Caddy — was released by Oakland on Tuesday. Sounds like a classic Bucs reclamation project to me. Plus, he's from Tampa.

-- Oh, and former FSU star Peter Warrick, from nearby Bradenton, is begging for work. Actually begging for work.

Is the scheme really that hard? I know plugging a player into a NFL team at midseason is difficult (ask Michael Bennett), but the Bucs need a receiver and returner, and it makes no sense to promote players with estimable skills at either when there are more experienced options that would cost them the league minimum at best to sign.

The salary cap isn't an excuse. There's plenty of room.

Yes, the bye is coming and some of those injured Bucs will be back.

But this week, these moves, albeit minor, just don't make much sense.

Now, let's get to it.

ON OFFENSE

The most important person on the offense for Tampa Bay on Sunday? Maurice Stovall.

Stay with me for a minute.

Stovall caught a career-high five passes for 47 yards against Jacksonville last week. You'll notice that Ike Hilliard's numbers — which had been stellar the previous two games — dipped to three catches for 23 yards.

Why? Smartly, the Jags paid attention to Hilliard more than Stovall. This week during film study, the Cardinals got a nice look at Stovall and realized they now have a third wide receiver to deal with.

I've said this since the season opener — the Bucs need a third wide receiver to produce steady numbers. Is Stovall the guy? Maybe. We'll see more on Sunday. But let's say he can produce similarly against the Cardinals, a team with the eighth-best pass defense in the NFL. The Cardinals will have respect him a little bit, especially when the Bucs go into those three-wide receiver sets Jon Gruden loves to run.

If Stovall catches some passes early — especially downfield — a couple of things could happen. First, the Cardinals could adjust into a man-based scheme — which plays into Joey Galloway's hands on deep slants and crosses — or the Cardinals could adopt a zone-based Cover 2 scheme, which could allow the Bucs to run out of a single-back set with limited safety help.

Either way, in my opinion, a productive Stovall helps this offense more than a productive Galloway or Hilliard. The Cardinals are expecting that. They're not expecting Stovall as much. The Cards have the secondary to deal with two talented receivers, but I'm not so sure about three of them.

OTHER POINTS TO PONDER

-- Jeff Garcia must cut down on the turnovers. He's made five in two games. The fumbles against Detroit were a lack of concentration. The interceptions against Jacksonville were the result of a relentless blitz package. The Cards may have to blitz because their pass rush is about as productive as Tampa Bay's though Darnell Dockett has six sacks inside. Garcia is going to have to deal with it better than he did last week.

-- If you read my story on the running game, then you know the Bucs are beginning to show signs of life in that department. Now they need some red-zone chances close to the goal line, so sustained drives are key on Sunday. While I couldn't get anyone in the locker room to agree, I have to think that a defense giving up a rushing touchdown from their 1-yard line — whey they're geared to stop it — has some demoralizing effect. The Cardinals have allowed six rushing touchdowns this year — all in the red zone.

Art Valero can't stop raving about Arron Sears' development. Spotting trends at the guard position is almost impossible to the lay football fan, because the position is swallowed up by every play. But given the Bucs have rushed for more than 100 yards each of the past two weeks, you have to have believe that he and right guard Davin Joseph are holding their own against some pretty talented defensive tackles right now.

MATCHUPS

JOSEPH VS. DOCKETT: Dockett is the under tackle in the Cardinals' scheme, so he and Joseph are going to tangle a lot on Sunday. As I mentioned, Dockett has six sacks, so Joseph is going to need help from center John Wade on occasion. Gruden said earlier this week that Dockett was at the top of his game.

GALLOWAY VS. CARDS DB ROD HOOD: You have to figure Hood will cover him most of the day. He leads the Cards in passes defended (11) and interceptions (2). Galloway's speed, as always, will be a factor.

BUCS RB MICHAEL BENNETT VS. CARDS WLB KARLOS DANSBY: Gruden loves Dansby and for good reason — he's the Cards' leading tackler. He's banged up, but he'll play. Bennett should play more on Sunday, and his speed is a big weapon out of the backfield. When Bennett is in, expect Dansby to be the one in close pursuit.

OFFENSIVE PREDICTIONS

I make five offensive predictions each week. Check back on Monday to see if I'm right.

1. Tampa Bay will rush for 125 yards or more on Sunday. The Cards have allowed at least 90 yards rushing five times this season. Plus, they gave up181 yards to the Bucs' NFC South rivals, the Panthers, three weeks ago.

2. Jeff Garcia will throw one interception. The Bucs really can't afford it, but the Cardinals have had two weeks to scheme for the Bucs and, let's face it — Tampa Bay's scheme at the moment isn't that creative.

3. The Cards' Darnell Dockett will not get a sack. That sounds preposterous given Dockett's production and Joseph's lack of experience. But I'm going to put a little faith in the guard and say he can get it done.

4. Ike Hilliard will have another sub-par game on Sunday. The Bucs will attempt to go deep to Galloway often, and Stovall is going to get more involved. Someone has to take the hit. Besides, Eric Green will defend Hilliard and he has nine pass breakups this year.

5. The Bucs will go for it on fourth down and move the chains. This is a critical game. You'll see Jon Gruden take a chance that leads to a victory.

ON DEFENSE

I've always liked Kurt Warner. And you have to like the fact that he's playing with a strained left elbow. Most quarterbacks would beg off and take a few weeks to recover. Not Warner.

But if there's one thing I know about Warner is that he doesn't respond well to defensive pressure. The more guys you get around him and the more hits you can put on him, the more likely he is to make mistakes. Warner has directed an offense that has committed eight turnovers in its past two games. He's been responsible for five of those turnovers — three interceptions and two fumbles.

So it's very simple. The Bucs must put together a great pass rush this week, force Warner into mistakes and hit him repeatedly until he coughs up the football. The Bucs haven't forced a turnover in three weeks. It's about time.

I'm not sure who will start for Greg Spires at right end on Sunday. It could be Greg White, Gaines Adams or Patrick Chukwurah. I'm betting it will be Adams. All the talk this week has been about how Adams needs to start stepping up. I think the Buccaneers will give him that opportunity. But you'll see plenty of White and Chukwurah, if the latter can finally play with that shoulder injury.

Whoever it is, they'll have to match up with veteran left tackle Mike Gandy, a converted left guard. He should not be confused with Seattle's Walter Jones or St. Louis' Orlando Pace. This is a matchup that Adams, et al, can win.

OTHER POINTS TO PONDER

-- The Cardinals have used Tim Rattay in red-zone situations because of Warner's turnover problems. That will require some adjusting because Rattay has a slower release and is more likely to go through more progressions on pass plays than Warner, who has a tendency to lock in on a receiver.

-- This is the worst week to lose Torrie Cox. The Bucs have three healthy corners and the Cardinals have three great receivers in Larry Fitzgerald, Anquan Boldin and Bryant Johnson. Fitzgerald's size and speed makes him a matchup nightmare. Watch for safeties Jermaine Phillips and Tanard Jackson to offer less help against the run. Also, Jackson could play some nickel corner this weekend. Kalvin Pearson would replace Jackson at free safety if they did that.

Edgerrin James is still a great back. I don't care what anybody says. The Cards are only ranked 19th running the ball, but that's because the Cardinals' offensive line still isn't that great. They've responded well to new line coach Russ Grimm, but this line still needs more talent. Right tackle Levi Brown — who should return to the starting lineup this week — was a good start.

MATCHUPS

JAMES VS. BUCS MLB BARRETT RUUD: Ruud is the NFL's leading tackler with 106 tackles. James is averaging nearly four yards per carry. Shutting down James is the easiest way to make the Cardinals one-dimensional.

FITZGERALD VS. BUCS CB RONDE BARBER: Barber is giving up about six inches to Fitzgerald, who is an insatiable blend of size and speed. So why does he only have one touchdown catch? The right scheme and physical play can make him a non-factor.

GANDY VS. ADAMS: The Bucs are eager to see their first-round pick get it done on his own. White told me Wednesday that Adams made a nice inside move on that fourth-quarter sack of the Jaguars' Quinn Gray. The Bucs hope to see more of that.

DEFENSIVE PREDICTIONS

1. Arizona will rush for 100 yards or more. The Cards aren't a great run team, but the Bucs aren't a great run defense, either (ranked 22nd in the NFL). It won't be much more than 100 yards, though.

2. Kurt Warner will throw two interceptions. Warner can be goaded into a bad game because he'll always take a few too many chances. If he's hit early by the Bucs defense, it could be more.

3. Ronde Barber will have first interception of the season and it will go for a touchdown. I'll be right one of these weeks.

4. The media will want to talk to Gaines Adams after the game. He'll start and have a nice game. An estimable left tackle, an immobile quarterback and an amped up Adams will make for a five-tackle, one sack, two-pressure performance.

5. Tanard Jackson will have an off game. He'll be shuttling between safety and nickel corner and he'll likely make a couple of coverage errors.

THE PREDICTION

I've taken the Bucs the past two weeks and been wrong — but not by much. They've lost their last two games by a combined eight points. So they're right there. All they really have to do is continue to play at the level they have the past two weeks, plus limit the turnovers, and they should win their fifth game of the year. I'm actually confident they'll win and I really have little cause to be that confident. Yet I am. The Bucs need this win — and the bye next week — to get this season back on course. Bucs 23, Cardinals 17.

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Listen to Bucsblitz.com's Matthew Postins every Tuesday with former Buccaneers linebacker Scot Brantley on WHBO 1470 ESPN Radio in Tampa and Clearwater from 3-6 p.m. If you miss the show, check out Bucsblitz.com's exclusive team media center for Postins' archived appearances.

Matthew Postins covers the Buccaneers for Bucsblitz.com and the Charlotte (Fla.) Sun-Herald. He is a member of the Pro Football Writers Association, and his coverage of the Buccaneers has won numerous state and national awards.


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