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DEFENSIVE LINE Surprise! Bucs under tackle Anthony McFarland was a no-show once again on the stats sheet. Zero tackles. Zero pressures. Zero fumbles – forced or recovered. And of course, zero sacks. General manager Bruce Allen should press charges against McFarland for grand larceny. This guy is stealing his paychecks each week. However, Tampa Bay’s defensive line as a unit underperformed.
Left end Greg Spires led the way with four tackles and nose tackle Chris Hovan had two stops, and was probably the best lineman today. Defensive end Simeon Rice was injured early in the game and finished with just one tackle and one QB hurry after returning to action in the second quarter.
Super-sub Dewayne White, who had a sensational game against Carolina, also failed to crack the stats sheet and didn’t make his presence felt at all. The goal of Tampa Bay’s defense is stopping the run up front and pressuring the passer with its front four. This unit did neither (no sacks and giving up 143 yards on the ground), and was the main culprit in Tampa Bay’s loss at New Orleans.
LINEBACKERS Derrick Brooks saved a touchdown on Deuce McAllister’s 57-yard run in the first quarter. Three plays later, New Orleans had to settle for a field goal. On third-and-goal on that series, middle linebacker Shelton Quarles nailed tight end Ernie Conwell in the back in the end zone that forced him to drop a sure touchdown pass.
But other big plays – and especially turnovers – were nowhere to be found. The linebackers just weren’t that active against New Orleans. Brooks finished with five tackles, while Quarles and strongside linebacker Ryan Nece each had four tackles and one pass defensed. Tampa Bay’s linebacking corps needs to be around the ball more and make more big plays. They didn’t today.
SECONDARY Strong safety Jermaine Phillips took a horrible angle on McAllister’s big, 57-yard run in the first quarter. Phillips actually lunged wildly and hit Rice in the abdomen, knocking him out of the game. Then free safety Will Allen did something that rarely happens in the NFL. He actually missed two tackles – on the same play – on McAllister’s run. The play of Tampa Bay’s safeties has been horrible at times this year, and today was no different.
Kalvin Pearson replaced Phillips in the lineup in the second quarter and proved to be a better tackler, although he – along with Allen – did miss a tackle on McAllister’s touchdown run. Pearson, who finished with five tackles, subbed in for Phillips and Allen throughout the game and played well. Phillips finished with five tackles and probably missed just as many. The same could be said for Allen, who had just two stops.
Cornerback Brian Kelly was outstanding in his return to action from a toe turf injury and led the Bucs with nine tackles, including eight solo stops. Corner Ronde Barber was the second-leading tackler with eight stops. Nickel back Juran Bolden had four tackles and was pretty solid in coverage.
Tampa Bay’s secondary held New Orleans to 171 passing yards and one touchdown today. Wide receiver Joe Horn had only four catches for 48 yards and Marques Colston had three receptions for 38 yards. Poor tackling and play by the safeties bring this grade down significantly.
SPECIAL TEAMS Tampa Bay beautifully defended a reverse on New Orleans’ opening kickoff with Earnest Graham staying home and stuffing the return man for a 15-yard gain out to the Saints’ 24. On New Orleans’ next kickoff, linebacker Antoine Cash made a great tackle on Terrence Copper after a 15-yard return out to the Saints’ 18.
Josh Bidwell’s first punt was inside the 20-yard line at the New Orleans’ 14. In the third quarter, Blue Adams tackled Reggie Bush for a 6-yard loss on a punt return. Early in the fourth quarter, Pearson and rookie defensive lineman Julian Jenkins teamed up and downed a Bidwell punt on the 4-yard line. Cash and Graham did a great job of corralling Aaron Stecker early in the fourth quarter on a kick return.
Tampa Bay’s special teams were having a fantastic game until they gave up a 65-yard punt return for a touchdown to Bush. Cash was the only Buc who had a shot at tackling Bush, but he missed the tackle and the Saints formed a great wall down the right sidelines that ended up being the difference in the game.
Bidwell had four of his punts downed inside the 20, but his last one was returned for a score, which lowers the special teams grade significantly.
COACHING For the most part, Jon Gruden’s offensive play-calling was pretty good. He used Bruce Gradkowski’s mobility quite a bit and didn’t put his rookie quarterback in many bad situations – even when he seemed to be a bit too conservative. Gruden’s offense rolled up a season-high 406 yards of total offense, including 187 yards on the ground. Gruden was patient with his running game and called play-action passes at the right time. Some new formations on offense, such as Tampa Bay’s revamped goal line package, paid dividends. If anything, the Bucs offense should have been more potent, but untimely penalties stymied some drives.
Poor tackling is still a problem for Tampa Bay’s defense. And the coaches need to stop with all this “players are trying to do too much” nonsense. That’s B.S. When you touch a player, you tackle the player. Credit defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin for inserting Pearson and pulling Phillips and Allen at times, but fault Kiffin for not fixing the Bucs’ poor tackling during the bye week. Tampa Bay’s defense gave up over 100 yards rushing to McAllister in the first half and failed to create a turnover – and that was the main reason why the Bucs lost. Pressure from the front four was nonexistent, and Kiffin’s blitzes rarely provided much impact. Drew Brees was hardly touched all day.
Defensive line coach Jethro Franklin and defensive backs coach Greg Burns – both new hires – have issues with their respective units. The defensive line didn’t generate much of a pass rush and the tackling woes continue in the secondary.
Rich Bisaccia’s special teams units had a great day except for one very important, and untimely punt return.
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Scott Reynolds is in his 25th year of covering the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as the vice president, publisher and senior Bucs beat writer for PewterReport.com. Author of the popular SR's Fab 5 column on Fridays, Reynolds oversees web development and forges marketing partnerships for PewterReport.com in addition to his editorial duties. A graduate of Kansas State University in 1995, Reynolds spent six years giving back to the community as the defensive line coach for his sons' Pop Warner team, the South Pasco Predators. Reynolds can be reached at: email@example.com