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Here are five things that caught my interest this week:
FAB 1. After breaking down the game tape of Chris Simms’ putrid performance against San Francisco – yes, two interceptions, five sacks and a total of three passes that he short-armed to Joey Galloway in the 15-10 loss classifies his day as putrid, for all you Simms apologists – it is easy to compartmentalize his mistakes, which I’ll attempt to do for you in this column.
The short-hoppers to Galloway were a combination of the ball getting away from him (the first throw to his right in the first quarter) and indecision (passes thrown to his left and right in the second quarter). Indecision also led to Simms’ first interception, but his second picked off pass, which boinked off the head of an official, resulted from being hit by safety Tony Parrish while trying to throw.
When asked what he wants Simms to do differently this weekend, quarterbacks coach Paul Hackett said, “Just go out and play!” He wants Simms to let ‘er rip and not try to be so perfect and precise with his throws because that mentality doesn’t lead to increased accuracy, it results in holding the ball too long and getting off timing and out of rhythm, which Simms was last Sunday.
Indecision also led to most of the five sacks that Simms absorbed. Simms didn’t get sacked on any three-step drops. Instead, he was sacked on five- and seven-step drops, which generally put the quarterback at more of a risk because the defensive ends can work around offensive tackles, who have to get deeper drops in pass protection. Quarterbacks generally need to get the ball out of their hands in four seconds to avoid getting sacked in the NFL, and must scan the field and process information while dropping back after the snap. As it turns out, Simms wasn’t processing enough information in his pre-snap reads, which only complicated his reads as he was dropping back.
On his first sack, which was on a seven-step drop, cornerback Derrick Johnson showed blitz and came, but it didn’t look like Simms read that blitz properly. The fact that Johnson came from Simms’ left side – and Simms is left-handed – is inexcusable. Instead of audibling to another play, Simms took the snap, dropped back and eluded the blitzing Johnson. However, inside linebacker Derek Smith came on a delayed blitz and ran around left guard Dan Buenning and rushed Simms hard, but he missed the sack as the Bucs QB sidestepped him. However, five seconds into the play, defensive lineman Anthony Adams beat left tackle Anthony Davis for the sack.
On Simms’ intentional grounding call in the first half, running back Cadillac Williams couldn’t hold the block on 49ers linebacker Julian Peterson. But Simms made a mistake by drifting too far back in the pocket and then waiting too long to get rid of the ball as defensive lineman Marques Dougles closed in for an almost-sack. Indecision about when to get rid of the ball and poor pocket awareness led to that negative play for Tampa Bay.
Simms’ worst play of the day may have been on second-and-15 from the San Francisco 23 late in the second quarter. Once again, Johnson was showing blitz from the left side, which is not Simms’ blind side, and rushed the passer along with Smith, who was also blitzing. The Bucs had three receivers off to Simms’ left side and two of them were immediately open, including Ike Hilliard, who didn’t have a defender within five yards of him.
But the play call was actually for a screen pass to running back Michael Pittman to the right side of the field. And it was open. Simms didn’t read Johnson’s blitz from the left before the snap, and his indecision led to him not throwing to a wide open receiver to the left or fullback Mike Alstott, nor did Simms actually throw the ball to Pittman. Instead, he got sacked for a 12-yard loss by Johnson.
“That can’t happen. You can’t sacked on a screen play,” Bucs head coach Jon Gruden said. “He’s left-handed and should see the guy. What can I say? He had seven or eight or 10 plays that he looked at the tape and said, ‘Oh my goodness.’ He had some guys wide open and he didn’t see them. He took some sacks when he didn’t need to. He just did not get the pre-snap information that he should have got in a couple of situations. He had a (defensive back) blitz to his left, that’s a hot (throw) to Alstott. There’s a number of things that he missed on, and granted, we have a long way to go to clean that up.”
Simms took a sack in the fourth quarter when he pump-faked left after a three-step drop, then dropped back two more steps to throw to his right. However, linebacker Andre Carter had split Pittman and tight end Anthony Becht and was bearing down on Simms. An experienced, veteran QB would have probably aborted the play and thrown the ball away immediately after seeing Carter bear down him, but Simms’ slight hesitation resulted in a sack.
Later in the fourth quarter, Simms got sacked on five-step drops by 49ers end Bryant Young. Young beat right guard Sean Mahan and Simms paid for it by not throwing the ball away soon enough on the first sack. On the second Young sack, which was the final play of the game, the pocket broke down and Simms stepped up and tried to scramble, but ran into Young as he broke through the double team of Mahan and center John Wade. Simms’ last two sacks were the most forgivable of the game.
So what did Simms do right against the 49ers aside from throwing a 3-yard hitch to Galloway that the speedy receiver turned into a 78-yard touchdown? He consistently made plays when rolling out or scrambling to his left outside the pocket. On a designed rollout to his left in the first quarter, Simms found Galloway for an 18-yard pass play. In the second quarter, Simms strayed from the pocket to his left and dumped a pass off to wide-open outlet receiver Alex Smith. The rookie tight end took the ball and ran for a 24-yard gain. Simms also escaped the pocket and rushed for a 7-yard gain behind left tackle Anthony Davis in the third quarter.
In hindsight, Gruden should have moved the pocket for Simms more to stymie the San Francisco pass rush, which got stronger and more aggressive as the game progressed. Against Carolina on Sunday, Gruden would be wise to roll Simms to his left more often, especially when sack artist Julius Peppers lines up to Simms’ right.
Simms has to do a better job of using the pre-snap reads and Bucs’ pre-shift snaps to collect as much information as possible. He also needs to do a better job of looking for frontside blitzes as much as backside blitzes. By getting pressure directly in the face of Simms last Sunday, the 49ers were able to take advantage of his indecision and record some sacks and force an interception. Expect Carolina to try to the same thing this Sunday.
FAB 2. The Buccaneers’ game against the San Francisco 49ers is a prime example of how statistics in football can be deceiving. Tampa Bay Will (weakside) linebacker Derrick Brooks led the team with nine tackles. Great game from Brooks, right? Not if you count the five missed tackles he made that gave up big yardage in the 49ers running game and picked up first downs, which extended San Francisco’s drives.
Brooks was credited with nine tackles, but he should have had 14. In other words, he didn’t make about one-third of the plays he should have made. Brooks’ misses came on a 9-yard run by Frank Gore on second-and-2 in the first quarter, Kevan Barlow’s 29-yard run right before halftime that set up a go-ahead field goal, an 11-yard Barlow run on first-and-10 in the third quarter, a 7-yard Barlow catch on third-and-17 in the third quarter, and an 8-yard gain by Gore on second-and-8.
Brooks wasn’t alone in the missed tackle department. Strong safety Jermaine Phillips missed three tackles, Mike (middle) linebacker Shelton Quarles missed three tackles, Sam (strongside) linebacker Ryan Nece missed two stops, defensive end Greg Spires missed one, as did cornerback Ronde Barber and free safety Will Allen. That’s at least 16 blatantly missed tackles by a Buccaneers defense that is usually one of the better tackling teams in the NFL.
And those were just the obvious misses that don’t include the missed assignments that aren’t clear for folks, like yours truly, who are not Bucs coaches or players and are reviewing the game tape.
The combination of poor tackling by the Buccaneers and some big runs (gains of 9, 8 and 12 yards) on San Francisco’s first drive jacked up the 49ers and gave them confidence that their woefully predictable game plan of running the football (in order to hide the suspect passing of Ken Dorsey) could work. Had Tampa Bay’s defense came out more stout against the run and forced a three-and-out, the outcome of Sunday’s game could have been much different.
Of course, if the Bucs offense had gotten a 10- or 14-point lead, the dynamics of the game would have changed dramatically and the 49ers’ offensive production would have rested on Dorsey’s shoulders.
FAB 3. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have notched a disappointing 15 sacks through the first seven games this season, which ranks tied for 19th in the NFL with the Carolina Panthers. The Bucs, who failed to record a sack last week against San Francisco, are on pace to record just 34 sacks this season, which would be the lowest total ever in the Monte Kiffin era. In fact, it would be the lowest sack total the Buccaneers would have produced since they posted 25 in 1995.
Surprisingly, Tampa Bay’s offense may be partly to blame for the team’s low sack total. With four of the team’s seven games decided by five points or less this year, and the Minnesota game essentially being a 17-13 contest prior to Cadillac Williams’ 71-yard touchdown with two minutes remaining, the Buccaneers haven’t jumped out to big leads that put teams in an obvious passing situations in the second half very often. When teams can afford to run the ball and operate a balanced offense in the fourth quarter, the opportunities to get sacks diminishes, and that is what has happened this year.
It should come as no surprise that Tampa Bay’s season-high four sacks recorded against Miami three weeks ago came in a blowout that saw the Bucs up 27-6 late in the second half of that game.
The fact that teams such as San Francisco and the New York Jets, who want to hide a deficient passing game, went to a quick, three-step passing game also greatly reduces the number of sack opportunities.
But that is not always the case, and there have been situations where certain players have not won one-on-one battles and provided more than adequate pressure.
Perhaps the most disturbing aspect of the sack total this year is that while routinely playing seven defensive linemen, only four linemen have sacks, and that the defensive line accounts for only nine sacks through seven games in 2005. Defensive end Simeon Rice leads the way with five quarterback captures, followed by fellow end Greg Spires. Reserve end Dewayne White and Anthony “Booger’ McFarland each have one sack.
Rice shows up (literally and figuratively) when he wants to, has been inconsistent this year and has not had a signature game where he has dominated. Spires’ effectiveness has been hampered by a torn biceps on his right arm, which is the inside arm for a left defensive end. White’s play has been getting better as the season progresses.
Is anybody else stunned that the Buccaneers have just one sack from their defensive tackles through the first seven games of the 2005 season? McFarland has been ineffective as an under tackle in pass rushing situations this year, and the team’s starting nose tackle, Chris Hovan, is better anchoring and stuffing the run versus double teams than he is rushing the passer while playing the one technique. He’s also typically replaced by Ellis Wyms in obvious passing situations. Wyms had his lone sack this year negated by a penalty at Minnesota in the season opener, but he may be applying the most consistent pressure on quarterbacks from the interior of the line.
Because of the lack of an effective pass rush from its front four, Tampa Bay has had to do more blitzing this season. As a result, the Bucs linebacking corps has been more active in getting to the quarterback. Strongside ‘backer Ryan Nece has two sacks, while Shelton Quarles and Derrick Brooks each have one. Cornerback Ronde Barber also has a sack.
But a lot of the Bucs’ sack problems date back to the preseason where Tampa Bay had difficulty getting to the quarterback and no starter notched a sack.
FAB 4. One of the most hyped college players right now is UTEP outside linebacker Thomas Howard. Don’t believe the hype.
The 6-foot-3, 240-pounder is a well-chiseled athlete who can run a 4.4 in the 40-yard dash, but he appears to lack instincts and doesn’t seem to relish contact. Howard is a finesse linebacker and a drag-down tackler from the game tapes I have watched this year – not a fierce hitter. He does have some pass rush ability and can get to the quarterback, evidenced by his eight sacks last year and 2.5 sacks in 2005.
Howard’s strength is actually pass coverage and he usually covers receivers in the slot. At first glance, he appears to be a big safety because he plays on the perimeter so much.
While his speed and ability to defend the pass with sacks and coverage is intriguing, his lack of enthusiasm against the run is troubling. Howard is not a tackling machine, and has 51 stops this year after recording 62 a year ago. It appears that teams try to run away from him due to his speed and athleticism, and by playing the Sam (strongside) linebacker position, plays aren’t necessarily funneled to him. But it often seems like Howard is half-hearted in his pursuit of ballcarriers and is content on his teammates making the tackle.
Draft guru Mel Kiper and others have Howard as a first round pick, and there is no doubt he will thrive at the Indianapolis Scouting Combine. But as Bucs linebackers coach Joe Barry has always told me, you can’t coach instincts, and I don’t think this guy has the instincts or the desire for contact necessary to really intrigue Tampa Bay. I want to watch more film on Howard before passing a final judgment on him, but after watching last year’s game against Louisiana Tech and games this year against Tulane and Rice, I’m not buying into Howard’s hype just yet.
FAB 5. Here are a few things to hold you over until next week:
• After further review, the offsides penalty on Tampa Bay wide receiver Ike Hilliard in the San Francisco game was a crappy call. In fact, you could use another similar description of the word “crappy” to describe the call if you wish. When I went back and watched the tape, Hilliard is close to lining up in the neutral zone, but is clearly not offsides. On the play, Hilliard caught a 7-yard pass from Chris Simms on first down and got down to the 49ers’ 11-yard line. Instead of second-and-3 from the 11, the Bucs had a first-and-15 from the 23. After an incompletion, Simms was sacked for a 12-yard loss and the Bucs had to kick a field goal two plays later. As it turns out, that was a pretty big blown call and could have had a major impact on the game had Tampa Bay scored a touchdown on that drive. “I don’t see (the offsides) on that call,” Bucs head coach Jon Gruden growled. “We’ve been in that set for years. Ike is in his eighth year. He wasn’t offsides. That was a big play in the game.”
• I was doing a “word association” interview with Bucs cornerback Ronde Barber this week for a future issue of Pewter Report and I threw out all sorts of different words for him to comment on, such as his brother, Tiki Barber, and defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin. But when I threw out “Super Bowl 37” to Barber I got an answer I really didn’t expect. “More boring than I thought,” said Barber, who broke the rules a bit by giving more than a two-word answer. But his blunt analysis of Tampa Bay’s first and only Super Bowl championship was so startling that he went on to explain himself. “I know that’s weird, but I’ll tell you why. We were sitting on the sidelines and the game wasn’t even competitive. I mean it really wasn’t. I remember coming out in the third quarter and me and BK (teammate Brian Kelly) were looking at all the pageantry and all of the people on the sidelines and we said, ‘Is this game supposed to be this boring?’ It was. We didn’t really have to do anything. Look at the Rams-Titans game or the Rams-Patriots game a couple of years before. We were expecting a lot more out of the Super Bowl, but it was just a game.” Wow. He’s right, but Barber’s nonchalantness stunned me.
• The Buccaneers have liked Virginia Tech athletes for some time now, dating back to center Jim Pyne, cornerbacks Anthony Midget and Ronyell Whitaker, not to mention left tackle Anthony Davis, who all wore red and pewter on the practice squad and/or the active roster. Throughout the years, the Bucs have also been fond of safety Pierson Prioleau, cornerbacks Eric Green and DeAngelo Hall and center Jake Grove coming out of Virginia Tech in various drafts throughout the years. The Hokies have three players on defense who will be first- or second-round picks next April and all three would fit in Tampa Bay’s style of defense, which is similar to the schemes played in Blacksburg. This weekend’s biggest college football game is No. 3 Virginia Tech versus No. 5 Miami, which takes place Saturday night on ESPN. Hokies defensive end Darryl Tapp, a second-round prospect whom I like, will be going up against Hurricanes left tackle Eric Winston, who is regarded as a first-round prospect next April. Also keep an eye on Virginia Tech under tackle Jonathan Lewis, who is a real disruptor and figures to be drafted in the second round. Cornerback Jimmy Williams is one of the best in college football and is likely a top 10 pick. And of course Virginia Tech will likely have a fourth first day draft prospect if quarterback Marcus Vick were to leave school early, but so far, there has been no indication that will happen next spring.
• I was a bit surprised to get some good feedback from some readers after I mentioned that Jim Flynn and I went to a Def Leppard concert in September. It looks like we’ve got some melodic rock fans who subscribe to the Pewter Insider, and I want to stray from the Bucs for a second to let you know about a Chicago band named 7th Heaven that I stumbled across on the Internet (and no, they don’t have anything to do with the TV show) about a month ago. If you like 80s-90s rock with a bit of a modern sound, I highly recommend that you check 7th Heaven out. Their influences range from Journey to Def Leppard to Motley Crue to Nine Inch Nails to Queensryche to Duran Duran, etc. The band has streamed its entire 30-song double CD titled “Silver” on their website. I’m not talking about 30-second samples here. Every song in its entirety is streamed online at www.7thheavenband.com – check it out for yourself. They have some hard rock stuff on there and even some 80s-style power ballads with some booming Def Leppard-like choruses. I bought the “Silver” CD and their live DVD, which is well worth it, too. They are a small, independent band that isn’t signed to a major label, but the lead guitarist and I have been e-mailing each other for a couple of weeks now. His band is a bit of an underdog, but damn good, and reminds a bit of our efforts here at Pewter Report and PewterReport.com. Let me know what you think about them on the Pirate’s Cove message board on PewterReport.com. I already have a discussion thread going.
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Scott Reynolds is in his 23rd 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 enjoys 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 protected]
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