1. Run/Pass Read: Tampa Bay lines up in a base Cover 2 look on most downs. However, in this game against the Ravens, the Bucs may show more Cover 3 with the strong safety dropping closer to the line.
Tampa Bay has struggled to stop the run all season, so they could use an eighth man to defend the Baltimore tailbacks. It will be up to Joe Flacco to make the right adjustment at the line depending on how the safeties are positioned. If he is facing the Cover 2 look, he should make sure that the running game is in play. If the safety drops into the box, Flacco should check to the single coverage side.
2. Pierce the deep middle: Against the Bucs, the Ravens will face a group of linebackers who roam the middle to take away the underneath passing lanes. The trio is fast and able to chase from sideline-to-sideline.
The best way to attack these linebackers is to stretch the seams. By spreading the field, Flacco should have the ability to work the middle behind the linebackers and in front of the safeties. Watch out for more of T.J. Houshmandzadeh and tight end Todd Heap.
3. Control the line: Although Tampa Bay hasn’t been a steady pass-rushing group all year, they hit their apex last week with six sacks against San Francisco. The front is a quick and active group, led by rookie defensive tackle Gerald McCoy. This is the type of defensive line that has given the Baltimore offensive line fits in the past.
The Baltimore front has to control the action from the beginning. They have to get off the ball quickly and whenever there is a chance, punch defenders in the mouth. This game will be won inside the trenches. The Ravens must be able to push the pile and play a physical game against the young Bucs.
1. Contain the big play: As the season has progressed, the young Tampa Bay offense has hit on more explosive plays. The receiving corps of Mike Williams, Arrelious Benn, and Kellen Winslow can stretch the field and break apart the Baltimore back end.
This will be a major test for a secondary that has consistently given up big plays since they played the Bills. The coverage needs to be tight and the safeties have to be true to their coverage responsibilities. The game plan is to force young Josh Freeman to sustain drives and hit on pass plays underneath.
2. Sure tackling: If the Ravens are able to force the Bucs to check the ball down, they have to tackle well.
Tackling has been an issue at times this season for the Ravens in the passing game and the running game. Quick hitting plays that should be minimal gains have turned into chunks of damage.
Overall, if the tackling is spot on and reliable, the Baltimore defense should be able to squeeze the Tampa offense into some mistakes and stalled drives.
3. Contain Freeman: The biggest strength that Freeman has is his resourcefulness. He is quickly developing into a quarterback who finds a way to make plays to win the game. Keeping him contained in the pocket will be a major challenge that the Ravens have to meet.
Freeman is a big, physical quarterback who can make defenders miss. The linebackers will need to maintain their gaps and keep an eye on Freeman when he moves.
One-on-one Matchup to Watch
LeGarrette Blount vs.Ray Lewis: In a game in which controlling the trenches is a must for both teams, the battles between Lewis and Blount will be a pivotal showdown. Blount is emerging as a bulldozer at the running back position. He can break tackles and gain extra yardage on any given carry. Lewis has lost a few steps, and hasn’t been able to get off of blocks as well as he used to. However, he is still able to control the middle of the field. His ability to wrap up Blount will be instrumental to the Ravens’ success.