ALLEN PARK - No one in Tampa or in Detroit is making any secret of the fact that the Buccaneers success is due in large part to a solid running game and the production of rookie running back Carnell "Cadillac" Williams. Williams is currently the NFL's leading rusher with 430 yards rushing in four games.
"He has done more than most people ever have done at this stage," gushed Tampa coach Jon Gruden. In some ways, [he is ahead of schedule]. We do feel like he is a great football player and he has a great future, so hopefully this is just the beginning of great things for him."
With Williams leading a solid ground game, the Tampa offense isn't asking much of quarterback Brian Griese, except to keep his throws to a minimum, with mostly play-action short throws and an occasional throw in non-passing situations to keep defenses off balance.
"I have been in this [kind of] offense for the majority of my career in the league and they put the premium on the quarterback making decisions at the line of scrimmage and leading the team in and out of the right play, whether that be in the running game or the passing game. I feel comfortable in that role."
Gruden admitted that the strong running game helps Griese to be more efficient.
"Oh it helps everybody," he said. "It has been awhile since we have been able to establish any kind of consistency running the football.
"Detroit is going to pose their own problems but we have had a lead, fortunately in the last three weeks and normally in that situation you are going to run the ball. The clock is the enemy and we are leaning on a guy that we think can deliver for us -and so far so good."
With that in mind, what can Detroit do to slow the Tampa running attack enough so that the onus is on Griese to beat them?
"I think it's going to come down to winning on the first or second down," said Lions linebacker Earl Holmes. "The Bucs' commit to the run so we're committed to stopping the run so what we have to do is put them in awkward situations."
Holmes elaborated on what it would take to win on first and second downs. "You have to make your play which means you being in your gap. The only way we can stop the run is by everyone being gap-sided, everybody playing their gap. Don't try to do someone else job, just do your job."
Holmes knows of what he speaks.
In Detroit's 38-6 loss to Chicago few did their jobs including the Detroit linebacking corps. While Holmes was solid with 12 tackles, Boss Bailey had eight and a sack, but a lot of those were downfield tackles. Meanwhile, James Davis, who is on the bubble as a starter, had just five -- not nearly productive enough for a weakside linebacker.
Detroit will have to get upfield and cut off the cutback angles to keep the shifty and talented Williams bottled up. One plus for the team is that they could get linebacker Teddy Lehman back this Sunday. Lehman was a workhorse for the team as a rookie and he could challenge Davis for the starting position. But Lions head coach Steve Mariucci said that wouldn't happen on Sunday.
Mariucci was asked about Lehman's presence in the starting unit in the last few plays of practice today.
"The final drill was nickel," said Mariucci. "It was a nickel period with some pass stuff and he's been a guy who has figured into that personnel group quite a bit. And then the period before that was short yardage and goal line.
Mariucci continued: "So we got him into that and he now is learning all three spots plus the nickel linebacker. He's a busy guy. He didn't participate early in practice when we had the pads on - he had just shells over his shoulders but he did participate once we took the pads off. But he's got a chance to play. Not start, but play."
Detroit's front four, particularly ends James Hall and Cory Redding have to be able to hold the point of attack long enough for the linebackers to come in and clean the play up. Mariucci said despite the fact that he hasn't practiced this week due to a pulled groin muscle, James Hall could play against Tampa.
"He has a better chance of playing well with a limited amount of practice time than a rookie would," Mariucci said. "He knows what we're doing. He needs to be fresh and healthy. He's had some exercise, he's had some conditioning. He hasn't had a lot of pads on or anything like that in the last week but he's getting closer."
Tampa's Griese said he respects what Detroit's front four can do.
"I think that they are pretty strong defensively, said Griese. "I think they had some good play up front from guys that are really going to challenge our running game up the middle. They have some veterans on the secondary. I played with Kenoy Kennedy in Denver, so I am familiar with him. It is going to be a good challenge for us. We are looking forward to getting back to Raymond James and getting an opportunity to play again."
Detroit will need a strong effort defensively if they expect to have a chance to hand Tampa Bay their first defeat, especially in Raymond James stadium, historically one of the NFL's toughest venues for visiting teams.
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