SR's Fab Five

Sept. 13 - Why was QB Brad Johnson impressive in Sunday's loss to New Orleans? Will the Bucs start using the shotgun? Should the Bucs have kept Terrell Buckley over Dwight Smith and Corey Ivy? Were the Bucs ready for an overtime contest to start the season? Who gave up the blocked field goal and who gave up TE Boo Williams' 32-yard touchdown? What was wrong with SS John Lynch on Sunday? SR's Fab Five has the surprising answers to all of those questions in this week's edition.

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Copyright 2002 Pewter Report/
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Here's five things that caught my interest this week:

FAB 1. Looking back at the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' 26-20 overtime loss to New Orleans, I gained an awful lot of respect for quarterback Brad Johnson. Johnson isn't a flashy player, nor will he ever be, but he showed great toughness and excellent decision-making against the Saints. Although he was only sacked three times in the season opener, Johnson was hit by New Orleans' defenders on about half of his 52 pass attempts.

Johnson, who came to Tampa Bay as a player described as injury-prone, has done nothing to live up to that reputation. In fact, he's destroying that reputation. Johnson started all 17 games last year, including the Wild Card playoff loss at Philadelphia. Moreover, he survived home games against Green Bay and Pittsburgh, in which the Steelers' defense sacked him 10 time. Johnson stayed healthy last year, and showed his resiliency this year by absorbing close to two dozen hits against New Orleans.

The other quality Johnson showed, great decision-making, was evident in the amount of times that he threw the ball away to avoid a sack. Johnson admitted that he purposefully threw the ball away 13 times to avoid negative yardage against the Saints. He also didn't throw an interception nor did he even come close, which is amazing considering the amount of times he threw the ball.

Another nice thing about Johnson that you have to admire is that he's gotten over his shyness about throwing into the end zone. In the preseason contest against Washington, Johnson threw a short touchdown pass into the end zone to Keenan McCardell. Last Sunday, he accomplished the same feat, hitting McCardell in the end zone for a touchdown. Despite constant pressure, and rarely having the time to look deep, Johnson is off to a good start this season with two touchdown passes.

One last note about the Bucs' starting quarterback. Expect Johnson to line up in the shotgun at some point this season if the offensive line doesn't come together and provide better pass protection. Head coach Jon Gruden said that the shotgun will be apart of his offense in Tampa Bay, but not this year. If Johnson continues to get hit, sacked and run for his life, Gruden may be installing it sooner than he thinks.

FAB 2. Several Bucs fans are scratching their heads after watching Tampa Bay's corners fail to make any plays on the ball against New Orleans, then witnessing Terrell Buckley get two picks for New England on Monday Night Football. Those fans have to be wondering why the Bucs kept young players like Corey Ivy, Tim Wansley and Dwight Smith instead of a veteran like Buckley, who is known for getting his hands on errant passes.

For the answer, I went straight to Smith to let him explain why he is the Bucs' nickel back instead of Buckley.

"If everybody just wants interceptions, let's go to the stat book and see how many touchdowns Terrell Buckley's given up, too," Smith said. "If that's what you want, that's what you want. He didn't buy into our scheme, and the young guys bought into it more. It's a disciplined defense. Monte Kiffin wants you in a certain position at a certain time, and Terrell Buckley wasn't buying into that. That's the thing that kept me here over Terrell Buckley is the fact that I bought into the defense and I believed in the defense. I'm going to be where I'm supposed to be instead of taking chances. The two times I took chances in preseason I got beat -- against Rod Gardner and against Miami. It seems to work. When you do what they tell you, it seems to work.

"Interceptions are overrated. It's one play. If I got an interception against New Orleans, but I gave up a touchdown, what would you think of that? I gave up 18 yards of receiving and some fans even say I'm giving up too much cushion."

After watching the game film, I noticed that Smith wasn't getting picked on by New Orleans as I had anticipated. He wasn't the target for opposing quarterbacks that he was in the preseason. Quarterbacks are still picking on Brian Kelly, who gave up more yardage than Smith did on Sunday, and was involved in Donte` Stallworth's 41-yard touchdown pass.

Even though Smith says interceptions are overrated, both he and Kelly must play the ball better and must come up with turnovers this year. Smith, who enters his second year in the NFL, has yet to record an interception, and Kelly has just one pick in the last 42 game, and did not record an interception last year. In fact, it's been 22 games since his last interception, which is quite a drought.

FAB 3. Appearances can be deceiving, that's why we at Pewter Report and watch the game film over and over, break it down and ask the players, coaches and personnel department for the real story behind what transpires on Sundays.

Fans may think that Bucs long snapper Mike Solwold was beaten by Saints defensive end Darren Howard on Martin Gramatica's blocked field goal just before halftime, but he wasn't the guilty party.

Saints defensive tackle Grady Jackson grabbed the inside shoulder of guard Russ Hochstein and pulled him to Jackson's right, which created a seam between Hochstein and Cornell Green. Howard was quick off the ball and beat Green to the seam. One quick swim move and Howard slithered through the seam to block Gramatica's kick.

Another deceiving play was the 32-yard touchdown pass to Saints tight end Boo Williams. That was strong safety John Lynch's fault, right? Nope.

The Bucs defense was running Cover 2 on that play and the responsibility for the deep middle of the field falls on the middle linebacker. Middle linebacker Shelton Quarles did not get deep enough in his drop into coverage and Lynch was late coming over with the help.

Lynch doesn't escape blame for that play, but it does not rest solely on his shoulders. In Cover 2, Quarles must drop deeper into coverage to take away that hole in the zone which gave New Orleans quarterback Aaron Brooks a nice opening in which to hit Williams.

If you noticed Lynch not playing up to his standards against the Saints by missing tackles, and not making his trademark clutch plays in the secondary, there was a reason. Lynch played the game with a fever of 102 degrees and was basically bed-ridden the next day. The fever overcame him just before halftime and he left for the locker room early to receive fluids.

FAB 4. I think the Bucs made a mistake by not playing with their starters enough in the preseason. Starting quarterback Brad Johnson rarely played a full quarter in the preseason before giving way to Rob Johnson in the first quarter or at the start of the second.

The offensive line typically played the entire first half of each preseason game, which was good, but Brad Johnson needed to be under center to get a feel for his pocket, or lack thereof. The increased familiarity with his line in game situations may have allowed him to buy some more time in the pocket before rolling out or throwing the ball away.

The fact that the Buccaneers went into overtime for their first game in the sweltering Florida heat and humidity caught the team off guard. Despite having the energy to mount a fourth quarter comeback against New Orleans, the Bucs were tired, especially on defense. I didn't think the first-string defense was in top game shape as it seemed to wear out quickly after a long first quarter in which New Orleans was able to convert third down conversions at will.

Sure, the Bucs defense stiffened as the game went along, but the defense seemed to get their second wind after a 15-minute halftime period and cooler temperatures in the second half. I know that with Gruden being a new head coach, he had to evaluate a lot of talent for the first time. Hopefully he will choose to play his starters on offense and defense longer next preseason.

FAB 5. A few parting shots:

I'm sorry, but I do believe in the Sports Illustrated jinx. As soon as the cover came out with Gruden and Warren Sapp on the cover, I got a bad feeling about the season opener. Prior to seeing the cover, I though the Bucs would easily handle the Saints. As it got closer to kickoff I became more and more unsure.

I also laughed when Sports Illustrated's football expert, Paul "Dr. Z" Zimmerman, stupidly picked the Bucs to go 13-3 this year. Did this guy even watch the Bucs play in the preseason? I sure as hell didn't see him out at Bucs training camp in Orlando. Zimmerman must have had a lot more faith in the Bucs' woeful offensive line than I did. I picked the Bucs to go 10-6 this season, and actually waffled between 10-6 and 9-7. But I went with 10-6 because the addition of Gruden, his playcalling, Bill Muir and a lot more talented players on offense had to add up to at least one more win. The Bucs can lose five out of their next 15 and I'm still on target -- even though I picked them to win the season opener. Dr. Z's margin of error? The Bucs can only lose two more games in his book.

The Bucs better win at Baltimore because they can't afford to go 0-2 into the St. Louis game, which will be live on Monday Night Football at Raymond James Stadium in two weeks. Tampa Bay thinks it has the Rams' number after beating him twice over the last two seasons, but they also thought that way about New Orleans after drubbing them 48-21 last year. But a win at Baltimore this weekend gives Tampa Bay some much needed confidence heading into a tough NFC showdown. An 0-3 start for the Pewter Pirates would be disastrous.

Copyright 2002 Pewter Report/
This story is intended to be read only by Club Insiders only and Sharing of the Club content with non-subscribers of this service can result in cancellation of your subscription to the service and/or further actions by the publishers.

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