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Let me first start by saying thank you to the overwhelming amount of positive feedback I received from e-mails and on the PewterReport.com message boards about last week’s SR’s Fab Five regarding my segment on the local media bias that I have seen. Never before has a column of mine received so much acclaim from fans. I always have the Buccaneers fans’ interests – not necessarily the team’s interests – at heart with what I do. Sometimes you may not like to hear the bad news about the team, but it’s my job to report that in addition to the team’s successes. Most of you who have been reading Pewter Report and its predecessor, Buccaneer Magazine, for some time now know that I always try to tell it like it is and strive to be fair and balanced. The amount of feedback and the content in those e-mails and on the message boards tells me that I was on to something with this apparent bias against Jon Gruden and Bruce Allen, and you see it too. We’ll continue to criticize Allen and Gruden where it warrants, but also not forget to tell the whole story and include former general manager Rich McKay into that realm of criticism as well, which the local newspapers haven’t done to this day and likely won’t do for the reasons I outlined last week.
Here are five things that caught my interest this week:
FAB 1. In last week’s SR’s Fab Five we stuck up a bit for defensive end Simeon Rice, who was eager to explain his case for just one sack and very few impact plays through three losses to the media. I detailed how the Bucs missed a third playmaking defender along the defensive line to go along with Rice and under tackle Anthony “Booger” McFarland like they had in years past with Warren Sapp. I explained how Washington and Oakland used several maximum protection schemes that slid protection towards Rice or effectively double-teamed him throughout most of the game. Seattle rarely double-teamed Rice, which the Bucs defensive end admitted, choosing instead to match him up against the Seahawks’ Pro Bowl left tackle, Walter Jones.
However, after reviewing the game tape of Rice’s performance against Denver, I can’t stick up for him this week. Broncos quarterback Jake Plummer dropped back to pass 32 times against Tampa Bay, including one scramble in which he did not get the pass off. Rice was on the field for 31 of those plays. Of all things, the lone play he missed happened to be Plummer’s touchdown pass to tight end Patrick Hape.
I went back and charted all of Rice’s plays and concluded that he was singled blocked by Matt Lepis, who was playing his fourth game at left tackle after spending all of his previous playing time at right tackle for the Broncos, an astounding 18 times, which was over half of the passing opportunities Plummer had. Getting blocked effectively one-on-one by Jones is one thing. Getting handled by Lepsis and only being close to sacking Plummer once or twice is another. Here is my chart for Rice’s performance against Denver, in which he only recorded two tackles.
• Singled blocked: 18 times
• Double-teamed: 9 times
• Dropped into coverage on zone blitzes: 3
• Stunted to the interior of the line from his defensive end position: 1
Of the nine times that Rice was double-teamed against Denver, he was part of just a three-man defensive line three times. Of the remaining six double-teams, Rice was doubled four times on bootlegs that went away from him. Because of Rice’s speed, Denver cut off the backside pursuit by blocking Rice with two defenders on those plays.
That left only two true double team occasions when Rice was part of a typical four-man rush (that may or may not have included blitzes) by this reporter’s chart. On one of those plays the Broncos actually blocked Rice with two defenders. On the other play, Denver slid protection his way with the guard to cut off any chance of Rice looping inside of Lepsis.
Plummer rolled left in Rice’s direction on at least four occasions. On one of those plays, he was able to escape the defensive end and scramble for yardage. On the others, Plummer was able to pass the ball, generally without the threat of being sacked.
Rice did not have a good game by any measurable standard against Denver, and his play really waned in the fourth quarter when Tampa Bay was trying to get the ball back for its offense. On third-and-8 from the Denver 23 with 4:41 left in regulation, Rice dropped into coverage on a zone blitz play, matching up against tight end Jeb Putzier. Rice attempted to make a play on the ball after a short pass from Plummer instead of making a play on Putzier. Not only did Rice miss breaking up the pass, he allowed Putzier to run an additional seven yards and pick up 14 yards and a critical first down.
On the next Denver third down, – a third-and-3 at the Broncos’ 44 with 2:30 remaining in the game – Plummer executed a play-fake to running back Quentin Griffin to try to take advantage of Rice’s over-aggressiveness. Rice was sucked in to the middle of the defense and broke the weakside containment which allowed Plummer to hand the ball off to rookie Darius Watts, who ran a reverse for seven yards while juking cornerback Ronde Barber in order to pick up the first down.
With a salary cap value of over $5 million this year, Rice has had an extremely disappointing start to the season, totaling a measly seven tackles and just one sack. To put those stats into context, defensive end Greg Spires leads the Bucs defensive linemen with 24 tackles and has one sack, followed by McFarland’s 17 tackles and two sacks and nose tackle Chartric Darby’s 13 tackles. Reserve interior defensive lineman Ellis Wyms has 14 tackles, which is twice as many stops as Rice has had.
On a team that has lost playmakers due to injuries and a holdout, and needs its healthy playmakers to step up the fact that Rice, who is one of the Bucs’ premier playmakers, has played this poorly is truly a shock. And after the Denver game, Rice’s excuses regarding double-teams and opponents’ sliding protection his way because Sapp isn’t around any more doesn’t fly.
FAB 2. I’ve really gotten on Tampa Bay fullback Mike Alstott for his pass blocking ability this year. Alstott has given up three sacks in four games, the latest coming from Sunday’s loss to Denver where he wasn’t physical enough with cornerback Willie Middlebrooks, who wound up sacking quarterback Brad Johnson. On the same play, tight end Ken Dilger missed picking up Donnie Spragen, but recovered and went back and leveled Spragen once Johnson sidestepped the blitzing linebacker. I don’t understand why the 250-pound Alstott couldn’t be more physical with a blitzing corner who he outweighs by about 50 pounds.
But that’s about the only blocking fault I could find in Alstott’s game on Sunday. In fact, his run blocking was superb against Denver. It was perhaps Alstott’s best game as a lead blocker since the Super Bowl. In reviewing the game film, Alstott was called upon to lead block on 11 occasions. Here are the results of those plays:
• A successful perimeter block, allowing Michael Clayton to gain 7 yards and a first down on an end around.
• A successful perimeter block, allowing Michael Pittman to gain 12 yards.
• Another successful block for Pittman that went for 4 yards.
• Another successful block for Pittman that gained 2 yards.
• A failed block attempt for Pittman that was blown up in the backfield by linebacker D.J. Williams, resulting in a 2-yard loss.
• Another successful block for Pittman that went for 5 yards.
• Another successful block on a sweep for Jamel White that went for 2 yards.
• Another successful block for Pittman for 4 yards.
• A missed block on John Lynch on a sweep to Pittman (Lynch did not make the tackle).
• Another successful block on the perimeter , allowing Pittman to run for 14 yards.
• Another successful block for White, who gained no yardage (Alstott’s man did not make the tackle).
Alstott’s blocking scorecard reads nine successful blocks, one missed block and one failed block. While perfection is the goal, the coaching staff will take a ratio of nine successful blocks over two missed opportunities any Sunday, especially when it amounts to 53 rushing yards.
Alstott has been knocked before for his blocking by the media (including Pewter Report) and the fans. But if he can consistently produce as a blocker like he did against the Broncos, he may just shut his critics up for good.
FAB 3. Here’s a different take on Jon Gruden’s quarterback switch from veteran Brad Johnson to upstart Chris Simms. The reason for Gruden’s decision to go with Simms instead of continuing with Johnson after the team’s 0-4 start is not just as easy as saying that the Bucs are going with a youth movement. It’s also signaling a philosophy change at the quarterback position. A philosophy change that we forecasted on PewterReport.com in a Pewter Insider mini-camp report on June 22. Here is part of that Pewter Insider story:
“You really get the feeling that Simms is going to be a great quarterback from watching his poise and grasp of the offense after only one year. The big question is whether Simms is going to be the quarterback of the future, or the quarterback of the near future. While accurate with the short, underneath routes, Brad Johnson looked a little average when compared to the arms of (Brian) Griese and Simms. Johnson showed more poise when handling blitzes and pressure, but if Gruden wants to push the ball downfield more – and with Galloway and speedy receivers like (Charles) Lee, (Frank) Murphy and (Mark) Jones around that might not be a bad idea – or if he wants more rollouts and bootlegs in the game plan this year, he’ll have to turn to either Simms or Griese. But don’t think it will necessarily be a quarterback controversy between Johnson and Simms and Griese. Johnson enters camp as the starter, and rightfully so. But Gruden will have to determine if he wants the short-to-intermediate, high completion percentage offense that Johnson brings, or the ability to go downfield more often and quarterback mobility that Simms and Griese can offer.”
So this quarterback change is more about Gruden than it is Simms or Johnson. Gruden’s playbook, like any West Coast offense playbook, features a lot of moving pockets, rollouts and bootlegs. Those plays have largely been absent since Gruden’s arrival due to Johnson’s lack of mobility. In fact, I have heard that Gruden’s playbook has virtually been cut in half due to Johnson’s physical shortcomings.
In yesterday’s press conference with the media, Gruden even said so much regarding his play selection for Sunday’s game at New Orleans.
“The plays will be different,” Gruden said. “Hopefully, the execution is the thing that improves amongst all of us. But Chris is a different kind of quarterback. He’s left-handed, he’s probably got a little bit more mobility, but he doesn’t have the experience that Brad Johnson has. There will be some things that we do try to emphasize with Chris, certainly.”
FAB 4. Tampa Bay quarterback Chris Simms will bring some different things to the Bucs offense, such as mobility and the ability to throw downfield with greater regularity and velocity. But having a left-handed signal caller on the field means that some players on offense have to adjust. Simms’ passes have a different rotation on them that might cause his receivers to adapt to the ball differently.
The offensive line also has to flip certain protections due to Simms being left-handed. The right tackle now will block for Simms’ blindside instead of the left tackle. That will be a tough task for either Todd Steussie or Kenyatta Walker, who will be assigned to protect Simms from New Orleans Saints left defensive end Charles Grant, who is second in the NFL with five sacks. Grant has actually recorded six sacks this season, but one was negated against St. Louis due to a penalty.
The Bucs offensive line also has to adjust to a new cadence at the line of scrimmage. But what type of an effect does facing a left-handed quarterback have on a defense?
I took that question to Tampa Bay defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin, who has had to face the left-handed Simms over the past two years in practice, in addition to Atlanta’s lefty, Michael Vick, twice a year during the regular season. Kiffin stated that a left-handed quarterback simply means that rollouts, bootlegs off of play-action are simply run to the left side rather than the more traditional right side.
“Yeah, there are some differences, but everything is just reversed,” Kiffin said. “It’s just opposite. It just boils down to if the guy is a good player or not. It doesn’t really matter if he is left-handed or right-handed. We do tell our guys if a player is a left-hander or a right-hander, but it’s quite evident when they see that on tape.
“We don’t change coverages or things like that. Some defenses might, but we don’t. Everything is just reversed. That ball isn’t going to come out different. He’s not going to throw different routes because he is left-handed or right-handed. If he throws a good deep ball, it doesn’t matter if he is left-handed or right-handed. It’s totally overrated. It’s more about how good the player is.”
FAB 5 Here’s a couple of items to hold you over until next week:
• One of the problems the Bucs are having rushing the passer stems from the defense’s inconsistency in stopping the run. Because Tampa Bay is not as dominant in defending the run as they have been in years past, the Bucs defensive line can’t do the tackle-end loops like they used to before, especially in the late 1990s. The reason? If both tackles loop inside while the ends loop outside, it creates a momentary hole in the middle of the defensive line until the ends can loop around and head up the middle. If an opponent catches the Bucs defense stunting into a loop, without the threat of looping ends and tackles, the offensive line can wall off the tackles inside and simply ride the defensive ends around to the outside. That’s why the Bucs front four has only four sacks through four games. If the Bucs can do a better job of shutting down the interior running game, they can go back to playing games and stunts in pass rush situations.
• If you think you’re having a bad football season, Bucs fans, Tampa Bay rookie linebacker Marquis Cooper is having it worse. Not only is his professional team 0-4, so is his college team, the University of Washington. “It seems like they lose and we lose every week,” Cooper said. “Everyone around here is telling me, ‘Your (college) team sucks.’ I can’t really say anything back, you know. I was planning on going to the playoffs and the Super Bowl this year. Right now, all we’re trying to do is just win.”
• The following is not a sign of any inside information I have about the Bucs’ game plan for New Orleans this Sunday. I know nothing regarding what the Bucs want to do against the Saints. The Bucs close their practices to the media, so this is merely a suggestion I have for head coach Jon Gruden on the Bucs’ first offensive play of the game. The first offensive play I would call against the Saints is a flea-flicker out of a double-tight end set with Mike Alstott lined up at halfback in a single back set. This would tip the defense off to the fact that the Bucs want to establish a power inside running game to help take some pressure off of young quarterback Chris Simms. Alstott would get the ball, pitch it back to Simms and he would either throw it to Michael Clayton, who would be running a deep “post” pattern, or Charles Lee, who would be running a deep “go” route. Even if the pass is incomplete, Simms would be telling the Saints that he is ready to go downfield and that they had better keep their safeties back deep all day. How does that sound?
• Here is one last note for you draftniks out there (and unfortunately, a lot of Bucs fans are suddenly interested in the draft this early due to the team’s 0-4 start). Be sure to watch the Clemson-Virginia game on ESPN on Thursday night. The ninth-ranked Virginia Cavaliers run as pure a version of the West Coast offense as you’ll find in the college ranks. Last year, the Bucs were high on Virginia quarterback Matt Schaub, who was drafted by Atlanta in the third round. Just wait, in two years, the Falcons will either trade Michael Vick and play Schaub, or trade Schaub for a first-round draft pick. This quarterback will be the next quarterback to come from nowhere (see Marc Bulger and Jake Delhomme) to be a starter real soon. Anyway, back to this year’s Virginia team. They’ve got two real dominant offensive players. Junior Heath Miller (No. 89) is the nation’s best tight end. He’ll likely come out after this year, especially with a talent shortage of tight ends in this draft, and currently in the NFL. As a freshman, Miller caught 33 passes for 327 yards (9.9 avg.) and nine touchdowns. Last year, he caught 70 passes for 835 yards (11.9 avg.) and had six scores. This favorite for the John Mackey Award, which is given annually to the nation’s top tight end, is a team-first guy, who is probably a better blocker than he is a receiver. Miller has great football awareness and a strong intangible quality. Last year he received Virginia’s John Polzer Award for ability, sportsmanship and character. This season, he’s caught 10 passes for 153 yards and two touchdowns. As a quick, 6-foot-5, 255-pounder, he is a sure-fire first-round pick. With Ken Dilger, Rickey Dudley and Dave Moore all being over the age of 33 and not under contract in 2005, the Bucs could use a young, gifted tight end like Miller, who reminds some of Todd Heap or even a young Dilger when he came out of Illinois over 10 years ago. The other guy to watch is right guard Elton Brown (No. 61). The 6-foot-6, 338-pound senior won the Jacobs Trophy, which is given annually to the ACC’s top offensive lineman, as voted on by ACC defensive coordinators. That’s really saying something because Maryland guard C.J. Brooks is also an outstanding interior lineman, too. Brown is an absolute road-grader in the running game, and despite his massive size, has exceptional athletic ability and the ability to pull and lead block, which he does with great frequency. When this guy turns the corner in the running game, safeties and linebackers are dead meat. If you notice in Jon Gruden’s offense, the Bucs pull their guards, especially left guard Matt Stinchcomb, with great regularity to help block on the perimeter. Brown, who would be a late-first-round or early-second-round pick, would be an excellent fit in Tampa Bay. Brown, who is a team captain like Miller, also has great strength and movement in pass protection. Keep an eye on this guy.
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