"I'm not overly optimistic about the Bucs' chances of beating the Eagles in Philadelphia. In fact, I'm not that optimistic at all. Don't be fooled by the Bucs putting four touchdowns on the board against a bad, bad San Francisco defense and then think they are going to go up to Philly and do that against the Eagles defense. No way. They'll be lucky to get one offensive touchdown, which is something they haven't done in their last three trips to the Vet since 1999. I'm not being an anti-Buc pessimist, I'm just being a realist. My early prediction is a close game through three quarters with the Eagles pulling away in the fourth quarter and winning 23-13."
"Did you see the blitzes that the Eagles defense was throwing at Michael Vick and the Falcons Saturday night? Don't think they won't come with similar packages against Tampa Bay to exploit the Bucs' offensive line. Philadelphia's front four of Hugh Douglas, Darwin Walker, Corey Simon and N.D. Kalu pose serious matchup problems for the Bucs. It's a clear mismatch that favors the Eagles. Sure, the Bucs offensive line played great against San Fran, and left guard Kerry Jenkins had an outstanding day, but Philly's front four and front seven is faster and much more physical. I don't like Walker and Simon versus the Bucs' interior, especially against right guard Cosey Coleman. Defensive tackle Paul Grasmanis is no slouch, either."
"Brad Johnson will have to be deadly accurate with his throws and must get rid of the ball quickly. He'll need help from his receivers in breaking tackles and turning small plays into big plays. Tampa Bay's lack of team speed on special teams and offense will show up in Philadelphia. The Bucs don't have any quick-strike speedsters that can generate fast points or extraordinary big plays. A big play to the Bucs is a 20-yard pass or a 10-yard run, and that plays right into the Eagles' hands."
"Okay, enough gloom and doom. How can the Bucs come out of Philly with a win? First, they need to be plus-two in the turnover margin, and they can't have more than two turnovers themselves. Working on short fields would greatly help the offense. Second, they need to score touchdowns instead of field goals, even if it means gambling on makeable fourth-and-shorts on Philadelphia's side of the field. Third, aside from the offensive line playing out of their mind, Mike Alstott needs to have a big day running the ball. He's the one player who can really wear down Philly's defense and take away some of their aggressiveness and enthusiasm. Finally, the Bucs have to attack the deep middle of the Eagles defense and try to get backs or tight ends to draw the assignment of 300-pound middle linebacker Levon Kirkland, whose coverage skills have diminished. This is clear mismatch in the Bucs' favor."
"Defensive tackle Warren Sapp will have to show up in Philadelphia -- a place he's disappeared before. He had half a sack and one tackle against San Francisco, but needs to make impact plays against the Eagles. That means sacks and causing turnovers. He's tallied eight or nine tackles the last two playoff games at the Vet combined, and must deliver the big play. He must take over the game, whether it is winning the one-on-ones or the double-teams."
"Head coach Jon Gruden needs to bring the screen passes to Philly to take advantage of the Eagles' blitzes and exuberance at rushing the passer. He also must not be afraid to go to four and five receiver sets to make defensive coordinator Jim Johnson think twice about bringing corners and safeties on blitzes. Quarterback Brad Johnson can quickly locate the open receiver and big plays could be there for the taking. By going with split backs or a max protect set on obvious passing situations, Gruden will be asking for trouble."
LEO HAGGERTY – Pewter Report Managing Editor:
"What a great defensive effort by the Buccaneers. They just totally dismantled the San Francisco offense that was able to put up 39 points against a very good New York Giants defense. The Bucs defense showed why they are ranked number one in the entire National Football League by limiting the 49ers to a paltry two field goals. The goal line stand put up by the Pewter Pirates in the first quarter after taking a 7-0 lead to force the ‘Niners to settle for a field goal was huge. The rout was on when Tampa Bay marched right down the field and put another one in the end zone to extend its lead to 14-3."
"If there is any question about the intestinal fortitude of Brad Johnson they were dispelled during the divisional playoff game. Is his back healed well enough to play? The answer to that question is yes. Is he playing pain free? The answer to that question is still a matter of debate. If you look at No. 14 from the time of the Pittsburgh game, where he had difficulty even sitting down, to today where he was moving as fluidly as he has all season. All in all, the two game rest for the leading quarterback in the National Football Conference may be just what the doctor ordered. A healthy and rested Johnson is imperative if the Bucs are to have any chance of upsetting the Philadelphia at Veterans Stadium."
"If Warren Sapp ever decides to move to the other side of the ball he may have a career as a tight end. There is no doubt that No. 99 can block and, if you don't believe me, ask the San Francisco defender that got driven off the ball on Mike Alstott's first two-yard touchdown run. By Sapp getting a push on the defensive end it allowed guard Kerry Jenkins to pull around the left end and log the rest of the San Francisco defenders inside as the A-Train slid outside and went in untouched for Tampa Bay's first touchdown of the day."
JIM FLYNN – Pewter Report Assistant Editor:
"Tampa Bay's offense finally put some points on the board in the playoffs. That's exactly why the Bucs gave up so much to the Raiders in exchange for head coach Jon Gruden. Why were the Bucs able to put 31 points on the board? Turnovers and third down conversions were the two biggest contributors. Tampa Bay's offense converted 59 percent of its third downs, which helped them win the time of possession by almost one quarter of play. The Bucs' defense forced and recovered a fumble and intercepted QB Jeff Garcia three times."
"Speaking of Tampa Bay's defense, they showed why they were ranked No. 1 throughout most of the 2002 regular season. The Bucs kept a potent 49er offense out of the end zone on Sunday. They also contained another mobile quarterback in Garcia. And what about Tampa Bay's secondary? Bucs cornerbacks Ronde Barber, Brian Kelly and Dwight Smith held Pro Bowl WR Terrell Owens to just four catches for 35 yards."
"Tampa Bay's offensive line gave QB Brad Johnson plenty of time to throw Sunday. This might have been this unit's most impressive outing of the season and they certainly picked a good time to come together. Not only did the offensive line only allow one sack, but they also opened up some big holes in the running game, especially near the goal line, where FB Mike Alstott scored two touchdowns with the help of DT Warren Sapp as a blocker. Bucs head coach Jon Gruden and offensive line coach Bill Muir were wise to pull guard Kerry Jenkins throughout the afternoon. All five of Tampa Bay's starting offensive linemen had a good game, but Jenkins really stood out in this one. If the offensive line can continue to give Johnson time to throw, the Bucs will be able to get WR Joe Jurevicius, who's been a clutch receiver this season, on the field more often."
"Can Tampa Bay win in Philadelphia next Sunday? I wouldn't put any of my money on it, but at the same time, I wouldn't say the Bucs have no chance. This is a different Bucs team. They're not heading up to Philly for a first-round playoff game where even if they escaped with a win, all they had to look forward to was two more road games. This is the NFC Championship Game. The Bucs are one game away from its first Super Bowl berth. Even this year's Bucs had chances to beat the Eagles in Week 7. Tampa Bay has not scored an offensive touchdown in Philadelphia in three straight contests and they're certainly not going to beat the Eagles with field goals this Sunday. No one will give Tampa Bay a shot of winning in Philadelphia on Sunday. Hmm, doesn't that sound like something we heard back in 1999 when the Bucs were preparing to face the Rams in the NFC Championship Game? Although Tampa Bay lost to St. Louis in that contest, they nearly shocked the world. It will take a near-perfect game for the Bucs to shock the world next Sunday."
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