The Broncos are entering this weekend’s game against Tampa Bay 3-1, fresh off the team’s first loss of the season. The Buccaneers are also 3-1, but Tampa has put together three straight wins following the team’s opening weekend loss against New Orleans. Both teams have taken different routes to get where they are a quarter through the NFL season, but to each team Sunday’s showdown is critical in keeping their productive starts going.
Denver will attempt to rebound and collect some of its early season momentum while Tampa will try and keep its winning steak alive. Regardless of what each team has done up to this point, both know a 4-1 start is better than a 3-2 one.
Jay Cutler said every game comes down to preparation and execution.
“It is a chess match,” Cutler said. “Each and every game is and all season long is about how you can arrange, adjust and tweak things.”
The Broncos will face a well-rounded Bucs squad. Tampa Bay is efficient on both sides of the football with its offense at 11th in the NFL in points scored offensively and its defense at 11th in fewest points given up.
Head Coach Mike Shanahan said that Tampa Bay’s offensive is both productive and balanced.
“Offensively, they have some good balance, both in the running game and the passing game,” he said. They are in the top 10 in both areas. Their starter (running back Earnest Graham) is averaging 5.9 yards per rushing attempt, so they are doing some good things.”
The same can be said for the Buccaneers’ defense.
“Last year they were (ranked) second (in the NFL),” Shanahan said. “They are consistently one of the best defenses in the National Football League. I think they were third in turnovers (forced) last year. (Last week) Green Bay had 180 yards of total offense, had eight first downs, averaged 1.8 yards per rushing attempt and I think we all know what type of offense Green Bay has. It’s a very good football team on defense.”
Tampa Bay has been one of the leagues top defenses for quite some time. The Bucs have been a top five defense four out of the previous five seasons. Cutler said he knows this weekend the Broncos offense will be tested by Tampa’s defense.
“We have been talking about how they are one of the best defenses in the NFL for a long time,” he said. “Monte Kiffin is one of the best defensive coordinators out there. They are extremely sound, and you don’t see a lot of bust on that defense. They are extremely fast, they react to the ball well and they read the quarterbacks eyes. They are getting a lot of turnovers, and that is one thing that killed us last week. This week we will put more of an emphasis on it.”
The Broncos gave up a season-high four turnovers last weekend at Kansas City and Daniel Graham said they must avoid those same kinds of takeaways this week.
“You have to be careful,” he said. They have playmakers back there that will make plays. We have to be sound on our offense. We have to be in the right spot every time. Little mistakes will turn into turnovers and we know that we can’t turn the ball over if we expect to win this week.”
Both the Broncos and the Buccaneers have potent offensive attacks. Denver is first in the NFL in yards per contest and the Tampa Bay isn’t far behind with the seventh most in the league. Given the track records of both teams this season their offenses will come out firing and both defenses are focused on limiting offensive production. Marlon McCree said the Broncos defense has been improving each week, albeit not as much as they have been hoping for, but this week is another opportunity to improve and correct mistakes.
“It is baby steps,” he said. “It is not what our fans want, obviously what we want is to have had taken bigger strides. We put on the tape this morning and we saw four plays where (Larry Johnson) got over 100 yards. Those are little, little things, it is not like we were blown off the ball or just out manned or out matched. That is encouraging knowing that it is correctable and that we can improve.”
The Broncos know Tampa Bay will be bringing all its weapons to INVESCO Field at Mile High on Sunday and that they will be as hungry for a 4-1 start as the Broncos will be.
“This team can do anything,” McCree said. “They threw the ball almost 60 times last week and didn’t give up one sack. They also have a very explosive running game. They are a big challenge for us, they are 3-1 and we have to be ready.”
-Jake Grilley, DenverBroncos.com