ESPN Experts: Bucs-Skins the Toughest Call

ESPN and ESPN.com NFL experts from Adam Schefter to Ron Jaworski have weighed in with their Week Four predictions, and there is actually a pretty strong consensus on almost all of the 15 games on the schedule.  The Buccaneers-Redskins tilt at Raymond James Stadium is an exception.

The list of 14 expert pickers includes 12 analysts, ESPN.com’s AccuScore simulation program and the consensus vote of site readers in the Pigskin Pick ‘Em contest.  For 12 of the 15 games, one team or the other got at least 11 of the 14 votes, and eight of those were unanimous.  Despite all of the knockout-pool killing results from the first three weeks, none of the experts believe a loss is likely for Atlanta (vs. Carolina), New England (at Buffalo), San Francisco (at N.Y. Jets), Houston (vs. Tennessee), Denver (vs. Oakland), Arizona (vs. Miami) or Green Bay (vs. New Orleans).  All 14 experts also correctly predicted Thursday night’s win for Baltimore.

It’s a different story for the Bucs and Redskins.  That one is split right down the middle, seven picks each.  Schefter and Jaworski both believe the Bucs will win, as do Mike Golic, Chris Mortensen, Seth Wickersham, Tom Jackson and Cris Carter.  The Redskins have the votes of Eric Allen, Merril Hoge, Mark Schlereth, Keyshawn Johnson, Mike Ditka, AccuScore and the Pigskin Pick ‘Em.

By the way, if you’re wondering whose opinions you should put the most stock in, the prediction page includes the experts’ scores through three weeks.  Mortensen is on top with a 31-17 mark – quite impressive considering all the upsets – and Wickersham is right behind at 30-18.  Schefter rounds out the top three with a 28-20 mark.  Pulling up the rear through three weeks are Hoge, Ditka and Jackson, all of whom are 22-26.

Miller Thriving in New Scheme

If there’s an “Unsung Hero” on the Buccaneers’ improved defense in 2012, it is fourth-year defensive tackle Roy Miller.

Miller was the Buccaneers’ third-round pick in 2009, and while he has been nowhere near a “bust,” he has probably best been described as a “solid contributor.”  Turns out, the best in Roy Miller was just waiting to be brought out by the optimal defensive scheme.

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It’s Not Just for Bucs: Close Games Are the Norm

It is tempting to say that the Buccaneers – and, for that matter, their next opponent, the Redskins – could easily be 3-0 right now, instead of 1-2.  Both teams have played three games that weren’t decided until the closing minutes.  The Bucs have an overall point differential of just -7 and the Redskins have scored just two fewer points than their opponents.

Like most coaches, however, Tampa Bay’s Greg Schiano deals firmly in the reality of his team’s situation, not what could have been.  Thus he doesn’t waste time thinking that Sunday’s game could just as easily been a matchup of unbeatens.

“I think you probably could say that about two-thirds of the league,” said Schiano.  “That’s the way the league is.  There have been a couple disproportionate scores across the league, but not that many.  Out of 48 games, they’re usually all pretty tight.”

And he’s right.

There have been as many close games in the early part of the 2012 season as in any other NFL campaign before.  Of the 48 contests played so far, 28 have been decided by eight points or fewer (that’s one score, given the two-point option).  That ties an NFL record for three weeks; the same thing happened in 1983.

Week Four started with the 29th such game as Baltimore held on to beat Cleveland by a touchdown.  It doesn’t look like that trend is going to change any time soon, and the only way for the Bucs or Redskins to improve their 1-2 realities is to get back into the winning column on Sunday.

Ball-hawking Bucs Will Try to Test Griffin

Through three games, Washington Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III has thrown just one interception, an outstanding start for a rookie and a big reason his passer rating stands at a stellar 103.5.  This weekend, however, that’s a matter of strength-on-strength, as Griffin will face a Buccaneers defense tied for second in the NFL with six interceptions already.

Only Atlanta has more picks than the Buccaneers, with seven.  What makes Tampa Bay’s pass defense unique at this point is that so many players are getting involved in the turnovers.  With Aqib Talib’s pick off Tony Romo last Sunday, the Bucs now have six different players with an interception.  No other team in the league has five players with an interception yet, let alone six.  Put your money on rookie safety Mark Barron this Sunday – he’s the only starter in the secondary yet to pick one off.

The Bucs will need a full-team effort of that sort against Griffin.  As Bucs Head Coach Greg Schiano pointed out on Wednesday, the Redskins are using his mobility to stretch the field both horizontally and vertically, which makes things particularly tough on defenders trying to cover a certain portion of the grass.  So far, the Redskins haven’t locked into any tendencies that would make it easier to predict where Griffin will be, and to try to force him to go in a direction he doesn’t want to go.

“Because he is so mobile in the pocket he is so hard to corral,” said Defensive Coordinator Bill Sheridan. “He can throw on the move really well. You know he isn’t a guy that has to be set in the pocket, he has no problem stepping to his left or right. You know, you sometimes try to pigeonhole a guy and force him to come out of the pocket in one direction, but he likes coming out to his left, which for a right handed quarterback is unusual.  But he has some of his best throws to his left when he’s out of the pocket. For as much offense as they run, he’s got a whole plate of things he has got to do from the gun-run, the different formations they are in and the different concepts they use. He’s really good.”

Freeman Will Run…With a Purpose

In 2010, Josh Freeman ran for 364 yards, which was second in the NFL that season among quarterbacks to Philadelphia’s Michael Vick.  It was evident then, and still is, that the Buccaneers QB can help an offense with his legs as well as his right arm.

Freeman’s ground yards dropped to 238 last year, but the Bucs’ offense struggled as a whole.  This year, through three games, he has run just eight times for 14 yards, and that includes a handful of kneel-downs.

That doesn’t mean Freeman has lost his will or his ability to take off downfield, but he knows it’s not his primary job description.

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“The Blind Side” Star Lives the Bucs Life on Thursday

Quinton Aaron played semi-pro football in the New York area, portrayed current Baltimore Ravens tackle Michael Oher in the movies and currently calls California home.  But on Thursday he was a Buccaneer through-and-through.

Aaron is best known for portraying Oher in the hit movie, “The Blind Side,” which won Sandra Bullock an Oscar and a slew of other awards.  On Thursday he visited One Buccaneer Place along with a new friend who owns one of the more memorable awards in Buccaneer franchise history, Super Bowl XXXVII MVP Dexter Jackson.  Aaron, Jackson and a small handful of their friends toured the Bucs’ state-of-the-art facility and thoroughly enjoyed every moment.

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Bucs Not Focused on Ref Switch

The new eight-year agreement struck on Wednesday between the NFL and the NFL Referees Association means the experienced officials will be back on the field for the Buccaneers-Redskins tilt this Sunday at Raymond James Stadium, and for all the games around the league.

The reaction from various players in the Buccaneers’ locker room pretty much all hit the same note: ‘That’s great for the refs, but it wasn’t our top concern at the moment.’  The Bucs are busy preparing for rookie sensation Robert Griffin III and a battle between two 1-2 teams that could each easily be 3-0.

“As far as I’m concerned, we’re getting ready for RGIII and those guys,” said cornerback Aqib Talib, who had an interception in Dallas last Sunday confirmed by a replay challenge.  “I wasn’t really too concerned about the refs. Continue reading

Nicks Returns to Full Practice Participation

The Buccaneers’ Thursday injury report was an improvement over Wednesday’s list, as both starting left guard Carl Nicks and reserve linebacker Dekoda Watson returned to full participation on the practice field.  The two had been limited on Wednesday with toe and chest ailments, respectively.  That left the Bucs with only one player on their current 53-man roster who was not able to practice fully on Thursday: cornerback Anthony Gaitor.  Gaitor has yet to play during the regular season due to a hamstring injury suffered near the end of the preseason.

The only change to Washington’s injury report on Thursday was an addition.  WR Brandon Banks, who was not on the report to start the week, was added with a hip injury after being limited on Thursday.  Banks is the Redskins primary kickoff and punt returner.  Here’s Thursday’s full list for both teams:

Buccaneers

Player Injury Practice Status
CB E.J. Biggers Foot Full Participation
CB Anthony Gaitor Hamstring Did Not Participate
CB Leonard Johnson Back Full Participation
G Carl Nicks Toe Full Participation
LB Dekoda Watson Chest Full Participation

Redskins

Player Injury Practice Status
WR Brandon Banks Hip Limited Participation
WR Pierre Garcon Foot Limited Participation
CB Cedric Griffin Hamstring Did Not Participate
WR Leonard Hankerson Back Full Participation
S Brandon Meriweather Knee Limited Participation
RB Evan Royster Knee Limited Participation
T Trent Williams Knee Did Not Participate

 

Buccaneer Champs Lynch, Sapp Among 2013 Hall Nominees

The late Lee Roy Selmon is the only player enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame who spent all or most of his career with Tampa Bay.  His bust may get some Buccaneer company in the near future, however.

The Buccaneer teams that turned around an aimless franchise, become perennial playoff contenders and won Super Bowl XXXVII had a core of players who are considered among the best of their generation.  Most of those players have since retired, and in the coming years they will start to gain Hall of Fame eligibility.  That will start in 2013 with two of the greatest Buccaneers ever, safety John Lynch and defensive tackle Warren Sapp.

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Practice Squad Gets a New DE, Too: LSU’s Kendrick Adams

The Buccaneers brought two defensive ends to One Buccaneer Place for tryouts on Monday, one day after Adrian Clayborn was lost for the season to a knee injury.  Turns out, they liked them both.

One of those two, sixth-year veteran Jeff Charleston, was signed to the active roster on Wednesday.  The other, rookie Kendrick Adams, has now been added to the practice squad.  The Bucs announced that second move on Thursday, releasing guard Julian Vandervelde to make room on the eight-man crew.

Practice squad players are not eligible to play in games, but they do help a team’s depth on the practice field, where they can also eventually perform their way onto the active roster.  Thus, it is common for a practice squad to ebb and flow in terms of the positions it is stocked with, as teams react to roster shortages due to injuries.

The 6-5, 255-pound Adams played his last two seasons of college ball at LSU and signed with the Jaguars as an undrafted free agent this spring.  After two years at a junior college in Mississippi, he joined the Tigers and started in 2010 and 2011, contributing 49 tackles, four sacks, nine tackles for loss and one forced fumble.

Vandervelde joined the Bucs as a waiver claim in September, just after the final roster cuts.  He was subsequently released and signed to the practice squad.