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DEFENSIVE LINE
The Bucs changed up their nickel rush today with Ellis Wyms and Greg Spires inside at the tackle spots with Simeon Rice and Dewayne White at defensive ends. Wyms, in only his second career NFL start, had a very good performance at under tackle for the Buccaneers with three tackles and one sack. Wyms has a total of three sacks in the last two games. The Bucs certainly didn’t miss Booger McFarland today.

Rice was held in check by Eagles left tackle Tra Thomas, and recorded only one tackle. However he did get two good pressures on McNabb, especially on McNabb’s second interception to Ronde Barber, which was returned for a touchdown.
 
Rice and White, who also recorded one tackle, missed McNabb on third-and-9 at the Tampa Bay 12. The Eagles capped off a 79-yard drive with a 12-yard touchdown pass to fullback Thomas Tapeh to pull within 17-14 on that play.

Nose tackle Chris Hovan, who was held all day with no flags called on Philadelphia’s offensive line, had a fair day, but failed to get on the stats sheet. He actually ran into White on one play, negating White’s opportunity to sack Philadelphia quarterback Donovan McNabb.

Jon Bradley saw action as a reserve defensive tackle instead of Julian Jenkins against Philadelphia and was credited with one tackle. Bradley got a good push inside on several plays while subbing for Hovan and Wyms. Jenkins only saw action on special teams, but not on defense. Spires had one tackle.

Tampa Bay’s defensive line only had one sack, but would have had three or four if they were not playing against such a mobile superstar like McNabb. You have to give McNabb credit for his foot speed and playmaking ability. The good news is that Tampa Bay got enough pressure to make McNabb scramble. The bad news was that McNabb made a ton of plays scrambling, including rushing for 76 yards on six carries and throwing a 12-yard touchdown pass on the move.

GRADE: B-

LINEBACKERS
Middle linebacker Shelton Quarles led the team with 11 tackles, including nine solo stops, but missed a key tackle on McNabb on his 20-yard run right before the half. For all the tackles Quarles made, he missed his share as well. The same could be said for his substitute, Barrett Ruud, who finished with two tackles.

Strongside linebacker and weakside linebacker Derrick Brooks finished with eight and seven tackles, respectively, but didn’t make many big plays. For all the tackles the linebacking corps accumulated, this unit must share in the blame of letting the Eagles convert 7-of-11 (64 percent) third downs and amass 506 yards of total offense, including 208 yards on the ground.

When Brooks, Quarles and Nece blitzed McNabb, they were ineffective and didn’t get there. As a result, the Bucs linebackers gave up a lot of plays, including Brian Westbrook’s 29-yard catch-and-run to get Philadelphia into field goal range late in the second quarter, and several McNabb scrambles. And one would be remiss if not noting that Brooks whiffed on Westbrook’s 52-yard touchdown run with 33 seconds remaining. Tampa Bay’s linebackers can tackle better. Poor tackling has cost this team four games already this season, and technique and angles should have cost Tampa Bay today – if not for Matt Bryant’s heroic 62-yard field goal.

GRADE: C

DEFENSIVE BACKS
Tampa Bay free safety Will Allen missed a tackle on Reggie Brown that turned a 25-yard pass into a 41-yard gain in the first quarter. Allen was the second-leading tackler for the Buccaneers with eight stops. While he missed some tackles he should have made, he did team with cornerback Ronde Barber on a key tackle of Eagles tight end L.J. Smith at the 2-yard line right before halftime as time ran out, which proved to be a huge, pivotal play in the game given the fact that Tampa Bay won by two points.

Barber had one of the best games of his career and retained his reputation as an “Eagle slayer” with two touchdowns off interceptions and a forced fumble that stopped an Eagles drive deep in Tampa Bay territory. Barber also had seven tackles and two pass breakups. On third-and-4 from the Eagles’ 33, Barber jumped a route and picked off a pass intended for Hank Baskett and returned the interception 37 yards for a touchdown with 14:04 left in the second quarter. With 5:19 left in the third quarter, Barber stepped in front of Greg Lewis to pick off a pass and return it 66 yards for a touchdown to put Tampa Bay up 17-0. You know Philly fans had to be gripping over watching two more Barber INTs get returned for touchdowns. Barber, whose 12 points actually outscored Tampa Bay’s offense on Sunday, now has 10 career touchdowns, including the postseason.

In the first quarter, cornerback Juran Bolden, who was starting in place of the injured Brian Kelly, picked off a pass intended for Brown and returned the pick 27 yards. Incredibly, that was the first interception by a Tampa Bay defensive back this year, but it wouldn’t be the last, as Barber would add two more. Bolden did give up a 12-yard touchdown to Tapeh by taking a poor angle on the play.

Strong safety Jermaine Phillips had seven tackles in the game, but flat out missed McNabb on a couple of long scrambles and also whiffed on Westbrook’s 52-yard touchdown run. The Bucs have to seriously consider finding an upgrade for Phillips in the offseason.

Nickel corner Torrie Cox played rather well, contributing a tackle and recovering Barber’s forced fumble in the first quarter. Cox has been an unsung hero this year as Tampa Bay’s third cornerback in nickel defense.

If not for several missed tackles in the Bucs’ secondary on Westbrook’s 52-yard touchdown run in the last minute of the game, Barber’s performance would have netted this unit an “A-minus” grade. Instead, it is a notch lower.

GRADE: B+

SPECIAL TEAMS
While Barber is Pewter Report’s MVP due to his three turnovers and two touchdowns, kicker Matt Bryant is easily the game’s hero, due to his record-setting 62-yard field goal that beat the Eagles, 23-21. Bryant did a great job on kickoffs, especially into the north end zone, and finished the game 2-of-2, also nailing a 44-yarder in the second half to put Tampa Bay up 10-0. Bryant’s 62-yard blast cleared the crossbar by a yard and was pretty much right down the middle. The key was getting the ball up quickly so it would carry in the gentle breeze that was blowing from behind him. Last week, Cincinnati kicker Shayne Graham missed a 62-yarder from about the same place on the field.

Punter Josh Bidwell did a great job of holding for Bryant all day, and also helped relax the Bucs’ kicker before his 62-yard field goal, which was the second-longest in NFL history. Bidwell had a decent day, averaging 40.2 yards per punt with a 33.2-yard net. He had one inside the 20 and one touchback.

Long snapper Dave Moore had a great game after some shaky snaps last week against Cincinnati. He was also good in punt coverage. Safety Blue Adams stood out in coverage with two tackles. Ryan Moats averaged 21.5 yards on two kickoff returns, Matt Schobel had one kick return for 11 yards and Dexter Wynn was held in check with an 11-yard average on two punt returns.

Phillip Buchanon made his Buccaneers debut with an 8-yard punt return before yielding to Ike Hilliard, who averaged 7.5 yards per return on his two attempts.

Michael Pittman averaged 29.7 yards per kick return and came through with one of the clutch plays in the game with a 37-yard return with 33 seconds left to give the Bucs great starting field position at their own 36-yard line. That also happened to be the Bucs’ longest of the season – just when they needed it the most. Tampa Bay’s special teams pulled victory out of the jaws of defeat today for the Bucs. An improbable, game-winning field goal from Bryant automatically gives Tampa Bay’s special teams a perfect grade.

GRADE: A+

COACHING
Head coach Jon Gruden got quite conservative with his play-calling in the first half, but did open things up in the second half. Unfortunately, some of the big pass plays that were called by Gruden were not executed by rookie quarterback Bruce Gradkowski. Gruden did stick with the run, which kept the Eagles offense off the field and controlled the clock to a degree in the second half. Gruden has been criticized for abandoning the run too quickly in the past, but stuck with it today because Gradkowski was misfiring (50 percent). Gruden saw an area he could exploit in the second half and made a key adjustment to replace Sean Mahan at left guard with Dan Buenning and run Cadillac Williams almost exclusively to the right side behind rookie offensive linemen Davin Joseph and Jeremy Trueblood.

However, the fact that Tampa Bay couldn’t stick the ball in the end zone on offense almost killed the Bucs today. The Bucs were outgained 506 yards to 196 yards on Sunday. Without two touchdowns from Barber, Tampa Bay loses this game. The offense does deserve credit for playing turnover-free football.

Credit Gruden for not calling for a Hail Mary and for having the nerve to try a 62-yard field goal to win the game. He knew that Gradkowski didn’t have the arm strength to get the ball into the end zone on a Hail Mary attempt, so he played the percentages – albeit extremely low percentages – with the long field goal. After witnessing Bryant make all of his 54-yard field goal attempts in practice and drill the ball through the north end zone on a kickoff in the Eagles game, Gruden elected to give Bryant a shot at being a hero. It obviously paid off.

Defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin needs to find a way to better emphasize tackling. It almost cost the Bucs a victory due to Westbrook’s 52-yard touchdown in which five players missed tackles on that play. Kiffin and his staff deserve some props for finally getting the turnovers they have been pleading four. Tampa Bay had four turnovers today on defense, including three interceptions.

Special teams coordinator Rich Bisaccia saw his unit play extremely well on Sunday and win the game against the Eagles. They played as flawlessly as possible and were well coached.

GRADE: B

Copyright PewterReport.com 2006  

This story is intended to be read by Pewter Insider subscribers only. Sharing of the PI content with non-subscribers of this service can result in cancellation of your subscription to the service and/or further actions by the publishers.  

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About the Author: Scott Reynolds

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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