1. I witnessed something that I have never seen before in a football game on Sunday in Tampa Bay's 21-20 loss to the Green Bay Packers for the 13th straight time at Lambeau Field. On Allen Rossum's game-winning 55-yard punt return touchdown in the fourth quarter, a total of six Buccaneer players slipped and fell on the turf without being blocked by a Packer.
Bucs running back Aaron Stecker was blocked in the back during the return, an illegal block that was not flagged by the officials during the game - although the NFL offered up a meaningless apology to Bucs special teams coach Joe Marciano on Thursday, but Stecker wasn't even one of the six Bucs that I noticed hitting the turf in my film study this week.
Long snapper Sean McDermott slipped. Linebacker Jeff Gooch slipped. Free safety David Gibson slipped. Linebacker Nate Webster slipped. Running back and special teams ace Rabih Abdullah slipped. Punter Mark Royals slipped. No wonder Rossum scored. It's easy to score on a punt return when you only have to worry about five possible tacklers.
Tampa Bay's special teams' unit was victim to unusually long grass at Lambeau Field, which was allowed to grow to combat the Bucs' speed. The Packers' cleats were a little bit longer, which helped them get better traction than the Bucs. The Lambeau Field mystique got the Bucs on Sunday - even though the tundra was not frozen this time.
2. Is there a locker room problem in Tampa Bay right now? Yes and no. Several Bucs have not taken too kindly to rookie left tackle Kenyatta Walker, who has had an average to below-average rookie year. Walker has come across as arrogant and thinks he's a veteran just because he's a starter.
Word has it he didn't get along too well with some veterans over the summer because he signed on to do a radio show, which is strange for a rookie, and was rather bossy in the locker room. Walker must think his first-round draft pick status gives him automatic clout, which it does not. The fact that his attitude is compounded by inconsistent play has not endeared him to his teammates during his struggles.
Our sources also say that he has also had a recent run in with offensive line coach Chris Foerster and head coach Tony Dungy. Don't be surprised to see Walker benched in favor of veteran Pete Pierson if he doesn't bring his "A" game to Detroit. Walker is not happy and frustrated about his play. The problem is, so are his teammates who aren't cutting him any slack because of his alleged attitude.
3. Speaking of locker room problems, imagine if the Bucs actually lost to the winless Detroit Lions at the Pontiac Silverdome this weekend. The team has thought of that scenario and it is a scary sight.
Starting off 3-4 is one thing, but there is a BIG difference between 4-4 and 3-5. A 4-4 record means that a team must get its act together to get to 10 wins and a playoff berth. A 3-5 record means the team must gets its act together to get to an 8-8 mark and avoid a losing season.
Tampa Bay had a very serious, workmanlike week of practice this week. But the team seems a little tight and pensive heading up to Detroit. The Bucs can't afford to play tight. They have to play loose, have some fun, take some chances and let it all hang out against the Lions. There's no question that a lot is riding on this game. Warren Sapp called it the most important game he's played in over his seven-year stint in Tampa Bay.
If the Bucs lose at Detroit, I think the Bucs' locker room will implode and head coach Tony Dungy can start looking at possible defensive coordinator positions next season. Yes, a 3-5 start for this team would be that bad.
4. The Bucs will keep blitzing strong safety John Lynch and middle linebacker Jamie Duncan this year, even though both players have whiffed on several easy sacks this season (including one each last week against Green Bay) by coming at the quarterback out of control. But don't be surprised if the team calls more free safety blitzes rather than strong safety and middle linebacker blitzes. Free safety Dexter Jackson recorded his first NFL sack against Brett Favre last week and even stripped the Packers quarterback of the ball.
Bucs coach Tony Dungy told me that his blitzers need to focus on taking the quarterback down rather than going for a kill shot on the QB or hesitating to bat the ball down in case the QB throws the ball before the blitzer arrives.
"You just have to go in and realize what your job is," Dungy said. "They have to get the quarterback down. It's coming in with the idea that the guy is not going to throw it. We practice it where they'll throw and we'll try to bat the ball down, but they don't always throw during the game. They have to come in fundamentally sound and zero in on him."
5. So what happened on Ahman Green's long touchdown run against Tampa Bay last week, which really shifted momentum in Green Bay's favor in the third quarter? Call it a textbook play by the Packers.
The play was called 92 blast, which is an off-tackle play to the right side. The play is supposed to take advantage of John Lynch's penchant for creeping up toward the line of scrimmage on running plays. At the snap of the ball, right tackle Mark Tauscher sealed off defensive end Marcus Jones.
Warren Sapp crashed the "A" gap between the center and the right guard. The Packers' right guard, Marco Rivera, took advantage of Sapp moving towards the interior of the line instead of the exterior, which allowed him get to the next level and seal off Derrick Brooks. Green Bay fullback
William Henderson hit and sealed off free safety Dexter Jackson, who caught the block instead of filling the gap, which provided the kickout block for Green's 63-yard run. After Jackson was blocked, receiver Corey Bradford sealed off Brian Kelly along the sidelines which left only Lynch having a shot at Green. Lynch took a bad angle - and poof! - touchdown Green Bay.
Watching this play over and over again (sometimes in slow motion) on my VCR was a thing of beauty. It's just like the coaches drew it up. Green was virtually untouched on the play. Watching the Packers do it makes me wonder why the Bucs rarely have a perfect play on offense.
After watching every play of the Bucs offensive line in the Packers game, there were at least one or two breakdowns among the line on every single play. That means that only three-out-of-five or four-out-of-five offensive linemen are executing properly on a given play.
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