Posted: Friday January 24, 2003 6:56 PM
The Bucs will beat the Raiders if ... they play the defensive game that they're capable of playing against a team that's probably going to try and spread them out. The Bucs can't give up the big play. They have to make Rich Gannon work those 10- to 12-play drives, which the Raiders are capable of doing. The Bucs defensive matchups are going to be pretty good, but they don't like to be spread out, and Oakland can do that in a way that few teams are capable of doing.
Pass pressure on Gannon is going to be key. I think the Raiders' offensive line will be up to the task, but the thing that Rich does so well is avoid that one free rusher. He'll drop the shoulder or turn slightly, and if he's got to run, he'll run and he'll do OK.
But the question becomes how much pressure does (Bucs defensive coordinator) Monte Kiffin want to put on Oakland and leave themselves vulnerable in a bunch of 1-on-1 matchups, as opposed to playing the more passive zone and trying to get pressure with the four-man rush. I think he'll start with the four-man rush to see how much pressure he can get with it, but he'll obviously have a blitz package ready if he can't get it done.
What Tampa Bay did last week at Philadelphia that was most impressive was respond to the challenge of the early score by Philly. That was a prime opportunity for them to fall apart and for everybody to go, "Oh, here we go again." But for them to turn around and go the length of the field -- even if they only got three points -- that mentally had to be huge.
Obviously once the game stayed manageable, that put it into Tampa Bay's court. And that's what this game is going to be about. If they can keep it manageable, they've got a shot to beat the Raiders.
The Raiders will beat the Bucs if ... they can stretch Tampa Bay's defense enough with their three-wide package. I think they can. If they can, that's going to make Charlie Garner a real factor. I think he's going to be big in this game, and stretch the Bucs' defense enough to where they're worried so much about the passing game that all of a sudden he has some running lanes, too.
Bucs linebacker Derrick Brooks would be the natural guy to cover Garner one-on-one, but I think they're going to try and trap more with some zone coverages. The problem is, you're doing it against a guy that has seen everything. What has Gannon not seen? What can you do that he won't recognize? That's the dilemma they have. "How do we do the typical Tampa trap and get you to throw it someplace you don't want to throw it against a guy who's seen it all?"
The other thing that should concern Tampa and will, because I know Kiffin, is Oakland's lack of convention. If need be, the Raiders will say "We'll throw it 60 times." And if they spread it out and throw it 60 times, that's not the game I think Tampa Bay wants to play.
Frankly, I think Oakland's offense and Tampa Bay's defense -- both teams' No. 1 asset -- cancel each other out. This is going to come down to the lesser units: The Bucs' offense against the Raiders' defense. And boy, that's a toss up. That puts it back in Brad Johnson's court, and makes it a question of how healthy are the Oakland corners? If they are healthy and running well, I think they match up very well. But if you get too caught up with Keenan McCardell and Keyshawn Johnson, that's where Ken Dilger and Joe Jurevicius all of a sudden can hurt you.
To me the pressure is on Gannon and on Jon Gruden. This is clearly what Jon was brought here to do -- win this game. If anybody's going to feel pressure, it'll be him. But he'll handle it, and Gannon the same way. Gannon has to have a great game. With Brad Johnson, it would help for him to have a good game. But with Gannon, he's got to have the game of his life. If he doesn't, if he's off a little bit, then it could be a long day for him.