xml:space="preserve">
xml:space="preserve">
Advertisement

SUNDAY'S GAME // Ravens (7-3) vs. Buccaneers (7-3), M&T Bank Stadium, 4:15 p.m.

WEEK 11 // The Bucs shut out the 49ers in San Francisco, 21-0, with a fair amount of gimmickry. Coach Raheem Morris called a fake punt at the 50 (incomplete pass by wide receiver Micheal Spurlock), had quarterback Josh Freeman throw a 1-yard touchdown pass to left tackle Donald Penn, and lined up backup quarterback Josh Johnson at wide receiver. The Ravens punched out the Panthers in Charlotte, 37-14, in a game that was much closer than the score indicated. The Ravens needed touchdown returns off interceptions by Ed Reed and Ray Lewis to put the Panthers away.

Advertisement

BUCS THIS SEASON // They are the most surprising team in the league after going 3-13 in Morris' first season replacing Jon Gruden. But their success is most likely attributable to their fourth-place schedule, and the results are revealing. Although they have four road wins, the Bucs have yet to beat a team that has a winning record at this point in the season. Their three losses – against the Steelers, Saints and Falcons – have been by 25, 25 and 6 points. The Bucs are the youngest team in the league. They have won two in a row and four of their last five.

BUCS OFFENSE // Freeman has emerged in his second season out of Kansas State as one of the league's better young quarterbacks. He is completing 61 percent of his passes with 14 touchdowns and 5 interceptions. His passer rating of 92.0 is just a fraction behind the Ravens' Joe Flacco (92.1). Tampa Bay is averaging 117.8 rush yards per game and 207.2 passing. Freeman is an elusive and dangerous in the pocket and averages 6.1 yards on 39 rushes.

Advertisement

Rookie receiver Mike Williams is the go-to receiver (43 catches, 6 touchdowns and a 15.8 average gain) and he played last week despite what police said was a failed field sobriety test on Friday before the 49ers' game. The Bucs start another rookie at wide-out in Arrelious Benn (13 catches, 2 TDs), also a deep threat. Then they have Kellen Winslow at tight end, and Cadillac Williams and LeGarrette Blount at running back. Williams is most effective as a receiver (30 catches) and Blount, another rookie, as a battering ram (441 yards, 4.4 average carry). Although the Bucs are plus-7 in turnover ratio, they have lost nine fumbles.

BUCS DEFENSE // The shutout in San Francisco was the team's first road shutout since 2003. The Bucs had a total of 8 sacks into that game, and dropped Troy Smith six times. But the biggest advantage the Bucs have is their cornerbacks – Aquib Talib and Ronde Barber – who have combined for 8 of the team's 15 interceptions. Those turnovers helped mask a serious deficiency in run defense, where the Bucs rank 29th. They give up 136.5 rush yards a game and 4.8 a carry, a target area the Ravens are certain to exploit. Defensive end Stylez G. White leads the pass rushers with 4.5 sacks.

BUCS SPECIAL TEAMS // It should be another interesting matchup in the kicking game. The Ravens have a big edge in kicker with Billy Cundiff, who is 17 for 20 and missed only two kicks beyond 40 yards. Connor Barth is 12 for 16 for the Bucs, but is just 3 for 7 from 40 yards or longer. But Tampa ranks fourth in kickoff coverage and the Ravens are dead last in the NFL in kick coverage. The Ravens are 29th in punt return average, the Bucs 31st. Baltimore's Sam Koch has dropped 23 punts inside the opponent's 20, compared to 9 by Bucs' punter Robert Malone.

WHAT IT MEANS // This is a dangerous game for the Ravens because of the perception the Bucs aren't as good as their record. The Ravens played down to the level of the Panthers last week and went into the fourth quarter before icing the game. They don't want to do that against the Bucs, who have weapons and are resourceful. The last thing is, the Ravens can't get caught looking ahead to Week 13's epic matchup with the Steelers. That would be a big mistake.

Recommended on Baltimore Sun

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement