Key Matchup: Penn versus Freeney

The task of attempting to slow down Colts defensive end Dwight Freeney falls on the head of a 2006 undrafted free agent today -- Bucs offensive tackle Donald Penn. Greg Talmage breaks down this key matchup.

The NFL injury bug bit the Tampa Bay Buccaneers extremely hard last week as both their starting running back, Cadillac Williams, and left tackle, Luke Petitgout, were lost for the season. So now the task of slowing down Indianapolis Colts defensive end Dwight Freeney on the fast turf of a very loud RCA Dome has fallen upon an undrafted free-agent who will be making his first professional start. Sounds like a pure 100 percent  mismatch, right?

First-off, who is Donald Penn -- other than the unlucky offensive tackle who draws the start against Freeney this week? Penn was signed by the Minnesota Vikings as an undrafted free-agent out of Utah State in 2006 and was on their practice squad before being picked up by Tampa Bay in Week 4 last year. The second-year player was inactive for the final 13 games of last season, but made some noise this season during training camp and in the preseason. Specifically, he impressed the coaching staff with his mentality on the field, his mauling nature in the run game and his versatility as he's able to play both right and left tackle.

After Petitgout went out early in the second quarter, Penn got his first taste of regular season football last week and did an admirable job. He was solid job in pass blocking against Carolina defensive end Mike Rucker and, just like in the preseason, showed a lot of tenacity in the running game. This week, though, will be a totally different kind of experience.

Bucs Head Coach Gruden summed up the situation facing his new left tackle very succinctly, "A lot of guys have experience in the preseason, but experience against Dwight Freeney on the road is a little different experience," Gruden said. "We think he's [Penn] shown promise. He's an athletic guy, he's worked his butt off and it's a credit to [offensive line coach] Bill Muir, [senior assistant offensive line coach] Aaron Kromer and Donald Penn. This is a great opportunity for him and we will see what happens."

Penn knows this is a huge opportunity and moment in his career. "I always watched that [former Giants running back] Tiki Barber commercial when he's driving the [Cadillac] Escalade and he's talking about his opportunity," Penn said. "Every time I saw that commercial I kept thinking I'm just waiting on mine, I'm going to get mine one of these days. You just have to do it because you only get one. Not too many people get more than one opportunity. So just like that commercial said, I've been waiting on my opportunity and I'm just trying to grasp it."

Dwight Freeney pressures Carson Palmer
Andy Lyons/Getty Images

What should we expect to see on the field on Sunday? Freeney has gotten off to a slow start with just one sack in four games and is surely looking forward to going against the inexperienced Penn. Look for Freeney to use an impressive variety of pass rush moves and counters to take advantage of that inexperience.

Freeney features some very good second-level moves. For example, he'll blast off the ball upfield, like he's going to try to beat the tackle to the corner. The tackle responds by jumping outside and trying to cut him off. Then Freeney spins back inside, with such a quick move that sometimes the tackle barely touches him as he goes right by him.

Another move is a demonstration of Freeney's strength. Here, he again sets the tackle up by blowing off the ball like he's going to run around him, but after two steps upfield he angles back toward the tackle, and bull rushes -- getting the tackle off balance.

Penn is remarkably light on his feet for a 305-pound guy.  He'll need to be in order get enough depth to stop a speed rusher like Freeney. Still, do not expect the Bucs to take many chances and leave the youngster on an island against Freeney.  They'll help Penn by double-teaming Indy's star defensive end with a tight end like Alex Smith or Anthony Becht -- and possibly some chucks from fullback B.J. Askew.

Another big source of help for Penn could be his quarterback. Garcia has spent a large part of his career working in the West Coast offense, so the fact that the team's offensive gameplan is predicated on getting the ball out quickly should help. Garcia will also roll away from Freeney and his relentless rush.

Be sure to check back with ColtPower this week following the game. Ed Thompson is planning to make Freeney a "Colts Game Tape" spotlight player for the Bucs game. So we'll get a nice in-depth review of what the Bucs do against him and how much impact he has.

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