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After watching Tampa Bay’s dreadful offense be held without a touchdown in the first two games of the 2004 regular season, what on earth would make anyone believe that Bucs head coach Jon Gruden’s group is going to remedy its woes in a hostile environment like McAfee Coliseum in Oakland?
I didn’t like the Bucs’ chances of moving the ball, never mind scoring, against Oakland defensive coordinator Rob Ryan and his 3-4 (three defensive linemen, four linebackers) defense this Sunday, either. They do, after all, have 365-pound nose tackle Ted Washington and former Bucs defensive tackle Warren Sapp lining up as a defensive end. Washington was a big reason why Ryan and the New England Patriots won a Super Bowl playing a similar 3-4 defensive scheme last season, no pun intended.
“He’s a big man who has been playing a long time,” Bucs center John Wade said of Washington. “He’s a force in the middle. He’s be doing it for 13 years now. He’s been throwing people, just tossing lineman, backs and lead blockers around like they were children, like that for years. It’s going to be a tough battle. This is a 400-pound man who knows how to play the game and can run.
“I played against him when he was with Chicago. I remember I cut him and he fell on me once and that’s about all I remember. He’s a big, heavy man. I can tell you that.”
“Ted Washington … he’s larger than life,” added Bucs offensive coordinator/offensive line coach Bill Muir.
While trying to think of a way Tampa Bay might score in Oakland, I couldn’t help but recall that some of the Bucs’ best offensive performances under Gruden have come against 3-4 defenses. With that in mind, I decided to go back and see exactly how well the Bucs fared against the 3-4 scheme that Atlanta and Houston used against the Pewter Pirates over the past two seasons.
After further review, the statistics I dug up should be encouraging to the Bucs, who will be in desperate need of their first offensive touchdown and a win when they take on the Raiders in The Black Hole.
Take a look at Tampa Bay’s offensive production against the 3-4 defensive scheme for yourself:
At Atlanta: – 327 yards of total offense, one offensive touchdown and two field goals.
Atlanta: – 421 yards of total offense, four offensive touchdowns and two field goals.
Pittsburgh: – 277 yards of total offense, one touchdown.
At Atlanta: – 316 yards of total offense, four offensive touchdowns and one field goal.
Houston: – 398 yards of total offense, one touchdown and three field goals.
Atlanta: – 440 yards of total offense, four touchdowns.
2,179 (363.1 avg.) yards of total offense, 14 touchdowns and eight field goals in six contests.
The Bucs even produced 380 yards of total offense against the Texans in their last preseason game
Now, these stats don’t necessarily mean the Bucs offense is going to have a coming out party against the Raiders defense on Sunday night. Each team has different personnel and they run their 3-4 schemes differently.
What do the 3-4 schemes have in common? Well, each consists of three down linemen – a nose tackle in the middle and two defensive ends that usually line up over the offensive tackles. Like the 4-3 defense, the 3-4 scheme typically has two inside linebackers, two cornerbacks and two safeties.
What’s different? A 4-3 scheme rushes four linemen, but a 3-4 rushes three linemen and one of its four linebackers. The trick is figuring out which one is coming in. Of course, both schemes can rush more than four defenders, but that would be considered a blitz, which 3-4 schemes are notorious for doing.
Oakland plays a 3-4 style of defense that Gruden and the Bucs offense view as more of a 5-2 scheme since the Raiders have players that could play at the defensive end position lining up as linebackers in Ryan’s defense.
“To me, it isn’t a 3-4 defense, it’s a 5-2 defense,” said Gruden. “(Defensive end Tyler) Brayton is a lot like a guy who used to play named Bryce Paup, only he’s bigger. He’s athletic, he’s a heck of a player and he’s 290 pounds, I think. He’s an outside linebacker in a 3-4 defense, so when you get a back blocking him, that’s a matchup sometimes that’s difficult. The other guy, DeLawrence Grant, is a 275-pound defensive end who’s playing linebacker in a 3-4 scheme. They do have (cornerback) Phillip Buchanon. They’ve got a guy named [Charles] Woodson who gives them the flexibility to do a lot of things, and with that they cause some confusion. They looked quite good last week against Buffalo.”
“Some of it is that two linebackers on our side are two starting defensive ends from last year,” said Bucs left tackle Derrick Deese. “That let’s you know right there that they trust those guys and they think they are good enough athletes to put them on our receiver or tight ends at times, and at other times they are just going to put them out there and make you think they are going to cover and they are not. Other than that there’s not really too much. They do a lot of moving with the ends, with Sapp playing a little bit inside, more than outside. They may make it look like they don’t have a defensive end, when they do.”
Oakland’s defense ranks fourth overall in the NFL. Last week, the Raiders recorded seven sacks against quarterback Drew Bledsoe and the Bills. In fact, the Raiders currently rank No. 1 in the NFL in sacks with nine, which isn’t good news for the Bucs, who are ranked 32nd in the league in sacks allowed with nine.
“That is a concern,” Gruden said of Oakland’s ability to get to the quarterback. “This is a 5-2. They have five defensive linemen that cause matchup problems for you in protection; intense matchup problems.
“It’s also exciting, to see a team on the road in a loud, hostile environment. That will give us an opportunity to pick it up and get some credibility going around here offensively.”
The team whose 3-4 defense figured out a way to halt Tampa Bay’s offensive attack was Pittsburgh. In December of 2002, the Steelers held the Bucs to just 277 yards of total offense.
But the Bucs didn’t have quarterback Brad Johnson, who had a lower back injury at the time, in that contest. As much as Johnson has struggled this season (no touchdowns and two interceptions in two games), a 3-4 defense could be just what the doctor ordered.
Take a look at Johnson’s production vs. 3-4 defenses over the past two seasons:
At Atlanta: – 17-of-31 for 261 yards and one touchdown and one interception.
Atlanta: – 23-of-31 for 276 yards and four touchdowns and no interceptions.
At Atlanta: – 16-of-24 for 192 yards and two touchdowns and no interceptions.
Houston: – 17-of-28 for 237 yards and no touchdowns and no interceptions.
Atlanta: – 34-of-48 for 346 yards and four touchdowns and four interceptions.
107-of-162 (66 percent) for 1,312 yards and 11 touchdowns and five interceptions.
While Oakland’s 3-4 scheme varies from others, Tampa Bay’s offensive line will still be charged with the difficult task of picking up the pressure that the Raiders apply defensively.
“There are some of the same premesis, but the difference with Oakland is they’ll jump in and out of the three-man line and show you some four-man fronts,” said Gruden. “They have a real diverse approach, and this Rob Ryan guy is (former Chicago defensive coordinator and Philadelphia head coach) Buddy Ryan’s son, so he’ll give you the 46 package and apply a lot of heat.”
So, what has been Gruden’s secret to success in terms of moving the ball and scoring against 3-4 defensive schemes over the past two seasons?
“Maybe it was good fortune,” Gruden said smiling.
Perhaps the Bucs have fared well against 3-4 schemes because they’ve faced that type of defense several times over the last two seasons, or maybe Gruden’s offense is at its best when the defense’s blitzes are picked up, thus freeing up receivers who often find themselves in man-to-man coverage. Whatever it is that has allowed the Bucs to do so well against 3-4s, they hope to repeat those past successes and find the end zone on Sunday night in Oakland.
“We’ve played a lot against 3-4 defenses over the past couple of years and I think we’re kind of used to blocking that type of scheme,” said Bucs tight end Ken Dilger. “They have different personnel in there and in a 3-4 defense they blitz a lot. I think our offense is set up to protect the quarterback and hit the open receiver when they blitz. That’s something we haven’t done much lately, but we’ll need to do that on Sunday night.”
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