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Copyright 2006 PewterReport.com Here are five things that caught my interest this week:
FAB 1. Buccaneers quarterback Chris Simms is catching an awful lot of flak from pundits and media-types, including yours truly, for his batted passes at the line of scrimmage. Based on my film study and what I’ve read between the lines during Jon Gruden’s dicussion about this with the media, Simms is to blame for the deflections at the line of scrimmage.
He’s not altering his throwing motion when there isn’t a passing lane available. He’s not getting rid of the ball fast enough, either. What he is doing is telegraphing where he’s going to throw the ball by staring down his receivers – and that’s not good. Almost all of the batted balls are coming off three-step drops, and it’s hard to not lock on to your primary receiver because that’s where the ball will be going.
But out of Simms’ three batted balls in Sunday’s 27-0 loss to Baltimore, he was fortunate that his second one was actually deflected. Why? Because Terrell Suggs’ deflection prevented safety Ed Reed from picking off Simms and scoring a touchdown.
At the 7:00 mark in the second quarter, Simms threw a quick pass off a three-step drop to Michael Clayton in the right flat. Suggs spied Simms on the play and nearly batted the ball down. On the next play, Suggs did the same thing rushing from the left side of the Ravens defense and had luck getting his big paws on Simms’ pass this time. The problem was that Reed had read Simms’ eyes and jumped Joey Galloway’s route and was waiting for an easy interception that never came thanks to Suggs’ batted ball.
With many of Simms’ passes coming off three-step drops, Gruden would be wise to mix in more five-step drops into his play-calling until Simms can get a handle on his batted balls. The lefty can also do his part by mixing in some pump fakes and looking off the safeties. The only time that happened against the Ravens in Simms’ 29 pass attempts came on – surprise! – a 19-yard gain to tight end Alex Smith, who was – surprise! – wide open.
FAB 2. Although Simms must shoulder the blame for his batted balls for the reasons I explained above, his offensive linemen can help him avoid some of those mistakes. Gruden alluded to it in his Monday press conference when he was deflecting his young quarterback from any criticism.
I spoke with Bucs assistant offensive line coach Aaron Kromer this week and he said that part of the reason why Simms’ passes were getting knocked down was because his linemen weren’t being aggressive enough in pass protection and creating opportunities for defensive linemen to get their hands up in the passing lane.
“In most of the protections that we call we can be more aggressive upfront,” Kromer said. “We need to finish the block as the play progresses. We’re finding that those [defensive linemen] are stopping and jumping. When they stop to jump, we need to go attack them. [Having batted balls] is not unusual, but it’s not something that happens on a day-to-day basis, so you have to practice that.”
Kromer said that there is a fine line for offensive linemen between holding down the fort defensively in pass protection and being aggressive. If an offensive lineman is too aggressive he may lose his balance or overextend and create a hole in the pocket. But Kromer feels like his offensive linemen need to go on the attack when opportunity presents itself.
“When those guys get their arms up, you’ve got to go hit them,” Kromer. “You have to make the defender feel like the next time he feels like jumping – to not do it. So if he does jump, you have to hit him so he doesn’t jump the next time. That’s the whole premise of hitting them when they do jump the first time. They might get one, but don’t let them get two.”
Even if that means getting overly violent – like a punch to the midsection.
“Punching is blocking,” Kromer said. “If they do jump, you can knock them down. Our whole idea is that once they jump and get their hands in the air, you go attack them and try to knock them on their butt.”
Left tackle Anthony Davis said that Tampa Bay’s offensive linemen have been told to be more aggressive this week – not just in the run game, which netted only 26 yards, but also in pass protection.
“We need to use run-blocking techniques on three-step drops because the ball is coming out quick,” Davis said. “We’ve just got to be aggressive. You can punch a guy, but sometimes when he flies off you are disengaged with him and he gets the chance to jump up and knock the ball down. But we need to keep their hands down by any means necessary.”
By any means necessary?
“What can’t we do?” Bucs center John Wade said when asked what types of techniques the O-line could use to get the hands of defensive linemen down. “I think it is more of a reaction thing. When weren’t as quick as we needed to be to get guys’ hands down. You can do anything. You can grab his hands, you can punch him, you can cut him. You can throw a chair at him. We just have to do whatever it takes to get it done. As a group, we need to react quicker when we see a guy jump. As an offensive line, we need to help him.”
In talking to several of the Bucs’ offensive linemen this week, it is clear that they have to do more to ensure that Simms won’t have as many rejections as he had last week. The coaches have also drilled home the idea of being more aggressive against the Atlanta Falcons defensive front this week than they were against Baltimore.
“The fact that we had a few balls batted down in the last game, of course we’re going to emphasize it,” guard Jeb Terry said. “There’s definitely been a point of emphasis on it this week. When they jump, you just take them and drive them or cut their legs. Then they won’t do it again. If you cut their legs, they’re on the ground.
“You have to be able to sense when you think they’re going to be jumping. On three-step drops you have to have a clock in your head. When a guy jumps up, that’s when you have to drive into him, punch him or cut his legs out from under him – things like that. Whatever you can do to distract him from jumping up.”
FAB 3. It doesn’t look like tight end and long snapper Dave Moore will be back in action anytime soon. Not only did Moore suffer a concussion while covering a punt against Baltimore, he also suffered a severe internal injury that had him hospitalized during the week. I’m not about to disclose the extact nature of the injury, but it is more than the rib contusion that the Bucs are going with.
Just as I suggested in last week’s SR’s Fab Five that rookie guard Davin Joseph had a torn MCL (he does) when the team called it a knee sprain, Moore’s injury is possibly season-ending, especially given the fact that he will be 37 in November. That’s why the Bucs signed another long snapper in addition to having tight end Doug Jolley handle long snapping duties.
The Bucs were being a little disingenuous this week by actually listing Moore as questionable for the Atlanta Falcons game on Wednesday when he had been hospitalized. He was downgraded to doubtful on Thursday before being ruled out on Friday, but he should have been ruled out altogether.
With Moore out this week, expect the Falcons to really try to rush Pro Bowl punter Josh Bidwell this week and apply pressure to Jolley or new long snapper, Andrew Economos, if he gets called up from the practice squad.
“We do have a great battery,” Bidwell said. “We didn’t have a chance to kick a field goal last week, but Doug Jolley went and long snapped for me on punts and he had never snapped before in a regular season game. We had a great session with the new guy – Andrew Economos. I found my rhythm with him pretty quickly and I know [kicker] Matt [Bryant] did too because he didn’t miss a kick and Andrew was right on the money. You never want to see an injury like this happen, but we’re in good shape right now despite how ever long it might take Dave to recover.”
Bidwell said that special teams coach Rich Bisaccia did a good job of finding a potential replacement for Moore when he signed Economos.
“Rich is really well versed in how important rhythm is and how important blocking and protection are,” Bidwell said. “He picked a great guy. He knew what he wanted and he picked a good guy. He got a guy that can really snap the ball and then get out of his stance and really protect against a good return team and an aggressive rush team. I think we’re in good shape.”
The same can’t be said for Moore, who has done a great job for the Bucs over the last couple of years. With the exception of a couple rough snaps in Tampa Bay’s home game against Atlanta last year, Moore played a huge role in helping Matt Bryant establish a team-record 84 percent field goal percentage and helped Bidwell make the Pro Bowl for the first time.
“You need to receive the snap in .80 of a second or less,” Bidwell said. “That’s ideal. Dave is always right around .75, which is great. Then my part of the job is to get the punt off in 1.3 seconds or less once I catch the ball. If we can get it down to two seconds flat – that’s ideal. Getting 2.15 is acceptable, but anything above that … you are kind of flirting with disaster.”
Long snappers don’t get voted to the Pro Bowl, but they usually get invited to go to Hawaii with the Pro Bowl kickers and punters as a reward for their clutch snapping. Bidwell invited him last February, but Moore, an avid fisherman, decided that he didn’t want to go. I suppose Moore didn’t think there would be any good fishing in Hawaii, which is odd considering it is a group of islands surrounded by water – and fish.
“I told him I’d take him,” Bidwell laughed. “That’s kind of the unwritten rule. You take your long-snapper there and put him up in a hotel for the week. He didn’t want to go. Then I get over there and Mike Bartrum, who is the snapper for [Philadelphia kicker] David Akers, said, ‘Where is Dave?’ I told him that I would have taken him, but he didn’t want to come.
“Then I come back here and Dave starts busting my chops because I didn’t take him. I said, ‘That’s your fault, buddy! You were invited.’ I wish he would have gone, but he’s a 15-year vet and wants some time off in the offseason.”
Bidwell is confident that Moore will rebound from his injuries, but whether or not he will be able to contribute this year – or ever again – for the Bucs will depend on his recovery and is still up in the air.
“He’s tough, that’s why I’m not too worried about his situation,” Bidwell said. “He snapped last year with a broken finger and the year before that he played with a busted up toe. He’s as tough as you get.”
FAB 4. The Atlanta Falcons are picking up where the left off last year in the rushing department. After leading the NFL in rushing in 2005 with 2,546 yards on 531 carries (4.8 avg.) and an average of 159.1 yards per game, the Falcons got off to a great start in 2006 against Carolina in Week 1 by rushing for 252 yards on 47 carries (5.4 avg.) in Atlanta’s 20-7 victory.
The reason why Atlanta piles up so many rushing yards – aside from Pro Bowl tailback Warrick Dunn – is because of the Falcons’ blocking scheme, which is coached by offensive line guru Alex Gibbs, and the scrambling ability of quarterback Michael Vick.
“They have the right personnel for the right scheme,” said Bucs linebacker Barrett Ruud. “That line coach they have, he’s got to be as good as there is. When he was with Denver, I thought Denver was the best rushing team in the NFL. He must be an awfully good coach because wherever he goes they seem to be really good in rushing. He must be a big part of that.”
The other part is Vick, who gets criticized for not being a good fit for Atlanta’s West Coast offense from a passing standpoint, yet is still one of the most dangerous quarterbacks in the NFL.
“The hardest part is when you have everybody covered up in coverage and then Vick has the ability to run,” Ruud said. “You can’t account for him all the time, especially in zone defense. That’s where a running quarterback gives you the most problems.”
Historically, Tampa Bay has done a good job against Vick. He was harassed, sacked and corralled in the Bucs’ 27-0 shutout of the Falcons in 2004. And while Vick’s scrambling ability was contained in both of Tampa Bay’s wins over Atlanta in 2005, the left-handed quarterback actually gave the Bucs fits with his arm.
“Everyone says that he’s not a great thrower, but I think he’s a great thrower,” Ruud said. “I think he has a great arm. Sometimes the accuracy isn’t there, but I think he has one of the best arms in the NFL. He can make some throws that nobody else can. I think he’s about as tough as there is to stop in the NFL.
“He did a good job [last year against the Bucs] and it wasn’t like we were playing terrible. He can make plays that nobody else can in the NFL.”
In Tampa Bay’s 30-27 win at Atlanta last year, Vick was nearly unstoppable on third downs (the Falcons were 11-of-17) and completed 21-of-38 passes (55.2 percent) for 306 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions. He also rushed for 17 yards on four carries to help Atlanta amassed 150 yards on the ground.
In the rematch on Christmas Eve, Vick completed 16-of-26 passes (61.5 percent) for 161 yards and two touchdowns with no interceptions. He also rushed 11 times for 63 yards. Although Tampa Bay outrushed Atlanta 174-154 yards, the Falcons still logged over 150 rushing yards.
Stopping the run will once again be the key for Tampa Bay, but recent history suggests that Atlanta will get to 150 yards on the ground. The Bucs will need to really harass Vick, too. There’s no way that Monte Kiffin’s crew should be letting a career 54-percent passer throw for over 58 percent against them.
But if last year was any indication of how Sunday will go, Atlanta will get the ball in the end zone. They averaged 25.5 points per game against the Bucs in 2005. Conversely, the Bucs offense averaged just 25 points per game. Remember, the reason they beat the Falcons in Atlanta 30-27 was because of a defensive touchdown scored by defensive tackle Anthony McFarland. Tampa Bay’s offense needs to come out firing on all cylinders to match the Falcons’ potent ground game and Vick’s ability to throw TD passes against the Bucs’ shaky safeties.
FAB 5. Here are some tidbits to carry you over until next week:
• Speaking of the Bucs’ shaky safeties, Jermaine Phillips played like a rookie at times last week. He got schooled on two occasions by Bucs castoff tight end Dan Wilcox. The first one was on a third-and-10 in the shadow of the Ravens’ end zone when Steve McNair threw over top of Phillips to Wilcox off a play-action bootleg. Phillips got caught looking in the backfield as Wilcox blew by. Then later in the game, Phillips got beat by Wilcox one-on-one for a touchdown. Alge Crumpler, the Falcons’ Pro Bowl tight end, must be licking his chops in Atlanta.
• Auburn keeps churning out great running backs. After losing Ronnie Brown and Cadillac Williams last year, Kenny Irons emerged as more than a viable replacement with 1,293 yards on 256 carries and 13 touchdowns. The 5-foot-11, 194-pound speedster is the 10th-leading rusher in the nation heading into Saturday’s game against LSU. He rushed for 183 yards on 20 carries last week against Washington State and also caught three passes for 40 yards. Last year against LSU, Irons produced 218 yards and a touchdown on 27 carries in a 20-17 defeat. Irons, who is a senior and a great pro prospect, had eight 100-yard games in 2005, including 179 yards and 2 TDs in a 31-30 win over Georgia and 103 yards and one score in the Tigers’ 28-18 win over Alabama, which had the number one-ranked defense last year. “Kenny is running hard,” Williams said. “If he keeps his head on straight, the sky is limit for that guy. We have such a great tradition at the running back spot at Auburn from Bo Jackson to Brent Fullwood to Stephen Davis to Rudi Johnson. The tradition goes on and on. The running back tradition prompted me to be a Tiger. I knew once I got recruited and started going there that they had a lot of success at the running back position. Once you get there, there’s that feeling that you have to hold your own because there have been some great ones before you. Kenny is really doing a good job of holding it down.”
• A few weeks ago, I profiled some NFL draft prospects at the defensive tackle position. Here’s another name to remember – Florida’s Marcus Thomas. He missed the Gators’ season opener against Southern Miss, but made his presence felt in Florida’s shutout win over Central Florida last week with two sacks. The 6-foot-3, 296-pound Thomas is strong enough to split double teams and rush the passer and hold up against the run. This three-year starter is on Urban Meyer’s locker room leadership committee because he produces. As a sophomore, he racked up 39 tackles and 4.5 sacks. Last year, he logged 45 tackles four sacks, two forced fumbles, and a blocked field goal and PAT. We’ll see how Thomas fares against Tennessee in a prime time game on Saturday night.
• Finally, I give Tampa Bay head coach Jon Gruden a lot of credit for accepting blame in last week’s 27-0 season-opening hom loss to Baltimore. However, he needs to quit making excuses. Did the Bucs miss left guard Dan Buenning? Perhaps, but he was replaced by a more experienced player in Sean Mahan. Having the inexperienced Jeb Terry start for an even more inexperienced guard in rookie Davin Joseph is a wash at best. So no, having those two guards didn’t cost Tampa Bay the game. It didn’t help, but it wasn’t the reason why the Bucs lost, either. Another lame excuse that was given was the fact that Tampa Bay had to practice in the club area at Raymond James Stadium in a walk-through fashion due to afternoon thunderstorms. Here’s a newsflash that any Floridian should know – it usually rains every day in August and September and typically in the afternoon. But the Bucs don’t reside in Seattle or London where it can rain all day. If it rains in the afternoon, it is usually sunny and clear in the morning in Tampa – unless there is a tropical storm or hurricane in the area. Gruden wisely adjusted his practice schedule this week to practice in the morning and conduct meetings in the afternoon. He should have done that last week – and not used the weather as an excuse. Or better yet, the Bucs should have planned ahead and built an indoor practice facility or inflatable bubble at the team’s new complex to combat the wet conditions in the summer and early fall in Florida.
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Scott Reynolds is in his 25th 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 spent six years 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@example.com