The Dolphins play the Bucs tonight.

Scouting the Enemy: Questions with The Pewter Plank

I had the chance to talk with our friends over at The Pewter Plank, FanSided’s Buccaneer blog, about tonight’s game and the team’s upcoming season in general. It’s funny what a difference a couple years can make, a couple years ago the Dolphins were considered the best up-and-coming team in the state, now it’s the Buccaneers who went 10-6 last year despite fielding the youngest team in football and starting 10 different rookies at various points throughout the year. No team has ever finished with a winning record having to rely on that many rookies since the merger. The Bucs enter 2011 with confidence and a lot to prove. You can read my answers to their questions here.

Last year the Bucs went 10-6, do you expect to improve on that record or could the Bucs slip backwards this year?

The Pewter Plank: Oh I think it’s very possible the Bucs slip back a bit in the record department this season, but I do think they’ll be a better team this year too. The schedule gets a lot tougher this season, aside from four games against the Saints and Falcons the Bucs also get the NFC North this season in addition to the AFC South. I think the team could finish 8-8, maybe 9-7, but I doubt they end up with more than ten wins. That’s not pessimism, it’s just reality. Long-term, there’s not many teams I’d rather take with me for the next few years, but it’s going to be a tough road this season.

Is Josh Freeman the real deal?

TPP: Yes, he’s got the talent, the intangibles and the confidence of his teammates. I think Josh Freeman could be seated comfortably in the league’s top ten quarterbacks by the season’s end. There are still some things that can bother Freeman, he doesn’t handle pressure well when it’s disguised at the line, he can occasionally get duped by an exotic zone coverage, but he’s also progressing rapidly and it won’t be long before he’s seen it all and can handle it all. It’s actually a little bit funny because Bucs fans regarded Freeman about as favorably as Dolphins fans regarded Ted Ginn at the point they were drafted. Tampa moved up in the first round to grab Freeman and a lot of people cried nepotism because Raheem Morris had been around him as a coach at Kansas State. Fortunately for Tampa, Freeman got the monkey off his back quickly and you can’t find a Bucs fan now that will begrudge the 23 year-old signal caller. Fans in Tampa are excited about the future and it all centers around Freeman.

What can we expect tonight from the Bucs?

TPP: The starters will play into the third quarter, as per usual in the penultimate preseason game, but expect Tampa to have a sense of purpose early on. A lot of guys will be making their preseason debut tonight, but more than that the Bucs first unit got smacked around last week by the Patriots. The offensive line in particular looked awful and the defense got gutted by Tom Brady. I don’t have to tell Dolphins fans what Brady is capable of, I watched him carve up the Fins secondary in week 17 last year, until the game was pulled from TV that is. Regardless though, the Bucs are going to look to regain some confidence after last week’s beat-down. This team is still young and two bad weeks in a row could really fracture some of the confidence they came into the preseason with.

Anything you’ll be watching in particular?

TPP: Donald Penn, the “Pro Bowl” left tackle, was abused regularly by Andre Carter last week. Not like a little bit either, this was the level where they pull out the doll and ask you to show them where it hurt. Almost every pass play, and I broke down every unfortunate attempt, Carter was getting pressure. Typically he was getting the edge, a few times he just bull-rushed and drove the much heavier Penn back 5-10 yards each time and once he got Penn so turned around on an inside move that he literally had his back to Carter, his arms outstretched, like he was bracing against a door. It looked worse than it sounds. Now I like Andre Carter but he’s not what I think of when I mention the league’s elite pass-rushers. Cameron Wake is. Jason Taylor was once too. And the Dolphins entire defensive line is downright mean. I’m worried about Donald Penn. Hopefully last week was a fluke, but if Cameron Wake is in Josh Freeman’s kitchen all night, then the Bucs will know they have an issue at left tackle.

What’s your prediction for tonight as well as this season?

TPP: I think tonight the Bucs win 24-20. Not that it matters, but I feel like the Bucs have a little more to play for after an embarrassing defeat against New England. It’s tough to feel a preseason loss is embarrassing but the Bucs did and will look to prove something tonight.

As per the season I’m going 9-7, third in the NFC South.

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