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Here are some things that caught my attention this week:
FAB 1. Imagine this for a second. The Buccaneers win their next four games and capture the NFC South division title with a 12-4 record, capping an eight-game winning streak. How many Pro Bowlers would this Tampa Bay team produce?
Think about it. How many Pro Bowlers are on this team?
The last time (and the only time) the Bucs went 12-4 in a season was the magical Super Bowl campaign in 2002. Remember how many Pro Bowlers Tampa Bay had that year? Seven – fullback Mike Alstott, linebacker Derrick Brooks, quarterback Brad Johnson, safety John Lynch, linebacker Shelton Quarles, defensive end Simeon Rice and defensive tackle Warren Sapp.
The most Pro Bowlers the Bucs have produced in a single season was nine in 2000. That team went 10-6 and landed Alstott, Brooks, Lynch and Sapp, in addition to cornerback Donnie Abraham, center Jeff Christy, running back Warrick Dunn, kicker Martin Gramatica and guard Randall McDaniel. That’s nine Bucs, which is a franchise record.
Wouldn’t it be astonishing if this team finished 12-4 and fielded just one or two Pro Bowlers, or perhaps none at all? In reality, it wouldn’t be too surprising. After all, the story this year has been about the backups. The players I call “the Replacements.”
For as much as Pro Bowl-worthy players like quarterback Jeff Garcia, wide receiver Joey Galloway and middle linebacker Barrett Ruud have played a big role in the team’s success, it has been “the replacements” – guys like running back Earnest Graham, left tackle Donald Penn, wide receiver Maurice “Gunner” Stovall, quarterback Luke McCown, center Matt Lehr, defensive ends Greg White and Gaines Adams, cornerback Sammy Davis and tight end Jerramy Stevens – that have played just as important roles this year for the Buccaneers.
Football is the ultimate team sport and this has been the ultimate Buccaneers team – and I mean “team.” For all the stars that Tampa Bay had on its Super Bowl squad, this year’s version of the Bucs is almost star-free, which to me, makes it almost more special because this team has been highlighted and spotlighted the play of “the Replacements.”
Of course there are some Buccaneers players who are deserving of the trip to Hawaii this year. Let’s take a look at them and size up their chances of becoming Pro Bowlers after the 2007 season.
Quarterback Jeff Garcia has clearly been the team’s MVP this season and has thrown for 2,135 yards with 11 touchdowns and only three picks while compiling a 96 QB rating. While he clearly won’t start the Pro Bowl for the NFC with Dallas’ Tony Romo and Green Bay’s Brett Favre likely occupying the first two Pro Bowl slots, Garcia is in the running for the third QB spot in Hawaii.
His main competition is Seattle’s Matt Hasselbeck, who has a lesser QB rating of 88.8, but has passed for over 3,000 yards with 20 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. If Hasselbeck can help the Seahawks win the division, he may edge Garcia out of the third quarterback spot on the NFC roster.
Hurting Garcia’s efforts is the fact that he missed the New Orleans game and has 1,000 less yards and 10 less touchdowns than Hasselbeck.
Wide receiver Joey Galloway deserves to make his first Pro Bowl with the Buccaneers. On the verge of becoming the first player in franchise history to record three consecutive 1,000-yard receiving games, Galloway has 49 catches for 891 yards and six touchdowns on the season. His 18.2 yards per catch leads the league in receivers that have at least 10 receptions.
Dallas’ Terrell Owens (71 receptions for 1,249 yards and 14 TDs) and Arizona’s Larry Fitzgerald (75 catches, 1,070 yards and six touchdowns) are former Pro Bowlers and figure to be among the four NFC wide receivers in Hawaii.
St. Louis’ Torry Holt (72 receptions, 944 yards and six scores), New Orleans’ Marques Colston (70 catches, 886 yards and six touchdowns), and New York’s Plaxico Burress (55 catches, 764 yards and nine TDs) will be Galloway’s main competition. Greg Jennings has played a vital role in Green Bay’s resurgence, catching 44 passes for 712 yards and 10 touchdowns is also a threat for a Pro Bowl spot.
The fact that Galloway was actually tackled from behind at the 1-yard line after a 60-yard catch last week at New Orleans cost him his seventh touchdown in 2007, and that could be the difference between him making the Pro Bowl and staying home in February.
Tampa Bay’s offensive line is having a solid year with the best play coming from right tackle Jeremy Trueblood and rookie left guard Arron Sears. But neither player has performed well enough or received enough attention to warrant a place at the Pro Bowl just yet.
The Bucs defensive line consists of a bunch of good, but not great players, playing well as a team. No stars on the defensive line means no Pro Bowlers.
At linebacker, Derrick Brooks made the Pro Bowl for 10 straight seasons last year as an alternate, but was not initially voted to the Pro Bowl for the first time. Brooks didn’t have a Pro Bowl-caliber season in 2006 and was fortunate to go. Yet while he’s playing much better in 2007, this may be the year his streak comes to an end.
Only three outside linebackers represent the NFC and Brooks, who has over 100 tackles and three forced fumbles, hasn’t made enough splash plays necessary to stack up with the competition. Dallas’ high-profile tandem of Greg Ellis (10.5 sacks and two forced fumbles) and DeMarcus Ware (DeMarcus Ware 10 sacks and two forced fumbles) figures to garner Pro Bowl consideration, especially with all of the times the Cowboys have been on national television.
The third member of the Pro Bowl outside linebacker squad figures to be Seattle’s Julian Peterson, who has nine sacks, four forced fumbles and two interceptions. Also in the running with Brooks is Atlanta’s Michael Boley, who is having a breakout year with over 100 tackles, three sacks, three forced fumbles and two interceptions, and Seattle’s Leroy Hill, who has three sacks and three forced fumbles.
Like Dallas, Arizona and Washington have a tandem of linebackers that are putting up some impressive numbers. The Cardinals’ Karlos Dansby has 3.5 sacks, two forced fumbles and three INTs in 2007, while Calvin Pace has 4.5 sacks, one forced fumble and one interception. Washington’s Rocky McIntosh has three sacks and three forced fumbles, while teammate Marcus Washington has five sacks and one forced fumbles.
Too many NFC linebackers have more turnovers and splash plays than Brooks does. The fact he wasn’t voted to the Pro Bowl last year was a likely indicator that the players and coaches in the NFC are ready for a changing of the guard.
Tampa Bay middle linebacker Barrett Ruud has put up the numbers to get him considered this year – 142 tackles, two interceptions, three forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries – but doesn’t yet have the star status or Pro Bowl reputation that the two middle linebackers who have gone to Hawaii have – Seattle’s Lofa Tatupu and Chicago’s Brian Urlacher.
Tatupu has clearly been the best middle linebacker in the NFC. In addition to a healthy tackle total, the two-time Pro Bowler has four interceptions, three forced fumbles and a sack on his resume` in 2007. The fact that he had three of them against Philadelphia last week and almost single-handedly beat Philadelphia came at the right time as Pro Bowl voting ends next week.
Fresh off a Super Bowl last February, Urlacher is a household name due to the Bears’ previous success and his TV commercials. He has a big-time reputation, and despite Chicago’s struggles this season, has over 100 tackles, three sacks and two interceptions. It’s doubtful that Ruud beats out either Tatupu or Urlacher for one of the two NFC middle linebacker spots.
At cornerback, Ronde Barber has had a solid year for the Bucs, but with one interception, one sack, one forced fumble and one fumble recovering for a touchdown (against hapless Atlanta) as his only Sports Center highlight plays, he may not be among the top three cornerbacks representing the NFC this year in Hawaii. One – if not both – of Dallas’ high profile tandem of Anthony Henry (five interceptions) and Terrence Newman (four picks, one TD) will likely go to Hawaii.
Also, Green Bay cornerback Charles Woodson is having a phenomenal year as a playmaker with four interceptions and some nice work as a punt returner. Washington’s Shawn Springs also has four picks, as do Seattle’s Marcus Trufant and Atlanta’s DeAngelo Hall, who also has a forced fumble. Antrell Rolle has three interceptions for the Cardinals with two going for touchdowns in a key win against Cincinnati. Chicago’s Charles Tillman has two interceptions and four forced fumbles.
Like it or not, interceptions and splash plays like sacks and forced fumbles are key stats for cornerbacks, and I’m afraid Barber doesn’t have enough to visit the islands in February.
Tampa Bay’s safety tandem of Jermaine Phillips and Tanard Jackson are having Pro Bowl-caliber years, but I don’t believe either player will get their just due this season due to the fact that they don’t have Pro Bowl reputations yet. Phillips has a team-leading three interceptions to go along with two forced fumbles and a sack, and stands a better chance of going to Hawaii than Jackson, a rookie who has two interceptions, a forced fumble and two fumble recoveries.
Washington’s Sean Taylor will almost certainly be named to the Pro Bowl posthumously, and rightly so with five interceptions and one forced fumble through the first 10 games of the 2007 season and the last 10 games of his life. Replacing Taylor in the Pro Bowl will likely be Minnesota’s Darren Sharper, who has a Pro Bowl reputation to go along with three interceptions and one forced fumble. Only one strong safety is chosen to represent the NFC.
Carolina strong safety Chris Harris, like Phillips, is not a household name, but he has one interception and five forced fumbles, which is tops among NFC defensive backs. He and Phillips are in the mix with Sharper. While Phillips may be the most deserving, I think he’ll get overlooked.
Minnesota free safety Dwight Smith, a former Buccaneer, has four interceptions (two of which were returned for touchdowns) and one forced fumble and will likely represent the NFC as the free safety. If Smith doesn’t get it, the honors will go to Dallas free safety Ken Hamlin has five interceptions. New York’s Gibril Wilson is also in the running with four interceptions, and I don’t think a rookie like Jackson will beat out these veterans.
Tampa Bay punter Josh Bidwell may get some Pro Bowl consideration, but with a 44.5 avg. and a 36.8 net avg., coupled with 19 punts downed inside the 20 and nine touchbacks, his stats don’t hold up that well against the competition. San Francisco’s Andy Lee is the top-rated punter in the NFC with a 49.5 avg. and a 43.3 net avg. with 30 punts downed inside the 20 and 12 touchbacks. St. Louis’ Donnie Jones and Atlanta’s Michael Koenen are also having better years statistically speaking.
So who will be Tampa Bay’s Pro Bowlers? Although no player is considered a lock, Garcia and Galloway stand a decent chance, while Brooks and Barber are in the running due to their reputations. Ruud and Phillips will get some consideration but because they aren’t household names, they will likely get snubbed.
Wouldn’t it be amazing if this Bucs team went 12-4 without a Pro Bowler? It could happen.
FAB 2. One player who is showing some signs of possibly being a future Pro Bowler is defensive end Gaines Adams. Tampa Bay’s first-round pick in the 2007 NFL Draft is really coming on strong over the last three games after a relatively inactive and disappointing start to his NFL career. Through 12 games, Adams has posted 39 tackles, 4.5 sacks, which is one away from tying the team lead, four passes defensed and one forced fumble.
Over the last three weeks alone, Adams has recorded three of those sacks and his forced fumble, and has made a couple of key, signature plays. Two weeks ago against Washington, Adams teamed with linebacker Derrick Brooks to stop Redskins running back Clinton Portis for no gain on fourth-and-goal inside the Tampa Bay 5-yard line.
His run defense is already better than that of the great Simeon Rice, whom Adams was drafted to replace this past April, and it was evident on that play as he stalemated H-back Chris Cooley and converged on Portis with Brooks, who had shed the center and filled the gap. Adams’ on-field playmaking is almost as noticeable as his humble, team-oriented attitude off the field. When asked to describe the key, fourth down stop against Washington, Adams deflected the praise.
“It’s got to start with the three interior guys first,” Adams said. “Without that push, maybe the fullback would have led up on Derrick instead of me. It has to start with those guys first. If not, maybe Derrick and I don’t get the stop.”
Adams’ other signature play came this past Sunday as his penetration against Saints left tackle Jammal Brown helped disrupt the pitch between running back Reggie Bush and wide receiver Devery Henderson, who was coming around for a reverse. Once again, Adams, in a soft, Warrick Dunn-like delivery, said he was not looking for any glory on the play and that he was just doing his job.
“I didn’t see the receiver come from the backside, but I saw Reggie come and I just got up the field,” Adams said. “When [quarterback Drew] Brees gave Reggie the ball, I saw him got wide and then I got wide. At the last second, I saw the guy just come around and disrupted the play. It all started with the front four. Jovan Haye and the rest of the guys – without their pursuit, maybe the game would have went into overtime. It was an overall great performance by the defense.”
While the Bucs would love Adams to rush the passer like Rice did in his prime, they want him to be the anti-Rice when it comes to how he handles himself in the locker room with his teammates and the media. So far, so good.
You can really see the maturation in Adams’ game and the confidence that he has gained (no pun intended) over the last few weeks. He is beginning to build an arsenal of pass rush moves and is getting more consistent pressure on the quarterback. Against Atlanta, he recorded two sacks rushing from the right side, including one where he didn’t take Byron Leftwich to the ground, rather just stripped the ball.
“That’s good to know that you can hit the quarterback’s arm and still receive a sack for it and get the ball out, too,” Adams said. “But you really don’t think about stats out on the field, it’s just reaction and instinct.”
Against New Orleans, Adams got a sack rushing from the left side, sacking Brees on a key third down in the third quarter after running a “game” with defensive tackle Kevin Carter where Carter went outside and Adams looped around inside the “B” gap. Because both the guard and the tackle went to block Carter on the T-E (tackle-end) Stunt, Adams had a clear shot at Brees.
“It was amazing,” Adams said of the wide open shot at Brees. “I never thought my eyes could get that big. I’ve got to give all the credit to Kevin Carter and the guys. Without Kevin Carter, it wouldn’t have even happened for me. You’ve got to give all that credit to him.
“We ran those type of stunts in college. Everybody that has ever played defensive line has run that stunt. But the stunt on Sunday worked because of Kevin Carter. That’s the only reason. Not because of me or anyone else. My job was to seal the deal and Kevin Carter gave me the opportunity to do just that.”
Adams almost recorded another sack on the Saints’ next third down in the third quarter, but just overran Brees from the left side. However, that forced the New Orleans QB to step up in the pocket where cornerback Ronde Barber was coming on a blitz and nailed Brees for the sack.
“I almost got another one, but that’s why this is a team game,” Adams said. “I missed it, but Ronde was right there and it was all good.”
The fact that Adams rushed from both the left and the right side at Clemson has allowed him to quickly find a comfort zone in Tampa Bay playing for defensive line coach Larry Coyer, who likes to mix and match personnel, move defensive linemen around and frequently substitute throughout the game.
“I’ve done it so much that it just feels natural to me playing on either side,” Adams said. ”Left or right, I think I can still get things done from both sides.”
Adams admitted to being frustrated with his slow start to his rookie campaign, but said that he is so much more confident now and has learned so much this season that he aims to finish the year strong.
“It just comes with me being new to the pro game and playing with new people,” Adams said. “You have to get into the routine where you can feel each other with Jovan Haye or Ryan Sims and knowing what they like to do and feeding off that and maneuver around that.”
If you haven’t picked up on it by now, Adams doesn’t have much of an ego, which has really helped him fit in quite easily in Tampa Bay’s team-first locker room. Some ego-driven pass rushers would have scoffed at the notion of being pulled off the field by Coyer, who likes to substitute often to create different match-ups and to keep his players fresh.
But not Adams. He believes that Coyer’s system works because it makes all eight defensive linemen who are playing in the game even better and has helped young players like himself, Haye and defensive end Greg White get more meaningful playing experience to help their learning curve.
“I think that improves it because you are always getting the chance to play with new people,” Adams said. “By now, I’ve played with everybody a lot to the point where it builds team camaraderie and everyone plays better. I’m not playing with Sims every down and I’m not playing with Haye every down, but I’ve played with them enough to find my comfort level when we are on the field together.”
December is usually the time when rookies start to hit the rookie wall and we see their games begin to fade. Players right out of college are used to playing 12 games – not 16 at this point, including the four preseason games, with four more games to go. Adams’ recent production suggests he’s just getting warmed up. Has Coyer’s heavy defensive line rotation kept Adams from actually hitting the dreaded rookie wall?
“Most definitely,” Adams said. “I feel like Coach Coyer has spaced out our reps so well that everybody is fresh and everybody is coming to work ready to go and play hard. That’s the main thing. As far as the rookie wall, I have had some stumbling blocks, but I feel like Coach Coyer has done a great job with the rotation and kept me from hitting the wall.”
With Adams just half a sack behind Haye and a full sack behind White for the team lead, I’m betting that he winds up leading the team in sacks by the end of the season with 7.5.
FAB 3. I’ve sung the praises of Tampa Bay defensive backs coach Raheem Morris plenty of times in this column, in Pewter Report magazine and on my appearances on WDAE’s PewterReport.com Buccaneer Blitz radio show and ABC Action News’ Sports Zone. I think new defensive line coach Larry Coyer has done just as an amazing job with his squad in helping the Bucs defense climb to number four in the NFL rankings.
The biggest issue with last year’s defense was a lack of pass rush, and after a slow start, Coyer’s defensive line has responded with nine out of the Bucs’ 10 sacks over the last three games. Through 12 games, Tampa Bay has 26 sacks, surpassing last year’s total of 25. Of those 25, the defensive line has accounted for 23 quarterback captures. Cornerback Ronde Barber and safety Jermaine Phillips have the other two sacks for Tampa Bay. Last year, the D-line recorded only 19 sacks, so they have already topped that number with four games to go.
From what I’ve seen and in talking to the players, the difference has been Coyer’s heavy rotation and the use of all eight active defensive linemen on Sundays. In the past under Rod Marinelli and Jethro Franklin, Tampa Bay’s defensive line would feature four full-time starters with a backup end and a backup tackle rotating in for a few plays to rest the starter.
Under Coyer, everybody plays, everybody gets experience, everybody improves and everybody is well-rested 13 weeks into the season. The players have bought into this approach after an adjustment period during the first half of the season and the seeds planted during those first eight games have started to produce fruit down the stretch.
“I think all of them have done pretty good job mentally,” Coyer said. “But right now is where the wall occurs for all of us – December. We’re in the fourth quarter now. Some teams play slower – it’s really unbelievable – and some teams play faster. At this time of year, it’s the teams that play faster that are going to have the chance to win. That was the most impressive thing last week – win, lose or draw – is that we played really fast. You have to be proud of that. We played fast and hard.”
Despite the fact that Tampa Bay went sackless and got little pressure on quarterback Drew Brees in the first half, the Bucs recorded two big third quarter sacks on third down and then had a key sack on the last play of the game, snuffing out a comeback attempt by New Orleans. Perhaps the biggest play of the game defensively occurred when Tampa Bay needed it the most, as rookie defensive end Gaines Adams plowed left tackle Jammal Brown back into a botched reverse attempt between running back Reggie Bush and wide receiver Devery Henderson. That forced a fumble, which was recovered by a hustling Jovan Haye, who also sacked Brees to end the game, at the New Orleans 37-yard line and spurred Tampa Bay’s come-from-behind win.
“I think we are really coming on,” Coyer said. “That’s the truth. If we’re not full tilt and on top of our game, our defense is average at best. But if we’re full tilt and on top of our game, we have a chance to be great. I think our players have accepted that and it’s a maturity deal.
“If I had to pick a game to put into a film library to train [defensive linemen’s] effort, I would pick last week’s game [at New Orleans]. It wasn’t easy. Even if we had lost that game, I still would have picked it. Our guys gave incredible effort and [the Saints] were max protecting. We got bounced around a lot, but our effort was incredible. We kept fighting. As long as we give that effort, we have a chance.”
Coyer revealed that it didn’t take a lot of convincing defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin to utilize a full eight-man rotation along the defensive line. Aside from keeping all of the linemen rested for the fourth quarter, Kiffin and Coyer can mix and match personnel to exploit some match-ups.
“To be honest with you, that’s what I’m used to,” Coyer said of his use of a heavy rotation. “That’s what I’ve done through my career. Coming here with Coach Kiffin, that’s something that I had to try to fit into his system, but he’s been great. I think the whole deal is that everybody is accountable. If you are accountable and everybody is a starter, then you don’t worry about some things. The players need to understand that they are accountable. It’s not just hitting the field and having a good time. We’ve been accountable and I like that from our guys.”
The grey-haired Coyer, who is in the same age and peer group as Kiffin, said that despite having over 40 years of football coaching experience under his belt that he has learned a lot from his new boss, who is the architect of the Tampa 2 defense.
“I’ve learned a lot from Coach Kiffin,” Coyer said. “What I’ve learned the most from him is that he is what he is and he is himself. He’s never anything else. He’s never phony or fake. I see him being himself every day and I’m going to carry that with me. There’s no pretense in this man. He is what he is and I have great respect for him.
“He sees things incredibly well. He sees this defense incredibly well and knows these players. He’s been very helpful to me and it’s been a real joy for me. Let me tell you what, the guy is on top of everything. He really is.”
So is Coyer. Thanks to his work with the defensive line, sacks are up, quarterback pressure is up, and so is Tampa Bay’s defensive ranking and win total.
FAB 4. It’s time for us to break down some X’s and O’s from the Bucs’ amazing, comeback win against the Saints at New Orleans last Sunday.
• Tampa Bay’s “U” personnel grouping, which is a two tight end set, and “Dawg” personnel grouping, which is a three tight end set, were absolutely devastating to New Orleans on Sunday. Most of Tampa Bay’s big plays and scoring plays came with at least two tight ends on the field. On first-and-10 at the Tampa Bay 39 with 38 seconds in the first quarter, the Bucs had a “Dawg” set on the field with fullback B.J. Askew and halfback Earnest Graham in the backfield, Joey Galloway was the lone wide receiver on the field. Quarterback Luke McCown used play-action to buy time for Galloway to run a deep crossing route from right to left, while tight end Jerramy Stevens ran a seam route from the left side of the formation. Graham ran out of the backfield after the fake to be an outlet receiver. We all know that McCown hit Galloway downfield for a 60-yard pass down to the New Orleans 1, but a closer look at the throw shows that right tackle Jeremy Trueblood slanted hard to the left with the rest of the offensive line to sell the run fake. That left tight end Alex Smith one-on-one to block Pro Bowl defensive end Charles Grant and Smith, who was outweighed by about 30 pounds, did a masterful job. Two plays later, McCown used great play action to sell the run and found tight end Anthony Becht for a 1-yard touchdown. On the goal line play, Becht, who was lined up between Trueblood and Smith on the right side of the line, fully engaged defensive end Will Smith before releasing and looping around Smith (the tight end) to be wide open in the end zone. Smith got into the act as a receiver, making a key 10-yard catch on second-and-9 from the Tampa Bay 21 in the third quarter.
• The Bucs’ last drive featured some great usage from the “U” personnel grouping. The blocking on the Bucs’ key fourth-and-1 play late in the fourth quarter was outstanding thanks to Smith and Becht. Trueblood revealed to me this week that the play was called Power96 and on this play Becht is responsible for blocking Grant while Smith had to hook linebacker Scott Shanle. The offensive line did a great job with Trueblood blocking down to his left and rookie left guard Arron Sears pulling around, but this call was really on the tight ends, who are both at the point of attack on the right side. Both Becht and Smith did their jobs, Sears did a solid job of puling and Askew kicked out cornerback Kevin Kaesviharn and Graham bulled ahead for a 2-yard gain. Of course Stevens capped off a brilliant outing for the tight ends with a great, 4-yard touchdown catch that won the game for the Buccaneers. Tampa Bay’s tight ends ruled the day in New Orleans.
• Another personnel grouping that confounded the Saints was Jon Gruden’s use of his “Rocket” backfield, which features two halfbacks instead of a halfback and a fullback, on New Orleans in some key situations. On second-and-9 at the New Orleans 29 with 12:17 left in the first quarter, Graham was flanked out wide with running back Michael Bennett in between Graham and wide receiver Ike Hilliard. Bennett caught a quick screen pass and took it for 12 yards while Graham blocked safety Roman Harper and Hilliard blocked cornerback Jason Craft. Gruden used the “Rocket” formation again on the next play, but McCown took a four-yard sack by running out of bounds while scrambling outside the pocket instead of throwing it away. The third use of the “Rocket” came at 9:25 in the second quarter when Michael Pittman was used to team up with Graham instead of Bennett. Graham was flanked out to the right while Pittman lined up to the right of McCown, who was in the shotgun on second-and-7 at the New Orleans 19. Pittman came out of the backfield for a three-yard reception, but was quickly corralled by a Saints linebacker. The final use of the “Rocket” personnel grouping came with 3:20 left in third quarter and caused the Saints to burn their last timeout, which was critical for the Bucs’ success. Pittman lined up in backfield and Bennett lined up in the slot between Smith and Hilliard. Saints coach Sean Payton didn’t like the matchup problems that presented his team and quickly called timeout.
• Gruden dialed up a reverse for Louisiana native Michael Clayton on Sunday with the play going for 20 yards. Bucs wide receiver Maurice Stovall deserves a lot of credit for his crushing block on Saints cornerback Jason David on the play. The 6-foot-5, 220-pound Stovall drove the 5-foot-8, 180-pound David clear out of the play and clear out of bounds. What a devastating stalk block.
• Saints running back Reggie Bush has really fallen out of favor with the New Orleans fans. And no, it was not just his fumbled reverse that has the Saints fans praying for the healthy return of Deuce McAllister next year. It’s the fact that Bush leads the NFL in fumbles with eight through 12 games and is generally regarded as a finesse player who is too soft to break tackles for big gains. Bush’s longest run this season has been for 22 yards and out of his 71 receptions, only one has gone longer than 20 yards. Bush had three drops against Tampa Bay with a Buccaneer defender breathing down his neck from behind. On second-and-4 at the 9:10 mark in the first quarter, Bush whiffed on a pass because Derrick Brooks was nearby. On the first play of the second half, Bush dropped an easy pass across the middle because Barrett Ruud was on patrol. With 4:10 left in the fourth quarter, Bush bobbled a pass on third-and-7 because Brooks and cornerback Phillip Buchanon were in the vicinity. Throw in a fumble – his eighth of the year – when hit by safety Jermaine Phillips with 8:46 left in the third quarter and you have the makings of a soft, overrated player who cashed in on a $62 million contract last year.
• Everyone knows that McCown played a great game in his first start for the Buccaneers on Sunday, but the two things he must work on is getting rid of the ball and throwing it away when a play is dead. McCown took two sacks near the sidelines – one of which was for a safety – because he refused to give up on the play while scrambling. That’s a correctable mistake. Another correctable mistake is McCown’s clock management, which has to improve. Poor clock management and a few unfortunate penalties denied the Bucs a chance to score before halftime and squandered decent field position. McCown also had to rush his audible on the play in which he threw a pick-six to cornerback Mike McKenzie by getting the ball off with virtually no time remaining. And after Graham’s 21-yard catch-and-run down to the New Orleans 5-yard line in the fourth quarter, the clock rolled down from 1:16 to 38 seconds before McCown got the snap off on first-and-goal from the 5. That’s 28 precious seconds that were misused. McCown needs to get the offense to the line, get the play called and get the first down play off in about 20 seconds – not 28 seconds. Again, this is a correctable mistake.
• Finally, there was much consternation on the PewterReport.com message boards over the summer as we were covering the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ OTAs (organized team activities) and saying that the Bucs had some trick plays in store for the 2007 season – yet we couldn’t go into detail about the play specifics. Some subscribers blew a gasket over the fact that we weren’t forthcoming about the details, but the last thing Pewter Report wants to do is aid the enemy on Sundays (and plenty of general managers and NFL personnel subscribe to the Pewter Insider). But the one trick play we were mainly hinting at was revealed on Sunday at the Louisiana Superdome. The play featured a direct snap to halfback Graham with McCown feigning a bad snap. Graham runs to his right as if the play was going to be a sweep before throwing back across the field to McCown who threw downfield for Ike Hilliard, who was covered on the play. The problem with the play on Sunday is that it is designed to go to Galloway downfield, but he was amazingly double covered. The ironic thing is that the Bucs ran this play at least four times in front of the media in the OTAs with Pittman as the running back, Jeff Garcia as the quarterback and David Boston as the receiver. In practice, the play went for a touchdown every time. In the game, the Saints not only had Galloway covered, but they also had Hilliard covered, too. It’s amazing that it didn’t work. The other notable aspect of that play? It was the first incompletion on the day for McCown, who started the game 15-of-15 for 213 yards.
FAB 5. Here are some things that will hold you over until the next SR’s Fab Five:
• My wife Elisa and I had the opportunity to go to New Orleans to watch the game in the stands with the fans on the Buc Fan Tours trip last weekend. First of all, Buc Fan Tours, who is one of Pewter Report’s premier advertisers, does an amazing job with the fan travel packages. Not only do they provide everything from airfare and airport transfers to and from the hotel, they also score some great seats to the game. We were sitting 15 rows up on the 5-yard line (right where Luke McCown got sacked for a safety). There were plenty of Pewter Report subscribers on the trip and I got to sit next to one of my favorite subscribers, Dr. Lou Soscia, otherwise known as lousosh on the Insider board, and chat Bucs football. Dennis Pfeiffer, the president of Buc Fan Tours and BucFanTours.com, did a great job in securing rooms at the Astor Crown hotel right on Bourbon Street. The nightlife and fine dining was just a block away. I encourage you to book a trip with Buc Fan Tours, especially to NFC South games such as Atlanta and New Orleans. Both trips are reasonably priced, the travel time is minimal and the Bucs playing the Saints and the Falcons should be good, winnable games every year for the foreseeable future. I’ve been on two Buc Fan Tours trips (New Orleans in 2007 and Green Bay in 2005) and both trips were outstanding. I might have to go back to my hometown of Kansas City next year to watch the Bucs-Chiefs game at Arrowhead, which has by far the best game day atmosphere and crowd in the NFL. If you like steaks and BBQ like I do, you must go on this trip – no matter when it is. I can almost smell the food now! And finally, here’s hoping that Dennis is recovering well from a nasty spill he took in New Orleans. Pewter Report sends its best to Dennis and thanks him for a fun weekend. Jim Flynn and his wife, Jodi, are off to Houston on a Buc Fan Tours trip this weekend to see the Bucs play the Texans at Reliant Stadium. We’ll be on some more road trips next year and would love to see you there, especially in New Orleans or Atlanta.
• One last note on my New Orleans trip. You might think that New Orleans is still a mess and dangerous after Hurricane Katrina and the flooding from two years ago, but that is not the case. The French Quarter and the adjacent downtown New Orleans was largely spared and still full of life. After the Bucs beat the Saints, my wife and I walked to Harrah’s casino for a buffet dinner and to do some gaming. At dinner, we had the chance to speak to a couple from New Orleans who survived Katrina. They initiated the conversation by congratulating the Bucs on the win, thanking us for coming down for the game and asking if we enjoyed our stay. This was typical of the people we came across over the three-day weekend. In the French Quarter, the Riverwalk (by the Mississippi River), in downtown New Orleans and inside the Louisiana Superdome, everyone we ran into was friendly, polite and very welcoming. We had a great time on Bourbon Street and the cuisine was outstanding. I had the best Filet Mignon I’ve ever had in my life at 11:00 p.m. on Saturday night on a third story balcony at Jean Lafitte’s Rendezvous, with a great view overlooking Bourbon Street. Supposedly, Lafitte met with U.S. General Ulysses S. Grant in that very restaurant to draw up battle plans for how to defend the city of New Orleans during the Civil War. My filet was so tender I could cut it with a butterknife. Elisa and I also enjoyed some French Toasty, which is a cross between bread pudding and French toast with crushed pecans and maple syrup on top, for breakfast on Saturday morning at Café Fleur de Lis. We also got to try some of New Orleans’ own Café du Monde coffee and some New Orleans’ signature beignets, which are a cross between a funnel cake and a Krispy Kreme doughnut with powdered sugar on top. Delicious. There is plenty to do and see in New Orleans and the French Quarter and I highly recommend it to you as a weekend getaway. The people of New Orleans are relying on tourist dollars to survive. The New Orleans natives we spoke with during dinner said that 70 percent of the population has not returned and that the local economy is still rough. Needless to say that I felt even better about my trip in that the money we spent is helping the locals. They are good, hard-working Americans who need our support. These folks have been through an enormous tragedy that I knew was bad from watching the television coverage, but didn’t realize how bad until I spoke with that couple over dinner for about 45 minutes. I asked them what the rock bottom was during the Katrina disaster and they said that it was actually witnessing a pack of dogs – not wild dogs, rather domestic dogs like poodles and collies – eat the flesh from a dead body on the streets a week after the flooding occurred. For weeks, not enough people were made available to discover and recover all of the dead bodies and the city didn’t have enough storage space for the bodies, either, because of the need for shelter space. The dogs had gone hungry for a week and turned to their animal instincts for survival. Words like sad and tragic do not describe the look on these folks faces as they were recounting the horrific story to Elisa and I. The recovery efforts in New Orleans are far from over and the survivors of Katrina still need America’s help. Visit this special city for yourself and you’ll be doing a world of good.
• I spoke to Bucs center John Wade on Wednesday, giving him crap over cramping up in what was a chilly Louisiana Superdome. “How in the world did you get dehydrated in an air conditioned dome,” I queried. Wade laughed and said, “It happens to me all the time, and not just me.” We both wondered aloud about how that could happen and came to the conclusion that he and other players who cramp up in air-conditioned domed stadiums don’t drink enough water or Gatorade because it’s so cool that the players simply aren’t hot enough or thirsty enough to remember to drink throughout the game. Interesting theory. Kind of makes sense.
• Bucs linebacker Derrick Brooks is in danger of breaking a dubious record. As the collector of 24 regular season interceptions throughout his illustrious career, Brooks has picked off a pass every year since 1995, which was his rookie campaign. His career best came in 2002 when he had five, and he has had five years in which he has posted at least one pick. But this year, with four regular season games remaining, Brooks has yet to record an interception. If he fails to do so, his streak is over.
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