After a great long weekend filled with turkey, pie, and some awesome football, we turn our attentions back to the Ravens. Facing a tough test at home against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who have posted a 7-3 record in a very tough AFC South division. Predicted to be one of the NFL’s worst teams before the season started, the Bucs have put themselves in playoff contention, led by the strong play of quarterback Josh Freeman.
While both teams bring a 7-3 record into the game, the schedules have looked very different for each squad thus far. Here’s a quick little reminder of the wins for each team.
Ravens: at Jets (9-2), Browns (3-7), at Steelers (7-3), Broncos (3-7), Bills (2-8), Dolphins (5-5), at Panthers (1-9)
Bucs: Browns (3-7), at Panthers (1-9), at Bengals (2-9), Rams (4-6), at Cardinals (3-7), Panthers (1-9), 49ers (3-7)
As you can see, Tampa Bay has not beaten one team with a winning record. Their three losses have come by a combined score of 56 points, all to teams with winning records, including a 25-point clobber job by the Charlie Batch-led Steelers in Week 3. When you look at the team statistics, there’s nothing special. Their rush offense is 12th in the league with 117.8 YPG, but only averages six more yards per game than the #17 Chargers. The defense is very average, hovering in the lower ranks of the NFL in most defensive categories, but surprisingly being 6th overall in passing yards allowed per game. Then you consider the fact that the only two really qualified NFL QBs they’ve gone against (Matt Ryan, Drew Brees) each had stellar games which eventually turned out as wins.
The main reason the Bucs have a very good record this season is because they’ve managed to win close games against bad teams. Their average margin of victory is just over 8 points per game, but when you remove the outlier (a 21-0 win over San Francisco), that margin falls to a number just above 6. Then, take into account that they’ve beaten the lowly Panthers by 13 and 15 points, respectively, and that average margin of victory really gets tanked.
The way to beat Tampa Bay is to really get the ground game going. The Bucs rank 29th in the NFL with 136.5 rush yards allowed per game, and gave up over 100 yards rushing to Rashard Mendenhall, Cedric Benson, Chris Ivory, Steven Jackson, Michael Turner, and Mike Goodson. If the Ravens can get Ray Rice established early, the Bucs defense will be back on their heels trying to keep him under control. Then, the more finesse attacks of Willis McGahee and Le’Ron McClain could really cause trouble for a relatively unexperienced Tampa Bay defensive line. Like last week against the Panthers’ Jon Beason, if Todd Heap, McClain, and whoever else will be the lead blocker can contain Barrett Ruud, the Bucs’ middle linebacker, the rest of the defense will be forced to make plays, which will bode well for the Ravens.
I honestly don’t see the Ravens having much trouble this week, if any. They’ll be geared up to take down a 7-3 team, continue their time atop the AFC North standings, and really silence the doubters after last week’s win over Carolina. I think the running backs could have a field day, and for the secondary to stop their reeling. 28-10, Ravens.