Bucs LT Donald Penn vs. Colts DE Dwight Freeney
This sounds like a bad initiation at a frat house. Penn is the second-year tackle making his first NFL start, while Freeney is the veteran with 57 ½ career sacks. There is potential for Freeney to completely whip Penn on Sunday. Penn has proved to be a fairly adept run blocker in limited action in the preseason and last Sunday in Carolina. But his ability to adjust to blocking one of the NFL's best pass rushers -- on Jeff Garcia's blind side no less -- will be the difference between an efficient and an inefficient passing game for the Buccaneers.
Matchup to watch when the Bucs are on defense:
Bucs MLB Barrett Ruud vs. Colts TE Dallas Clark
If Marvin Harrison doesn't play, then Reggie Wayne becomes the No. 1 option -- and Clark immediately leaps to No. 2. Clark stepped up big last week after Harrison left the game, scoring two touchdowns. He's always been a great safety valve receiver for the Colts, but no Harrison means Clark must produce more. Ruud is the NFC Defensive Player of the Month for September. He's proven critics wrong that he didn't have the ability to cover passing lanes, as he already has one interception and two pass breakups, along with three forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries. Ruud must stay with Clark on underneath routes and the deep seams the Colts TEs seem to favor. Meanwhile, Clark must hang on to the ball once he gets it, because Ruud can force turnovers.
Center Jeff Saturday
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Matchup to watch when the Colts are on offense:
Colts Interior Offensive Line vs. Bucs Defensive Tackles
Last week against the Broncos, Colts center Jeff Saturday and guards Ryan Lilja and Jake Scott dominated the Broncos' defensive tackles and consistently got into the second level to neutralize a linebacker. As a result, Indy's running backs averaged 6.1 yards-per-carry and broke an incredible nine rushes for 10-plus yards in the game after posting just five during the first three games combined. The Bucs' defensive tackles are of similar size to the ones Denver put out on the field last week -- quick, strong players in the 285- to 295-pound range. If the Colts' interior line can push them around and get a player free to engage a linebacker just like last week, Indy should have good success with quick bursts up the middle of the field.
Matchup to watch when the Colts are on defense:
Colts LB Rocky Boiman vs. Bucs RB Michael Pittman
With Rob Morris out for the year following knee surgery, Rocky Boiman gets his second start of the year at strongside linebacker. The veteran also saw action at linebacker the past two weeks, notching an interception off a tipped pass against Houston in Week 3. Boiman can have a big impact on this game because in the Colts' defense, the strongside linebacker is the containment man versus the run, responsible for funneling the running back inside to limit big-plays. Michael Pittman comes into this game as the primary running back with Carnell Williams out for the season. He's been averaging 5.7 yards per carry and over the past two weeks has broken six runs for 10-plus yards off of just 22 attempts. Since the Colts want to make Tampa Bay one-dimensional so that they can release their pass-rush on Jeff Garcia, Boiman must play a major role in keeping Pittman inside where there are more bodies to make the tackles.
RB Michael Pittman
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The Bucs will win this game if ... they can continue to run the football with the consistency they have the past few weeks, despite the absence of Carnell Williams. The Colts run defense is average, and it could be without safety Bob Sanders. The Bucs have gained at least 180 yards rushing each of the past two games, and have used the running game to control the clock in the second half. This week a consistent running attack could keep the Colts offense off the field. As the Bucs have put together this three-game winning streak, it's clear the running game is the biggest reason why.
The Bucs will lose this game if ...they can't rush Peyton Manning and left tackle Donald Penn is unable to block Dwight Freeney with only a minimum of help. Manning cannot have all day to sit in the pocket and fire away. The Bucs secondary is playing well, but not even the Bucs can withstand that sort of barrage for 60 minutes. The Colts running game may be without Joseph Addai, so they could put the ball in Peyton Manning's hands more. The Bucs front four must take a step up on Sunday. If Freeney is able to put Penn on the defensive, expect Jeff Garcia's pocket to collapse quickly and for him to be sacked more than a few times on Sunday. That pressure could also lead to a Garcia interception and a less-than-productive running game.
The Colts will win this game if ... they can establish their running
game to force the formidable Tampa Bay secondary to respect the play-action
fakes that Peyton Manning sells so well. If Manning can keep the talented Bucs
defense guessing, he'll have his full range of offensive weaponry available to
chip away at the Bucs throughout the day. If he has to rely too much on the
pass, the battle becomes much more challenging. Another key will be for the
Colts to get pressure on, and contain, wily and determined Buccaneers QB Jeff
The Colts will lose this game if ... they uncharacteristically turn the ball over too many times. Tampa bay has forced 13 turnover opportunities already this year and converted eight of them -- three fumble recoveries and five interceptions. Meanwhile, the Colts have a league-best 2 total giveaways -- one fumble, one interception out of just three opportunities. But they've given up 14 points as a result of those two turnovers. Indy also can't allow Tampa Bay's run offense to get established early on or this game becomes a tighter matchup than some may assume.