ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — The Tampa Bay Buccaneers know this one won’t be easy.
After starting the season 1-2 in the first year under head coach Dirk Koetter, including a 40-7 drubbing at the hands of the Arizona Cardinals in week 2, the Bucs are a ship lost at sea without a rudder. A pirate ship, to be exact.
This week, they’ll face arguably the toughest test of their season so far: a match-up against the defending Super Bowl champion Denver Broncos.Thankfully for the Buccaneers, the game will be played in their building.
However, this game still sets up unfavorably for Tampa Bay, partly because of the surprise emergence of Broncos’ quarterback Trevor Siemian.
When the schedule was released, there were more questions about Denver’s quarterback situation than get asked at a presidential debate. Bucs fans no doubt took some solace in that as they peered at this week four contest against the Broncos.
After the former seventh round draft pick’s 312-yard, four touchdown game last week in Cincinnati, all that has gone out the window. The Buccaneers know it.
“He looks like a seasoned vet—very comfortable out there,” Buccaneers’ defensive tackle Gerald McCoy said. “He makes really good decisions. He makes some mistakes to where you’ll see his lack of experience. But, it’s not any mistakes like, ‘Oh, that was a dumb decision,’ It’s just something he hasn’t been exposed to yet. But, for the most part, he’s been dominant—something we’ve really gotta deal with. Opening day, he shocked everybody and he’s just been rolling ever since. I’m happy for him. I heard a little bit about his story. So, I’m happy for him man. We’re gonna have a tough one on our hands on Sunday.”
Not only has Siemian’s individual performance impressed Buccaneers’ players and coaches, his ability to fit within Gary Kubiak’s offensive scheme makes him an asset in this game.
“He’s 3-0 as a starter and I think that arguably last week was his best game as a quarterback, four touchdowns in a game is hard to come by” Buccaneers head coach Dirk Koetter said. “I think Gary Kubiak has always done a great job with whoever has been at quarterback. The Siemian thing is an awesome story. Very rarely in the NFL does a guy go from the third-team on the depth chart, to starting the next year. It’s quite a story and he’s certainly living up to his part.”
Obviously, a quarterback can’t put up the kind of numbers Siemian did last week without quality weapons to deliver the football to. He has exactly that in wide receivers Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders, both of whom will present unique challenges for the Bucs’ defense this weekend.
“They can both hit a home run at any time,” Koetter said. “There are plenty of good receivers in this league, but there are very few teams that have both guys that are capable of going the distance on any play; on either throwing it over your head, because they’re fast enough or big enough, or in the quick game and screen game making guys miss and then out-run them. As a tandem, I can’t imagine there are many better.”
The Buccaneers’ rank dead last in scoring defense through the first three weeks of the season. If that number is going to improve at all against the Broncos, it will not only be critical for them to shut down Siemian, Sanders, and Thomas; they’ll have to shut down the Broncos’ rushing attack as well.
That’s certainly easier said than done.
Under Gary Kubiak, the Broncos have prided themselves on establishing the running game and running back C.J. Anderson has become the focus of this offense on that side of the ball.
“He fits the scheme very well—very, very, very hard runner,” McCoy said. “He’s a tough guy to bring down. He’s always moving his feet and he’ll nick you here and there until, one big time, he’ll cut you deep. That’ll be his big run for the day. He’s just stayed the course. He has great vision. He finds those holes and those seams when guys get undisciplined and get out of their gaps, so we have to go a great job of executing and don’t allow him to do that because if we let him get on a role, he can kill us. He’s a very, very good running back.”
Of course, for all the skill the Broncos’ offense has, the headliner for them is their dominant defense.
Last season, that unit almost single-handily guided Denver to a world championship. This year, while their start has certainly been slower than they would like, the Buccaneers know Denver’s “D” has the horses to change the game at any time.
McCoy, in a rare gesture from NFL players, heaped praise on individual Broncos’ defenders like linebackers Shane Ray, DeMarcus Ware, and Von Miller, defensive end Derek Wolfe, safety T.J. Ward, and cornerbacks Aqib Talib and Chris Harris, Jr.
“They hit elite status a while back—just a lot of great players,” McCoy gushed. “Chris Harris, man. I’ve been knowing him for years. He’s an Oklahoma guy. He went to Kansas, but he’s from Oklahoma. Had a chance to know him and kind of see how he’s grown and the player he’s grown into. I’m so happy for him, man. I remember when he wasn’t drafted. Now look at him. One of the best DB’s in football. Aqib Talib was here, so I know Aqib well. He’s always been a dominant corner, always been a shutdown guy so his success is nothing surprising to me. T.J. Ward is just an animal out there and I love to watch him play. I love to see guys play when it’s almost like they have nothing else to do in life but play football. That’s T.J. Ward. Von Miller is Von Miller. I’ve been a fan of his since he was at A&M. Derek Wolfe is a wolf out there. DeMarcus Ware, when he’s healthy, is DeMarcus Ware. He’s a first ballot Hall of Famer. Shane Ray is—he’s coming along and the performance he put on last week was very good. They’ve got a lot of pieces to their defense that make them who they are. But, the best thing about them is they’re very disciplined. They play as one heartbeat. That’s what we’re working to get to.”
Koetter echoed McCoy’s sentiments.
“Obviously, we didn’t play Denver last year, but it looks like a very impressive defense. They have the ability to rush the passer and have excellent cover guys. For the scheme they play, they have really good personnel that fits their scheme.”
Siemian, Anderson, Sanders, Thomas, and the ferocious Broncos defense will all present challenges this weekend that the Buccaneers may not be able to overcome when this game kicks-off at 2:05 MST Sunday from Raymond James Stadium.