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Super Bowl XXXVII

Breakdown

January 26, 2003|Sam Farmer

Oakland run offense vs. Tampa Bay run defense -- The Raiders tend to pass the ball a lot more than they run it, but they have a lot of options when they want to keep it on the ground. They have an extremely quick back in Charlie Garner and can go big with either Tyrone Wheatley or Zack Crockett. Their offensive line is huge, much bigger than the Tampa Bay defensive front. But the Buccaneers have scorching speed and can chase down running backs trying to get around the corner. The Raiders' best bet is to smother Warren Sapp -- the only huge body on Tampa Bay's defensive front -- and try to run it up the gut.

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Oakland pass offense vs. Tampa Bay pass defense -- This epic battle pits the best vs. the best. Rich Gannon is mobile, extremely precise and has three exceptional receivers in Jerry Rice, Tim Brown and Jerry Porter. Porter could be the key because Rice and Brown attract so much attention. When the Raiders go to three receivers, it takes Pro Bowl safety John Lynch out of run-stopping mode, and that should soften things for Garner. The Buccaneers use a lot of zone coverages and are very adept at them. They have one of the few defenses that can neutralize the speed of the St. Louis receivers, for instance. But the Raider receivers are bigger than the Ram receivers, and that weighs in Oakland's favor.

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Tampa Bay run offense vs. Oakland run defense -- Tampa Bay's soft spot is its offensive line. The Buccaneers don't do a great job of protecting Brad Johnson and will have a tough time budging enormous Oakland defensive tackles Sam Adams and John Parrella. The Buccaneers ranked 27th in rushing offense this season and gained only 1.5 yards per carry against Philadelphia in the conference championship game. Michael Pittman is an average back, and Mike Alstott is good in short-yardage situations. The Raiders ranked third in rushing defense this season, allowing only 90.8 yards per game -- although part of that was because opponents fell behind early and resorted to the pass.

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Tampa Bay pass offense vs. Oakland pass defense -- The Buccaneers have three somewhat similar possession receivers in Keyshawn Johnson, Keenan McCardell and Joe Jurevicius. Each has good but not great speed, and Johnson (6-4) and Jurevicius (6-5) have great size. Much the way Porter is a key for the Raiders, Jurevicius is a key for the Buccaneers. He can reel in catches over the middle when McCardell and Johnson drag defenders downfield. Brad Johnson is dangerous when he gets into a drop-set-release rhythm. The Raiders must get him to move around. Oakland's secondary has been slowed by injuries all season, although Charles Woodson and Rod Woodson remain two of the best in the business.

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Special teams -- Both teams have good kickers. In 2002, Tampa Bay's Martin Gramatica posted career highs in field goals made (32) and points scored (128), and he finished the regular season with a club-record five field goals against Chicago. Raider kicker Sebastian Janikowski also scored 128 points this season, and his 22 touchbacks led the NFL. The Raiders and Buccaneers have comparable return teams, although Tampa Bay's coverage teams are fractionally better.

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Coaching -- Buccaneer Coach Jon Gruden has the advantage of knowing both teams well. The Raiders still run a variation of his offense, and he's very familiar with their personnel. Tampa Bay never lost consecutive games this season, and its offense has steadily improved since midseason. Beyond coaching the Raiders to the Super Bowl in his first season as coach, the most remarkable thing Bill Callahan did this season was help pull the team out of a four-game losing streak. His players love him, and he has a quiet calm that puts them at ease.

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Intangibles -- Tampa Bay set a franchise record with six road victories this season, two of which were shutouts: 25-0 at Baltimore and 15-0 at Chicago. The Buccaneers are not a great first-quarter team, though, and that could really hurt them against the Raiders, who tend to pounce on opponents early. The only Buccaneer with a Super Bowl victory on his resume is McCardell, but he was on Washington's injured-reserve list when the Redskins won it all in 1991. The Raiders have eight rings among Bill Romanowski, Rice and Rod Woodson alone.

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Prediction -- The best way to beat the Raiders is to get to Gannon, as Miami did, and keep Oakland's offense off the field. Gannon will use short drops and rely on the Raider running game to counter Tampa Bay's defense, which puts more pressure on the quarterback than any other. The Buccaneers' lack of a running game will really hurt them, because their offense won't be able to dominate the clock. If the Raiders can avoid turnovers, they'll win. Raiders 17, Buccaneers 14

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-- Sam Farmer

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