The Buccaneers travel to Buffalo this Sunday to take on the Bills, who played surprisingly well in their 25-24 loss to the Patriots on Monday night. Originally circled on the schedule as one of the easier games for the Bucs, they may be in store for more of a fight than they expected, as the Bills had the game in their hands before a fumble on a kickoff late in the fourth quarter set the Pats up for the game winning drive.
In preparation for Week 2 in Buffalo, let’s take a look at five key match-ups to watch for on Sunday: Match-ups on which the game will hinge if the Bucs want to even their record at 1-1.
1) Aqib Talib vs. Terrell Owens
The Bucs drafted Talib specifically for these type of games. Owens is a big, physical receiver who can stretch the field and make big plays. Expect Talib’s physicality as well as his speed to match-up well Owens, who was held to just two catches for 46 yards and was kept out of the end zone against New England.
2) Terrence McGee vs. Antonio Bryant
The “other” receiver/cornerback match-up will also be a key factor if the Bucs want to escape Buffalo with a win. While Bryant was quiet against Dallas (two catches for 29 yards), he is still the No.1 deep threat. Offensive coordinator Greg Olson loves Byron Leftwich’s ability to throw the deep ball, and may turn to it this weekend, with Bryant being the most viable option.
Meanwhile, McGee is no slouch of a cornerback. A Pro Bowler in 2005, he played well against Randy Moss on Monday night. While Moss caught 12 balls for 141 yards, most of those catches came against zone coverage, and McGee was able to lock Moss out of the end zone the entire night.
Side note: Look for Kellen Winslow to be more involved this Sunday.
3) Gaines Adams vs. Demetrius Bell
The struggle in the trenches is a key match-up in any game, especially if you are the Bills, who are starting two rookies at the guard positions and a second-year player and first-year starter in Bell at left tackle. Head coach Raheem Morris has not been shy about his aspirations for Adams in 2009, officially labeling it a make-or-break year for the former first-round pick. If Adams can pressure Edwards into bad decisions, it could set-up the secondary for a better performance.
In unrelated news, Bell is the estranged son of NBA legend Karl Malone.
4) Jonathan Compas vs. Marcus Stroud and Kyle Williams
Compas, a rookie, will likely start in place of injured starter Jeff Faine this Sunday. His first task as an NFL starter: Keep Stroud, a four-time Pro Bowler, and Williams, who was second among Bills defensive linemen last season with 55 tackles, out of the backfield. The 6’3, 300 pound-rookie will have his hands full with the 6’6, 310-pound Stroud and 6’1, 301-pound Williams, both veterans. If the Bucs want to run the ball as effectively as they did against Dallas, Compas will have to play a key role in securing the interior.
5) The Buccaneer Defense vs. The No-Huddle Offense
Th Bills ran a no-huddle offense much of the night against the Pats on Monday as a part of their new offensive scheme. With blown coverages in the secondary still causing headaches in fans’ minds from the debacle against Dallas, facing the no-huddle the following week is not the best medicine. However, while Edwards ran the offense well on Monday night, the receiving corps was not as involved as the backs and tight ends.
This takes us back to Adams ad the defensive line: If they can put enough pressure on Edwards to force quick throws and check-downs, rather than allowing Owens and the speedy Lee Evans to stretch the field, chances for a victory go up dramatically. Look for the defensive line to have a breakout performance against the young Bills unit.
Prediction: Buccaneers 28, Bills 20.
– Paul Mueller, Publishing Editor