Prior to the start of the NFL's regular season, the Buffalo Bills were one of three teams to fire their offensive coordinator. Buffalo's opponent this week, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, was one of the other teams to make this move, relieving Jeff Jagodzinski of his duties and promoting Greg Olson to the position of Offensive Coordinator/Quarterbacks. If Buffalo's offense scored a mild surprise with 276 yards, 17 points and relative efficiency in their Week 1 loss, then Tampa Bay's 450-yard, 21-point outburst was nothing short of shocking.
Blessed with one of the better young offensive lines in the league, a deep stable of running backs, and talent at tight end and receiver (when healthy), QB Byron Leftwich - a temporary starter until first-round pick Josh Freeman is ready to assume command of the offense - has found himself unexpectedly rich with surrounding talent. Considering Buffalo's mediocre second-half defensive performance in New England, defensive coordinator Perry Fewell has a large task in front of him trying to slow down Tampa's surprising offense.
Examining the Bucs' O-Line
At first blush, essentially the entirety of Tampa's starting offensive line - Donald Penn, Jeremy Zuttah, Sean Mahan, Davin Joseph and Jeremy Trueblood - well, let's just say these aren't names that jump off the page at you. Joseph, a 2006 first-round pick, is probably the best player of the group, and likely the most recognizable name as well. This line didn't come together in a traditional manner, but boy, are they talented.
Penn is one of the more athletic tackles in the league; the former 2006 undrafted free agent was a pinch starter under Jon Gruden and hasn't looked back. He's an outstanding pass protector, and while he isn't dominant against the run, the Bucs have clearly procured themselves a diamond-in-the-rough left tackle (something the Bills are currently trying to emulate for a second time). Zuttah ('08, third round), Joseph ('06, first round) and Trueblood ('06, second round) all represent significant draft pick investments in the line, and they've paid off.
The weak area, for now, is center, where starter Jeff Faine is missing with a triceps injury. Mahan - himself a 2003 fifth-round pick by the Bucs - was re-signed after Faine went down, and spoke earlier this week as if he'd start in Faine's stead. If he doesn't, rookie Jonathan Compas will get the call.
Even factoring in the change at center, Tampa's offensive line routinely flashes dominance. They weren't perfect in 2008, allowing 32 sacks and finishing a rather average No. 15 in the NFL in rush offense, but that looks to change this season. With two "new" runners in Cadillac Williams and Derrick Ward, the Bucs gouged a usually stout Cowboys defense on the ground to the tune of 160 yards and two scores on 26 carries. Yes, folks, that's over six yards per carry. To say that the running game is the lifeblood of Tampa's offense is a severe understatement.
Balance is crucial to Tampa's attack
With that running game leading the way, Leftwich's job was simple in Week 1: manage the game. He did it relatively well, getting passes to ten different receivers. The play-action pass, obviously, is a weapon for the Bucs when their run game is clicking, and Leftwich has a huge arm; it's quite enough to keep defenses honest.
The fact that the Bucs have two athletic, productive tight ends - Kellen Winslow, Jr. and Jerramy Stevens - doesn't make the job any easier for the Bills. Both of these players have size and can stretch a defense vertically. They'll play an even more important role on Sunday, as top receiver Antonio Bryant is expected to sit out with an ailing knee. You don't need me to tell you that the Bills struggled to defend tight ends in New England.
This offense still has a lot to prove - one game does not an offensive juggernaut make - but let's not pretend that they're going to be easy for the Bills to contain. It would help them tremendously, first and foremost, to get off the field; going up against a pretty solid Pats offense last week, Buffalo gave the Patriots too many chances to make plays by allowing conversions on 10 of 16 third-down situations. That's not going to cut it.
Beat Tampa at their own game?
An early lead is crucial, as is containing - note the lack of the term "stopping" - the run and limiting allowed third-down conversions defensively. Tampa's defense is extremely vulnerable, so the Bills would do well to try beating the Bucs at their own game - running the ball, taking shots down field, and controlling the clock.
Those are the easiest ways to force the ball into Leftwich's hands more often. That theory, by leaps and bounds, represents Buffalo's best chance at scoring a victory in their home opener. If they can't find a way to take balance out of the equation, however, this is a Bucs offense that could really put the hurt on Fewell's unit. Buffalo needs to be careful, and they'll need to stay sharp offensively if things don't go well in this area.