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Clamping Down on the Big Plays

Posted Nov 13, 2013

The Buccaneers believe they have an excellent shot at winning any game in which they keep the opposition from making any "big plays" on offense, as they did on Monday night...And other notes

STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • The Bucs hit one of their main defensive goals on Monday night, and they hope it is the beginning of a trend
  • New Bucs RB Michael Hill knows he has to get himself ready to contribute as quickly as possible
  • Tampa Bay held a lighter practice than usual on Wednesday, and DE Da'Quan Bowers was one of three players held out
In this week's edition of Stat Shots, based on the action in Monday night's win over Miami, we noted that the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' defense had done an extremely good job of erasing the big play from the Dolphins' offense.  In fact, defining a "big play" as any run of 10 or more yards or any pass of 20 or more yards, we noted it was the first time the Buccaneers had held an opponent without a single one since 2007.

Head Coach Greg Schiano and his staff noticed the same thing, though their internal definition of big plays are runs of 15 or more yards and completions of 25 or more yards.  No matter which set of parameters you use, however, the note remains essentially the same: It's been a long time since the Bucs were as stingy in the big play department as they were on Monday Night Football.  The last game in which Tampa Bay held an opponent without a run of at least 15 yards or a pass of at least 25 yards was the 2010 season finale at (surprisingly) New Orleans.  The Bucs won that game, too, 23-13.

The Bucs' coaching staff sets a series of goals for its defense in every game, benchmarks that, if accomplished, are likely to lead to victory.  Clearly, setting a goal of zero "big plays" is aggressive, given how hard that is to accomplish for 60 minutes in today's NFL.  But that is the goal, and the Bucs hit it for the first time this season on Monday, with predictable results on the scoreboard.

"Last week we didn’t give up a play of over 25 yards…that’s our cutoff," said Schiano. "Not a run of over 15 and a pass of over 25. It’s the first time we did that this year. When you do that, you’re going to win a lot of games. It’s not easy to do in this league because of the tremendous skill people you play against, so that’s the key."

As with most of what the Bucs try to accomplish on defense, meeting that goal starts with getting the opposing running game in check.  It's easier to keep the ball from being thrown over your head on defense if you are not worried about the play-action pass, and if your opponent is dealing with a lot of long third downs.

"I think it’s very important for us to, first of all, stop the run, because that was the thing the last two weeks," said DE Adrian Clayborn.  "We kept them to zero yards on first and second down, so that was very good for us and it allowed us to pass rush and put pressure on the quarterback."

Added safety Dashon Goldson: "That’s big for us, that’s one of our goals – stopping the run, of course, and no explosive plays.  We did both of those.  They [had] two yards rushing and no [passes] over 25 yards. That’s big, especially against a good football team. Whenever you do stuff like that, the sky’s the limit and your chances of winning are very high."

Goldson (eight tackles) and linebackers Lavonte David (seven tackles, two tackles for loss) and Mason Foster (six tackles, two tackles for loss) led the way in stopping Miami's rushing attack.  And, as Clayborn points out, Tampa Bay had a very specific weapon in place to counter the Dolphins' best option for big plays in the passing game, wide receiver Mike Wallace.

“That was very important for us, to keep them in front of us, because they have Wallace who can go deep," said Clayborn.  "We pretty much – [Darrelle] Revis by himself – kept him on lockdown, so it was pretty good.”

-- The Bucs gave up no run longer than four yards and no completion longer than 19 yards on Monday night
On Sunday, the Buccaneers will play an Atlanta team that has recently welcomed several big play-makers back from injury, including wide receiver Roddy White and running back Steven Jackson.  When the two teams met in Atlanta in Week Seven, wide receiver Harry Douglas had three receptions of more than 25 yards by himself.  Tampa Bay defenders are pleased to have so thoroughly shut down the big play on Monday night, but they know they have to turn that into a trend to keep the wins coming.

“We have to," said defensive tackle Gerald McCoy.  "If we can do that, we have at least a 90 percent chance to win the game. If you can keep a team from getting a run play over 15 [yards] and a pass over 25, you’ve got a pretty good shot. We know we can do it now, we know it’s possible, we’ve just got to keep doing it.”

* Rookie RB Michael Hill is about to start the same accelerated process that made it possible for Bobby Rainey to step into a significant role on Monday night just 20 days after he was claimed off waivers from Cleveland.  Given the hard-luck turnover that has plagued the Bucs' backfield – but not kept it from being productive – Hill will need to make sure he acclimates to the situation as quickly as Rainey did.

After Doug Martin went down with a shoulder injury in Atlanta, the Buccaneers had intended to turn over their ground game for the rest of the season to the triad of Mike James, Brian Leonard and Rainey.  Then that triad became a dyad when James fractured his ankle on Monday night, and the Bucs found themselves in need of a tailback once again.  This time they dipped into the Green Bay Packers' practice squad to find Hill, an undrafted free agent from Missouri Western who had also spent a couple weeks on Green Bay's active roster.

Hill, who went to training camp with the San Diego Chargers before joining Green Bay's practice squad, says there are three key elements to the crash course he just started in the Bucs' offensive system.

"I just really have to learn the routes, the protection [assignments] and the runs," he said.  "The runs come – I'm a running back, I've been doing it forever.  The protections are similar to San Diego.  I'm just learning the route concepts and going from that.  It's very similar to when I was in San Diego.  Some of it's familiar."

Even though Hill wasn't yet on the team when Rainey had his coming-out party on Monday night, he knows what it took for that to happen.  Hill understands that you have to be ready for your chance at any time, no matter where you are on the depth chart.

"It goes back to how much you put into your work, and how much work you're putting in learning the playbook, learning the system," he said.  "It shows on the field when an opportunity comes."

The 5-11, 205-pound Hill is slimmer than the compact Rainey and shorter than the 6-1 Leonard.  In fact, he may fall somewhere in between in terms of a variety of parameters for the position.

"I think I'm just a mix," said Hill.  "I'm not too fast, I'm not super-powerful, but I'll do anything.  I'll do whatever it takes to get in the end zone or block somebody or catch a pass, just get the job done."

* Hill joined the team in time for Wednesday's practice, but he won't experience a full-scale Buccaneer workout until Thursday.  Following a hard-hitting game on Monday night, Schiano revised the practice schedule somewhat to give his players a little more recovery time.  The pads were left in the locker room and the workout was held without any real contact.

"[We'll] get everybody feeling a little bit better today and go a little more full-speed tomorrow," said Schiano.  "A couple guys are bumped – obviously it’s not too long ago that we played the game. A big part of playing on Monday night is getting yourself ready to go again for Sunday and I know these guys will work very hard to do that. We have great veteran leadership to show the younger guys how to do it, so it’s definitely a challenge this week."

Starting free safety Dashon Goldson, who returned to action on Monday night after missing two games with a knee injury, said he actually felt better this week than last week.  Notably, he is not even listed on the team's injury report on Wednesday, though fellow safety Mark Barron is due to a knee injury that limited him on the practice field.  DE Da'Quan Bowers did not practice after complaining of concussion-like symptoms after Monday's game; Schiano said Bowers is undergoing further tests to determine if he does indeed have a concussion.

In Atlanta, tight end Tony Gonzalez was held out of practice after suffering a toe injury against Seattle on Sunday.  It's the first time Gonzalez has been listed on the team's injury report this season, and Jay Adams of the Falcons' official web site reports that Gonzalez's injury "appears [to be] more than just a bump or bruise."  The full Wednesday injury reports for both teams are below.

Buccaneers:

Player

Injury

Wed. Participation

CB Mike Adams

Knee

Did Not Participate

S Mark Barron

Knee

Limited Participation

DE Da'Quan Bowers

Concussion

Did Not Participate

CB Danny Gorrer

Groin

Full Participation

WR Vincent Jackson

Knee

Limited Participation

G Davin Joseph

Knee

Limited Participation

G Carl Nicks

Foot

Did Not Participate

WR Chris Owusu

Foot

Limited Participation

T Donald Penn

Calf

Full Participation

DT Akeem Spence

Wrist

Full Participation


Falcons:

Player

Injury

Wed. Participation

TE Tony Gonzalez

Toe

Did Not Participate

DE Malliciah Goodman

Calf

Did Not Participate

RB Steven Jackson

Toe

Limited Participation

DT Peria Jerry

Toe

Limited Participation

DT Corey Peters

Knee

Did Not Participate

RB Jason Snelling

Knee

Did Not Participate

WR Roddy White

Shoulder

Limited Participation

LB Sean Weatherspoon

Foot

Limited Participation

Game Rewind: Tampa Bay Buccaneers