Copyright 2002 Pewter Report/PewterReport.com
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Here's five things that caught my interest this week:
FAB 1. Why will the Tampa Bay Buccaneers beat the New Orleans Saints in a long-awaited rematch on the bayou? It would be simple to say that the Bucs are playing better and the Saints are playing worse, however that is a true statement. But I'll go further in depth in my analysis.
Cornerbacks Brian Kelly and Dwight Smith are playing exceptionally well, and both have the confidence that sometimes only interceptions can bring. Kelly leads the NFL with six and Smith has three. They don't match-up particularly well against speedsters like Joe Horn, Jerome Pathon and Donte` Stallworth in man coverage, so expect the Bucs to play a healthy dose of cover 2 to prevent the big play downfield.
Tampa Bay's special teams are more fortified right now as opposed to Week 1 when Martin Gramatica had a field goal blocked by Saints defensive end Darren Howard. Punter Tom Tupa was also pressured into throwing an interception in the end zone in overtime, which ultimately ended the game when linebacker James Allen picked off the pass for a touchdown.
I think the Bucs will also be jacked up by the large number of fans who will be in attendance at the Superdome. There are expected to be as many as 20,000 fans dressed in red and pewter at the game, which may be a bit deflating for the New Orleans Saints players.
The two factors that will determine who wins this game are third down conversions allowed and the Saints' success in the red zone. I feel the Bucs offense will score points, but the defense will have to rise up and atone for an awful first half against New Orleans on opening day. Saints quarterback Aaron Brooks couldn't miss, and his team converted six of the first seven third downs and finished with a 50 percent conversion rate for the game.
The Saints are converting 43.4 percent of their third downs on the season, while the Bucs' defense is only allowing a league-best 30.8 percent on third downs.
This game pits the Saints' No. 1 red zone offense vs. the Bucs' No. 1 red zone defense. Out of 40 red zone possessions, the Saints have scored 24 touchdowns, which is good for a league-best 60 percent TD conversion rate. The Bucs defense has only allowed five touchdowns in just 21 trips, which is a TD conversion rate of 23.8 percent.
FAB 2. It's easy to see why running back Deuce McAllister is the most important player on the New Orleans Saints roster. He has hardly played over the last couple of weeks due to a sprained ankle and the offense has been hurt considerably. McAllister is listed as questionable this week, but is expected to play.
After scoring 32, 43, 35 and 34 points in victories over Pittsburgh, Washington, San Francisco and Carolina, and 35 points in a loss to Atlanta, the New Orleans offense has only mustered 17 points in a loss to Atlanta and 15 points in home loss to Cleveland last week.
The Saints have also dropped three of their last four games, including getting swept by Atlanta and losing two home games.
McAllister had 109 yards rushing on 31 carries, and had four catches for 12 yards in the Saints' 26-21 win over the Bucs in Tampa Bay in Week 1.
FAB 3. One of the reasons why the Bucs may feel compelled to push nose tackle Anthony McFarland, who has missed the last four games with a broken forearm, back into the lineup is because he brings the best pressure up the middle on passing downs. Under tackle Warren Sapp has not recorded a sack since the first offensive play of the game at Carolina. McFarland broke his forearm in the third quarter of that game and has been out ever since.
But since the game at Carolina back on October 27, only nose tackle Chartric Darby, who was subbing for McFarland, and Ellis Wyms, who was subbing for Sapp at under tackle in the last moments of the home game against Carolina, have recorded a sack. What has been happening is that Sapp has been getting double-teamed with more regularity without McFarland in the lineup. Teams are taking their chances blocking Darby, Wyms or Buck Gurley one-on-one in pass situations because they aren't the pass rushers that Sapp and McFarland are.
With McFarland in the line up, Sapp has recorded 7.5 sacks in eight games. Without him, he's recorded zero.
However, there is no reason to bring McFarland back this soon. He was listed as questionable earlier in the week and was downgraded to doubtful later in the week, even though head coach Jon Gruden really wants him to play on Sunday in his home state of Louisiana.
But the smart thing to do is to give his forearm one more week to heal and save him for the Atlanta game, which really could be a tougher matchup for Tampa Bay, considering that the Falcons' last loss was to the Bucs in Atlanta in Week 5. But I think Gruden fears a loss to the Saints, which would give them a sweep over the Bucs, might be a real downer for his team and a real boost for the Saints.
A loss to New Orleans would greatly reduce the Bucs' favorable margin over the Saints. The Bucs would fall to 9-3 and the Saints would improve to 8-4 and own the head-to-head tiebreaker over Tampa Bay. One more week where the Bucs lose and the Saints win, and all of a sudden, New Orleans is in a two-team race with the Falcons for the NFC South crown.
Seeing how important this Bucs-Saints game is, I can't blame Gruden for really wanting McFarland to play. He would be second-guessing himself if McFarland didn't play nad the Bucs lost to the Saints.
FAB 4. I applaud Coach Gruden's decision to demote Rob Johnson to third-string while promoting Shaun King to second-string. Johnson has been awful in extended action at Carolina as a starter, and at home against Green Bay for a quarter in relief of Brad Johnson, who left the game after having his eye poked by Packers defensive end Vonnie Holliday.
Rob Johnson has produced zero touchdowns and two interceptions and been sacked eight times. He's just about the most indecisive quarterback I've ever seen at the professional football level. His quarterback rating is currently 59.8.
King brings a more consistent presence in the pocket, even if he's not as accurate as Rob Johnson is. However, King is a smarter player who will throw the ball away to avoid a sack.
There also might be a little bit of politics involved in Gruden's decision. Gruden may not be thinking about the fact that King will be an unrestricted free agent next season right now, but elevating him to the second-string status may have an interesting byproduct.
With free agency being a two-way street, there are no guarantees that King will stay in Tampa beyond this season, even though he has expressed an interest in staying and the Bucs have expressed a desire to keep him. Moving King up to second-string may be a subtle signal from the franchise that they would prefer keeping King over Rob Johnson, and that King is literally one step away from the starting job in Tampa.
It's early, but King has to be thinking more favorably about Gruden and the Bucs today as Brad Johnson's backup compared to last week when he was Tampa Bay's third-string quarterback.
FAB 5. This tidbit will be featured in this week's Pewter Report, but here's a sneak peek for our Insiders.
The Buccaneers lead the NFL in interceptions this season with 25 picks through 11 games, or an average of just over two picks per game. They are on pace to record 36 interceptions this season, which would break the club record of 32 in 1981. Safety Cedric Brown led the team with nine picks back in '81, while cornerback Cedric Washington and safety Neal Colzie each had six INTs and linebacker Cecil Johnson had five.
In 2002, cornerback Brian Kelly leads the team with six interceptions, followed by linebacker Derrick Brooks, who has four, and safety John Lynch and cornerback Dwight Smith each have three picks. A total of 10 different defensive players have recorded interceptions this season for Tampa Bay, but even if the 2002 defense sets the new record, the '81 defense will likely still lay claim to the interception return record.
In 1981, Tampa Bay's defense returned 32 interceptions a whopping 648 yards. The 2002 defense has returned 25 picks for 424 yards, but needs 245 more return yards to surpass the amazing record set in '81. That year, Brown returned his nine picks 215 yards, including an 81-yard touchdown. Washington returned six INTs 156 yards with a long of 34. Colzie returned six interceptions for 110 yards, including an 82-yard touchdown. Linebacker Hugh Green also helped the yardage total by returning one of his two picks 50 yards.
Currently, Brooks is the only Buc who has more than 100 interception return yardage. He's amassed 174 yards on four picks, greatly aided by his 97-yard jaunt for a score against Baltimore. Free safety Dexter Jackson turned in the second-longest return of the season by running back a Brett Favre pick 58 yards last week. Smith has had a 35-yard run back, and Kelly's longest return has been 31 yards, which has helped the Bucs' return yardage total, but it is still a long way off from the club record.
To get both the interception and interception yardage records, the Bucs will need to pick off eight more passes and return them for an average of 30.7 yards per INT. The Bucs are currently averaging 17 yards per interception return.
Copyright 2002 Pewter Report/PewterReport.com
This story is intended to be read only by PewterReport.com Club Insiders only and TheInsiders.com. 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.