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1. NOW OR NEVER
One of the biggest reasons for the loss to the Cowboys was the lack of a pass rush on Dallas quarterback Tony Romo. The Cowboys consistently provided Romo with plenty of time to pass the ball, and wait for his receivers to come open. Defensive end Gaines Adams has received a lot of the criticism, but the entire front four did not get to the quarterback. After the lack of production against Dallas, the Bucs get a shot at redemption against a young Buffalo Bills inexperienced offensive line.
Adams' shot at redemption comes against Demetrius Bell, a 2008 seventh-round pick who started his first NFL game last week against the Patriots. Bell (6-5, 307) was targeted and exploited late in the game against New England. This is a game in which Adams should have an impact. If he does not have a good game with pressuring and hitting the quarterback it is a bad sign of things to come. Sources have said that right tackle Brad Butler also appears to be a favorable matchup for left defensive end Jimmy Wilkerson. Neither Adams nor Wilkerson showed up in the sack column against Dallas, and Adams did not register a tackle.
Sources tell Pewter Report that the defensive line room is excited to play against Buffalo because they think this is a offensive line that they can pile up sacks against. The Bills are starting two rookies on the interior. At left guard is Oregon State second-round pick Andy Levitre (6-2, 305), and at right guard is first-rounder Eric Wood (6-4, 315). Rounding out the middle of the offensive line is veteran Geoff Hangartner (6-5, 301) at center. The Bucs veteran defensive tackles Chris Hovan and Ryan Sims went up against Hangartner for years when he made 27 starts for the Carolina Panthers over the past three seasons.
Staff members inside the organization believe that the interior of the line can be attacked. Levitre is undersized, so you can expect the Bucs to attack him with a bull rush. The Bucs are going to go after Levitre with bull rushes from veteran defensive tackle Chris Hovan on passing downs.
Even though Levitre and Wood are rookies, the Bucs have some players on the roster that have experience going against these Bills players. Wood played at the Senior Bowl against Tampa Bay rookies Roy Miller and Kyle Moore. Both of the Bucs first-year defensive linemen had outstanding showings in Mobile, and the Bucs are confident in their young players' ability to match up with the Bills rookies. Levitre is very familiar with Moore after playing each other for years in PAC-10 college battles between Oregon State and USC. Plus, Miller's powerful bull rush looks like a favorable mismatch for Tampa Bay going against the undersized Levitre and Hangartner.
Moore is nursing a groin strain and is questionable to play this Sunday after missing most of practice this week. The Buccaneers could really use Moore rushing from the passer from the defensive tackle position against a familiar foe. To this reporter, it looks like a good game to let Moore and Miller get their first extensive playing time in the NFL. After speaking with defensive line coach Todd Wash, it does not necessarily sound like the Bucs are in line with that thinking.
"We are still up in the air if Kyle will play this week," Wash said. "Roy is in the situation where he is still learning how to rush the passer inside with the transition from college to the pros, but we have gotten him in there on certain rotations, so when they are in, they're in."
According to sources, the Bucs had eight true pass rushing situations. They got some pressure on half of the snaps, and they felt like that was not nearly good enough. On the surface, one would think that the Bucs should get more of an opportunity to rush the passer against the Bills. Buffalo is without suspended running back Marshawn Lynch, and one would think they would try to test the Tampa Bay secondary by throwing the ball downfield to wide receivers Terrell Owens and Lee Evans. Wash clarified that the no-huddle offense does not necessarily indicate a lot of passing by Buffalo.
"The no-huddle doesn't put you in a certain pass rush mode," said Wash. "You still play the down-and-distance and the personnel groupings that are in. The thing that we have got to be able to do to help our pass rush out is we have to get in a situation where we are scoring points and getting turnovers, and get our opponent to start chasing points. Then we can be in the Go group and rush the passer. We have to be able to get in situations to rush the passer. Until that happens we won't get our go group out there. We'll have our run stops, and certain calls where we are probably playing run first before the pass, down-and-distance wise.
"At the same time, second-and-long [Dallas] hit a couple of passes deep. We hit the quarterback at few times, other times he had some time to complete some passes. The key is to get them in third-and-long and try to put the pressure on that young offensive line. They are a solid young line. If we can get them in third-and-long, I think that plays in our favor."
The bottom line is this week is crunch time for the Bucs' pass rush.
2. CROWDER WILL PLAY
One young player that Bucs fans can expect to see this Sunday is newly signed defensive lineman Tim Crowder. The former Denver Bronco will be active, and will be rotated into the game, according to sources.
The 6-foot-4, 275-pound Texas product was a second-round pick in the 2007 NFL Draft while Bucs defensive coordinator Jim Bates held the same position with Denver. Crowder showed flashes in his rookie season with four sacks in backup duty. Crowder has similar size to Moore, and has the size the Bucs look for in a left defensive end.
While Moore moves inside to rush as a defensive tackle in passing situations, the Bucs are not doing that double duty with Crowder yet. However, in his one week with the Bucs, Crowder has impressed the team. Sources have told Pewter Report that being cut has caught Crowder's attention, and given him a sense of urgency regarding his NFL career.
3. COLLEGE FOCUS: ERIC BERRY
Throughout the week after the loss to the Cowboys, Bucs safety Sabby Piscitelli has come under a lot of criticism for his play against Dallas. Piscitelli got beat through the air numerous times, and Tampa Bay sorely missed suspended free safety Tanard Jackson. With Jackson out of the lineup, Piscitelli took over responsibilities that Jackson normally handles. Piscitelli is faster than safety Jermaine Phillips, so it made sense for the Bucs to try Piscitelli in Jackson's role.
The safety position will be worth watching this season. Piscitelli has to prove he is a future starter, and Jackson has to prove he is reliable. His substance abuse issue that caused his suspension has hurt his team, and the Bucs have to be convinced that it won't happen again. If Jackson fails another test and receives another suspension it likely will be for an entire season.
For this week's college focus, I hope you checked out Tennessee junior safety Eric Berry against the Florida Gators. Berry looks like a lock to be a first-round pick whenever he enters the draft, and if he maintains his level of play it would be surprising to see him return for his senior season.
Berry (5-11, 203) is a ballhawk with 12 career interceptions just two games into his junior season. Against Florida in 2007 Berry had an interception returned 96 yards for a touchdown. Last year against the Gators he had eight tackles with one tackle for a loss, and one sack. Berry has fantastic pass coverage ability, and also is a hard hitter. Berry displayed those skills this year with another good game against Florida on Saturday. He had an interception, a nice tackle for a loss, and a touchdown saving tackle.
Considering the influence that former Buccaneers defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin still has at One Buc Place, you can't rule out Kiffin's glowing opinion of Berry to have an impact with the Bucs. If Tampa Bay's young safeties cannot work through the issues they displayed early on in 2009, Berry could be a big time addition to the Buccaneers defense next year.
4. MAHAN RESTRUCTURING, CUTTING IS RISKY BUSINESS
Some might think the Buccaneers have taken some risks in terms of the locker room attitude by cutting center Sean Mahan after he restructured his contract to stay with the team. It is generally understood between NFL organizations and players that if a player restructures his contract he will make the team out of training camp. The Minnesota Vikings front office upset their players when they cut wide receiver Bobby Wade after he took a pay cut to stay with the team.
Mahan 's situation was different. Back in March he was approached about restructuring his contract. He was set to make $3 million as a backup to center Jeff Faine. The Buccaneers did not need to save the money for the salary cap, but wanted to restructure Mahan's contract because his salary was too large compared to other backup players on the roster.
The Bucs asked Mahan if he wanted to stay on the team, or he could test free agency after being released. Mahan wanted to remain with the team, and accepted the revised contract. Tampa Bay could have given Mahan a league minimum contract, but instead put in his contract playing time incentives that could elevate his contract to what he was scheduled to make before the restructuring. Considering the triceps injury that Faine was hit with, the incentives Mahan received could prove to be a nice gesture from Tampa Bay's front office.
5. WINSLOW IS DOWN TO 232
Often observers claim that tight end Kellen Winslow has the physical abilities of a wide receiver in a tight end's body. Winslow is getting closer to a wide receiver's body. While he is listed at 240 pounds, he is actually 232 pounds. That makes him one of the lightest tight ends in the NFL. It also aids his speed in getting downfield in the passing game. The Bucs brought in Winslow to catch passes, not block defensive ends, so don't let his light weight alarm you.
6. ‘SOUL GLOW' FREEMAN FOLLOW UP
In a follow up to last week's Quick Hits, Bucs quarterback Josh Freeman told Pewter Report that he had the training staff stitch "Soul Glow" in his cleats. Freeman had been getting some teasing about it, and thought it was funny so he had the training staff decorate his cleats with the nickname. The Bucs rookie quarterback also cut his hair short prior to the season opener against Dallas.
EXTRA POINT: THANKS TO ROY MILLER
I want to express gratitude to Bucs defensive tackle Roy Miller for participating in a diary with Pewter Report. Miller was great to work with, and is a class guy. I'm sure Bucs fans will enjoy having Miller on their team. The final diary entry was published last Saturday. If you didn't get a chance to read his message to Pewter Report subscribers click here. Miller and I saw how much Pewter Report subscribers were enjoying his entries, and decided to extend the diary through the rest of the preseason. Thanks again, Roy, and good luck in your NFL career.