Chiefs vs. Buccaneers: Keys to the Game for Tampa Bay
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Both franchises have struggled early on in 2012, winning just one game apiece between them. Not to mention, both will be looking to put an end to their current losing streaks, as the Chiefs have dropped two straight, while the Bucs sit on a three-game slump.
That said, what should the Bucs look to accomplish come game time Sunday? More specifically, what do the Bucs have to do to improve their chances for success versus Kansas City?
In other words, what are the keys to the game?
1. Shut Down Jamaal Charles
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With the condition of starting quarterback Matt Cassel still uncertain at this point in time, the already run-happy Chiefs will likely look to run even more against a Bucs defense that can be prone to allowing chunks of yardage on the ground.
Although Tampa Bay ranks 4th in the NFL against the run (73.8 yards per game), they have yet to truly face a back of Jamaal Charles' caliber this season.
Remember, the Bucs allowed 5.5 yards per carry to Giants running back Andre Brown, which may not bode well going up against the likes of Charles, who has already rushed for 551 yards this season.
Which, if you're the Bucs, translates into a simple defensive formula: shut down the run.
With journeyman quarterback Brady Quinn expected to start, the Bucs should look to force Quinn to showcase his ability—stuff the box and make him show he can beat them with his arm.
Defensive coordinator Bill Sheridan has shown a tendency to leave his corners, Aqib Talib and Eric Wright, matched up one-on-one outside anyways, so this wouldn't be much of a departure from the norm.
If the Bucs can hold true and stop Charles from chewing up yards and clock, the Bucs' chances for victory increase exponentially.
2. Unleash Josh Freeman
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Statistically speaking, the Chiefs have the NFL's eighth-ranked pass defense, surrendering just 205.8 yards per game, through the air.
But that is due in large part to the success of Jamaal Charles and Kansas City's second-ranked ground game, as opponents have attempted just 27.2 passes per game.
When teams have thrown against K.C., they have had success, as the Chiefs have allowed an average QB rating of 103.0, fifth-worst in the league. Further, opponents have thrown for 10 touchdowns against the Chiefs, seventh-most in the NFL.
And considering how encouraging it was to see Bucs quarterback Josh Freeman have success in the second-half against Washington in their last game, offensive coordinator Mike Sullivan should look to strike early and often against a questionable Kansas City secondary.
Freeman completed passes of 65 and 54 yards versus the 'Skins—both in the second-half—and had two receivers, Mike Williams and Vincent Jackson, haul in over 100 yards for the game.
The capability is there—whether the play-calling will be, is another question altogether.
3. Incorporate LeGarrette Blount into the Run Game
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Even with rookie running back Doug Martin struggling early on in the season, the Bucs have failed to incorporate LeGarrette Blount into the game plan thus far, as Blount has just 13 carries on the young season.
That needs to change, starting this weekend.
Martin's longest run has been for 17 yards and, worse yet, has averaged just 3.5 yards per carry to go along with just one touchdown.
Blount, who came into the offseason as the team's leading rusher each of its previous two seasons, has been relegated to minimal duty under new head coach Greg Schiano. Blount has been largely absent, this despite the fact that Schiano promised to be a tough, ground-and-pound offense.
A big part of limiting Jamaal Charles will be to dominate time of possession, which would keep Kansas City off the field. If the Bucs can factor in a healthy rotation of Martin and Blount, it would go a long way towards accomplishing this goal.
4. Prevent Big Plays on First and Second Down
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The Tampa Bay defense has shown vast improvements in several key areas this season. Their run defense and ability to generate pressure on opposing quarterbacks are at the top of the list.
Coming into the game, the Bucs defense has allowed just 28 percent of third down conversion attempts to succeed, third-best in the NFL.
However, their problems defensively have been on first and second down, particularly through the air, as they've yielded 23 plays of 20-plus yards and five plays of 40-plus yards, both second-worst in the NFL.
The Chiefs offense enters the game with a 46 percent success rate on third downs, fifth-best in the league. If the Bucs can slow down Kansas City and prevent the big play from happening on first and second downs, they can fall back on their tough third down defense to get them off the field.
5. Exploit K.C.'s Penchant for Turning the Ball Over
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Kansas City has the NFL's worst turnover ratio at minus-15.
They have fumbled the ball 13 times, losing it on 10 occasions. Further, the Chiefs have thrown nine interceptions, tied for the most in the NFL.
The Bucs have a plus-three ratio and should have ample opportunities to add to it this weekend, with quarterback Brady Quinn likely to get his first start in three seasons.
Simply put, the Bucs must not only force turnovers against the error-prone Chiefs, but they must convert those mistakes into points on the board, preferably touchdowns.