While the old laptop is in the shop, Buccaneer Magazine publisher Jeffrey Neil Fox splurged to get me a new Apple Titanium Powerbook G4, which absolutely rules. Before you PC users start bashing Apples, which are much easier to use, I'll have you know that a fair share of NFL writers are either using Macs or are switching to them. Among them is Sports Illustrated's Peter King, who was at the Steelers vs. Bucs game on Sunday.
Due to last week's computer problems, we're delivering TWO SR's Fab Fives this week - one on Tuesday and one on Wednesday - plus some other new premium content stuff. We'll also bring back our BucMag.com Stat of the Week, too.
Here's five things that caught my interest this week:
1. One of the reasons why the Tampa Bay Buccaneers defense has not been up to its usually high standards is because of the loss of former linebackers coach Lovie Smith, who is now the defensive coordinator of the St. Louis Rams, and former secondary coach Herman Edwards, who is now the head coach of the New York Jets. Our Bucs insiders told us this week that the loss of both veteran coaches are being felt throughout the halls of One Buc Place as well as the team's sidelines on Sundays.
As it turns out, defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin really used their veteran input more than most thought on game days when calling Tampa Bay's defense. Now with new linebackers coach Joe Barry and defensive backs coach Mike Tomlin roaming the sidelines, Kiffin can't go to the well for veteran advice. Barry and Tomlin have gotten rave reviews from their coaching counterparts and the position players they coach, but their youth and inexperience isn't serving the team well on game days.
Both will be fine coaches in time, once they go through the fire on Sundays with Kiffin and the players. But right now, almost all of the defensive play-calling and scheming rests on Kiffin's shoulders. That's the way that the fans and the media always thought it was, but our insiders have found out that Edwards and Smith had a lot more input on the sidelines when it came to defensive play calls than was first thought. This could be one of the reasons why the Bucs' cover 2 zone scheme isn't as tight as it used to be.
2. Was that sour grapes talk coming out of the mouth of Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Jacquez Green after Pittsburgh's 17-10 drubbing of the Pewter Pirates?
"Yeah, the frustration is mounting," Green said. "When we have a chance to make big plays we don't hit them. I know the offense is going to start with Key (Johnson) and Warrick (Dunn). But when I feel I'm open or have an opportunity I want to make the most of it. I think I only have one drop this year; against Minnesota. So I think I've shown I can catch the ball. Hopefully, I'll get more opportunities."
No, it isn't sour grapes. Green is frustrated with his limited opportunities while Keyshawn Johnson has flourished this season as the focal point of the offense. Johnson has 33 catches for 408 yards while Green has only 22 receptions for 256 yards and one touchdown. Not bad numbers, but Green wants the opportunity to catch more passes downfield where he can use his speed.
Green, who contends he has only one drop this year, and he's probably right, would get some more opportunities if he would fight for the ball harder. Insiders tell Buccaneer Magazine that he would probably get more fade routes if he would go up and fight for the ball more often. Too many times Green has allowed an interception to occur on passes that were either underthrown or overthrown.
Still, he should become more involved in the offense, especially on post patterns and quick slants. He's the one receiver with true run-after-catch ability and he must be put in a position where he can use it. But first Green must get healthy. He aggravated a groin strain against the Steelers and had to be helped from the field after catching four passes for 44 yards. His status for the upcoming Minnesota game is unclear.
Some would say that Green is just being selfish about wanting more opportunities because he's in a contract year. I disagree. He's grown up quite a bit over the last few years and has really bought into the team concept. That is evident in the way he blocks in the running game, which he didn't used to do effectively in years past. I think Green wants more opportunities to help the team, not just his free agent status after this year is over.
3. Don't be surprised to see another team, perhaps the Minnesota Vikings or the St. Louis Rams, try a halfback option pass on the Buccaneers defense. The Pittsburgh Steelers ran it to perfection on Sunday with running back Jerome Bettis heaving a 32-yard touchdown pass to backup tight end Jerame Tuman. The victim on the play was rookie free safety John Howell, who started his first NFL game in place of the injured Dexter Jackson.
The Steelers ran the halfback pass at just the right time and place on the field - similar to Curtis Martin's touchdown pass to Wayne Chrebet in the New York Jets' 21-17 win at Raymond James Stadium in 2000. The victim in that game was cornerback Brian Kelly, who it seems is always getting victimized by somebody on the field, but free safety Damien Robinson was late getting over in deep coverage. Opponents are picking up on some tendencies in the Tampa Bay secondary, especially keying on the free safety.
When another opponent throws the halfback pass on the Bucs defense this year, you can say you heard it here first.
4. I was glad to see reserve wide receiver and kick returner Frank Murphy get some opportunities late in the Steelers game. Murphy shined in the fourth quarter, and was perhaps the only Buc player to make some significant plays down the stretch.
After replacing kick returner Dwight Smith and responding with a career-high 34-yard return late in the third quarter, Murphy had a brilliantly timed form tackle of Steelers punt returner Hank Poteat at the Pittsburgh 15 for no gain. Murphy also came up with his first three NFL catches for 17 yards on the Bucs' final scoring drive, including his first touchdown catch of 5 yards.
Last Wednesday, Bucs head coach Tony Dungy said he needed to see Smith catch the ball more cleanly on kickoffs, but felt he would break a big one this year. At the time, I thought Dungy was sold on Smith was endorsing him for the season-long stint as the team's kick returner. Although Smith has good tackle-breaking ability, he doesn't have the necessary speed to break one for a touchdown. He'll get caught from behind, just like he was last week against Tennessee after breaking off a 45-yard return.
Hopefully, Murphy's clean fielding of his kick return against Pittsburgh and subsequent 34-yard gain, in which he was a shoe-string tackle away from breaking it for a longer gain, will force a change on special teams. Murphy is the second-fastest Buccaneer behind Jacquez Green and with more reps I'm confident that he can be more effective than Smith.
Some of the more astute Buccaneer Magazine readers who know that Murphy and I share the same alma mater, Kansas State, probably think that I'm displaying some homerism towards the former Wildcat. All I'm doing is suggesting that from what I've seen Murphy do in college as well as in training camp and practice, I think he should be the guy. He gives the Bucs a much better chance of breaking a big one.
5. Those Bill Parcells-to-Tampa rumors keep lurking. Parcells, who has two Super Bowl rings from his coaching days with the New York Giants, has always been able to develop a season-long sense of urgency, something that current Bucs head coach Tony Dungy hasn't been able to do since his arrival in 1996.
If Dungy were to get fired after this season, and it would take a 9-7 record or less to do it, look for the Glazers to make a strong run at Parcells, who now resides in Jupiter, Florida. Dan Henning, Parcells' offensive coordinator with the Jets, didn't latch on with a team this year and is available.
BONUS NOTE: One more quick item. If you are looking for a basic reason why the Bucs are so dreadful on offense and defense it's poor blocking and poor tackling. That's basic football.
"It's just a matter of playing consistent in those basic areas," Dungy said. "It's a matter of tackling better and blocking better. That's what we need to do."
STAY TUNED ... SR's FAB FIVE - PART II COMING ON WEDNESDAY.
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