Depleted Bucs Roster Looks to Keep Playoff Hopes Alive

Not again.

For the umpteenth-straight week (or so it seems), the Buccaneers could be without the services of another starter due to injury. This time, right tackle James Lee could be the player in absentia, as he’s still battling a sore ankle he tweaked in the first half last week against the Lions. Jeremy Trueblood came in following Lee’s departure and struggled a bit in pass protection with DE Cliff Avril.

Lee practiced in a limited fashion on Wednesday, but missed practice Thursday and Friday. The coaching staff and trainers will evaluate his status near game time on Sunday to see if he’ll be able to play. Lee’s absence could be a big factor in how the Buccaneers line up on Sunday. Lee has given the Buccaneers an upgrade in pass protection on the right side of the line and has been able to protect Freeman without the need of much additional help. If Trueblood starts, look for blocking help on that side from TE John Gilmore. Cadillac would also be more likely to line up to Freeman’s right as a chip blocker in shotgun formations.

Whoever lines up on the right side at tackle, be it Lee or Trueblood, will have their hands full with DE Chris Clemons, who leads the Seahawks in sacks with 10 on the season. Clemons typically lines up on the left side, but given his speed and athleticism, the Seahawks can move him around a bit. He’s the one player on defense the Bucs will have to keep an eye on Sunday in pass protection. Josh Freeman will also have to make sure to look off safety Earl Thomas. The rookie from Texas is having a solid season, both in run support with 71 tackles and in coverage with 5 interceptions.

That said, the Seattle defense has given up more than its fair share of yards this season. The unit ranks 29th in total yards per game allowed with 377/game and is on the field for an average of 33:03 per game. Only Arizona and Tennessee have seen more time on the field on defense than Seattle. The Seahawks also allow a healthy 118 yards per game on the ground.

As such, look for Greg Olson to call LeGarrette Blount’s number more than the 15 times he did last week. Blount showed once again that he’s a player who can shoulder the load on an every-down basis and can break multiple tackles for an impact play. Inexplicably, Cadillac Williams was in the game late after Blount had been effective all game against the Detroit defense. I think Morris and Olsen realize they should have given Blount the chance to pick up the potential game-sealing first down, and possibly a touchdown, at the end of the Detroit game. Blount will likely see the ball early and often on Sunday.

On offense, QB Matt Hasselbeck has struggled with injury and inconsistency this season. The former Pro Bowler has thrown for 12 TDs to a whopping 17 INTs this year. The buzz for backup Charlie Whitehurst has increased such that Pete Carroll addressed it this week.

“I plan to go play the football game to win it and we’ll see what happens,” Carroll said. “I don’t have any thought at all about taking the quarterback out, not at all. We’re going with Matt. Matt’s our guy, and we want him to play really well.”

Former Plant High WR Mike Williams has returned from first-round bust to productive NFL wideout, but has missed time this season with a knee injury. At 6’5”, he could be another matchup nightmare for the Buccaneers in one-on-one situations, much like Calvin Johnson terrorized the Bucs a week ago. It’s entirely possible that E.J. Biggers could move over and line up against Williams, putting Ronde on the 6’1” Ben Obomanu.

However, given how the porous Detroit running game had a field day against the belly of the Buccaneer defense, expect Carroll to lean heavily on a ground game that has been relatively ineffective this season. Marshawn Lynch was acquired via trade with the Buffalo Bills to give the Seattle offense a bruising runner who could shoulder a heavy load. However, Lynch hasn’t been able to make much of an impact, averaging only 3.6 yards per carry with a season-high rushing total of 89 yards on 24 carries against Arizona. Justin Forsett has been more efficient, averaging 4.5 yards per carry on the year.

Kickoff is set for 4:15 ET.