Questions about Jeff Garcia's range and timing as a quarterback on deep passes at age 37 were answered on Sunday.
Early in the first quarter Tampa Bay faced 2nd-and-9 from the Buccaneers' 26-yard line. Tampa Bay is in an I-formation, with tight end Alex Smith on the right side of the line. Ike Hilliard came in motion from the right side and into the left slot and Joey Galloway was split wide to the left. Cornerback Kelly Jennings was in tight coverage on Galloway.
At the snap, Garcia dropped back and had good protection. Running back Carnell Williams released into the flat. But Garcia has enough time to step up and let the play develop. That's when he hit Galloway for a 49-yard strike to the Seattle 25, the play that set up Matt Bryant's first field goal.
Jennings had fair position on Galloway, and the veteran receiver had to wrestle the ball away from Jennings on the way down to make the catch.
Galloway was one-on-one on Jennings and started outside. Jennings chose not to play bump and run coverage, which was a mistake with the speedy Galloway. The receiver ran a go route, which requires the quarterback to deliver the ball with perfect timing.
Garcia did. Galloway caught the ball in stride and on his outside shoulder, which made it impossible for Jennings to get both hands on the football as they went to the ground. This is the kind of play the Buccaneers struggled with last year when Bruce Gradkowski was quarterback and a perfect illustration of how Garcia can help the offense be more productive on deep routes.
Later in the article we'll look at a safety play that failed because the safety recognized a bit too late what happened. Here is a play where a safety sniffed out the play so fast you might have missed it.
Facing 2nd-and-7 at the Tampa Bay 35, the Seahawks went for some razzle-dazzle. The Seahawks were in an I-formation with receivers split wide to each side. The Bucs were in a standard 4-3, with safety Jermaine Phillips playing up with the linebackers in run support.
Seahawks quarterback Matt Hasselbeck took the snap and handed it off to running back Shaun Alexander. Left tackle Walter Jones is standing in the hole on the left side as Alexander pivots to toss the ball back to Hasselbeck.
At this point, Phillips already recognizes what's going on. His only obstacle right now is Jones, standing in the hole Phillips needs to get to Hasselbeck.
Then Jones, inexplicably, moves to his right. He appeared to be scanning the line for possible blitzers and was unaware that Phillips was moving at warp speed toward Hasselbeck, who moved up in the pocket because end Gaines Adams put some outside pressure on him. By the time Hasselbeck gets the ball from Alexander, Phillips darted past the line of scrimmage and Jones.
Hasselbeck never had a chance. He lost 11 yards on the sack.
This was a perfect example of game planning in action. The Bucs probably broke this play down and knew the keys to look for, and Phillips did a great job recognizing the play before it even developed.
What didn't work
There were indications that Tampa Bay's run defense was taking a hit as early as the second quarter, when Alexander rushed for an 18-yard gain on 2nd-and-1 from the Seattle 46.
The Seahawks were in an I-formation with Mack Strong at fullback and receivers split wide to each side. The Bucs were in their standard Cover 2, with all three linebackers inside the box. They expect run and get it.
Alexander ran behind the left guard, Rob Sims, and Jones.
But the play didn't start that way. Strong, along with the rest of the line, blocked to the right side, showing the Bucs a look that said run to the right. The Bucs bite. Most of their run stoppers are inside the box, with the exception of right end Gaines Adams, who was in a losing battle with Jones.
Alexander's path to the left is clear. He can run to the spot vacated by Sims and there's only one tackler to beat — rookie Tanard Jackson. It's hard to say what Jackson recognized at this point, but he knows the play is coming to him. He sprints toward the gaping hole on the left side to try and make a play. But he comes in too fast to read how well Hasselbeck disguised the handoff. It looked like a play fake. By the time Jackson realized Alexander has the ball, all he could do was try and use his left arm to trip up Alexander. It didn't work.
Eighteen yards later Jermaine Phillips made the tackle. The play worked because the Seahawks were able to sell their fake to the left.
Coaches preach ball protection, and Earnest Graham's inability to do that on Sunday led to a late turnover.
Tampa Bay was at the Seattle 21 late in the game, trying to make it a one possession game. It's 2nd-and-5 from the Seahawks 21.
The Bucs were in a no-huddle shotgun formation. Graham was to Garcia's right side. The Bucs had two receivers split left and one split right. The Seahawks are in a nickel defensive formation.
Seattle sent four rushers. Graham held briefly and then slipped out up the middle. Graham found the middle linebacker, Lofa Tatupu, juked him and ran a pattern to the left. Graham scored on this play in the preseason.
Garcia threw it perfectly to Graham, who remained in stride even with Tatupu on his back. A safety came over to help from the right.
Graham appeared to have a big play until Tatupu knocked the ball out of Graham's left arm, causing a fumble and a turnover.
The end zone camera showed the play perfectly. Graham had a good grip on the football, but he left the back of the ball exposed through his armpit. Tatupu found enough of an opening to punch his arm through and jar the ball loose.
At that critical juncture of the game, Graham must have a better grip on the football, or even get two arms around the ball. Unfortunately, Tatupu didn't allow him enough time to do so.
Film Session bonus: Someone turned me on to taking a second look at the hit that caused running back Carnell Williams' injury. Was it a spear by Lofa Tatupu that caused the injury? It certainly looked that way. Tatupu appeared to lead with his head and use his helmet to hit Williams in the ribs. The basic definition is one player tackling another with their helmet. Tatupu definitely led with his helmet. There's no doubt when you look at the replay. Spearing in the NFL, however, usually isn't called unless the official believes it's intentional, and it's really hard to detect intent when a player is going full speed. By the letter of the rule, though, the NFL should review this play.
Matthew Postins covers the Buccaneers for BucsBlitz.com and the Charlotte Sun-Herald in Port Charlotte, Fla. He is a member of the Pro Football Writers Association and has won national awards for his Buccaneers coverage from the PFWA, the National Newspaper Association and the Associated Press Sports Editors. He is also a contributor to the Scot Brantley Show from 4-7 p.m. weekdays on WHBO 1490-AM in Tampa-Clearwater.