Scott Reynolds delivers the latest inside scoop, tidbits and insider analysis from Pewter Report’s sources at One Buccaneer Place and around the NFL in the Pewter Pulse. If you like the content in this column, which is usually a premium Pewter Insider article, become a PI subscriber today for just $10 per year (for over 200 Pewter Insider stories) by calling 1-800-881-BUCS(2827) or clicking here.
LAKE GETS AN IRON MAN AWARD
Imagine the shock from Tampa Bay’s coaching staff of seeing New Orleans Saints head coach on the ground, Sean Payton’s knee broken with ligament damage just three plays into the Buccaneers-Saints game three weeks ago. Seeing a player sustain a broken bone or tear a knee ligament is nothing new on Sundays in the NFL. However, coaches just don’t go down with injuries on game days.
Yet it wasn’t only Payton who suffered a knee injury in that game. Buccaneers secondary coach Jimmy Lake also tore up his knee, blowing out his patellar tendon after going up in the air to celebrate Tanard Jackson’s interception with Tampa Bay’s safety in the second quarter.
“It wasn’t a chest bump, actually,” Tampa Bay head coach Raheem Morris said. “I think he actually did something to it previously without knowing about it. We had some previous complaints from him about lower back issues and strains. When he went up to get his guys going, he simply busted some stuff up in his knee.”
Lake sustained a torn patellar tendon, which is the same injury former Bucs running back Cadillac Williams had most recently at the end of the 2008 season. The bad news for Lake was the fact that he had to board an airplane for a transatlantic flight to England the next day to coach against the Chicago Bears in London before having surgery on the knee during the Bucs’ bye week.
“It was successful, it was good,” Lake said of his surgery. “It was like the Cadillac II surgery I guess, which was the good one they told me. They reattached it. It just tore from one end, so they went in there, sliced it open and reattached it. I’m good.”
The fact that Lake had the toughness to stay on the sidelines and coach the Bucs defensive backs at Wembley Stadium drew kudos from Morris.
“He had surgery and he definitely gets the Iron Man award of all-time,” Morris said. “He wouldn’t even let me put him in the box [in London]. He was on the field and coached the whole game.”
Lake only missed one practice, which was Tampa Bay’s lone session on Wednesday during the bye week due to his surgery, but was back in action this week at One Buccaneer Place coaching with crutches out on the practice field.
“I felt better pre-surgery,” Lake said. “This after-surgery thing is no joke. Woo! I tell you what … all the stuff they put in you, it’s not good. I at least had the bye. I don’t know how [Payton] coached a game after his surgery. I was out of it there for a couple of days.”
Lake recalled the moment he knew he had blown out his knee during the Bucs-Saints game.
“It was a shock,” Lake said. “I just jumped and my leg gave out. It just popped. It wasn’t when I landed. It was when I took off – it just popped. All the doctors were telling me that any time you pop an Achilles or a patellar tendon this happens. You’ll be running and then it will be like a gunshot and you’ll go down.
“It must tell me I’m getting older. I was on the sideline for the last game and I’ll be on the sideline [on Sunday in New Orleans]. I’m probable for Sunday.”
MISSED OPS HURTING BUCCANEERS
Tampa Bay has seven interceptions through the first seven games, led by free safety Tanard Jackson, who has two in his first two games back from a 19-game NFL suspension. But there have been more dropped INTs than picks this season, and that not only concerns defensive backs coach Jimmy Lake and head coach and defensive coordinator Raheem Morris, but those missed opportunities have affected the outcomes of several games.
“Miss ops are very high right now,” Morris said. “If you can have the opportunity to not have missed ops it can really change – at the end of the day – your record. If we didn’t have all of those missed ops at Detroit it would have been a different result.
“If we don’t have the missed ops against Chicago we could change that, too. Now they all have not been cakewalk drops, but they have a higher standard for themselves than anyone else.”
Bucs cornerback Ronde Barber dropped a sure-fire pick-six against Chicago that could have changed the outcome of Tampa Bay's last defeat.
“We have 11 dropped interceptions,” Lake said as he provided PewterReport.com with a list of the official culprits.
Corey Lynch = 2 (against Chicago)
E.J. Biggers = 2 (against New Orleans)
Aqib Talib = 2 (against Indianapolis and at San Francisco)
Elbert Mack = 2 (at San Francisco and against New Orleans)
Sean Jones = 2 (against Detroit)
Ronde Barber = 1 (against Chicago)
Morris said that the dropped interceptions were emphasized during the bye week and that new drills were utilized to help the defensive backs concentrate on catching the ball better.
“The DBs have emphasized it and they have brought out the old balls with the numbers on them,” Morris said. “Every time they catch them in individual drills they have to call out the number or the letter, depending on which side of the ball you catch. Aqib and Ronde are making those guys do it and they are really taking the opportunity to not have missed ops.”
Talib is tied for the team lead with two dropped picks, but has hardly had a pass thrown his way over the last two games. His only interception of the year came in the first quarter of the season opener against Detroit. Talib has gone 27 quarters without a pick and his streak of six games without an INT is the second-longest of his career.
“He’s due,” Lake said of Talib. “There is no question about that. The last two games he hasn’t had any opportunities. But obviously the ones he’s dropped, if he hadn’t dropped those we wouldn’t be talking about his streak. Hopefully he’ll get off the streak this week.”
Tampa Bay picked off three – nearly half – of its seven interceptions against the Saints in the first meeting, but three of the team’s 11 dropped picks also came in that game. If the Bucs can get at least half of the interception opportunities thrown by Drew Brees this Sunday, they will likely sweep the Saints. Tampa Bay has won three of the last four games against New Orleans, and in those games Brees has thrown just three touchdown passes and four interceptions.
“We changed the line of scrimmage against the run and we definitely hurried Brees and had some hurries from our defensive line,” Jackson said. “As all games in the NFL play, turnovers are the key. We won the turnover battle that game and I think that was the most important thing for that win.
“He gets the ball out quick. I mean he hates to take sacks. He will throw the ball underhand when he is [about to get sacked]. He will do anything he cannot to take a sack. So it is kind of overrated when it’s playing the Saints, but I think we will get to him and we will apply pressure. He takes chances and that’s what makes him great. That’s what makes his receivers great. He takes chances and he trusts them to make plays. Just like he does, I trust my guys around me to make plays. Show them different looks and just play our game in the back end. We have to re-cover the receivers like we did in the first game and force him into throws he wouldn’t want to make.”
HELLO AGAIN, NEW ORLEANS
The Buccaneers beat the Saints for the third time in the last four meetings, 26-20, just three weeks ago at Raymond James Stadium. A quirk in Tampa Bay’s 2011 schedule has the Bucs playing the Saints again less than a month later in New Orleans.
“That’s a pretty quick turnaround,” Saints quarterback Drew Brees said on a conference call prior to Tampa Bay’s surprise win over New Orleans. “That’s a little unusual, but we’ll worry about that second game once that second game rolls around. I’m sure once we get through this one, that second game will feel like it’s here pretty quickly.”
Truer words have not been spoken, especially for the Bucs, who are coming off a bye week after playing only the Chicago Bears since last playing the Saints.
“It’s kind of funny. It’s weird,” Bucs head coach Raheem Morris said. “I can almost promise you we’ll be last in pass defense when it’s over with. Whether we are 2-0 or [1-1], it doesn’t matter. I don’t know yet. It’s a weird format. It’s a little bit different playing them that fast with the turnaround. We’ll see what happens. Hopefully we’ll get some toys back. More than likely they will have some people coming back or going out. There is always going to be a game that day and played that day. We’ll play this situation [out]. I don’t think I’ve ever been a part of this ever. I can’t remember anything like this.”
Although the Buccaneers prevailed over the Saints in the first match-up, Morris and his team expect New Orleans to come out with a different approach offensively and defensively. Yet the advantage – for both teams – of playing the same opponent so soon is the familiarity with the opponent when it comes to the time dedicated to studying the individual match-ups.
“There is a lot of carryover in studying the personnel and the tendencies of the guys you just went against,” Bucs defensive end Michael Bennett said. “I don’t know if playing them so soon again will help us or hurt us because this is my first time doing it. I figure it will be good because the things you messed up on in the first game you can go out and fix. At the same time, that applies to them, too. It could be a good thing or a bad thing. The Saints are one of the biggest teams we have to beat in order to go to the playoffs. It’s all about winning the division.”
Bucs rookie middle linebacker Mason Foster said that he can’t get caught up from the results of the first outcome, which was a Tampa Bay victory, and that the team has to treat this week’s contest as a different game.
“I don’t know if it helps us or hurts us,” Foster said. “They are big games against a divisional opponent. You have to win those games. Being a rookie, I try to approach every game the same way. Every game is the biggest game of my life.
“It’s like taking the same test twice in a matter of weeks. At the same time, NFL coaches are so good, they could have an entirely different game plan the next time you see them. You just have to prepare like it’s the first time you’re playing them.”
Tampa Bay veteran linebacker Ronde Barber, who has played the Saints more than any other player in Buccaneers history due to the fact that this is his franchise-record 15th season with the team, sees the opportunity at hand to really get a leg up on the NFC South division race by getting the Saints series out of the way early.
“It’s not the most fun schedule in the world,” Barber said. “But at least we’re getting them out of the way, right? It’s a quirk in the schedule this year and at least we have a bye week between those meetings. It is what it is. They are difficult to deal with no matter when you play them because they have so much talent and a great play-caller. It’s hard to match up with them, but we’ve found a way to do it. We’re certainly familiar enough with them.”
Brees, who threw a season-high three interceptions in the last meeting with the Bucs, is ready to atone for his performance last year and get some payback. A loss by the Saints drops them to 5-4 on the season and 1-2 in the NFC South, while pushing the Bucs to 5-3 and 3-0 in the division.
“When you look at the last five years that we’ve been here I think our record is even with the Bucs, [5-6] if I’m not mistaken,” Brees said. “There’s been plenty of back and forth. They’re always good games, they’re always physical games and anytime it’s a game within the division. Obviously, we aspire to be the top team in the division just like they do. There’s a lot at stake – always.”
The Bucs have won the last two games at the Superdome and will attempt to make it three in a row on Sunday.
COOL-HAND LAKE DISCUSSES PENALTIES
Tampa Bay defensive backs coach Jimmy Lake has one of the coolest demeanors on the Buccaneers staff. Lake is a level-headed, thinking man’s coach that has to work with one of the team’s hottest heads, cornerback Aqib Talib.
Talib drew plenty of criticism for drawing a personal foul against Chicago wide receiver Roy Williams on third down inside the red zone in the fourth quarter and gave the Bears an automatic first down. Although the Bucs defense eventually held the Bears to a field goal with another stop on third down a few plays later, about a minute and a half ran off the clock in the waning moments of the Chicago game, giving Tampa Bay quarterback Josh Freeman and the Bucs offense less time to work with.
This week after practice, Lake addressed that penalty situation with Talib and had some words of wisdom for the Bucs as a whole, who are the second-most penalized team in the NFL this year.
“I don’t know if anybody knows exactly what went on and why the official even threw the flag,” Lake said. “That’s the part where we have to say ‘the play is over’ to everybody and walk away and don’t give them a reason to do it. Don’t flex up on them at all. We just have to walk away and just play football.
“It’s a conversation we have and will continue to have [with Talib]. What he and everybody else has to understand is that the officials are gray matter, especially after they throw the flag. There is nothing you can do about it. They already threw the flag. We just have to get that point across to our whole team and coaches. Maybe a penalty should have been thrown, maybe it shouldn't have been thrown – whatever. But at the end of the day how many times have you seen an official pick it up? ‘You know what? I shouldn’t have thrown it. You guys are right. I’ll put it back in my pocket.’ They have to realize that once it goes out and they throw it, there can’t be any discussion about it. Next play.”
THE NEED FOR SPEED – CINCINNATI RB ISIAH PEAD
With the Bucs having a need for a speed receiver and a speed running back, the Pewter Pulse will continue to profile those types of 2012 draft prospects through the conclusion of college football season. Next up is Cincinnati running back Isiah Pead.
Although he is the workhorse back for the Bearcats in their spread offense, at 5-foot-10, 200 pounds, Pead is built for complementary duty in the NFL and that’s exactly what type of role he would have with the Buccaneers if they were to secure his services in the middle of the draft. Pead has used his 4.48 speed to amass 2,732 yards and 23 touchdowns on 422 carries (6.5 avg.) and 63 catches for 508 yards and five scores in the passing game.
A three-year starter, Pead is on pace to top his career-high 1,029-yard performance from a year ago. During his senior campaign, Pead has rushed for 703 yards and eight scores in 114 carries to go along with 15 catches for 106 yards and two touchdowns. As a junior, Pead had six rushing touchdowns to go along with 26 catches for 190 yards receiving and one score.
Pead broke out in 2009 during Cincinnati’s undefeated regular season, rushing for 806 yards and a career-high nine touchdowns as a sophomore, and catching 20 passes for 201 yards and two TDs. Pead has eight games in which he rushed for over 100 yards, including six of which he has topped at least 150 yards.
Displaying good vision, cutting ability, slippery tackle-breaking ability, great hands and an elusive quality, Pead would make a good change-of-pace back in Tampa Bay and a nice weapon on third downs.
• Aside from cornerback Aqib Talib, Raheem Morris doesn’t publicly coddle his players, and franchise quarterback Josh Freeman isn’t immune to some frank talk from the Bucs head coach. During the bye week, Morris spoke directly about Freeman’s struggle in throwing 10 interceptions through the first seven games of the 2011 season.
“Last year he simply did a better job of going through his progressions throughout the whole process,” Morris said. “Right now he’s probably playing his number in fantasy football and trying to throw touchdowns. Sometimes it’s okay to throw checkdowns. Sometimes it’s okay to go through your progressions. Right now he has a little too much confidence in what he is doing with his arm and he forces throws in there. We’ll just reel back on some of those things and get better and better. He sees it. He knows the deal. He knows the issue. He knows it’s simple out there. We’re in a game where he threw four interceptions. If he doesn’t throw some of those interceptions we have a chance to win it. He’s not one of those guys who are more concerned about him than winning. He’s one of those guys that is more concerned about winning than he is losing.”
• Missing two games against New Orleans and Chicago has reduced the chances of LeGarrette Blount posting a second straight 1,000-yard season. With Blount rushing for 328 yards on 77 carries (4.3 avg.) and three touchdowns through the five games he’s played in, he has averaged only 65.6 yards per game. Starting this Sunday in New Orleans. Blount will have to average 74.7 yards per game over the remaining nine games to hit 1,000 yards again.
That doesn’t sound like a lot, but keep in mind that Blount has topped 74 yards just twice this season – an 81-yard rushing effort against Atlanta and a season-high 127-yard, one-touchdown performance against Indianapolis. In fact, he’s topped 74 yards rushing just eight times in the 18 NFL games he’s played in during his two-year career.
• With Earnest Graham seeing his third straight season end on injured reserve, this time with a torn Achilles tendon, his playing days as a Buccaneer may be over. Tampa Bay wants to continue its youth movement, and Graham, whose contract is up after the 2011 season, will be 32 next year. With the Bucs cutting or not re-signing popular running backs like Warrick Dunn (2009) and Cadillac Williams (2011), don’t expect Tampa Bay to extend Graham an extension offer in 2012.
The Bucs clearly have to upgrade their speed at the skill positions and Graham was never the fastest back to begin with, but has clearly lost a step prior to his Achilles injury. He certainly won’t be any faster coming back from that rehabilitation.
• Speaking of Achilles tendons, long snapper Andrew Economos returned to the Bucs active roster on Friday. Undrafted free agent David Sims, who was signed on November 1, was released in order to make room for Economos on the 53-man roster. Bucs general manager Mark Dominik and director of player personnel Dennis Hickey did a wise thing by waiting until the end of the week to activate Economos instead of doing so a week earlier when Earnest Graham went on injured reserve.
By waiting, the team was able to have Sims, who had 96 tackles, three forced fumbles, one fumble recovery and one interception as a senior at Iowa State after being named the Big 12’s Defensive Newcomer of the Year after recording 88 tackles, five interceptions, three forced fumbles and one fumble recovery, come in and not just for a Tuesday try-out but as an active participant with all of the players in a week’s worth of practice. Although he wasn’t kept, the Bucs now know what he can and can’t do and effectively used that roster spot to gain some intel on a player that could be signed as an emergency, off-the-street substitution in case there is another injury at the safety spot.
“He’s just another guy to add to the room and take a look at,” Bucs defensive backs coach Jimmy Lake said. “See how he runs around and see if he’s a guy that we can have in the offseason or into next season.”