The Bucs pass defense numbers have really been skewered by one horrendous quarter in the second week of the season. Eli Manning went into the fourth quarter having a good day, with about 243 yards passing - but the Giants were trailing and Eli had two brilliant receivers in Victor Cruz and Hakeem Nicks. That fourth quarter was amazing, with both teams trading big bombs. In the end, Manning threw for 267 yards in the fourth quarter - finishing with 510. Tampa Bay has been down at the bottom of the passer rankings since.
The Bucs have been adequate against the pass most of their other games. The better QBs they've faced like RG III and Drew Brees have gone for 300 yds. The Bucs have shut down the Brady Quinn and Chrisitan Ponder types - not so much.
The Bucs were at the bottom of the pass defense with Aquib Talib, I don't see them getting much worse without him. Tampa Bay has actually gone 2-1 since Talib's suspension (and should be 3-0).
2. Doug Martin looks like one of the best backs in the league right now. Is that a fair assessment? And why?
Doug has come on strong in the last three or four games (as the entire offense has). Primarily Doug has benefited from the unreal passing attack by the Buccaneers. As quarterback Josh Freeman has gotten comfortable in the offense with his two top targets in Vincent Jackson and Mike Williams, teams have had to respect the Bucs deep passing game. That's led to running lanes for Martin. With that said, Martin early in the season was a head down, charge into the line kind of back. As he's grown comfortable with the speed in the NFL, he's become more explosive, making moves reminiscent of the back he's compared to the most, Ray Rice. He's not as fast as Rice, but he is a strong back and as he showed last week he can break off the big play runs.
I will say losing All-Pro guard Carl Nicks for the season is devastating for the running game. It will be interesting to see just how the Bucs cope with losing him.
3. Was the Buccaneers' dominant performance against the Vikings out of character or is that simply what we should expect to see from them?
The Bucs playing hard and taking a big lead against the Vikings was the norm. Maintaining that lead throughout the contest, not so much. In each of their losses, Tampa Bay has led at one point in the game. The Bucs had two touchdown leads against both the Giants and the Saints - but couldn't keep it. Still, playing from ahead is much better than playing from behind.
I'll also say that the big play passing game the Bucs have shown all season was a bit subdued in the Vikings game as Minnesota played a lot of two deep zone to take away the deep ball. It allowed Martin to have a career day.
Freeman's going to look terrible half the game - then he's going to start torching your secondary and leave you wondering - where the hell did that come from? It's happened in just about every game this season - no matter the opponent.
4. What are the three strongest areas of this Buccaneers team?
Without question, the Bucs' receiving core. Not only has Vincent Jackson been as advertised, Mike Williams is in his more comfortable slot as the number two receiver and has flourished. Even Tiquan Underwood and old Dallas Clark have provided big plays in the passing game. Martin has also made an impact, catching a bunch of passes out of the backfield and making some big plays in space.
5. What are the three weakest areas of this Buccaneers team?
It's a tie between the Bucs' secondary and their offensive line. The Bucs secondary could be without their top two weapons on Sunday. We knew about Talib not playing - he was still serving a suspension (which ironically got extended with the trade to New England), but Eric Wright is appealing a suspension for PEDs and is nursing an achilles injury. That leaves the Bucs with E.J. Biggers, Leonard Johnson and Brandon McDonald (god help us) at corner. Both Ronde Barber and Mark Barron have played well at safety but they're not immune to mistakes and blown assignments.
On the offensive line, one of the strongest units of the team has been rendered one of the weakest by the injury bug. Tampa Bay lost Pro Bowl right guard Davin Joseph in the pre-season and this week lost All-Pro left guard Carl Nicks for the season. Tampa Bay also benched former starter Jeremy Trueblood in favor of undrafted free agent right tackle Demar Dotson, who has seen little action before this season since earning a roster spot as a backup. Nicks' loss will be the biggest as he pulled a lot for the Bucs when they ran right and he blew holes open running to the left.
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