What could possibly go wrong for Tampa? After a heartbreaking one-point loss to the Atlanta Falcons, it was clear the Bucs' horrific secondary was in fact as bad as advertised.
If it's even possible, the situation may become even direr this week. Massive free-agent signing Eric Wright—massive in terms of contract, not caliber of player—will begin serving a four-game suspension for PEDs.
Jarrett Bell of the USA Today tweeted an excerpt from a statement released by Wright, which indicates he too has used the apparent recent drug of choice amongst cornerbacks:
#Bucs CB Eric Wright released statement saying he took Adderall in late July, "..for health issues I was experiencing."— Jarrett Bell (@JarrettBell) November 26, 2012
That vague explanation likely won't result in a successful appeal for the sixth-year CB. Couple that with the trade of top corner Aqib Talib, and the Tampa Bay secondary is in serious trouble.
Iron man Ronde Barber has made a solid transition from corner to free safety, and top-10 pick Mark Barron has been exceptional against the run on the strong side. It's been the coverage on the outside that has burned the Bucs.
That's great news for Manning, because he has two continually improving, young wide receivers in the explosive Demaryius Thomas and sure-handed Eric Decker, who is also a big target.
According to ESPN's Mike Sando, Manning has managed to be the QB least under duress in the league in 2012 (14.5 percent of his dropbacks). In terms of causing opposing quarterbacks to hurry, Tampa is the worst at generating pressure, causing duress on only 16.5 percent of pass plays.
That may be a more significant problem than even the back end, and it's been due to relatively disastrous draft picks. As much as the Bucs have crushed the draft in recent years on many picks, a combination of bad luck and busts has mired the defensive line.
Defensive tackle Gerald McCoy has been in and out of the lineup with injuries in his first two-plus years and hasn't been the force he was expected to be as a No. 3 overall pick.
The Bucs took a chance on Da'Quan Bowers—once heralded as the top defensive-end prospect in his draft class before injuries knocked his stock down. As was feared, he has been hurt frequently. Fellow second-year end Adrian Clayborn is out for the year with a knee injury after a promising rookie campaign.
Ironically, undrafted free agent Michael Bennett leads the team with seven sacks.
All of these factors play all the more into Manning's favor, as does the fact that the Bucs give up 315.5 yards per game through the air.
Manning has had an outstanding comeback season after being out for all of 2011 with multiple neck surgeries. His 67.7 completion rate is best among starters, and he ranks second in passer rating (104.8) and third touchdown throws (26).
If Tampa Bay gives up well over 300 yards consistently, imagine what Manning will do to the likes of Brandon McDonald and Myron Lewis. It's hard not to imagine somewhere in the neighborhood of 350-plus yards and three touchdowns or so.
Sure, Greg Schiano has the Bucs playing very hard for him, and it is impressive that the team has bought in so fiercely to the former Rutgers head coach in his first year. The Bucs are fighting for a playoff spot in a hotly competitive NFC and have a chance to make a statement on Sports Authority Field.
But with Manning manning the controls for Denver, this is a mismatch for the visiting team. Despite the Broncos having pretty much sewn up the AFC West title, Manning won't relent until the job's done.
That type of drive has driven him to four previous MVP awards, and another signature performance will keep 2012 moving in that type of direction for Manning once again.
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