By Rich Kurtzman
The Bucs stop here?
Denver’s defense hopes it’s the case when Tampa Bay comes to Sports Authority Field at Mile High Stadium this week. The Buccaneers boast a balanced offensive philosophy, asking Josh Freeman to throw for big plays and for Doug Martin to run all over the field. To wit, Tampa’s 28.2 points per game are the fourth-most of any team and against the best offenses—Atlanta, Houston, New England—the Broncos were bested. It’s why defense is the first and foremost key to victory this week for the orange and blue.
Fourth-year man Freeman has developed into a fantastic young quarterback, with a strong arm, solid decision-making and escapability. Freeman’s 21 touchdowns are good for sixth-most and he’s only thrown seven interceptions; protecting the ball and taking advantage of his scoring opportunities. He’s got tall and strong receivers to get the ball to in Vincent Jackson and Mike Williams. Jackson, a former star in college at Northern Colorado, has always enjoyed playing against the Broncos, with many big games in a San Diego Chargers uniform. He leads the team with 959 yards and seven touchdowns and his teammate Williams (625 yards, five TDs) is no slouch either. Both of them love the huge play and each are averaging over 16 yards per catch this season. If anyone can match up with those receiving threats it’s Denver’s smart secondary including Champ Bailey, Chris Harris and Tony Carter at cornerback.
Where Tampa Bay is the biggest threat against the Broncos is in the run game, with Martin and LaGarrette Blount. Martin, nicknamed the “Muscle Hamster,” has already gained 1,050 yards and seven TDs this season. He’s smallish, at 5’9” 215 pounds, but it’s a bit deceptive as he’s shown the ability to bust runs through the tackles. Maybe his most valuable asset, though, is his speed and elusiveness. If Denver’s D doesn’t show up early for a second straight week, Marin—and Blount too—will run to their hearts’ content. Although, the Broncos’ allow a second-best 3.6 yards per carry, and if they tackle more soundly this Sunday, it’ll turn the Tampa offense one-dimensional.
On defense, the Buccaneers bring the NFL’s best rush defense, allowing only 82 yards per game and 3.4 yards per rush to opponents. Denver lost their starting running back Willis McGahee two weeks ago, and Knowshon Moreno stepped up his game last week to run for 85 yards. The Broncos need a repeat performance from Moreno to keep the Bucs’ defense honest, but where their offense will make the most gains is through the passing game.
Peyton Manning is arguably the NFL’s MVP through 11 games, as he continually proves he’s one of the greatest quarterbacks to ever play football. Manning’s got to be licking his chops leading up to this contest, as the Tampa Bay pass defense is the league’s worst in yards and yards per attempt given up. Conversely, Manning’s 7.4 yards per attempt are No. 1 among qualifying QB s—odds are, he’s going to have a huge day. Demaryius Thomas surpassed 1,000 yards receiving last week, and he’ll look to only build on that mark, while his receiving mate Eric Decker leads the team in touchdowns with eight. What could possibly hurt the Broncos passing game is if slot man Brandon Stokley cannot play due to an injured wrist and hip. But, playing in Denver’s favor is Buccaneers’ cornerback Eric Wright being suspended for using Adderall, meaning ageless wonder Ronde Barber may have to be moved to corner.
On special teams, the Broncos look to again have the advantage, as Trindon Holliday has now returned two kicks (one punt, one kickoff) for a touchdown in only six games with the team.
The game kicks off at 2 p.m. MT and can be seen on CBS.
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Rich Kurtzman is a Denver native, Colorado State University alumnus, sports nerd, athletics enthusiast, and competition junkie. Currently writing for a multitude of websites while working on books, one on the history of the Denver Broncos and Mile High Stadium. Find more of Rich’s Denver Broncos pieces on Examiner.com.