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.
DEFENSIVE LINE Tampa Bay’s defensive line hardly got any pressure on Drew Brees. There isn’t a Pro Bowler among New Orleans’ offensive linemen, so not being able to get to Brees was unacceptable. In fact, the Saints were starting two rookie offensive linemen – right guard Jahri Evans from Bloomburg College and left tackle Zach Strief, who played in his first NFL game on Sunday. Simeon Rice is hurting with shoulder and abdominal injuries, but wasn’t able to make a difference or come anywhere near Brees. He finished with two tackles, as did Dewayne White, who subbed in at left and right defensive end.
Left end Greg Spires was tied for the lead among defensive linemen with four tackles, but just isn’t generating much pass rush. Nose tackle Chris Hovan also had four stops and was his usual dominant self against the run today. His Tampa Bay teammates decided to follow suit on Sunday and helped negate New Orleans’ ground game, which had just 49 yards on 35 carries (1.4 avg.).
Under tackle Ellis Wyms, who was gaming it on a gimpy ankle after missing practice all week, recorded one tackle before giving way to Jovan Haye and Jon Bradley – neither of whom recorded a tackle.
While Tampa Bay’s defense should get a better grade for helping to stop the run, its failure to generate a meaningful pass rush led to the downfall of the defense against New Orleans. Because the front four couldn’t get close to Brees, defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin had to blitz and play more man coverage and Cover 3 than he would have liked. Because those blitzes didn’t work, the Bucs secondary gave up several big passing plays and three touchdowns.
LINEBACKERS Derrick Brooks started his 184th consecutive game today for the Buccaneers, which is a new club record. He seemed inspired by the accomplishment and played rather well. Brooks set the tone for a day of good tackling by the Tampa Bay defense, which has been a rare sight this year. He finished with a team-high 13 stops and was rookie Reggie Bush’s personal tormentor. Bush, who is all hype and has very little production in his rookie year, had his worst outing as a pro with 11 carries for minus-5 yards and just 22 yards on four catches. Brooks was a big reason why.
Shelton Quarles recorded six tackles at middle linebacker before being sidelined with a sprained ankle. Quarles has been playing despite being really nicked up. The injuries seem to be catching up with him now, though. Second-year linebacker Barrett Ruud replaced him in the second half. There seems to be some hesitation in Ruud’s game. He’s not playing as fast and as decisive as he did during the preseason, yet he did finish with six tackles.
Strongside linebacker Ryan Nece made five tackles for the Buccaneers. Tampa Bay did not record a takeaway for the second straight week and the linebackers need to become more physical when tackling to force some fumbles.
Deuce McAllister, who always seems to come close to or surpassing 100 yards rushing against the Bucs, was shut down on Sunday thanks largely to the Bucs’ linebacking corps. He had 15 carries for 32 yards (2.1 avg.) and his longest gain was only seven yards. Improved tackling – by the linebackers, especially – was the lone bright spot on the defense against New Orleans.
DEFENSIVE BACKS Free safety Will Allen gave up a touchdown to Saints wide receiver Marques Colston on New Orleans’ first drive. He tried to separate him from the ball by taking Colston’s legs out from under him, but Colston held on to the ball. Devery Henderson was wide open in the Bucs’ secondary as he split Tampa Bay’s Cover 2 safties – Allen and Jermaine Phillips – for a 52-yard touchdown. Allen finished with only two tackles and didn’t make any plays. Phillips played decent against the run at the line of scrimmage, finishing with seven tackles, but like Allen, he was a liability in pass coverage.
Phillip Buchanon played his first snaps on defense at cornerback against New Orleans, subbing for Juran Bolden, and fared well. He recorded two tackles in limited duty, while Bolden notched four. Bolden recorded three pass deflections, but one of those should have been picked off.
Cornerback Ronde Barber recorded five tackles and provided good coverage when he was called upon to do that, but he blitzed more against the Saints than he has in a long time. The problem is that he never got to Drew Brees.
Nickel corner Torrie Cox gave up several big pass plays to Colston and Henderson, who both finished with over 100 yards receiving. Cox didn’t use great technique against Henderson on his 45-yard touchdown catch down the Saints’ sideline. Cox also dropped an interception.
Tampa Bay was forced to play a lot of Cover 3 (three deep) coverage with all of the blitzing that was going on. Barber and Phillips blitzed heavily, but neither could get enough pressure on Brees. With all day to throw thanks to a lack of pass rush, Brees picked apart Tampa Bay’s soft zone defense. New Orleans converted 9-of-17 (53 percent) third down opportunities.
SPECIAL TEAMS Kick returner Michael Pittman had a 35-yard return on his first attempt and wound up averaging 24 yards on three returns.
Ryan Nece made a potential touchdown-saving tackle on Michael Lewis’ 26-yard punt return in the first quarter. Torrie Cox made a great tackle of Lewis at the end of the first quarter at the Saints’ 12. While Cox stunk on defense, he did play exceptionally well on special teams, finishing with a team-high four tackles. Cox also had a 17-yard kick return in the second half.
ProFootballTalk.com said the knock on Phillip Buchanon coming out of Houston was that he was he was a coward. That label could stick in Tampa Bay as Buchanon called for two fair catches when he had room to run on two punt returns. Tampa Bay quickly inserted Ike Hilliard, who did a good job until he muffed a return late in the fourth quarter. Hilliard averaged four yards per return on three attempts, with a long of 12 yards.
Punter Josh Bidwell averaged only 40.9 yards per kick on eight punts, with a long of 48. His punts were neither long nor had ideal hang time and had two of them returned for 26 and 20 yards, respectively.
Bidwell made the mistake of kicking the ball to Reggie Bush, who averaged 10 yards on two punt returns, and Lewis, who averaged 8.5 yards. What ever happened to the coffin corner kick and punting it out of bounds to negate the chance of a big return? Tampa Bay didn’t make anything happen today on special teams.
COACHING Head coach Jon Gruden has to get his offense (and his team) off to quicker starts. Tampa Bay seems to fall behind so quickly in games that they are always in catch-up mode. With the Bucs offense being so young, it doesn’t have what it takes to get into shoot-outs with opponents – at least not yet. Tampa Bay’s offensive line appears to be regressing and the decision to play Sean Mahan, who either holds or gives up sacks, at left guard is puzzling to say the least.
Offensive line coach Bill Muir needs to be held accountable for Tampa Bay’s bad offensive line play and the team’s lack of running game as he is the run game coordinator. Gruden needs to shake things up and try a new approach because what the Buccaneers have been doing on offense isn’t working. Step one would be replacing Mahan, or at least trying him at center, which may be his more natural position. John Wade appears to be at the end of his playing days.
Tampa Bay’s defense is falling apart at the seams. There is no pass rush and the coverage in the secondary was spotty, to put it mildly. While the players must be held accountable, it is no surprise that the defensive line and the defensive backfield have new position coaches. There has to be a correlation there.
The problem with the defense is that the tackling was the issue in past defeats. On Sunday, Tampa Bay tackled well, but couldn’t cover or rush the passer. The old players are showing their age and are ineffective. The young players are showing their youth and incompetence.
Special teams coach Rich Bisaccia was crazy to have Josh Bidwell continue to punt to Reggie Bush after his big, 20-yard return. The army of fans calling for Bisaccia’s head figures to grow after that head-scratching decision.
The bottom line is that this team is playing lousy on both sides of the ball. The players need to be held accountable because they are stinking it up on the field, but the coaches must also take the blame because it is their job to ensure that the team plays well.
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