Blueprint To Beat The Bucs Defense

October 2 - Is there a blueprint to beat the Buccaneers defense? Buccaneer Magazine explains how both the Philadelphia Eagles offense and the Minnesota Vikings offense used the same winning formula in Tampa Bay's last two losses.

Why are fans of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers screaming bloody murder after their team's 20-16 loss to the Minnesota Vikings last Sunday? I mean, the Bucs are only 1-1 on the new season with 14 more games to play, including 12 out of the next 14 games at the friendly confines of Raymond James Stadium. Yes, Tampa Bay was hyped to go to the Super Bowl this year, but what did Bucs fans expect? That their team would go 16-0?

Perhaps the fans are upset because they've seen this type of defeat before. Rewind to the last Buccaneers loss prior to Minnesota. That's right, the Wild Card loss in Philadelphia to the upstart, underrated Eagles. In Tampa Bay's two latest regular season defeats, both the Eagles and the Vikings beat the Bucs in a way that exploited their cover 2 scheme and gave other teams the blueprint for winning against the Pewter Pain defense. Here's the ingredients:

1. Be Patient On Offense
The Bucs' Cover 2 defensive scheme is predicated on not surrendering the big play. The Bucs play this type of coverage, which essentially splits the field in half for the secondary, about half the time with some Cover 3 mixed in as well as various zone blitzes and some isolated man coverage. The goal is to keep the plays in front of the defenders in Cover 2, with the corners attempting to re-route the receiver to the middle of the field towards the safeties and protecting the sidelines for the first 15 yards or so. Then the corners can release the receivers who are working the sidelines to the free safety (Dexter Jackson), who typically works the right sidelines, and the strong safety (John Lynch), who works the left sidelines.

The underneath area in the flats is vulnerable in front of the corners, as is the space in the middle of the field underneath and behind the middle linebacker, as well as the open zones between the corners and the safeties along the sidelines. In the loss to Minnesota, Vikings tight end Jim Kleinsasser's eight catches for 51 yards all came in the left and right flats near the sidelines, just past the line of scrimmage. Tight end Byron Chamberlain worked the middle of the field well and along sidelines about 15-20 yards deep - behind the corners and in front of the safety, especially on his key 37-yard grab in the fourth quarter.

Minnesota QB Daunte Culpepper displayed a tremendous amount of patience in working the underneath throws to the backs and tight ends and really only had one downfield strike to Randy Moss, which is against the norm of the Vikings' attack. His patience paid off in that he completed 30-of-44 passes (68 percent) against the Bucs, a completion percentage that is eerily close to Philadelphia's Donovan McNabb's 73 percent (24-of-33) against Tampa Bay in last year's playoff game.

The patient underneath passes are there for the taking in the Cover 2, as the Eagles and Vikings have proven. The underneath passes also frustrate and negate the Bucs' feared pass rush because the quarterback gets rid of the ball quickly.

2. Know Down And Distance And Convert On Third Downs
The Vikings enjoyed a huge time of possession advantage over the Bucs last Sunday. Minnesota held the ball 36:15 compared to Tampa Bay's 23:45. That type of ball control is achieved by converting at least half of third downs. The Vikings converted 9-of-12 third down situations (75 percent), while the Eagles converted 9-of-18 (50 percent) in the Wild Card game.

When Philly needed six in a third-and-6 situation, Charles Johnson caught a 7-yard pass. When they needed three yards in a third-and-3, McNabb would scramble for four. The same thing occurred in Minnesota as Kleinsasser, Moss, Cris Carter and Michael Bennett all got the necessary yards on catches and runs on third down to keep the chains moving.

Minnesota had four long scoring drives against the Bucs, ranging from 11 plays to 18 plays, the longest and last of which covered 96 yards to providing the deciding points for victory.

Philadelphia controlled the clock 34:53 to 25:07 against Tampa Bay, and had at least three drives of eight plays or more, the longest taking 15 plays and covering 59 yards. Although the result was a missed field goal, the Eagles chewed up 7:45 off the clock to start the third quarter, which devastated and exhausted the Bucs' defense.

Because Tampa Bay's defense is undersized and relies on speed and quickness instead of girth, it can be worn down if an opponent maintains ball control and keeps the offense on the field for more than 55-60 plays.

3. Have A Mobile Quarterback
Easier said than done, but given the emergence of quarterbacks like Culpepper, McNabb and New Orleans' Aaron Brooks, they are becoming more plentiful in the league. Oh, did we mention Atlanta's rookie phenom, Michael Vick? He may be the most dangerous of them all, and like Brooks, the Bucs will see plenty of him twice a year for several years to come starting next season in the NFC South.

What makes a mobile quarterback dangerous is that the Bucs seldom account for him in the zone scheme. Usually defenses will incorporate a "spy" in man coverage, but rarely do in zone coverage. This allowed McNabb to convert several third downs by scrambling eight times for 32 yards in the Wild Card game, and Culpepper to rush five times of 20 yards last Sunday. The fact that both of these quarterbacks scored decisive touchdowns against Tampa Bay's defense in each game on quarterback draws up the middle is also quite telling.

Having an elusive quarterback can also make up for the lack of a potent running game. Last year, the Eagles succeeded even without top rusher Duce Staley because McNabb could elude the pass rush and still make plays by scrambling or moving outside the pocket to make a play downfield. Although Chris Warren ended up posting 82 yards rushing against Tampa Bay, the Eagles were fairly one-dimensional coming into the game, as evidenced by McNabb's willingness to sling the ball 33 times. McNabb was only sacked twice in the Wild Card game.

Culpepper was only dropped once last Sunday, mostly due to his amazing size and strength, but also because of his penchant for scrambling. The Vikings were also one-dimensional. Culpepper threw the ball 44 times, and Minnesota's running backs only had 18 carries on the afternoon. The rule used of thumb used to be to make a team one-dimensional, and the Bucs' pass rushers will feast on the quarterback. Now that's only true for quarterbacks who can't escape the pocket and those who aren't patient enough to take what the Bucs' defense will give them.


Copyright 2001 Buccaneer Magazine/BucMag.com

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