Tampa Bay will place four players on its injury report this week as the Bucs begin to prepare for the Cleveland Browns. The extent of each injury will be determined later Monday.
"We have four players that will all be questionable for the game," Bucs head coach Jon Gruden said. "John Lynch has a right knee sprain, Mike Alstott has a left ankle sprain, Anthony McFarland a left foot sprain, and Kenyatta Walker is improving with his left ankle and we are listing him as questionable for this game. We will know a little bit more about the extent of these injuries later on today."
THREE IN A ROAD:
Not only has Tampa Bay won three consecutive contests on the road, but they're undefeated on the road this season (3-0). Tampa Bay's win over Atlanta on Sunday was big in terms playoff positioning, but it was an even bigger feat since it was the Bucs' first road win in October since 1995. The Bucs will play two of its next three games on the road, including contests at Philadelphia and at Carolina. Gruden said he hopes the team will continue to build on its huge road win from Sunday.
"Three wins on the road are very exciting," said Gruden. "It's something we don't take lightly here. We've played particularly great defense on the road. I don't believe there are a lot of teams that have gone three consecutive road games without yielding a touchdown, but these men have done that. But we're very proud of that. Winning a road game in October has been a tough thing to get around here. We're pleased to put that to rest."
RUNNING ON EMPTY?:
Tampa Bay's running game hasn't been very impressive thus far and the Bucs are still trying to figure out how to remedy its problems. The Bucs are averaging just 3.2 yards per carry and 76.8 yards rushing per game and they haven't had a 100-yard rusher through five games this season.
Bucs running back Michael Pittman has rushed 74 times for 256 yards (3.5 avg.) and he hasn't scored a touchdown yet this season. Fullback Mike Alstott has rushed 33 times for 82 yards (2.5 avg.), but he has scored two rushing touchdowns. Although neither backs' statistics have been impressive, Gruden said people shouldn't be too quick to blame Pittman and/or Alstott for the team's running woes.
"I get tired of answering the same question each week," Gruden said when asked about the running game. "We're going to continue to work at it. I look around this league and I see some teams that have been in the top echelon each year in terms of running the ball. I see Pittsburgh and Tennessee struggling to run the ball, too. It's a hard thing to do. We need to continue to be creative and we obviously need healthy offensive linemen because that's where it all starts.
"We've got to run better, we've got to block better and we've got to coach better. That's the bottom line."
Tampa Bay rushed for just 74 yards and averaged just 2.8 yards per carry against Atlanta. But Gruden was encouraged by Tampa Bay's improvement in the running game during the second half against the Falcons.
"I think Mike (Pittman) is not alone in terms of how we can get (the running game established)," said Gruden. "We have to give him some better looks in the running game and certainly he has to continue to be a force in the passing game. There were a couple of balls we got a little bit sloppy on yesterday. We're looking at this guy becoming a force in this league and in this offense. (Pittman) did get some opportunities yesterday and he made the most of some of those. We need to try to increase the production when it's all said and done."
AS GOOD AS IT GETS?:
Tampa Bay's defense has scored four touchdowns and weakside linebacker Derrick Brooks leads the team in touchdowns scored with three this season. The Bucs have not allowed an offensive touchdown on the road this season and they're only allowing opponents to score an average of 10.6 points per game. Gruden said Tampa Bay's defensive performance thus far reminds him of the Baltimore Ravens' defense in 2000, which eventually led the team to a Super Bowl championship that same season.
"It's very exciting," said Gruden. "I remember the team that won the Super Bowl just recently played the length of a season like that. They played like that into the playoffs and into the Super Bowl game just like that. That's what we're shooting for. But we're playing extremely well on defense. The standards are there for us to play like that on defense because we're very talented, we know what we're doing and we believe in the concept of this defense. Guys are healthy, in shape and running right now."
The defense is only allowing 81 yards rushing and 180 yards passing per game and they're ranked in the Top 10 in the NFL in all three defensive categories.
"It's not about anybody else, it's about us and that's the theme really," said Gruden. "I think that's the theme the defense has established around here for the last five or six years. It's not about who we play, it's about how we play them. If we're "on it", we're a darn good defense that's capable of being dominant. That's rushing the passer, that's congesting running lanes and that's creating turnovers. They've played to those standards."
But Gruden stopped short of saying Tampa Bay's defense was of the same caliber as Baltimore's record-breaking defense in 2000.
"We don't even want to go that way," Gruden said. "We've got a lot to prove, man. We have got to prove a lot. Winning a road game in October was our No. 1 objective. Now our No. 2 objective is to win another football game. Maybe later, a lot later in the season, we can have this conversation. Right now, they've been a big part of our 4-1 start and they've got to be a big part of winning another football game and I think that's where we're going to leave our attention right now."
DEFENESE GETS SOME HELPING HANDS:
Depth was a concern on Tampa Bay's defense during training camp, but as it turns out, the Bucs have been just fine in terms of defensive depth because the Bucs' younger players have stepped up and worked their way into the rotation during games.
Bucs nickel cornerback Dwight Smith recorded two interceptions against Atlanta and has notched eight tackles this season. Bucs defensive end Ellis Wyms has recorded 10 tackles and two sacks as a backup. Bucs backup defensive tackle Chuck Darby has recorded seven tackles and 0.5 sacks this season.
Needless to say, Gruden has been pleasantly surprised to see the younger defensive players step up and replace the depth some thought the Bucs had lost on defense.
"(Depth) was a major question before the start of the season," Gruden said. "We lost some quality players on defense and that definitely was a big question coming into this training camp. But we really like the depth we have in the secondary with Dwight Smith. We have a young corner who we haven't really suited up yet in (Tim) Wansley. Nate Webster is a very good linebacker and he can play in any particular phase of our defense. We think Ryan Nece is a guy that's really showed up in our kicking game and he gives us another athletic linebacker. Rod Marinelli rolls that defensive line a lot. (Chartric) Darby is playing well and (Ellis) Wyms has played well. We've got some versatility and some depth on that side of the ball as well as some hallmark playmakers there."
BUCS PREPARE FOR ANGRY DOGS:
Tampa Bay will play at home against the 2-3 Cleveland Browns on Sunday. The Browns, who lost to the Ravens at home on Sunday night, 26-21, will come into Raymond James as a desperate team.
"It was a very impressive victory on the road for the Ravens," said Gruden, who caught some of the Cleveland-Baltimore game on Sunday night. "From what I understand, Cleveland really fought back and put themselves in position to win and that says a lot about the character of their team. They've lost two heartbreakers in successive weeks and this is a team that's going to play us hard for 60 minutes and we know that.
"We want to play our best football at home. The Cleveland Browns are coming in here as a very irritated and a very upset football team. We need our crowns and hopefully it's a nice, hot, warm and sunny day. I know it will be an exciting atmosphere."
The Bucs have never defeated the Browns during the regular season, which might be a statistic that will serve as the team's motivation for the week.
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