QB Luke McCown showed his mobility and pocket presence early in the game, as he rolled out to his right after a play fake and slipped a pass to FB B.J. Askew in the flat before a Saints defender could hit him. Jon Gruden pointed to this play early as one that showed McCown's athleticism and ability to stay out of tough situations.
I liked Gruden's use of short passing routes to allow McCown to establish a rhythm early in the game. That also served to suck the Saints secondary closer to the line of scrimmage and set up the deeper passes to Joey Galloway later in the game.
The key to Galloway's 42-yard reception in the first quarter came down to timing. The Bucs were in a shotgun formation with two backs and two wide receivers, with Galloway set up to the left. He ran a short route up the field — not at full speed — and then cut inside for the slant. Galloway sliced his way between two defenders and McCown rifled the pass between both of them. On a play such as that, the timing must be perfect. A second later and Saints CB Jason David would have picked it off. Galloway turned a 10-yard catch into a 32-yard run after the catch because neither defender could catch up.
Bucs RG Davin Joseph's hold with 7:41 left in the first quarter negated a nice scramble and gain by McCown. It was the first of three key penalties by the offensive line that made life hard on the Bucs offense on Sunday, which has been unusual this season.
Galloway's 60-yard reception was a great example of play action. In a single-back set, McCown took the snap and faked to RB Earnest Graham. As McCown turned and headed to the opposite side, seven Saints remained in the box to stop the run. McCown made an expert fake. Galloway had single coverage wide right. The Saints made a big mistake here, though, goaded partly by an underneath route. Saints S Roman Harper came up to defend a Bucs tight end running a crossing route underneath. With a wide view you can see it all. Harper sucked up to defend the tight end, leaving Galloway's defender in single coverage with a trailing safety. Galloway ran a post, and with his speed he can't be caught. McCown threw a perfect pass.
Bucs RT Jeremy Trueblood's false start with 8:39 to play in the second quarter turned a 3rd-and-4 into a 3rd-and-9 in the Saints red zone. Considering McCown hit Galloway for an 8-yard gain and the Bucs settled for a field goal, it was a pretty critical penalty in the game.
McCown showed more mobility late in the second quarter as he scrambled out of the pocket to run for the first down. The key? His ability to read that he had a chance to cut inside and avoid a tackler to get the necessary two or three more yards for the first down. He did it again in the third quarter as he scrambled to keep a pass play alive, which eventually became a 6-yard pass to Graham. McCown made three different cuts and moves on the scramble to avoid a sack.
Graham's touchdown run featured great blocking on the edge and a great move by Graham. Running in an I-formation, the play shifted right as LG Arron Sears pulled to that side. The Saints were in a four-man front, so C John Wade and Joseph swallowed up a defensive end, leaving Sears and a tight end to set up Graham's crease. Askew helped further as he sealed off the outside by blocking a safety playing the run outside the hashmarks. Sears sealed off the final inside defender and the gap for Graham is pretty wide. After that, Graham had to beat Harper. He even said Monday great backs have to make one guy miss. He did, as Harper misjudged Graham's speed and couldn't break down quickly enough to make the tackle.
McCown's interception was a miscommunication on an audible. McCown read an all-out blitz by the Saints and changed the play. In those situations, quarterbacks and wide receivers must rely on hot reads to make plays. In this case, McCown expected the blitz to come quicker than it did and he felt Galloway would be his hot read. Galloway apparently expected something different and put a double move on the cornerback at the start of the play. Ironically, McCown had enough blocking to take an extra second and wait for Galloway to make his move downfield and it would have led to a long gain, perhaps even a touchdown. It's hard to assess blame in that situation. Teams work on those hot reads all the time and the pair knew what they were doing. But even the best players get their wires crossed occasionally.
McCown's safety was an example of rust, not inexperience. He said Monday that his internal clock hadn't gone off when Saints DE Will Smith sacked him. McCown waited for a crease to throw to Jerramy Stevens that never came. In that case, in his own end zone, he needed to throw the ball away well before he reached the sideline.
McCown's touchdown pass took advantage of a mismatch. The Bucs expected the Saints to be in a goal-line look, but they were in a base defense. Stevens shifted out wide and a cornerback took him in coverage. McCown knew he had a mismatch on the outside and took full advantage. This is an example of a hot read that worked. McCown threw a high stop pass that only Stevens could catch and he made a great grab.
Early in the game Bucs DE Kevin Carter put some pressure on Saints QB Drew Brees, forcing an early throw and incompletion to RB Reggie Bush. Carter pushed through his blocker at the last minute, eventually overcoming TE Eric Johnson. That's a matchup the tight end is going to lose most of the time against Carter.
Just like the season opener against Seattle, the Bucs defense was suckered by a flea-flicker. The execution was similar. Looking at the replay, at the moment Bush pitches the ball back to Brees, I counted seven guys inside the box, leaving four in coverage. Then, as the camera panned back I got a look at the rest of the field. I could see that Bucs CB Phillip Buchanon was in single coverage on Saints WR Marques Colston. At that point, it's a matter of who made the play and Colston did because he had superior position. A play later, when Buchanon gave up the Terrance Copper touchdown catch, there wasn't much he could do. Brees threw this ball perfectly and in a place where only Copper could catch it.
Bucs CB Sammy Davis hasn't done much this year, but he made a great tackle of Colston in the second quarter. The Saints were set in a shotgun formation, with Colston split wide left. The play called for an immediate pass from Brees to Colston. The play went off, but Davis read it perfectly. In fact, he read it so well and anticipated it so acutely that he bypassed the slot receiver — meant to be Colston's lead blocker — and made the tackle for a loss. The blocker never had a chance to get set up to block Davis.
Bush remains a dangerous runner, even inside. He's a player defenses cannot allow to get a second chance at yards. His first-down gain in the second quarter with 5:42 left was a prime example. Bush ran into one of his blockers as he came to the line of scrimmage, but found a nice crease cleared out by his center and left guard to get outside the hashmarks for a 14-yard gain. The Saints also took advantage of the Bucs' defensive scheme on the play, as the unit tried to move the play to the opposite side Bush ran to.
I'm still clueless as to how Bucs S Tanard Jackson was unable to break up Devery Henderson's touchdown catch. He was right there and he turned away at the last minute for reasons that pass understanding. No breakdown.
Remember earlier when I said earlier you have to wrap Bush up before he hurts you? Bucs CB Brian Kelly did that in the third quarter. Bush caught a pass in the flat and before he could get a head of steam Kelly tackled him. The way Kelly tackled him was key. He got Bush at the thighs and knees with a fundamental tackle that took away Bush's ability to drive through the tackle.
Gaines Adams' sack of Brees in third quarter is an example of his growth as a player and his continued understanding of the defensive scheme. Adams came on a stunt. He began as the left end and allowed the inside man, Kevin Carter, forced two Saints blocker to occupy him. With both the right guard and right tackle fighting Carter, Adams could swoop behind Carter and look for an inside path to Brees. He got it as the center decided to help the right guard double team Greg White, which turned into a mistake. It left a big crease for Adams to pursue Brees. Finally, Haye came around the opposite side and forced Brees toward Adams. Brees never had a chance.
Ronde Barber's sack of Brees was a product of confusion on the part of the Saints. Brees was trying to check out of a play and didn't have a time out to use. So Brees had to run the play as is and what he saw — Gaines Adams and Barber coming off the edges — happened.
I'm not a big fan of reverses and end arounds to begin with because there's way too much that can go wrong. But Saints coach Sean Payton's call for a double reverse pitch in the final minutes was absolutely foolish. That sort of play call shouldn't even enter your mind with a three-point lead if you're a NFL head coach. Brees should have been gutsy enough to check out of it, and Bush should have treated the pitch with more care. But it never should have gotten that far.
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Matthew Postins covers the Buccaneers for Bucsblitz.com and the Charlotte (Fla.) Sun-Herald. He is a member of the Pro Football Writers Association, and his coverage of the Buccaneers has won numerous state and national awards.