The Bucs' 10th-ranked passing defense is gearing up for Bengals WRs Chad Ochocinco and Terrell Owens. Tampa Bay knows getting more pass rush is the key to limiting the two dynamic receivers.
Fresh off their bye week, the Buccaneers are poised to get another test through the air as they travel to Cincinnati to take on the Bengals. The Bucs have the 10th-rated pass defense in the NFL, and is allowing only 193.7 yards per game through the air. Adding to the effectiveness is the fact that Tampa Bay has averaged two interceptions per game thus far in 2010.
While the secondary has done a good job of taking the ball away, generating a pass rush to limit the Bengals passing game is Tampa Bay’s focus this week. The lack of pass rush against the Steelers has been a point of emphasis in the Bucs film study over the bye week. Buccaneers head coach Raheem Morris knows that Bengals receivers Chad Ochocinco and Terrell Owens will challenge his secondary.
“You got two dynamic talents. Two guys that are going to bring a lot of energy to the game,” said Morris. “I’m sure they’ll have a lot to say to each other and our players, and we look forward to it. Everybody has to step up when we play these kind of guys. It starts with the rush, it goes to the coverage guys like Ronde Barber. They are going to be smart and they are going to be dynamic. It may be a week where E.J. Biggers has to step up this week. He’s kind of been the quiet corner that goes out there and has made a couple plays. He’s only given up one. I told him that there’s nothing better than being a quiet corner sometimes. Maybe this is a week where he can make some plays.”
Bengals’ starting quarterback Carson Palmer is on pace to throw for over 4,000 yards, so Tampa Bay’s secondary should see plenty of opportunities to make plays. Through four games Palmer has completed 59.5 percent of his passes for 1,078 yards with five touchdowns and three interceptions. Getting a pass rush on Palmer is critical for the Bucs defense to prevent him from getting the ball to Ochocinco and Owens.
“It might be the most important week yet to hit the quarterback,” said defensive tackle Roy Miller. “They've got so many threats at receiver, at tight end, at running back. They've just got an offense that can really do you wrong. We just have to be prepared. Affecting the quarterback is the number one priority this week.
“That is the number one priority of the whole team this whole week, so we got to do that.”
The Buccaneers were leading the NFL in interceptions with six entering Week 4 of the season. While the Bucs rested during their bye week they were passed in the rankings by the Atlanta Falcons (eight) and San Diego Chargers (seven). The Pittsburgh Steelers, Philadelphia Eagles, and Cincinnati Bengals also have six interceptions on the season. Tampa Bay feels that getting pressure on Palmer, who is a pocket passer, is essential for the Bucs being able to get some interceptions and turnovers.
“It does, we accept it. We embrace it, and we’re ready for it,” said defensive tackle Gerald McCoy. “We’re just going to rush. It is the game. The challenge is on the d-line. We accept the challenge, and we’ll handle it. No special adjustments need to be made. We just have to rush the passer, its football. If we know where he is going to be, we've got to get him in the pocket.”
The Bucs know that failing to get to the quarterback could give Palmer time to complete big plays to his receivers downfield. Tampa Bay has a history with each of the Bengals’ stand out receivers. Ochocinco last played Tampa Bay in 2006. In that game he had six receptions for 99 yards including a 51-yard catch. The 6-foot-1, 192-pound Ochocinco has caught 23 passes for 296 yards and one touchdown thus far in 2010.
Owens (6-3, 224) has played the Buccaneers in each of the past two seasons. Last year when Owens was playing for the Buffalo Bills, he caught three passes for 52 yards and a touchdown against the Buccaneers in Week 2 of the season. Owens’ touchdown was from 43 yards out. Against the Buccaneers in 2008 when Owens was with the Dallas Cowboys, he caught five passes for 33 yards in Dallas’ 13-9 home victory over Tampa Bay. Quarterbacking the Cowboys that day was former Buccaneer and Super Bowl champion Brad Johnson. After Owens' big day he continued his re-writing of the NFL record books on his way to a Hall of Fame career.
“Both of those receivers are really impressive. They’ve wouldn’t have had the careers they’ve had if they weren’t great players,” said safety Cody Grimm. “Obviously you have to have to have a game plan to try and stop and that’s what we are going to do.
The 36-year old Owens is still productive as he caught 10 passes for 222 yards and one touchdown in the Bengals’ 20-23 loss to the Cleveland Browns last Sunday. According to Cleveland head coach Eric Mangini, the Browns allowed Owens to have single coverage while they double-teamed Ochocinco. For the season, Owens has 24 receptions for 374 yards and one touchdown. The choice of which receiver to double team will be a challenge for Grimm.
“That’s what it makes it hard. Usually you can role coverage one way or another,” said Grimm. “They got two receivers and we’ve got to figure out a way to stop both of them.
“You can roll your coverage one way or another. That’s pretty much it. Most teams got one really dominant receiver you can put a safety over the top and one safety in the hole. When you have two receivers like this you can’t adjust to one over the other.”
While the Bucs have had success at picking off the ball, the Buccaneers are tied for second-to-last in the NFL with four sacks. Six other teams only have four sacks and that includes the Chicago Bears and Minnesota Vikings, teams that are considered to rush the passer well. The good news for Tampa Bay is that the lone team they are in front of is their opponent on Sunday. The Bengals are last in the NFL with only two sacks in four games. After struggling to get any pressure on the quarterback against Pittsburgh, Miller explained what the team learned from that game.
“We've got to win one-on-ones. There were a lot of [opportunities] and there were a lot of fails,” said Miller. “Point blank, anybody can look at the film and critique guys, and we've got to win one-on-ones. Everybody can do things better to help the pass rush.
“Like I said, there is no excuse. There should’ve been more hits on the quarterback. We got to work together as a d-line group, and keep working in practice.”
One thing the Bucs want to eliminate is the long pass play as Owens and Ochocinco will test the team deep. In Week 1 against the Cleveland Browns, wide receiver Mohamed Massaquoi caught a 41-yard touchdown pass. In Week 2 at Carolina wide out Steve Smith scored on a 37-yard touchdown strike. In the last game against Pittsburgh, wide receiver Mike Wallace caught touchdown passes of 41 and 46 yards. Getting pressure on Palmer could prevent him from hitting a long pass play to Ochocinco or Owens.
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