Copyright 2006 PewterReport.com

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DEFENSIVE LINE
Ellis Wyms started his first game at under tackle in three weeks after missing time with a high ankle sprain, but wasn’t much of a factor, finishing with one tackle. Under tackle Jovan Haye played inspired football and actually finished with four stops.

Nose tackle Chris Hovan also finished with one tackle and was neutralized by Pittsburgh’s great center, Jeff Hartings.

Dewayne White, who is in a contract year and is starting in place of Simeon Rice, recorded just two tackles and got very little pressure on Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. White made a key tackle on third down at the two-minute warning in the first half after Hovan, linebacker Shelton Quarles and safety Kalvin Pearson missed sack opportunities on the play.

Fellow defensive end Greg Spires also had two tackles and made very few impact plays.

Backup lineman Julian Jenkins did not record a tackle. Tackle Jon Bradley and end Charles Bennett were inactive and did not play.

Tampa Bay’s defense held Pittsburgh to 267 yards and 36 percent on third downs, but just didn’t pressure Roethlisberger enough to make a difference. Haye played the hardest, but this unit lacks finishing speed when it comes to rushing the passer. The Bucs defensive line did play a role in holding Pittsburgh to only 76 yards on 31 carries (2.5 avg.), though.

GRADE: C-

LINEBACKERS
Shelton Quarles returned from injury to start at middle linebacker. Quarles responded with one of his best games of the season, leading Tampa Bay with 10 tackles (seven solo) and a sack. He was active in pass coverage and played tough against the run.

Derrick Brooks picked off a pass intended for Nate Washington in the first quarter near midfield. The interception was Brooks’ 23 as a Buccaneer. But Brooks gave up a touchdown at the end of the first quarter to tight end Jerame Tuman who was wide open in the back of the end zone on third-and-goal from the Tampa Bay 3. Brooks also got a 15-yard facemask penalty on Willie Parker in the third quarter. He finished with six tackles and a pass defensed.

Strongside linebacker Ryan Nece made four stops, including a nice, tackle for loss on a run blitz. However, Nece didn’t come close to causing any turnovers.

Linebacker Jamie Winborn saw some action on defense against Pittsburgh when Tampa Bay played in a 3-4 scheme and played well, showing some great speed and finishing with two tackles.

Tampa Bay’s linebackers did a good job against the run and in underneath pass coverage, except for the red zone where tight ends Heath Miller and Jerame Tuman caught touchdowns. Steelers running back Willie Parker rushed for only 61 yards on 22 carries (2.8 avg.) with a long run of 14 yards thanks in large part to the play of Tampa Bay’s linebackers.

GRADE: B-

DEFENSIVE BACKS
Will Allen fought off a leg injury he suffered last week at Dallas to start at free safety against Pittsburgh, but he had very little impact on the game. Allen finished with two tackles. Reserve Kalvin Pearson subbed in for Allen and finished with two tackles himself.

Strong safety Jermaine Phillips missed a tackle or two, but played fairly well, especially in the box, against Pittsburgh. Phillips was an enforcer against the run and had nine tackles with one pass breakup.

Cornerback Ronde Barber dropped an interception at midfield in the second quarter on third down, but had a great tackle for loss in the third quarter on a run blitz. Barber finished with six tackles and two pass breakups, but played a role in giving up a touchdown to Pittsburgh tight end Heath Miller.

Cornerback Juran Bolden was fair against the run with six tackles, but struggled in pass coverage. Bolden gave up a 36-yard pass play to Nate Washington, who finished with three catches for 78 yards. Nickel corner Phillip Buchanon had one pass deflection in spot duty.

Tampa Bay’s secondary didn’t get much help from its defensive line in terms of pass protection, and despite blitzing Barber and Allen, neither defensive back got to Roethlisberger, who was 12-of-25 for 198 yards with two touchdowns and one interception. The Bucs secondary had five pass breakups, but just didn’t make enough plays against Pittsburgh.

GRADE: C-

SPECIAL TEAMS
Punter Josh Bidwell, who just signed a five-year contract extension with the Buccaneers last weekend, did a nice job of nailing a punt down to the Pittsburgh 1, thanks to great coverage from defensive backs Blue Adams and Torrie Cox. Bidwell finished the night with a 38.2 average on six kicks.

Cornerback Phillip Buchanon had a good, 6-yard punt return inside Pittsburgh’s 35-yard line in the first half, but lost a yard on his other return. Ike Hilliard fair caught one punt and returned two others for a total of four yards.

Cox averaged 19.5 yards on four kick returns, including a long of 27 yards, while Michael Pittman had one return for 12 yards.

Kicker Matt Bryant scored the only points for Tampa Bay with a 27-yard field goal as time expired in the game.

Tampa Bay’s coverage units were solid, but its return game was lackluster. Bidwell had a fair game, while Bryant made his eighth-straight field goal.

GRADE: B-

COACHING
Buccaneers head coach Jon Gruden wisely challenged Cadillac Williams’ fumble midway through the second quarter, as the play was overturned and the drive continued. Gruden had an inadvertent blunder late in the second quarter when he called timeout prior to Pittsburgh jumping offsides on third-and-7. Had he not taken the timeout, the Bucs would have had a third-and-2. Gruden did lose an instant replay challenge on another Williams fumble early in the third quarter. Williams was a huge disappointment in this game with a fumble and a costly dropped pass. With Earnest Graham averaging 8.8 yards (four carries for 35 yards) against Pittsburgh – albeit in garbage time – perhaps Gruden should consider giving Graham more carries when the game is on the line to make a point to Williams, who has had a disappointing sophomore campaign.

Gruden did a decent job with his playcalling, as there were receivers open downfield (see Michael Clayton), but he must take some blame for Bruce Gradkowski’s bad performance, which was highlighted by a season-high three interceptions.

Offensive line coach Bill Muir’s unit got tagged with four of the Bucs’ five sacks by the Steelers. The offensive line is not showing major improvement and the Buccaneers may have to contemplate a change at this position in the offseason.

Richard Mann’s wide receivers continue to drop passes. Michael Clayton dropped an easy touchdown pass that hit him right in the hands. Joey Galloway also had a drop and Ike Hilliard had a couple of passes bounce off his hands, including one in the end zone late in the fourth quarter. One has to wonder if Mann’s job will be in jeopardy in the offseason as drops from the receiving corps has plagued Tampa Bay all season. If Mann – or any other coach – gets the axe this year, it will be because the players let the coaches down.

It’s the same old story for Tampa Bay’s defense. Not enough turnovers and not enough pressure on the quarterback. The tackling has improved, but the playmaking aspect has not.

GRADE: D
 


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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: sr@pewterreport.com
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