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JoeBucsFan: Can the Bucs oust New Orleans and Atlanta?

9:46 AM, Sep 8, 2011   |    comments
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The 2011 Bucs are the youngest team in the NFL -- again -- but fully expect to bring enough savvy and seasoning to oust rival powerhouses New Orleans and Atlanta in the NFC South division.

Good luck with that, Bucs.

Finally, the longest offseason in professional sports is over, and all the endless prognosticating and spinnin from fans, pundits and the team is in the rearview mirror.  Eight long months after the Bucs played a game that counts, glorious real football returns Sunday to Raymond James Stadium.

All that matters now is what happens on the field.

The Bucs open the season against the Detroit Lions in a rematch of Tampa Bay's heartbreaking overtime loss at home last December. If the Bucs had won, they would have made the playoffs and eventual Super Bowl champion Green Bay would have been watching on the couch.

To make matters worse, the NFL subsequently acknowledged a blown penalty call in that game against Bucs tight end Kellen Winslow. The league apologized to the Bucs, but that didn't bring back a lost touchdown -- and victory.

There are lots of ways to analyze this Sunday's matchup, but ultimately the Buccaneers defense has to find a way to stop the run. 
The team has been horrendous on run defense over the past 36 games, starting with the famous December collapse of 2008.

Last year, little known backup Detroit running back Maurice Morris gashed the Bucs for more than 100 yards.

It just can't happen again.

The Bucs have two new defensive line coaches and an influx of new talent along the D-line, and a new middle linebacker in hard-hitting rookie Mason Foster.

If they can improve the run defense from dreadful to almost average, Josh Freeman will deliver enough offense to win Sunday -- and a pile of games all season.

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