The self-proclaimed best team in the NFC — at least in the eyes of Tampa Bay coach Raheem Morris — takes on a Cardinals team that is still trying to find an identity — and a quarterback.
Not a lot of people took Morris seriously when he made proclamation after the Buccaneers’ 18-17 victory over the St. Louis Rams. But Tampa Bay is 4-2 and on the rise. It has a dynamic young quarterback in Josh Freeman, a terrific rookie receiver in Mike Williams and a self-belief that in the weak NFC, anything is possible.
The Cardinals, on the other hand, are simply trying to keep their heads above water. Rookie quarterback Max Hall had a miserable afternoon in Seattle — completing just 4-of-16 passes — but he’ll get the start again. Arizona has simplified its offense to help Hall, but the best aid would be a more productive running game. Don’t be surprised if Beanie Wells gets his first career start and at least 20 carries.
Keys for the Cardinals
• Don’t depend on Hall to win the game: The undrafted rookie from BYU has been overwhelmed with the speed of the NFL game, and he’s shown a penchant for turning the ball over. If Hall has to throw it 30 to 35 times, the Cardinals won’t win.
• Dominque Rodgers-Cromartie is supposed to be a shutdown corner, but he’s been anything but the first seven weeks of the season. The Buccaneers don’t have a lot of offensive weapons, so if Rodgers-Cromartie can neutralize Williams, Tampa Bay will struggle to score points.
Keys for the Buccaneers
• Shut down the Cardinals’ running game. This week more than any other, Arizona coach Ken Whisenhunt is expected to hand the ball to Wells and ask Hall to get out of the way. If the Buccaneers can win the first down battle and force Arizona into obvious passing situations, they will be able to take advantage of Hall’s inexperience.
• Don’t buy into the hype. Morris’ bold statement could have two effects: Help the Buccaneers believe in themselves, or give them a false sense of security. If it’s the latter, Morris’ proclamation will ring hollow after losing to the Cardinals.
Tampa Bay has the better team and the better quarterback, but the Cardinals are at home and desperate for a victory. Expect a low-scoring game, with a late field goal giving Arizona the win. Cards 17-13.