1. Bucs fans have to be impressed with the play of wide receiver Keyshawn Johnson who already has 23 receptions for 249 yards through three games this year. That puts him on pace for 122 catches for 1,328 yards this season, which would shatter the Bucs' single-season record. Johnson likely won't catch that many, but if he stays healthy he surely will eclipse his 71 catches last year, which was his first in Tampa Bay. KJ's career-high was established in 1999 when he had 89 catches for 1,170 yards.
But even more than his reception total, the thing that has been most impressive is his toughness. This guy ain't a wimp like Alvin Harper or Bert (Hurt) Emanuel. He fought through a deep thigh bruise early in the Dallas game to catch seven passes for 71 yards, and had nine catches for 82 yards last week against Green Bay despite playing with a badly bruised shoulder.
Johnson has also been a key contributor to Tampa Bay's running game as a blocker, and had perhaps his best effort against Green Bay on Mike Alstott's 39-yard touchdown run in which he took out a safety 10 yards downfield before racing 30 yards downfield to take out cornerback Mike McKenzie to allow Alstott to cut back inside for the touchdown.
2. Part of the reason for quarterback Brad Johnson's alleged unwillingness to throw the ball downfield is the Bucs' pass protection, or lack thereof, this year. Johnson has been sacked eight times this year, including five times against Green Bay, and just hasn't had a whole lot of time to read the coverages downfield, hang in the pocket patiently and wait for the receiver to go deep.
According to Johnson, the Bucs called for the deep ball, which he considers a pass over 20 yards, about eight times against the Packers, but wound up completing one of those attempts - a 22-yard strike to Keyshawn Johnson. The Bucs' first play of the game was supposed to be a deep ball to Jacquez Green about 40 yards downfield, but the secondary was all over the route and the pressure from the defensive line forced Johnson to check down.
The Bucs are seeing a lot of cover 2 from opponents' secondary, so it should be of no surprise that there aren't many options down the field. That's the same defense the Bucs run and that's the desired effect - to eliminate the big plays downfield.
With the Tennessee Titans secondary really banged up, the Bucs could have a big day through the air. Expect them to be more aggressive in a defense that has several starters out with injuries. While Tennessee likes to play a lot of man-to-man coverage, don't be surprised to see the Titans play more cover 2 this week to provide safety help to their corners and because it has been an effective defense against Tampa Bay's offense this year.
3. Warrick Dunn's foot sprain will likely shelve him for at least another week, and may end up costing him millions in the long run. There was a sense of urgency on the front office's part to find out what Dunn could do over the course of an entire season. Dunn has never been the feature back for an entire season, and the team was anxiously awaiting to see if he could remain healthy and productive for an entire season.
The fact that Dunn has had a significant injury in which he has missed at least one game in each of the last three seasons while splitting carries with Mike Alstott does not bode well. If Dunn would have had a 1,200-yard rushing season starting all 16 games, he could have likely cashed in a big contract extension later in the year. Now, the Bucs are more likely to wait until the end of the season to see how effective he is once he returns from a foot sprain, and to see if he can stay healthy for the remainder of the year. Dunn has a voidable year in his contract which will make him an unrestricted free agent in the spring of 2002.
Don't be surprised to see Dunn attempt to play in this week's game against Tennessee out of fear that another strong showing by Alstott might prompt the team to give the A-Train more carries.
4. There is some concern in Tampa Bay about the recent pass protection of its offensive tackles. Rookie left tackle Kenyatta Walker gave up his first NFL sack last week to Green Bay's sensational pass rusher Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila, and once that happened, he lost his focus. Right tackle Jerry Wunsch easily had his worst game of the season, surrendering at least two of the team's five sacks.
The team is concerned that Walker and Wunsch will suffer similar letdowns against a talented pair of rush ends in Tennessee's Jevon Kearse and Kevin Carter this week. The Titans enter the game 0-3 and are facing a must-win game against Tampa Bay. The re-tooled defensive line was supposed to be a strength in Tennessee, and like Tampa Bay's unit, is suffering a big letdown with only Kearse registering two sacks.
Carter was paid a lot of money and is hoping for a breakthrough game in front of the hometown fans in Adelphia Coliseum. Kearse hasn't shown any signs of earning another trip to the Pro Bowl yet. Walker and Wunsch better be ready.
5. Would the Bucs have been able to bounce back if they had lost to the Green Bay Packers? An interesting question. Despite starting off 3-4 in each of the last three years, the Bucs have rebounded to make the playoffs the last two seasons. But I'm not sure the Bucs could have weathered an 0-2 start in the NFC Central that would have occurred had they lost to the Packers.
If Green Bay's Brett Favre would have mounted yet another fourth quarter comeback instead of being stopped at the Bucs' 8-yard line, the team would have lost for the second week in a row the same way - not enough points on offense and a defense that can't stop a team when it counts. A loss would have likely led to finger pointing in the Bucs' locker room on both sides of the ball, and with all of the strong personalities in the Tampa Bay locker room, the cool-headed leadership of Derrick Brooks and John Lynch might not have been able to rally the team for a stretch run as they have the last two years.
Copyright 2001 Buccaneer Magazine/BucMag.com
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