Bucs News And Notes: Monday

January 13 – What kind of shape will Tampa Bay be in when they play Philadelphia in the NFC Championship Game on Sunday? How much has the Buccaneers' offense improved since it played against the Eagles in Week 7? Can the offense hold off Philadelphia's relentless blitz packages? Can Tampa Bay's No. 1 ranked defense contain Philadelphia QB Donovan McNabb? PewterReport.com has the answers to these questions and more in this notebook full of news and notes from One Buccaneer Place.

According to Tampa Bay head coach Jon Gruden's injury update from One Buccaneer Place on Monday morning, the Buccaneers will be fairly healthy as they begin preparing to play the Philadelphia Eagles this week.

Bucs quarterback Brad Johnson was carted off of the field in the second half of last Sunday's game against the 49ers after he received a cut on his forehead. He received several stitches in the team's locker room and returned to action after missing just one offensive series. Johnson will be listed as probable for Sunday's NFC Championship Game and he's not expected to be hindered by the injury.

"Brad Johnson suffered a forehead laceration," Gruden said Monday from One Buccaneer Place. "It was a cut that required stitches. He has a lot of swelling there. He will practice. He'll be probable for the game. He may not be able to wear a helmet on Wednesday until the swelling subsides, but another courageous effort by our quarterback."

Buccaneers wide receiver Joe Jurevicius, who caught three passes for 48 yards and scored a touchdown against the 49ers last Sunday, suffered a dislocated finger, but he too will be listed as probable for the game against the Eagles.

"Joe Jurevicius dislocated his left fifth finger, I guess that's his pinky," Gruden said. "He'll be listed as probable, but he will have to wear some kind of device on the hand so he can play."

There are several other Bucs players with minor injuries, but all of them will be listed as probable for Sunday's contest.

"(Right guard) Cosey Coleman suffered a right ankle sprain," Gruden said. "We're going to list him as probable for the game, although he may be limited on the practice field early. (Cornerback0 Corey Ivy has a right Achilles strain. He's probable. (Running back) Mike Pittman suffered a right hand contusion, and x-rays were negative. Cornell Green, a backup tackle, suffered a knee injury of some kind. We're going to list him as probable until we get further information."

Buccaneers QB Brad Johnson was quite comfortable throwing out of the pocket against the 49ers last Sunday. His offensive line did a nice job of fighting off San Francisco's pass rush, which allowed Johnson to complete 15-of-31 passes for 196 yards and toss two touchdown passes. But the Bucs know Johnson won't likely have that much time to throw against Philadelphia's defense.

Philly's defense is ranked No. 4 in the league. Bucs head coach Jon Gruden credits Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Johnson with their success this season.

"Their scheme is unorthodox," Gruden said of Philly's defense. "A lot of blitzing. Some are unorthodox and are really exclusive to the Philadelphia Eagles. I credit Jim Johnson. He's given a lot of offensive coaches, including myself, fits over the years. That's an area we have to study tremendously this week."

Jim Johnson's troops posted a league-high 56 sacks during the regular season and this was made possible because of the amount of blitz packages Philly's defense sends in at opposing offenses.

"It's the style in which they play," Gruden said when asked what makes Philly's defense so dangerous. "The style in which they blitz. You must prepare for double corner blitzes, double safety blitzes, five-man blitzes, six-man blitzes, great disguises, a lot of movement before the ball is snapped. Just a lot of different looks. A very thick playbook that you'll see a lot of every Sunday."

Tampa Bay is familiar with some of those blitz packages. The Bucs surrendered six sacks to the Eagles when both teams clashed back in Week 7. But Brad Johnson said blitzes are something he and his offensive line have faced plenty of since the first week of the season and they expect to see more of them this Sunday.

"There are a bunch of blitzes," Brad Johnson said of Philadelphia's blitz packages. "When we played Cincinnati we faced 31 blitzes. When we played Carolina we faced 33 different ones. We played Philly last time they played some cover two. We actually thought they were going to blitz us more. Philadelphia is a team that can bring pressure with just their front four, front five guys. That's the difference with those guys. When they do blitz it's an all out type of deal. They make a lot of quarterbacks, a lot of teams look really bad. What has been unique about their defense, especially the second half of the season, they have scored points, much like our defense. Last week they intercepted (Michael) Vick for a touchdown, and that really turned that game around."

So, what can the Bucs do to keep Philadelphia's defense from hindering its offensive productivity on Sunday?

How about running the ball effectively? The Bucs' offense has, after all, produced over 100 yards rushing in four of its last five games.

"They blitz anyway," Gruden said of offsetting the blitz by going to the ground game. "Whether you run the ball successfully or unsuccessfully, they don't care, it doesn't appear. They've had great success playing a standard defense and living and dying with the blitz. They've had unbelievable success as a defensive team the last two or three years there under Jim Johnson. It's really probably not as well documented as it should be. They've played unbelievable defensively since his arrival there in Philadelphia."

Gruden said his staff will do everything possible to pick up all of the blitzes on Sunday. Tampa Bay's head coach feels his offensive line has come a long way since the last time they played in Philadelphia.

"It's one thing to pick a blitz up numerically, you know, have a man accountable for every man that's blitzing," Gruden said. "To physically win on the pick ups is another. I think we've improved. At the same time, Philadelphia has improved, also. Watching them play Atlanta, watching them play the last three or four regular season games in the absence of their quarterback this defense has stepped up and played extremely well."

Brad Johnson, who was sacked 21 times during the regular season, agreed.

"I think we have progressed tremendously," said Brad Johnson. "Most of our sacks this year came from the guard or center stepping on my foot. We have had ten sacks like that this year, so really the sack number hasn't been as high. Three of the games we have lost, the Philly game and the two Saints games, we have had five or six sacks and that was just from a lot of pressure that they have brought. But we have faced a lot of teams this year, like I said Cincinnati, Carolina, the Saints, Atlanta and Philadelphia have blitzed us quite a bit. Sometimes we beat it and sometimes they got to us."

When Bucs head coach Jon Gruden began to install his version of the West Coast offense last spring, some of his former players in Oakland suggested it would take Bucs players two or three years to digest it.

When the season began, it certainly looked like the Raiders players were right. Tampa Bay's offense failed to score a touchdown against Philadelphia last October, but quarterback Brad Johnson said Tampa Bay's offense has improved.

"We were still trying to figure out how to call plays in the huddle (on Oct. 20th), just knowing the formations and understanding protections," Johnson said. "After that we played the Carolina game, which I missed, but I think after that we really took off as an offense. We had four or five games where we rushed over 100 yards, so we got that going. The pass protection got much better. We got sounder in the passing game. We actually started scoring touchdowns passing, instead of settling for field goals like we did earlier in the season. Then we just took off. We started making plays. I think in the first four or five games we were moving the ball and staying away from turnovers, but we weren't making plays. I think halfway through the season we started to make plays and score a lot of points. I think we averaged 27 points a game in that stretch before I got hurt and missed the Pittsburgh game. We really progressed."

Brad Johnson said the offense picked the perfect time to come together.

"We said at the beginning of the season we planned on taking off during Week 11 or 12," Johnson said of the offense. "And we started to hit off during Week six or seven, actually. We had eight new starters on offense and we were just trying to get the plays called right in the huddle. I think as the season went on we had to experience the growth. ‘Hey, do you remember what happened in Week three when they showed that certain kind of blitz, I'm going to check to this,' and ‘how are we going to adjust our line calls.' We just got much better as the season went on. We kind of grew together. We had eight new starters and we just had to get a feel for each other."

So, how much has Tampa Bay's offense grown since Week 7? The Bucs will find out when they go up against the Eagles' defense, which has only given up an average of 15 points per game this season.

Donovan McNabb is one of the most dangerous quarterbacks in the league. He can beat teams with his arm and/or with his feet. McNabb, who suffered a fractured foot midway through the regular season, completed 58.4 percent of his passes for 2,289 yards and he tossed 17 touchdown passes and just six interceptions before the injury.

Although he just returned to action last Saturday against Atlanta, McNabb is still considered a legitimate threat on the ground. He rushed 63 times for 460 yards (7.3 avg.) and scored six touchdowns during the regular season.

But Tampa Bay's defense has fared well against mobile quarterbacks this season. This unit held the league's most mobile quarterback – Michael Vick – to just 10 yards rushing in two games this season. And Tampa Bay didn't allow QB Jeff Garcia to rush once last Sunday.

So, how will the Bucs' defense contain McNabb?

"McNabb's a different quarterback," said Bucs Pro Bowl linebacker Derrick Brooks. "I think (playing other mobile quarterbacks) gives us a sense. But we have played him several times so we know how to rush him. You have to be disciplined. I just think for us, we just need to go out there and make plays. We have had every chance to make plays against them in the past, but for some reason we didn't."

Tampa Bay's defense held McNabb to just four yards rushing on six attempts in Week 7. They also only allowed McNabb to complete 50 percent of his passes for 127 yards.

Philadelphia's defense is ranked 7th against the pass and three of its four starters in the secondary are Pro Bowlers.

Eagles cornerbacks Bobby Taylor and Troy Vincent are two of the best cover men in the league. Taylor has hauled in five interceptions and Vincent has grabbed two. Free safety Brian Dawkins, who leads the defense in tackles, also has two interceptions and he's forced five fumbles.

That said, it will be important for Tampa Bay's offense to establish the running game Sunday. But the Bucs, who are a play-action pass team, will still take some chances via the passing game.

"You have to attack them," Brad Johnson said of Philadelphia's secondary. "You have to respect them because they have done it year in and year out. That's why they are Pro Bowlers. That's why they've been a dominate team and it's why they have been to the playoffs year in and year out. But if you get scared of them, you are in for a long day. The biggest thing for me is to get the ball out of my hands. (I have to be ready to) throw the ball away if I have to, be ready to punt, and avoid turnovers. Last time we played them we had a turnover at the beginning of the game, gave them three points, and that's what we cannot do. I think we have had something like six turnovers on the first drives this year. Where we have been great is the first possession coming out of in the third quarter and in the two-minute drives, but one of our weaknesses has been the first drives this year. Some way you have to make big plays against them and avoid the mistakes."

Tampa Bay's top-rated defense has been a dominant force this season. They only allowed 196 points in 16 regular season games, which averaged out to 12.3 points per game. That point total was the lowest average in the league. But should the Bucs' defense be considered one of the best ever?

"It's like I said last week, we are not finished yet," Bucs defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin. "Those two teams (the 1985 Chicago Bears and the 2000 Ravens) finished strong. If we don't go out and win this week and play good defense then I don't think you can say that we are as good as the Bears or the Ravens. Right now we are playing really well and we had a nice season. We got off to a really nice start in the playoffs but we hopefully we have a couple more games in us."

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