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DEFENSIVE LINE Detroit had the ball for just eight possessions and a total of 24:10 in Sunday's 60-minute game vs. Tampa Bay, but the Buccaneers allowed the Lions to score on five of those drives.
Turnovers were a big part of Detroit's success, particularly in the first half, where the Bucs had a punt blocked, fumbled the football and missed a 40-yard field goal. Those three mishaps helped the Lions establish an average starting field position of their own 44-yard line for the first two quarters of play, and they capitalized by scoring three times in the first half alone.
Detroit's pass-happy offense decided to feature running back Kevin Jones often, and that strategy worked. Jones found great success running up the middle of the Bucs defense.
Tampa Bay's defensive line, which featured defensive ends Greg Spires and Kevin Carter and defensive tackles Jovan Haye and Kevin Carter as starters Sunday, got pushed around in the trenches and displayed poor tackling technique en route to allowing Jones to rush for 76 yards on 15 carries (5.1 avg.). Jones rushed for 21 yards on four attempts on Detroit's first drive of the game, which ended with a field goal. His longest run of the contest came on Detroit's second drive when he bounced the ball outside and worked his way down the right sideline for a 17-yard gain down to the Bucs' 1-yard line. One play later Jones punched the ball in for the score, which capped off a five-play, 49-yard drive that put the Lions up 10-0 in the first quarter. By the end of the first half Jones had seven carries for 42 yards and a touchdown.
In the third quarter, Detroit decided to throw some size and power at Tampa Bay's defense by giving the ball to 260-pound running back T.J. Duckett. On the second drive of the third quarter, Duckett bulled his way through the middle of Tampa Bay's defense to gain 12 yards on a third-and-1 play. He would carry the ball a total of four times for 29 yards en route to Detroit's 13-play, 66-yard scoring drive that ended with another field goal, which put the Lions up 16-7.
Despite the fact that defensive end Patrick Chukwurah (shoulder) missed Sunday's game and rookie DE Gaines Adams entered this contest with a chest injury, the Bucs still managed to get after Lions quarterback Jon Kitna.
Near the end of the first half, Spires did a great job of beating his man and forcing Kitna up in the pocket on a passing play, which allowed Haye to sack him. That play killed Detroit's drive and eventually forced the Lions to kick a field goal.
On Detroit's first possession of the third quarter, backup DE Greg White, who was filling in for Spires on a play, sacked Kitna on Detroit's own 4-yard line for a 4-yard loss. Detroit was forced to punt and Tampa Bay started its drive at the Detroit 44-yard line. The Bucs offense, however, went three-and-out on that drive.
On the Lions' second drive of the second half, Hovan and Carter worked their way into the backfield and sacked Kitna on the Bucs' 15-yard line. That forced Detroit to settle for another field goal.
The Bucs defensive line recorded three sacks vs. Detroit. Hovan led the defensive linemen in tackles with four. Haye and Carter ran a close second with four each. White and Spires each had one tackle.
But Tampa Bay's defense did not have good gap discipline and displayed poor tackling throughout Sunday's contest. Detroit produced just 278 yards of total offense, but it rushed 24 times for 147 yards (6.1 avg.) and two touchdowns vs. Tampa Bay en route to a 23-16 win.
LINEBACKERS Tampa Bay's linebackers didn't' fare much better in the tackling department, which contributed to the success Detroit had via the ground game.
Weakside linebacker Derrick Brooks missed a tackle on Jones' 17-yard run in the first quarter. Strongside linebacker Cato June and middle linebacker Barrett Ruud both missed tackles on wide receiver Calvin Johnson's reverse play that went 32 yards for a touchdown down the right sideline in middle of the fourth quarter. That score capped off a nine-play, 93-yard drive by the Lions, which is unacceptable.
This group also had trouble covering Jones, who hauled in a team-high six passes for 34 yards.
Brooks recorded a team-high eight tackles. Ruud had an unusually quiet game, recording just four takedowns. June had just one tackle.
SECONDARY Detroit quarterback Jon Kitna made the most of his throwing opportunities Sunday, completing 16-of-20 (80 percent) passes for 147 yards. He did not throw a touchdown or an interception.
The Bucs were without starting cornerback Brian Kelly (groin injury) again. Phillip Buchanon started in Kelly's place and was involved in some of Detroit's bigger pass plays. Buchanon allowed rookie wide receiver Calvin Johnson to haul in a 19-yard pass down to the Bucs' 18-yard line on their second possession of the game. That drive eventually ended with Jones scoring a 1-yard touchdown, which put the Lions up 10-0. On the Lions second drive of the third quarter, Buchanon allowed wide receiver Mike Furrey to haul in an 18-yard pass from Kitna, which put Detroit on Tampa Bay's 20-yard line. The Lions eventually settled for a field goal on that drive. Buchanon finished Sunday's game with three tackles.
Bucs CB Ronde Barber had a solid outing vs. the Lions. On Detroit's third drive of the game, Barber broke up a pass across the middle of the field that was intended for Johnson. On the next play, Barber executed a run blitz, and while he missed the tackle in the backfield, Barber did enough to disrupt the run play and allow safety Jermaine Phillips to tackle Jones for a 3-yard loss. The Lions eventually had to punt on that drive. Barber recorded three tackles and one pass defensed while Phillips finished Sunday's game ranked second in tackles with seven.
Although Kitna had four completions go for 15 or more yards vs. the Bucs, Tampa Bay's pass coverage was decent. Kitna's longest completion went for 19 yards and the Lions converted just 3-of-8 (38 percent) of their third downs. In addition, Lions WR Roy Williams was the team's leading receiver with just three catches for 23 yards.
One of the key plays in the game came on Detroit's first offensive drive of the contest with the Lions at the Bucs' 16-yard line. The Bucs rushed Kitna out of the pocket and the veteran quarterback initially appeared to have fumbled the ball forward. Bucs rookie safety Tanard Jackson scooped up the loose ball and returned it for a touchdown. That would have been a huge play as Tampa Bay would have prevented Detroit, which had blocked the Bucs' punt several minutes earlier, from scoring points and would have taken a 7-0 lead. However, the Lions challenged the play and replay showed that Kitna's arm was going forward and that the play was an incompletion, not a fumble. As a result, the Lions retained possession and eventually kicked a field goal to take a 3-0 lead. Jackson and Bucs nickel cornerback Sammy Davis each had two tackles vs. the Lions.
SPECIAL TEAMS Tampa Bay's special teams unit had some costly mistakes in Sunday's contest.
After Tampa Bay's first offensive drive of the game stalled, Josh Bidwell had his punt blocked by Detroit's Keith Smith. The Lions recovered the ball and put together a six-play, 21-yard drive that ended with a field goal, which put the Lions up 3-0. Bidwell's stats help to tell the story of the series of miscues Tampa Bay's offense had on Sunday. Bidwell punted the ball just one other time for 47 yards, yet the Bucs offense had just 16 points to show for it.
Late in the second quarter, Bucs kicker Matt Bryant's 40-yard field goal attempt pulled wide left, which kept the score at 10-7 in favor of the Lions and wasted Tampa Bay's impressive 16-play drive. To make matters worse, the Lions drove 46 yards on nine plays to kick their own field goal with just five seconds remaining in the first half to take a 16-7 lead into halftime.
With the Bucs trailing 23-13 late in the fourth quarter, they attempted an onsides kick. The Bucs lined up in a bunch/huddle-type of formation and when they came out of it Bryant line-drived the ball into a Detroit special teams player. The ball ricocheted off of the Lions player, which allowed cornerback Torrie Cox to recover the ball and give the Bucs offense another possession. Tampa Bay put together a short drive that ended with Bryant's 48-yard field goal, cutting Detroit's lead to 23-16. Tampa Bay attempted another onsides kick, this time a floater down the right sideline, but it was too far for Cox, which allowed the Lions to recover the ball and end the game.
Linebacker Jeremiah Trotter was active for his first game as a Buccaneer and made a nice special teams tackle on a kickoff in the second quarter.
Weakside linebacker Derrick Brooks was flagged for running into the kicker on Hanson's 42-yard field goal near the end of the first half. The penalty yards were enforced on the ensuing kickoff.
Bucs return specialist Mark Jones injured his left knee on his third kickoff return of the game in the first half. He had to be carted off the field. The Bucs used several players in his place. Wide receiver Ike Hilliard and Buchanon fielded punts and Cox returned kickoffs for the rest of the game. The Bucs averaged just 4 yards per punt return and 23.7 yards per kickoff return.
COACHING Detroit didn't really exploit anything in this contest. Instead, Tampa Bay's players simply didn't execute what looked like a pretty solid game plan.
Bucs head coach Jon Gruden's playcalling was effective, evidenced by the fact that quarterback Jeff Garcia completed 19 of his first 20 passes and finished the game with a completion percentage of 82 percent, 316 yards passing and two touchdowns. Gruden managed to keep Detroit's defense off balance with running back Earnest Graham, who had almost 200 yards of combined offense on the ground and through the air. Wide receiver Ike Hilliard chipped in with nine catches and a touchdown and the Bucs converted 57 percent of their third downs vs. the Lions. But a blocked punt, a missed field goal and two costly fumbles by Garcia and Graham hindered Tampa Bay's efforts in terms of turning its 400-plus yard performance into points.
Gruden's worst mistake came late in the third quarter on a third-and-3 play. The Bucs were penalized for delay of game coming out of a timeout, which is inexcusable. Luckily for the Bucs, they still managed to convert that third down into a first down.
The Lions were able to rush for nearly 150 yards and averaged 6.1 yards per carry against the Bucs defense, but that wasn't necessarily defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin's fault as poor tackling was the culprit.
Special teams coach Richard Bisaccia watched Josh Bidwell's punt get blocked in the first quarter, which was a big gaffe, but he also deserves credit for two well schemed onsides kickoffs the Bucs executed late in the fourth quarter, the first of which the team recovered.
One of the most disappointing aspects of Tampa Bay's 23-16 loss to Detroit was the Bucs' seven penalties for 60 yards. Those mistakes also proved to be costly.
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