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DEFENSIVE LINE The Buccaneers defensive line got more pressure on the Bengals in its first series than they did all last week at New Orleans, so that was a positive. At the end of the first quarter, Cincy had 18 yards of offense, including zero on the ground. Tampa Bay’s front four was active early, and that had a lot to do with the Bengals’ offensive troubles and the fact that they scored 13 points and were held to just 53 yards rushing.
Ellis Wyms saw significant playing time at under tackle in place of Booger McFarland, and Dewayne White got a lot of snaps at left end in place of Greg Spires in the Bengals game. Wyms recorded a sack before halftime and got a critical sack on the Bengals’ final possession of the game. He finished with six tackles and had two sacks and was clearly the MVP of the defense with his intensity. He also had a key stop on a shovel pass to Kenny Watson on third down prior Tampa Bay’s game-winning drive.
Late in the second quarter, nose tackle Chris Hovan got to the quarterback, but he didn’t know what to do once he got there. He should have had an easy sack in the third quarter. Hovan did have a couple of tackles and was credited with two quarterback hurries. McFarland, who had two tackles this week after not having any stops, had a nice pressure on third-and-11 early in the fourth quarter that forced an incompletion and a punt.
White didn’t have a tackle, but did have two batted balls, including a key pass deflection on fourth-and-2 with 35 seconds left in the first half.
Simeon Rice struggled against Bengals left tackle Levi Jones, and second-year player Andrew Whitworth, who replaced Jones in the game. In all fairness, Rice, who finished with four tackles, was often double-teamed with a tight end in pass-rushing situations.
With only two sacks and Carson Palmer completing 65 percent of his passes, Tampa Bay’s defensive line didn’t exactly dominate against Cincinnati. But it didn’t have to. It just had to play much better than it had through the first four games of the year, and did. That was enough to help the Buccaneers get their first win of the season and move to 1-4 on the year.
LINEBACKERS Middle linebacker Shelton Quarles started off playing good football in the first half, leading the team with five tackles. In the second half, he started missing tackles and injured a knee early in the third quarter, but returned. After the game, head coach Jon Gruden credited Quarles for showing the young guys how to play through pain and be a professional. Quarles led the defense with eight stops.
Weakside linebacker Derrick Brooks didn’t play poorly, but for the second-straight game, he’s been more of a bystander than a playmaker with only five tackles. The days of seeing Brooks flying around the field and recording double-digit tackles on a regular basis appear to be over.
Strongside linebacker Ryan Nece missed a couple of tackles, but did record seven tackles. Tampa Bay’s linebacking corps did a good job of keeping Bengals running back Rudi Johnson from getting into the secondary. Johnson had 52 yards rushing on 17 carries, but his longest run was only a 13-yarder. The tackling wasn’t perfect, but it was much improved from this unit today.
SECONDARY Juran Bolden started in place of the injured Brian Kelly at right cornerback and didn’t have a great day. He missed an easy tackle on Chad Johnson in the first half and dropped an interception that hit him right in the hands in the third quarter. He also gave up a 51-yard pass to Johnson that helped set up a field goal. Johnson finished with six catches for 99 yards on the day, but aside from the 51-yard gain, Bolden didn’t allow Johnson to go crazy against the Bucs, and he did break up two passes to go along with his five tackles.
Cornerback Ronde Barber gave up a 33-yard touchdown catch by T.J. Houshmandzadeh in the second quarter. Barber had great position on the play, which saw Houshmandzadeh get into perfect position and Carson Palmer make a perfect throw. Houshmandzadeh had 10 catches for 102 yards and one score on the day, but most of his catches were the kind of short, underneath stuff that wasn’t too deadly.
Kalvin Pearson rotated with Jermaine Phillips at strong safety in the first quarter. Pearson and nickel cornerback Torrie Cox were dinged up during the game with what appeared to be back or lower abdomen injuries. Pearson, who didn’t return, and Cox, who did return to action, each had one tackle, and Pearson had a pass breakup. In the second half, Phillips was badly out of position on a 28-yard pass play to tight end Reggie Kelly. Phillips’ tackling was much improved and he had four stops today. Fellow safety Will Allen also had four tackles and wasn’t a liability in coverage.
Aside from the 33-yard touchdown pass and the 51-yarder to Johnson, Tampa Bay’s secondary did a good job of keeping the action in front of it today. The tackling in the secondary, especially from the safeties, was much improved.
SPECIAL TEAMS Punt returner Mark Jones was inactive, so Joey Galloway and Ike Hilliard split return duties. Galloway was ineffective, gaining just three yards on two returns and holding the ball like a loaf of bread too often. Hilliard gained 37 yards on five returns (7.4 avg.) and was fearless in the fact that he didn’t fair catch any punts.
Punter Josh Bidwell had a good, but not great day. He averaged 46.9 yards per punt with a 35.1-yard net, but had three touchbacks and just one punt downed inside the 20. A great day for a Pro Bowler like Bidwell would be three punts downed inside the 20 and one touchback.
Matt Bryant missed badly on a 43-yard field goal attempt. The kick was short and wide right. Bryant’s kickoffs were decent.
Free safety Blue Adams was a special teams phenom today with three solo tackles. Earnest Graham and Antoine Cash each made solo stops on special teams.
Tampa Bay’s special teams didn’t play poorly, but they didn’t make many plays in the kicking game, either. Bryant’s miss was inexcusable. That’s within his range and is a makeable field goal.
COACHING The best coaching defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin and his staff did was during the week as opposed to on game day. The defense came out fired up and ready to play. The unit responded to a week’s worth of heavy criticism from the media and from head coach Jon Gruden, who called out the defense, especially the line, in his press conference on Monday.
Tampa Bay did have some trouble getting its defensive personnel on and off the field at times, and had to burn a timeout late in the third quarter because of it, but to hold a high-octane offense like Cincinnati to 13 points was quite a feat. Adjusting the nickel rush by replacing Booger McFarland with Ellis Wyms at under tackle and having Dewayne White fill in for Wyms (who replaces Chris Hovan) at nose tackle resulted in more pressure on the quarterback. That had been missing in the first four weeks of the season. Kiffin deserves some kudos for generating more pass rush by going with different personnel in the nickel pass rush group.
Gruden and quarterbacks coach Paul Hackett did a great job with Bruce Gradkowski in helping him navigate his first NFL start at home. The only questionable decision was to keep having Gradkowski fire it downfield when he was clearly off with his deep ball today. Gruden also strayed away from Cadillac Williams in the fourth quarter, which was quite curious. On the last two drives, Williams only had one rush – a 6-yard loss on a sweep – while Gradkowski had 15 pass plays. Gruden really rolled the dice by putting the ball in his rookie quarterback’s hands so often, especially when Williams was averaging 4.9 yards per carry.
Credit Gruden for making sure Michael Clayton was more involved in the offense this week. Joey Galloway led the way with seven catches for 67 yards, while Clayton had six receptions for 55 yards.
Special teams coordinator Rich Bisaccia had his coverage units wrapping up and maintaining lane integrity. Antonio Chatman averaged only 7.3 yards per punt return and 25 yards on two kick returns.
The coaches have to share some responsibility for Tampa Bay’s nine penalties for 75 yards, many of which were on the offensive side. In this game, coaching helped the Bucs claim their first victory and didn’t cost them a game.
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