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It's a Mindset: Bucs Work on Tackling

Posted Nov 16, 2011

Wednesday Notes: As promised, Head Coach Raheem Morris had his team in pads for an extra day on the practice field, and the schedule included some drills aimed at fixing the team’s recent tackling woes


The wake-up call came on Sunday.  Raheem Morris is just making sure no one hits the snooze button.

 

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers, under Morris’ direction, are using this week of practice to emphasize effort, physical play and sure tackling.  That related trio of fundamental concerns came to the forefront on Sunday in a 37-9 loss to the Houston Texans, but it has been bubbling near the surface for weeks.  The Bucs did not tackle well against the Texans, they admit that they didn’t match Houston’s standard of physical play and they heard from Morris on Monday that, in some cases, their effort level was unacceptable.

 

“We have to take a more aggressive and intense approach at practice,” said quarterback, relaying the message Morris delivered to start the week.  “That’s one thing you never want to be regarded as, but we haven’t been playing physical.  Whether it’s receivers, whether it’s really anything.  You have to have a level of intensity and a little physicality to compete with these teams, so we’re throwing on pads the next couple days.  Bump up the intensity in practice and for sure you have to bump it up in games.”

 

The Bucs generally practice in pads only on Thursdays, and in fact the new CBA only allows 11 padded practices in total over the first 11 weeks of the season, so that schedule is pretty typical.  At least one week this year they did not use their padded practice, so they were able to add it on this week for the maximum of two.  That meant Wednesday was a padded workout, and Thursday will be too.  The new schedule won’t hold; teams are only allowed a total of three padded practices over the final six weeks of the season.  Still, Morris expects the emphasis this week to make a difference, at least, in his team’s mentality.

 

“I just think you have to get that mindset, that vicious mindset,” said defensive end Michael Bennett.  “Coach thinks these padded practices will help us get that, and if he thinks that I’m not one to argue with him.  I’m just going to do what he wants me to do.”

 

There was banging on the field Wednesday, but still no actual tackling.  No team in the league practices with fully live tackling, other than a few periods during training camp, because it is counterproductive in the long run.  But Buccaneers coaches don’t need actual take-downs on the practice field to fix the tackling problem.  Much of it has to do with hustle, effort and proper angles.  Lake says each player has to know that he can approach the ballcarrier fast and aggressively, knowing that if he misses aggressively there is another tackler coming behind him.  That sort of 11-men-to-the-ball reaction can be practiced and evaluated during the week of workouts.

 

“We did some drills today to kind of wake everybody up,” said Lake.  “We’ve always had to have a wake-up call, whether it was my first year here or this year.  We’ve always had to have a wake-up game where, ‘Hey, look, all 11 aren’t running to the football right now,’  whether it’s just one or two plays.  It’s not a problem that we’ve had in every single game but it shows up a couple plays here and there.”

 

 

“They have a lot of pride.  They don’t want that to happen.  They don’t want big plays to happen.  I think you’ll see a difference.”

 

Bennett said that neither the lack of offseason workouts or the one-padded-practice-a-week restriction were contributing factors to the defense getting to this point at the season’s midway mark.

 

“People have been tackling for 20 years, so that one thing isn’t going to [change it],” he said.  “Tackling is a want-to, it’s not whether we have pads on.  Defense is a want-to.  At any time, a defense can control the game.  Some of the great defenses like the Ravens, they always control the game because of their tempo and their aggressiveness.  That’s what we need to do.”

 

Morris said that, with a young team such as the one the Buccaneers have been fielding the last two years, simply putting on helmets and pads in practices raises the sense of urgency.  He believes it contributes to a higher energy level and gets the players focused.  He also said that none of his players complained about the extra day of padded work or the additional drills.

 

“Our guys went out there, went as hard as they possibly could go, they competed, and that’s what I was looking for more than anything,” said Morris.  “I want those guys to get out there and be ready to play fast, hard, smart and consistent. We got fast and hard done today and hopefully smart and consistent can continue throughout the game and throughout the week.”

 

**

 

Facing the Best

 

The Buccaneers head to Lambeau Field this weekend to face the 9-0 Green Bay Packers.  Not only is Green Bay the NFL’s last undefeated team, they are one of only two clubs out of 32 (also 8-1 San Francisco) that has not lost at least three games already.  The Packers, coming off a 45-7 Monday-night drubbing of Minnesota, have scored an NFL-high 320 points and quarterback Aaron Rodgers has a passer rating of 130.7 that looks like a misprint.

 

It is not a stretch, in other words, to say the Buccaneers are pulling the toughest assignment of any team in the league this weekend.

 

That’s nothing new, really.  This season, Tampa Bay has faced one of the toughest schedules in all of football.  That’s especially true over the last month or so.

 

The Bucs last five games have been against New Orleans (twice), Houston, San Francisco and Chicago.  All of those teams currently have at least six wins, and Tampa Bay is the only team in the NFL who has played a team in that category each of the last five outings.  All five would be in the playoffs if the season ended today, including four division leaders.

 

Overall, the Bucs have played the fourth most difficult schedule in the NFL so far this season, and that’s before they head to Green Bay.  Their opponents have had a combined winning percentage of .565.  This team is truly getting tested by fire, and Morris said that’s exactly what he wants, referring specifically to this weekend’s game at Lambeau.  That mentality is permeating the building this week, as the Bucs relish the challenge of trying to end the Packers’ undefeated run.

 

“We’re all juiced up,” said Lake.  “You’re playing the Super Bowl champs, for one, and now they’re undefeated.  How do you not get excited for this game.  You’re going to Lambeau Field, one of the most storied places in all of sports, in the world.  It’s an exciting, exciting deal for all of us.  It’s a great challenge for our team.  We’re coming off a loss that left a bad taste in our mouths and we want to change that taste.  It’s a perfect opponent for us right now.”

 

Morris’ Bucs are 4-5 and 2.5 back of the Saints in the NFC South.  That obviously is not where they wanted to be heading into Week 11 of the season.  That said, they have handled the tough schedule well at times, despite a current three-game losing streaks.  Six teams in the NFL have played a schedule with combined opponent winning percentage of .548 or better so far this year, and those six have a combined winning percentage of .273.  The Bucs have done their best to bring that average up – their 4-5 record, or .444 winning percentage, matches Denver’s as the best of the bunch.

 

Here are the 10 teams that have faced the toughest schedules so far this season:

 

TEAM

W

L

T

PCT.

OPP PCT.

OPP W-L

1. Seattle Seahawks  

3

6

0

0.333

0.598

49-33-0

2. Minnesota Vikings  

2

7

0

0.222

0.580

47-34-0

3. Denver Broncos  

4

5

0

0.444

0.568

46-35-0

4. Tampa Bay Buccaneers  

4

5

0

0.444

0.565

48-37-0

5. St. Louis Rams  

2

7

0

0.222

0.549

45-37-0

6. Indianapolis Colts  

0

10

0

0.000

0.548

51-42-0

7. Detroit Lions  

6

3

0

0.667

0.543

44-37-0

8t. Chicago Bears

6

3

0

0.667

0.537

44-38-0

8t. New England Patriots

6

3

0

0.667

0.537

44-38-0

10. Philadelphia Eagles  

3

6

0

0.333

0.531

43-38-0

 

**

 

Barber Nominated for NFLPA Pulse Award

 

Every time Ronde Barber takes the field on game day, he adds to his remarkable NFL record for longevity.  No cornerback in league history has ever started as many games in a row as Barber, who extended his streak to 192 consecutive starts last Sunday against the Houston Texans.

 

Barber has started a total of 209 games as an NFL player, appearing in 218 games overall, every one of them with the Buccaneers.  He played in only one regular-season game as a rookie in 1997 as he absorbed the Bucs’ defensive system, but he has appeared in every Tampa Bay game since the beginning of the 1998 season and has never missed an outing due to injury.  In franchise history, only the team’s other noted ironman, Hall of Fame-bound linebacker Derrick Brooks, has more starts (221) and games played (224) than Barber, and that second mark won’t last through the season, most likely.

 

So to say Ronde Barber has endurance is a bit of an understatement.  The NFL Players Association says it better, by putting it with a capital E.

 

On Wednesday, the NFLPA announced the finalists for the four “2012 NFLPA Pulse Awards” it will be handing out at the end of the season.  The four awards are “Emerging Player,” “Heart of the Game,” “Comeback Player” and “Endurance.”

 

The NFLPA created the Endurance award to reward a player for “a career distinguished by longevity, durability and consistency.”  Those are perfect words for the Buccaneers’ 15th-year cornerback, and so it’s no surprise that he is one of the league’s five finalists for the award.

 

Barber’s fellow semifinalists are safety Brian Dawkins of the Denver Broncos, tight end Tony Gonzalez of the Atlanta Falcons, wide receiver Hines Ward of the Pittsburgh Steelers and cornerback Charles Woodson of the Green Bay Packers.  That’s a group that almost sounds like the future Hall of Fame Class of, oh, 2018, but only one of the five will be chosen for this year’s NFLPA award.

 

If you believe that player should be Ronde Barber, you can help.  Visit the NFLPA Pulse awards site here and you can vote up to five times.  You may also choose to register to win prizes, including signed memorabilia and tickets to the awards ceremony.

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