Buffalo's new offense meets Tampa Bay's new defense today in a test of which team's scheme is more ready to hit the ground running early in the NFL season.
The Bills' no-huddle offense aims to make some more big plays with receivers Lee Evans and Terrell Owens after last week's 25-24 loss at New England. Big plays were the big problem last week for the Bucs' defense, which has changed philosophy under respected veteran coordinator Jim Bates. The Bucs lost their opener to Dallas, 34-21.
"Those two guys are the biggest part of our offense," Bills quarterback Trent Edwards said of his wideouts. "And when you don't get them the ball, you look on tape and try to figure out how we can get them the ball because those are the guys that are playmakers for us."
Edwards said Evans and Owens will keep the chains moving.
"We need to make sure we're figuring out ways to continue to try to get them the ball but still convert on third downs and put some points on the board," he said.
A sellout crowd -- along with the great players on the Bills' 50th-year all-time team -- will be on hand at Ralph Wilson Stadium for the home opener.
It's the first regular-season visit to The Ralph by the Bucs in their 34-year history.
In an odd twist, the Bills will be running the Tampa Cover 2 defensive scheme but the Bucs won't.
Tony Dungy brought what became known as the "Tampa 2" to the Bucs in 1996. Tampa ranked among the top 10 in the NFL on defense 11 times in the next 13 years.
The "Tampa 2," as Bills fans know, emphasizes speed over bulk.The four-man defensive line is on the attack, trying to penetrate into the backfield. The secondary plays a fair amount of zone coverage, with two safeties protecting deep halves of the field. An athletic middle linebacker is required to both chase the play in front of him and to get deeper down the middle in pass coverage than the average middle backer.
Linebacker Derrick Brooks was the mainstay of the Tampa defense for the previous 13 years. He made 11 Pro Bowls. But he was dismissed in a youth movement after the Bucs fired coach Jon Gruden.
New coach Raheem Morris hired Bates, whose defenses have ranked in the top 10 in the NFL six of his eight years as a coordinator. Bates, 63, was successful with Miami from 2000 to 2004 and with Green Bay in 2005.
Ideally, Bates likes to use two big "thumpers" at defensive tackle to control the line of scrimmage. Speedy linebackers funnel run plays toward the clogged-up middle of the field. Bates likes to have his cornerbacks play press coverage at the line of scrimmage.
"We will play off and do some things they've done and been successful doing in the past," Bates said after he was hired. "But we will be a lot more aggressive with corner play and the bump technique."
"They're very fast, very talented," Bills offensive coordinator Alex Van Pelt said. "Historically that defense is tough for quarterbacks to read.
"They do a good job mixing in pressure and enough of the Tampa [zone] coverage to keep you honest."
Tampa's defensive tackles aren't quite as big and talented as the ones Bates had in Miami. They are 10th-year veteran Chris Hovan (296 pounds) and eighth-year man Ryan Sims (315 pounds), a former sixth overall pick who was a backup the last three seasons.
Tampa is hoping defensive end Gaines Adams blossoms in his third year after posting six sacks in 2007 and 6 1/2 in 2008. Adams, the fourth overall pick in 2007, faces off against young left tackle Demetrius Bell.
In passing situations, the Bucs' three cornerbacks are 34-year-old, five-time Pro Bowler Ronde Barber, 2008 first-round pick Aqib Talib and second-year man Elbert Mack.
Expect Talib to match up with Owens most of the day. That's what he did with Dallas' Roy Williams last week. On a rare occasion in which Talib didn't cover Williams, Dallas hit the Bucs for a 66-yard touchdown to their big receiver.
Dallas used two-tight end formations on two of their long TD strikes, the one to Williams and an 80-yarder to Patrick Crayton.
"We know we have some young guys on this team, and some of those mistakes on those plays are very easily correctable," Barber said.
Owens was held to two catches last week, Evans to three. The Pats protected deep most of the night, but not on every play.
"I think there were some opportunities that we didn't see," Van Pelt said. "They did a great job. That's a very well-coached defense. Some of the disguises and coverages showed like we would not have the available shot downfield, and it ended up that we did. So there were definitely some opportunities we could have thrown downfield."
Still, Van Pelt was happy with Edwards, who had no turnovers and a 114.1 passer rating.
"I thought he did a good job of managing the game, keeping us in good situations, making good checks at the line of scrimmage," Van Pelt said. "There's always room for improvement. But I thought Trent did a great job getting it to the right receivers."