Behind Enemy Lines: Part I

Scout.com team experts Ed Thompson and Matthew Postins break down this week's Bucs-Colts game with discussion about Cato June, what to expect from the Bucs' rushing game, QB Jeff Garcia's success, Tampa Bay's unusual defensive line situation, the inspired play of the Bucs' secondary and more!

Ed Thompson:  With Carnell Williams sidelined, how do you think it's going to impact their game plan against the Colts? Most teams like to try to establish their running game to keep Manning off the field and chew up the clock. Is that still a realistic option for the Bucs at this point?

Matthew Postins: The Bucs are 3-0 this season when they carry the ball at least 30 times. The fact is, the last two weeks they've done that with Williams, Michael Pittman and Earnest Graham sharing the load pretty evenly. So the ability to run the ball has less to do with Williams and more to do with the offensive line, which has grown more capable each week. Donald Penn -- the second-year tackle likely to replace the injured Luke Petitgout -- is considered a decent run blocker. That's mostly what he did last week and the Bucs rushed for more than 180 yards with Petitgout gone the entire second half. This group is young, but physical, and has the advantage of going against a Cover 2 formation in practice every day. All that said, I think the running game will take a hit this week with Williams absent. Plus, aside from last week against the Panthers, the Bucs have had difficulty establishing the run game in the first half. They're a second-half team in that regard, and if they're unable to establish the run in the first half I could see the Colts building a big lead. What the Bucs will miss the most from Williams is his explosiveness as he gets to the second level of the defense.

ET:   Tampa Bay comes into this matchup ranked fourth in the league in passing yards per play. Give us some quick hits on the Bucs' top receivers and why they're doing well this season.

MP:  Tampa Bay has done a great job of working the middle of the field this season, and a lot of credit should go to Ike Hilliard, who has stepped up opposite Joey Galloway to make that tough, crossing route his role. He had his best game in four years last week, but I don't expect him to do it again. Galloway and Hilliard have made a fine combination, though the Bucs would love to see either Michael Clayton or Maurice Stovall step in and be more productive (most everyone around here is mystified as to how two such talented players have literally done nothing in an offense designed to take advantage of receiving talent). The Bucs need a third option. Right now, it's either tight end Alex Smith or Pittman. If opposing defenses can limit Galloway and Hilliard, the Bucs' pass offense will sputter. Jeff Garcia's maturity and his ability to find and exploit mismatches are better than any Bucs quarterback since Brad Johnson.


Tampa Bay QB Jeff Garcia
Al Messerschmidt/Getty

ET:  Jeff Garcia's off to a good start as well and I noticed he's tied for first in the league with Jacksonville's David Garrard as best in the league at protecting the ball -- neither one has thrown an interception yet. Talk about what Garcia's bringing to the position for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

MP:  That is perhaps the best thing he's brought to this offense. He doesn't force passes or make mistakes protecting the football, yet is smart and instinctive enough to know when to take chances with his arm or his legs. It's a sharp contrast to what Jon Gruden has had the past few years at quarterback. The Bucs started last season with 10 interceptions and started 0-4. The Bucs are 3-1 and Garcia has no picks. In truth, that's why Gruden wanted Garcia in the offseason -- he was sick of the mistakes his younger quarterbacks were making. He needed stability in order to get the offense going, and Garcia has done that. Looking at Gruden's history as a coach. Garcia fits the mold of the quarterback that has success in Gruden's offense -- mid-30s, good arm, mobile and capable of making correct decisions most of the time. First it was Rich Gannon, then it was Johnson and now it's Garcia. Gruden should never go looking for a young quarterback again.

ET:  The Buccaneer's defense is currently ranked sixth in the league against the pass, but 22nd in sacks per pass attempt. Is the quarterback pressure there, but they just aren't getting the sacks? Or is the secondary simply that good?

MP: There are a couple of factors at work here. First, the secondary has played sensational football the past four weeks. Safety Jermaine Phillips -- a player many fans wanted to ship out of town after last season -- has two interceptions and is playing inspired football. Even Indy head coach Tony Dungy has noticed. Phillip Buchanon has made two starts for the hobbled Brian Kelly at right corner and broken up big passes to Torry Holt and Steve Smith. He seems to be taking to the Cover 2 system. Rookie safety Tanard Jackson is a hard-hitting safety with cover corner skills and just forced his first turnover last week. And Ronde Barber is, well, Ronde Barber.

As for the pass rush, it's a work in progress. The release of Simeon Rice put them in scramble mode for a while, but they've settled on a rotation of eight players and it's interesting how they use them. Several of them -- Kevin Carter, Greg White and Greg Peterson -- can play inside or outside, and have done so. Chris Hovan has played both inside positions, sliding over to under tackle occasionally to make room for Peterson, a rangy Division II prospect who is beginning to come on. The return of Patrick Chukwurah has also bolstered the right side. Gaines Adams is not progressing quite as fast as expected, but the sheer depth of the defensive front is creating more and more chances each week. What the Bucs are excelling at right now is creating different looks and matchups from play to play, and using that to create mismatches for their ends. Plus, the secondary's ability to cover, Hovan said, is allowing the defensive line to make second moves on the pass rush. The pressure is not where the Bucs want it yet, certainly, but it has improved markedly from the anemic performance it had against Seattle in Week 1.

ET:  I'm sure Colts fans will be excited to see linebacker Cato June again. How's he been doing so far this season? Is he a good fit in Tampa?

MP: He's turned into one. There was concern that he wouldn't be able to handle the strong side of the Bucs defense until he told us during training camp that the strong side in Tampa Bay is actually the same side he played in Indianapolis. Some waves were created in Week 2 when he took about 10-12 plays at weak side linebacker -- Derrick Brooks' position -- in nickel situations. But that was just to keep Brooks fresh on an especially hot Florida day. He's a great fit, speed-wise. He's made plays both against the run and in coverage -- he picked off a pass against the Saints. He, along with middle linebacker Barrett Ruud and Brooks, have made the linebackers a formidable part of this defense this season. He's fourth in tackles right now, which is about right for a strongside backer in this defense after four games. He seems completely comfortable in the Bucs' scheme and will definitely move to the weak side once Brooks decides to retire.


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