1:00 PM ET, December 11, 2011
EverBank Field, Jacksonville, FL
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have had plenty of trouble keeping opponents off the scoreboard this season and especially during their current six-game losing streak.
Their struggling defense, however, might finally catch a break with Sunday's matchup against the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Tampa Bay (4-8) has allowed 20 or more points in eight consecutive games and an average of 30.7 during its six-game skid. The Buccaneers let another struggling NFC South team, Carolina, post its highest point total of the season in a 38-19 loss last Sunday.
They allowed 24 points in the first half, including the first of Cam Newton's three touchdown runs, and scored their only TD with 6:35 remaining.
The effort left beleaguered coach Raheem Morris so frustrated that he used an expletive during a postgame press conference when asked why he removed a player from the field following a penalty. Morris apologized for that slip-up when he met the media again the next day.
"We've got to go out and play better. We've got to figure out a way to be smarter. We have to figure out a way to be more consistent," Morris said.
Tampa Bay, 30th in the league with 27.4 points allowed per game, may have a good chance to turn things around against Jacksonville (3-9).
The Jaguars have the lowest-rated offense in the league, averaging 254.7 total yards despite having NFL rushing leader Maurice Jones-Drew (1,137 yards). They rank 31st in scoring with 12.7 points a contest and have topped 17 only once, a 30-20 loss to Cincinnati on Oct. 9.
Jacksonville led late in the second quarter Monday night against San Diego, but its injury-plagued defense gave up two touchdowns in the final 1:26 of the first half and 28 unanswered points in a 38-14 defeat.
The Jaguars have 22 players on injured reserve, including four who had made at least two starts in the secondary. San Diego took advantage of those absences to compile 433 yards Monday, the second-most the Jaguars have given up this season.
It remains to be seen if Josh Freeman will get his chance to face that short-handed secondary as he's dealing with a right shoulder injury that kept him sidelined last Sunday. Josh Johnson completed 16 of 27 passes for 229 yards with one touchdown and one interception, falling to 0-5 as an NFL starter.
"I'm hoping (Freeman can return Sunday)," Morris said. "We've got to get him out there and let him move his arm around and see the pain tolerance. You don't want to hurt your quarterback any further. You want to be smart with him and see what he can do and how fast you can let him do it."
The Jaguars, meanwhile, are hoping to see some continued improvement from rookie quarterback Blaine Gabbert. The No. 10 overall pick has completed 54.8 percent of his passes over the past four games after connecting on 44.3 percent in his previous six.
Gabbert had two touchdown passes in a game for the first time in his career Monday and finished six yards shy of topping 200 for the third time.
"I'm not at all disappointed in where he's going and the progress he's making," interim coach Mel Tucker told the team's website. "He's showing the willingness to put the work in and I think he has tremendous support from his teammates. He needs to get better, and we need to get better around him."
This will be Tucker's second game in his audition for the permanent head coaching job after Jack Del Rio was fired.
The Jaguars have won the last three meetings with Tampa Bay after losing the first one but haven't faced their in-state foe since a 24-23 win in 2007.
Tampa Bay is mired in its longest skid since dropping 11 in a row bridging the 2008 and '09 seasons.
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|Avg Points Allowed||28.5||19.4|
Team Averages & NFL Ranks
|TEAM OFFENSE||TEAM||PER GAME AVERAGE|
|TEAM DEFENSE||TEAM||PER GAME AVERAGE|
|Pass Yds Allowed||TB|
|Rush Yds Allowed||TB|
Head to Head Matchups (Since 2001)
|Jacksonville leads 3-0|
|Oct 28, 2007||TB 23, JAX 24|
|Nov 30, 2003||TB 10, @JAX 17|