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DEFENSIVE LINE Dewayne White had a great pressure on Michael Vick on third-and-17 in the first quarter that forced an incompletion and brought up a field goal attempt that was ultimately botched by Atlanta. He didn’t dominate today, but he helped against the run with five tackles and contained Vick effectively.
Under tackle Ellis Wyms was very active against the run and finished with five stops despite a sore ankle. Wyms’ backup, Jovan Haye, injured his thumb right before halftime, but had a great game with five tackles and one quarterback hurry. Haye really impressed by playing with a lot of passion and energy. He is one of the best midseason acquisitions the Bucs have had in some time.
Nose tackle Chris Hovan was also stout against the run and had four tackles.
Like White, defensive end Greg Spires did a great job of containing Vick and the Falcons running game. Atlanta did rush for 139 yards against the Bucs, but it was well below their season average of 202 yards per game. Spires played a big role in containing the outside run game and notched seven tackles.
Reserve Julian Jenkins had a pair of tackles, but didn’t really stand out.
Vick was harassed and hit quite often and couldn’t get into rhythm throwing the football, finishing the game without any touchdowns and a 62.8 QB rating. The Bucs defensive line got gashed on Justin Griffith’s 21-yard touchdown run, but that will happen sometimes in a one-gap defense. That was really the biggest play the defense gave up all day. Tampa Bay’s defensive line, despite the lack of star power, played well.
LINEBACKERS Weakside linebacker Derrick Brooks absolutely drilled Jerious Norwood after a 12-yard gain in the first quarter and that seemed to really key up the defense. He also nailed Norwood later in the game and played some inspired football today. Brooks finished with five tackles, but showed great emotional leadership on the field today and really got the defense and the crowd fired up. His lone bad play was getting rocked out his gap on Griffith’s 21-yard touchdown jaunt.
Strongside linebacker Ryan Nece and middle linebacker Shelton Quarles split a 7-yard sack of Vick in first quarter. Quarles later got to Vick for an individual sack and played a whale of a game, leading the team with 12 tackles (nine solo) and three quarterback hurries. Quarles has been on a tear over the last two weeks and is playing with a real sense of urgency. He has arguably been Tampa Bay’s best defender since returning from injuries last week. Quarles has been playing fast and aggressive and it’s obvious he is playing – and playing hard – for his job next season.
Nece did a nice job of rushing the passer today and containing Vick from the outside. Vick was held to just five yards rushing on three carries, mainly due to Nece chasing him laterally down the line of scrimmage and using the sidelines as a 12th defender. Nece finished with six tackles and made a big impact today.
DEFENSIVE BACKS Cornerback Phillip Buchanon got the start at left cornerback in place of Juran Bolden and had a nice pass defensed on the opening drive and finished the game with two. He also had a great interception in the end zone on a fade pass intended for Ashley Lelie with Tampa Bay leading 6-0 with just over two minutes left before halftime. Buchanon played very well in coverage and had three tackles. He is gaining confidence within this system and is one of the few bright spots on this team right now.
Bolden did play some in nickel defense, but was limited due to injuries he has suffered this season. He finished with one tackle and did a nice job in coverage.
Jermaine Phillips had a key stop on third-and-2 to end the first half when he halted Warrick Dunn for no gain. Phillips had a decent game with four tackles, and again, played better closer to the line of scrimmage than he did in the secondary. Phillips and the linebackers helped hold tight end Alge Crumpler to just 30 yards on three catches.
Free safety Will Allen got schooled, abused and completely undressed when he got juked by fullback Justin Griffith on a 21-yard touchdown run in which he went in untouched. We’re not talking about Jerious Norwood or Warrick Dunn here. We’re talking about Justin Griffith, whose longest run of the year is 10 yards. Allen may be the most unathletic safety the Bucs have had in some time. He finished with two tackles and was a negative factor in this game.
Kalvin Pearson substituted in at safety and recorded three tackles.
Roddy White had a key, 12-yard first down grab against Ronde Barber on third-and-5 with 13:00 left in the fourth quarter, but otherwise, was held in check with just two catches for 17 yards. Barber did a great job of shutting down his opponents. Atlanta’s leading receiver was Ashley Lelie, who had three catches for 49 yards – and no receiver had a gain over 20 yards. Barber finished with six tackles.
The entire unit minus Allen deserves a B-plus for containing the Falcons receivers and picking off a pass, but Allen’s bush league attempt at a tackle on Griffith’s touchdown run drops the grade down a full letter.
SPECIAL TEAMS Kicker Matt Bryant made his first field goal of the day, a 42-yarder, that extended his streak of consecutive field goals made to 10. His streak was extended to 11 when he converted a 23-yarder in the second quarter to give Tampa Bay a 6-0 lead. But Bryant missed his third kick, a 51-yarder in the second quarter that would have given the Bucs a 9-0 lead. The field goal was with the wind and makeable, but he just pushed it wide right. Bryant is now 13-of-17 (76.4 percent) on the season and is … gulp … the offensive MVP this year – even though he plays on special teams.
Punter Josh Bidwell had a great performance with a 45.5-yard gross average and a 43.8-yard net with one punt downed inside the 20 and no touchbacks. Tampa Bay’s coverage units were outstanding, holding Allen Rossum to just 3.5 yards per punt return on two attempts (along with two fair catches) and 14.7 yards per kick return on three attempts.
Ike Hilliard averaged 11 yards on two punt returns, while Michael Pittman and Torrie Cox each averaged 17 yards on one and two kick returns, respectively. The Bucs need better blocking from the kick return unit.
Tampa Bay’s special teams were dominant against Atlanta. There was a lot of pride out there today. This unit would have gotten an “A-” if not for Bryant’s missed field goal. Five players notched one tackle on special teams against Atlanta, including Jamie Winborn, who forced a fumble on the opening kickoff. Unfortunately for the Bucs, the ball rolled out of bounds before Tampa Bay could recover it.
COACHING Which came first, the chicken or the egg? That questioned could be asked of the Bucs coaching staff. The players are ruining some good game plans and play-calling with poor play, which isn’t the coaches’ fault, but isn’t it the coaches’ responsibility to get the players ready to play and execute their assignments? Head coach Jon Gruden was totally frustrated by the lack of a running game today. Cadillac Williams’ longest carry was six yards and he averaged 2.4 yards on 20 carries for 48 yards. Gruden said he tried a run in every hole, outside to the left and right, draws and counters, and nothing worked. At some point, Bill Muir has to be held accountable, as he is the offensive line coach and the running game coordinator.
The biggest beef with Gruden today may have been putting Ike Hilliard back there in the fourth quarter for a punt return instead of Phillip Buchanon or Joey Galloway, who have the speed to quickly change field position. Hilliard did well to get a 12-yard return, but he just doesn’t have breakaway speed.
Of course, Gruden’s biggest decision was to bench Bruce Gradkowski in favor of Tim Rattay. Don’t be fooled by Rattay’s numbers – 9-of-13 for 83 yards. Those came against a prevent defense. Rattay is no better than Gradkowski and still couldn’t produce a touchdown despite having four plays inside the Atlanta 5-yard line. Rattay fumbled a snap and then was stuffed for no gain on a feeble QB sneak attempt on fourth-and-goal at the 2 on the last play of the game. Did Gruden do the right thing? Who knows? The frustrated has little to work with at the quarterback position right now. Gradkowski has clearly regressed and Rattay isn’t the answer, either. The Bucs offense is bad and won’t get better until next year. Touchdowns are mere mirages on the gridiron right now for Tampa Bay.
Defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin did a great job of game-planning for Michael Vick. Tampa Bay’s defense surrendered 10 out of Atlanta’s 17 points, and held the Falcons to only 280 yards. Kiffin’s unit was sharp as far as tackling was concerned (except for Allen’s whiff on Griffith). The secondary play was solid in pass coverage, Crumpler was neutralized, Vick was contained and both Warrick Dunn and Jerious Norwood were knocked out of the game. Well done, Monte.
Hats off to special teams coach Rich Bisaccia for a well-executed plan on special teams. Here’s wishing the kick return unit would offer better field position, but Bisaccia’s coverage units were studly and Bidwell and Bryant had good days.
The defense and special teams came through today. The offense was inept and couldn’t run the ball. I wouldn’t be surprised to see some offensive assistants lose their job in the offseason.
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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: firstname.lastname@example.org
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