After surrendering 431 yards of total offense and a number of sustained scoring drives to Matthew Stafford and the Detroit Lions during Sunday afternoon’s 27-20 season-opening defeat, Tampa Bay head coach Raheem Morris addressed several defensive issues during his Monday afternoon press conference.
One area that has certainly been getting plenty of attention was the matchup between Bucs CB Aqib Talib and Lions WR Calvin Johnson. Talib’s primary assignment was targeted by Stafford 10 times and caught six for 88 yards and two touchdowns. Though not man-up with Johnson at the time, Talib did pick off a tipped-up, first-quarter Stafford pass intended for TE Will Heller and return it 28 yards into the end zone. The fifth-year defensive back finished with four tackles and another pass defensed.
In Morris’s estimation, Talib held his own with the standout 6-foot-5, 238-pound receiver dubbed “Megatron.”
“On a positive note we did score on defense,” Morris said leading into the topic. “[Talib] did do a nice job on Calvin. He had six catches for 88 yards.”
As for Johnson’s two touchdowns, Morris said the first – a 36-yarder in the second quarter that put Detroit ahead 13-10 – was defended well by Talib and “should have been a knocked down pass.” Without that big chunk of yardage and score, “we are talking about five catches for pretty much nothing and one touchdown,” he added.
“With those all-out blitzes and big-man vs. big-man [situations], he made a great play. Calvin’s going to make some of those. [Talib] did a great job of standing up and really being accountable for [his] day.”
Where Tampa Bay received noticeably insufficient production, Morris said, was in the middle of the defensive line.
“Roy [Miller] and [Frank] Okam, they didn’t get very good f,” he said. “We didn’t get very good play from our nose tackle. I’ll address this with them. This is not an indictment on them or anything of that nature. We have to get better play from our nose tackle position from our get-off and how we want to play the game.”
The Bucs defensive front and its ability to create impact plays has been a major focus for Tampa Bay since the end of last season. With one week in the books, answers to the collective unit’s poor pass rushing and subpar run stopping have yet to be found. Not only did the Bucs fail to record a single sack on Stafford, they also didn’t register any quarterback hurries.
“[We] got some pressure, [but] didn’t get any sacks,” Morris said of the pass rush. “We noticed the ball would be out quick with this team. That’s kind of who they are. They’re an underneath dink-and-dunk pass team unless they get the third-and-long, then you have an opportunity to get them. Other than that, we had a couple hits. We’ve got to be in better shape here. We’ve got a couple things that we got to clear up for us. … We’ve got a chance to go up to Minnesota and prove it. Be better.”
Against Jahvid Best and the Lions ground attack, Tampa Bay allowed 126 yards on 35 attempts for a 3.6-yard average. “They are a misdirection run team and they are a big-time reverse team,” Morris said of Detroit. “That’s kind of their game plan. [They had] a breakout run which is disappointing. Other than that we pretty much held up pretty good to keep it to a 3.6 average, [but] we would like for it to be a little bit lower.”
The breakout run Morris cited was Lions WR Nate Burleson’s 20-yard carry during Detroit’s opening drive.
Also in reference to the defensive tackle position, Morris updated the media on Brian Price’s condition after leaving Sunday’s game with an apparent hamstring injury. Price just recently got back on the field this preseason following a lengthy recovery from pelvic and hamstring related surgeries. The second-year pro went to the turf while chasing Best on a run around the left end. Prior to that incident, he had recorded two tackles and one for a loss.
“Brian Price, he’ll be day-to-day. Hopefully, we’ll get him back. He played one of his better games. I was really pleased. I should have mentioned him. Really pleased at his play yesterday and how fast he got off the ball and how he played at nose tackle.”
When pressed about the severity of Price’s injury, Morris stated that it is not season-ending. “He’s not out for the season. He’s a few weeks.”
Away from the defensive front, Morris said the team must receive larger contributions from the guys expected to being bringing it each and every Sunday. “We need better plays out of our studs. We need a Quincy Black to play bigger; Geno Hayes and some of those guys to play better and bigger for us. We had a couple missed ops. We missed two interceptions, maybe three, [and] had a chance for some fumbles there early. We did score once on defense [and] we had the opportunity to score twice with that fumble out of bounds.”
That missed fumble opportunity came on SS Sean Jones’s third-quarter strip of Detroit RB Maurice Morris after a 10-yard completion. Black grabbed the ball as it bounced toward the sideline, but rather than try to secure possession with his feet in bounds, he opted to throw it behind his back in hopes of a teammate being there. The ball was instead recovered by Lions LG Rob Sims at the Tampa Bay 46. Detroit led 20-13 at the time with 10:48 left in the quarter and eventually converted the second chance into seven points on Stafford’s 1-yard touchdown pass to Johnson.
Morris made mention of two defensive fundamental shortcomings, as well, from Sunday that must improve: tackling and penalties.
Of the team’s six flags, four were drawn by the defense and three were neutral zone infractions. The other was an illegal contact penalty on Talib on third-and-5 early in the Lions’ third-quarter touchdown drive that put Detroit up 27-13.
“The penalties obviously are a big negative,” the head coach said. “We cannot jump offsides. We cannot have penalties on that, period. That was just not the way we want to play.”
The Bucs’ tackling – or its lack thereof Sunday in the minds of many post-game message board posters – was spotty but not glaringly negative, according to Morris.
“Tackling can always be better. I thought we could have tackled a lot better and a lot firmer on some of the players. Still, we didn’t have as many breakout, big-time plays but we still could have tackled better on some of those that oozed for a couple more yards. A guy like [Nate] Burleson, a shifty guy who makes you miss, we should have tackled him better a couple of times. And a guy like [Jahvid] Best is always going to make a guy miss in the hole every once in a while. But we could have tackled a little bit better. I always like to see that improve but it wasn’t terrible.”