Copyright 2003 Pewter Report/PewterReport.com
This story is intended to be read only by PewterReport.com Insiders only and TheInsiders.com. Sharing of the Insider content with non-subscribers of this service can result in cancellation of your subscription to the service and/or further actions by the publishers.
Here's five things that caught my interest this week:
FAB 1. Tampa Bay's three wide receivers -- Keyshawn Johnson, Keenan McCardell and Joe Jurevicius -- should have a field day against San Francisco's three corners -- Ahmed Plummer, Jason Webster and rookie Mike Rumph. This is one matchup that the Bucs simply have to win to advance to the NFC Championship Game, and don't think the 49ers know this.
Plummer, San Francisco's best cover corner, was torched last week by New York Giants receiver Amani Toomer, who had three touchdowns. But that was last week. Don't expect Plummer and his cohorts to just lay down for the Bucs.
The key for Tampa Bay is not just to attack San Fran's corners, but how to attack Plummer, Webster and Rumph. None of these players are threats to fight for the ball and pick off passes. Webster and Plummer only have one interception apiece on the year, while Rumph has yet to record a pick in the NFL. The 49ers' safeties are the ballhawks with Tony Parrish leading the team with seven interceptions, followed by Ronnie Heard (four) and Zack Bronson (three).
Bucs quarterback Brad Johnson needs to locate the receiver who has one-on-one coverage and throw the ball up for grabs, especially if it's the 6-foot-4 Keyshawn Johnson or the 6-foot-5 Jurevicius. Jurevicius had a field day -- and a 100-yard receiving day -- against Atlanta when Brad Johnson threw the ball up high over Atlanta's Ray Buchanan in that matchup. Rumph might be the most physical of the cornerbacks, but his rookie inhibitions have kept him from fighting for most jump balls.
Of Johnson's six picks this season, half of them have to been to safeties. He's only thrown one interception to a cornerback and that was to Philadelphia's Al Harris. Credit Johnson for knowing where and when to throw the ball to his receivers and for being on the same page in terms of film study, too.
FAB 2. The only two 49ers defenders that really worry me if I'm the Buccaneers are defensive end Andre Carter and outside linebacker Julian Peterson. Carter leads San Francisco is sacks with 12.5 and is a dangerous pass rusher. He'll go against left tackle Roman Oben and might need to be chipped with a tight end or a running back in obvious passing situations. Carter is also adept at stripping the ball away from the quarterback and leads San Francisco with three forced fumbles.
Peterson will be most effective against the Bucs by stuffing the run, but also as a pass rusher coming off the edge on the left side of the line against Tampa Bay right tackle Kenyatta Walker. Peterson had two sacks during the regular season, but had a key takedown of Kerry Collins on third down in the fourth quarter last week which helped spur the 49ers' comeback over the Giants. Peterson is the best athlete on the 49ers defense and if he is turned loose on blitzes on passing downs he could be difficult to handle.
One of the best ways the Bucs offensive line can help protect Brad Johnson is not only providing great pass protection, but by excelling in the running game. Over the last month of the season, Tampa Bay has averaged 5.2 yards against Atlanta, 4.4 yards against Detroit, 5.3 yards against Pittsburgh and 4.5 yards against Chicago.
Except for a 186-yard rushing day against Cleveland in which the Bucs averaged 4.9 yards per carry, the rushing averages in the month of December rank as the highest of the year. The Bucs rushed for 150 yards against the Falcons, 123 yards against Detroit and 161 against Chicago in the season finale. Tampa Bay only rushed for 74 yards against the Steelers, but couldn't keep their running game within the confines of their gameplan because they fell behind 17-0 in the first quarter.
Expect Tampa Bay to run at the edges of San Francisco's defense. Carter and fellow defensive end Chike Okeafor only weigh around 260 and aren't the stoutest run defenders. The more they have to worry about tackling Michael Pittman or Mike Alstott the less energy they'll have to sack Brad Johnson.
FAB 3. Pewter Report dug up an interesting stat this week regarding the San Francisco 49ers. The 49ers are 7-1 in games in which they have scored 23 points or more, including last week's 39-38 playoff victory over the New York Giants, but only 4-5 in games in which they have scored 22 points or less. Twenty-three is the magic number for San Francisco.
That means Tampa Bay's defense has to live up to its billing as the No. 1 total defense and the No. 1 scoring defense. But it also means that the Bucs' special teams and offense can't give the 49ers any cheap scores on interception returns or kick or punt returns, either.
The 49ers are comfortable playing in the shootout games and used a no-huddle attack to help mount their historic fourth quarter comeback against the Giants last week. Tampa Bay has played better in closer games and has field goal kicker in Martin Gramatica who has proven to be pretty clutch in close games this year.
FAB 4. Expect Tampa Bay's secondary to come out fired up to stop San Francisco receiver Terrell Owens on Sunday. All week long they've heard how great Owens is and how difficult it may be for Tampa Bay to stop him. This is the same situation the Bucs defense was in a couple of weeks ago when the media was wondering how Tampa Bay was going to stop Atlanta QB Michael Vick instead of pondering the notion of how Vick was going to have any success against the league's best defense. The Bucs defensive backs are feeling a bit disrespected with all the talk about Owens.
When they're on top of their details, the Bucs defense is made up of the best 11 tacklers in football. The key to stopping Owens and making him less effective is limiting his yards after catch. Owens has the speed to outrun defenders and the size to outmuscle them. The key will be to swarm to him and gang-tackle him. All three Bucs cornerbacks -- Ronde Barber, Brian Kelly and Dwight Smith -- are sure tacklers.
Also factoring into the mix will be Tampa Bay's linebackers. Expect Derrick Brooks, Al Singleton and Shelton Quarles to drill Owens on any catches he makes across the middle. The Giants had a great gameplan in their season-opening loss to the 49ers. They held Owens to four catches for 41 yards and broke up several passes with crunching hits. For some reason the Giants strayed from that last week at San Francisco. Look for the Bucs' secondary and linebacking corps to be physical.
FAB 5. Here's some quick hits to hold you over until next week:
- I think Bucs defensive end Simeon Rice can take advantage of ailing 49ers left tackle Derrick Deese. Deese is a good player, but he's banged up and playing on a gimpy leg. Rice has the speed and quickness to get by Deese and take down fleet-footed quarterback Jeff Garcia.
- The 1:00 p.m. eastern time start for the Bucs-49ers game in Tampa means nothing out of the ordinary for Tampa Bay, but it means playing football at 10:00 a.m. on the West Coast. There shouldn't be many yawns from the 49ers, but several Bucs players told me that the 49ers' bodies may not be motoring at full speed due to the early start.
- It's obvious that mercurial wide receiver Keyshawn Johnson and head coach Jon Gruden need to sit down in the offseason and get on the same page. Either that or Johnson will beg to be traded to Dallas to be reunited with old head coach Bill Parcells. The Bucs really aren't in a position to trade him or release him without taking a cap hit of close to $2 million. I reported a figure of $3 million in my End Zone column in a recent Pewter Report, but that figure is actually closer to $2 million upon further review. That might make it more feasible for the Bucs to trade Johnson, and for the Cowboys' fifth overall pick it might be worth it. But Tampa Bay has some serious cap issues next year and is already sitting on $3 million worth of dead cap money from releasing defensive end Marcus Jones.
Johnson is not unhappy with his 76 catches for 1,088 yards and five touchdowns or the fact that the team is 12-4. Johnson is unhappy about his lack of opportunities to make more plays in critical situations on offense. He likes getting the call to take over football games as he did so often last year under Clyde Christensen and under Parcells in New York. There doesn't appear to be any communication between Johnson and Gruden and fault lies on both men. This gap must be bridged soon in the offseason or it will be a distraction for the team next year.
Copyright 2003 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.