SR's Fab Five

Sept. 28 - In this week's SR's Fab Five: The inside scoop behind the Bucs' 3-man rush and why it's so effective; the real story as to why the Bucs traded SS David Gibson; the reasons why the Bucs aren't throwing the ball deep; why the Rams aren't likely to make the playoffs this season; why the personal foul on Bucs LB Shelton Quarles was a sickeningly bad call by the refs and much more insight and analysis. Don't miss this 2,200-word edition of SR's Fab Five!

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

FAB 1. The Buccaneers defense's three-man front was impressive against the St. Louis Rams, wasn't it? Lining up defensive tackle Warren Sapp at defensive end alongside nose tackle Anthony McFarland and defensive end Simeon Rice was a stroke of genius by defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin and defensive line coach Rod Marinelli. The Bucs were able to get ample pressure with three defensive linemen because of Kurt Warner's immobility.

That means that the Bucs won't be unleashing this new look against the Cincinnati Bengals this Sunday as the team won't be facing Gus Frerotte or Jon Kitna at quarterback, but rather the mobile Akili Smith.

"There are more holes and more escape lanes when you only rush three," Marinelli pointed out. "But against a pocket passer, you end up getting some nice one-on-ones. McFarland was a big factor. Mac really pushed the center well. That allowed the ends to get deeper and really pressure Warner."

The big reason why the three-man front is effective is that the defense is dropping eight players into coverage and taking away a quarterback's quicker throws. This forces the quarterback to hold on to the ball longer and allows one of the three rushers time to beat the five blocking linemen, especially when they are as talented as Sapp, McFarland and Rice.

It's worth mentioning that flip-flopping the starting defensive ends in the Bucs' four-man front was also effective. On a few snaps, Rice rushed from the left end position and faced rookie right tackle John St. Clair, who was a center in college, while Greg Spires rushed from the right side and squared off against Pro Bowl left tackle Orlando Pace. Rice had a phenomenal game against Warner, collecting his first sack of the season, delivering a hit that caused a wobbly pass that was picked off by Dexter Jackson, intercepting a Warner pass out of a zone blitz play call, forcing a fumble, and knocking down three passes.

FAB 2. The Buccaneers got a seventh-round draft pick for strong safety David Gibson, who was traded to the Indianapolis Colts this week to make room for linebacker Jack Golden to return to Tampa Bay. This roster move has several levels and I'll try to explain those levels to you.

First, the team simply thought that Gibson was the least promising of the Bucs' backup safeties, which includes John Howell and rookie Jermaine Phillips. Both Howell and Phillips had impressive preseasons on defense as well as special teams, while Gibson has starred on special teams, but has yet to make his mark on defense.

Now the physical Howell moves primarily to strong safety to back up John Lynch while the more athletic Phillips is the sole backup to free safety Dexter Jackson. But the fact that both safety positions are interchangeable is helpful to both Phillips and Howell.

"I'm just trying to get better at the free safety position right now, but I think I can play either," Phillips said. "They're basically interchangeable. You're in the box a lot at both positions. It's just a matter of who is in the box more."

"I felt comfortable this preseason because Jermaine was backing up free and Dave was backing up strong," Howell said. "I was backing up both of them floating in between free and strong. It's great knowing both positions. But the game plan now is that I'm the back up strong. As far as Gibby, we all loved that guy here, but it's a great opportunity for him. It's a chance for him to possibly start up there."

While trading Gibson thins out the Bucs' safeties, it also thins out their special teams. That's where the signing of Golden comes in. Golden was one of the better special teams performers in the preseason, but just didn't shine at linebacker on defense like newcomers Ryan Nece and Justin Smith did. The fact that Derrick Brooks missed some practice time and may miss Sunday's game at Cincinnati due to a pulled hamstring is another big reason why Golden was brought back. The Bucs now have six linebackers on their active roster and Smith on the practice squad.

The Bucs were actively shopping Gibson, who didn't have many allies left in the building once former secondary coach Herman Edwards and head coach Tony Dungy left. The Bucs are real high on Phillips, and defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin essentially stood on the war room table two years ago and insisted that Tampa Bay draft Howell. Now Gibson, who was chastised by management for having a weekly call-in segment on 620 AM WDAE despite being a role player, is reunited with Dungy and has a chance to flourish in Indy.

The New York Jets also had some minimal interest in trading for Gibson, but the Colts were ready to pull the trigger while the Jets wanted to wait a week or two.

FAB 3. Fans keep wanting the Buccaneers to go downfield and make big, vertical plays in the passing game, but there are two problems with this issue. The first is that the Bucs haven't had many opportunities to go downfield with the ball. Against New Orleans, quarterback Brad Johnson rarely had enough time to get off a 5- or 10-yard pass due to the Saints' relentless pass rush, much less a 50-yard bomb.

Two weeks ago in Baltimore, there were a couple of big plays to be had in the passing game, but Johnson couldn't connect on them. In the second half of that game, the Bucs wisely chose to sit on an 18-point lead and work on their woeful running game rather than risk turnovers that would give the Ravens hope and new life on offense.

Last Monday against the Rams, neither St. Louis nor Tampa Bay was able to go downfield with the ball. Sure, Isaac Bruce got free down the deep middle of the field, but couldn't pull in a Kurt Warner pass near the Bucs' 5-yard line. That play was the exception. Warner's other deep throw was picked off by Dexter Jackson after being hit by Simeon Rice.

The longest play from scrimmage in the Bucs-Rams clash was Torry Holt's 25-yard catch. That's it -- a 25-yard play. That's because both teams play a very good Cover 2 scheme that typically prohibits any big plays downfield when executed properly. When the Bucs play against Cover 2, they aren't going to get many vertical plays in the passing game. Few teams do.

The second reason has been addressed in this column before. Johnson isn't looking to take chances by throwing the ball downfield. That should change as Gruden has instructed him to take more opportunities with downfield throws. Expect the Bucs to go long against Cincinnati.

FAB 4. Last year on my Buccaneer Blitz radio show on 620 AM WDAE, I boldly predicted that the Cincinnati Bengals would give the Buccaneers a hard time after the Bucs beat the Rams at St. Louis 24-17. I said that this wasn't your father's Bengals and they didn't disappoint, with Pro Bowl running back Corey Dillon scoring a touchdown with under a minute left to tie the game at 20-20 and force overtime. During the overtime period, Dillon fumbled at the Bengals 3-yard line after a vicious hit by strong safety John Lynch, who also recovered the fumble to set up Martin Gramatica's game-winning field goal.

That was then. This is now. This is your father's Bengals team. This is an 0-3 team -- a bad 0-3 team without much going for it. After three blowout losses, the team turns to its third quarterback, Akili Smith, to try to find some answers. The quarterback position has long held back the Bengals, and it's doubtful that Smith, a former first-round draft pick, who has pretty much been a bust, will make much of a difference. Cincy would have been better off trading for Drew Bledsoe, which they were contemplating for a while before the Buffalo Bills pulled the trigger on the deal.

The Bengals have some talent at wide receiver, offensive tackle, defensive end and linebacker, as well as Dillon, but the secondary and the defensive tackle spots have been constant weaknesses on the team. The Bengals only have three sacks and have yet to record an interception or recover a fumble.

I expect the Bucs to cruise past the Bengals en route to a 3-1 record and a showdown next week with new NFC South division rival Atlanta. In fact, one of my insiders let it slip that the team had already done some film study of the Falcons. What ever happened to taking one game at a time and not looking past any opponent? Well, the Bucs are playing the Bengals, and it just so happens that the Bengals played the Falcons last Sunday. How convenient. The Bucs get to take a look at their next two opponents at once.

FAB 5. A few parting shots:

- I'll go on record and say that the St. Louis Rams are done. Stick a fork in them. I've heard some of the talking heads on television and the bigwig writers say that the Rams will be back this year and become a force in the playoffs. Let's see, they're 0-3, which means they'll have to win 10 out of their next 13 games this season just to finish 10-6. Aside from a desperate Dallas Cowboys (1-2) team this week, the Rams will have to face the San Francisco 49ers (2-1) twice, the Oakland Raiders (2-0), the San Diego Chargers (3-0), the defensive-minded Chicago Bears (2-1), a tough Kansas City Chiefs (1-2) team that is better than their record, a Washington Redskins (1-2) team that figures to be better later in the season, and a Philadelphia Eagles (2-1) team with revenge on its mind. I don't know about you, but I see more than three losses out of this list of opponents. The only way I think the Rams make the playoffs is with a 9-7 record that comes from sweeping the 49ers and winning the NFC West division. If the Bucs have to face the Rams in the playoffs, mark it down as four straight St. Louis defeats at the hands of Tampa Bay. These Buccaneers don't believe they can lose to the Rams anymore.

- I think Keyshawn Johnson's 21-yard fingertip catch while sliding out of bounds against St. Louis on Monday night was one of the best catches I've ever seen. The Bucs have a surplus of capable weapons on offense -- Johnson, Keenan McCardell, Ken Dilger, Rickey Dudley, Joe Jurevicius, Mike Alstott and Michael Pittman -- but I think Jon Gruden's offense would be best served if Johnson and Pittman become the primary focal points. Gruden might be too interested in spreading the ball around that his weapons don't get into rhythm.

- The personal foul on Tampa Bay middle linebacker Shelton Quarles in the third quarter of the Bucs-Rams game was weak, especially since it cost the Bucs defense a third-and-long situation and gave St. Louis a first down. Referee Johnny Greer called Quarles for unnecessary roughness on the play for hitting Rams receiver Yo Murphy while Murphy was on the ground. I'm sorry, but when did Murphy become a quarterback? I mean when do receivers who have yet to be down by contact get the protection from officials that is only reserved for quarterbacks who slide? Then to hear Rams apologist John Madden proclaim "It was a helmet-to-helmet hit, a late hit and all of those things" while cohort Al Michaels chimed in with "and he was a defenseless player." Excuse me, does the NFL still believe in "tackle" football or just "two-hand touch?" What lame excuses from two broadcasters who had the benefit of watching several replays before blurting out their buffoonery. Quarles led with his forearm, and the hit was not helmet-to-helmet. There is no such thing as a late hit on any one except for the quarterback until the whistle has been blown. The play was still live and Murphy could have gotten up and ran for yardage. And what was with Michaels saying he was a "defenseless player?" I've never heard that one before.

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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