DE Chidi Ahanotu and the Bucs had mixed success stopping the Packers' running game
On Monday mornings, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' coaching staff reviews video footage of the previous day's game. At approximately 1:00 p.m., those coaches, armed with fresh information from the tape, meet with the scouting and training staffs to discuss the state of the roster and plan for the week ahead.
In between, Head Coach Tony Dungy gives a briefing to the press, speaking for up to 30 minutes on whatever topics are hot on the media's collective mind. Dungy, of course, also holds a press conference on game day shortly after the final whistle, but Monday's discussion gives both sides time to review and re-think what they've seen.
Thus, we have a fresh perspective on the key topics that arose on Sunday when the Buccaneers defeated the Green Bay Packers, 20-15, to stay in the thick of the playoff race. Let's take a look at a few of those topics.
Dave Moore's concussion.
The rise, fall and rise again of the Bucs' offense on Sunday seemed to coincide with Dave Moore's availability.
In the first half, Moore caught two passes for 50 yards, a 28-yarder on third-and-one early in the first quarter that helped bail the Bucs out of an early hole and a 22-yarder over the middle in the second quarter that set up the game's first touchdown.
In the third quarter, Moore left the game after suffering a mild concussion. It took him the rest of that period to regain his bearings, and the offense sputtered without him. In fact, after putting up 203 first-half yards, Tampa Bay had just 10 yards of offense in the third quarter and failed to produce a single first down.
A few minutes into the fourth period, Moore returned after being cleared by team doctors. Almost immediately upon re-entering the fray, Moore caught a seven-yard pass that helped jumpstart the game-winning field goal drive. The Bucs picked up three first downs in the fourth quarter and kept the chains and the clock moving.
Moore generally plays all but a couple offensive snaps every week. Dungy admitted that his absence threw a bit of a wrench into the Bucs' attack.
"We did get out of rhythm a little bit," said Dungy. "We had some different substitution patterns because of the injury to Dave. We got Dave back in the lineup and got going, but that's something that you need to do at times when things aren't exactly sharp."
The main problem, according to Dungy, is that the Bucs had gambled with the inactive list and kept only two tight ends available. When Moore went down, it was Patrick Hape and patchwork; FB Mike Alstott was even used some as a second tight end.
"We've been kind of treading on thin ice going with two tight ends the last couple of weeks," said Dungy. "We didn't have Todd Yoder up, so we only had one true tight end after that. So all your short-yardage stuff, and what we had going a little bit early in the game with two tight ends and Mike Alstott – we lost that. Mike had to play tight end, and did a good job with it, but you just lose some flexibility."
John Lynch's reversed touchdown return.
On Green Bay's first punt of the game, S John Lynch scooped up a ball that had been carelessly swatted out of the end zone and ran 84 yards to the opposite end zone. The play was called back due to offsetting '12-men-on-the-field' penalties, as both teams thought the play was over and had started to come onto the field. Dungy explained the issue and indicated that, indeed, Lynch would have had his first career touchdown without that mental error.
"It's only a touchback when they control the ball in the end zone," said Dungy. "Anytime, as a matter of fact, if they touch the ball and don't control it, it's live. You have to control the ball. As soon as you control it and have it, that's when the official blows the whistle. Until he blows the whistle, you have to hang onto it."
There was added confusion on the play because return man Karl Williams had called for a fair catch but let the punt land behind him, hoping it would bound into the end zone for a touchback. That's a common ploy, but it may not commonly be known that the fair catch signal is disregarded as soon as the ball lands on the turf.
"Once it hits the ground, the fair catch is off," Dungy explained. "You can actually call for a fair catch, let it bounce and run. Actually, until the whistle blows, you shouldn't go onto the field. It's a natural reaction. Andre Hastings, as a matter of fact, had an 80-yard run for New Orleans when there were about 50 guys on the field. The officials really didn't know how to handle it, so they actually let his stand. Technically, you can't come on the field, and unfortunately, we did."
The Bucs' run defense.
Tampa Bay started out strong against the run. Green Bay ran the ball on each of its first four first downs, but never got more than three yards out of Ahman Green. In fact, Green had a total of one yard on five carries at the end of the first quarter.
However, midway through the second period, Green broke an eight-yarder behind right guard and followed with a 30-yard breakaway in the same vicinity. From that point on, he and backup De'Mond Parker had moderate to good success running the ball on the right side. Green Bay also picked up 16 yards on a well-executed end-around to return man Allen Rossum.
"They had a couple of unique plays," said Dungy, explaining the sudden resurgence in Green Bay's rushing attack. "Then we had a couple of breakdowns and then we had a couple of blitzes where they just happened to hit the right play at the right time. But they blocked some things differently and, I thought, did a good job of planning for us."
Though the Packers gained just 97 rushing yards on the day, Dungy is still not pleased with the state of his run defense.
"We just have to play sharper and everybody's got to do their job," he said. "When they run a reverse, the guy that's responsible for the reverse has to play it. And the next time, they run a fake reverse and we're not sure that the guy who's responsible for the reverse is going to play it, so other guys start playing it. That's the thing that happens. Everybody's just got to do their job, and when they do, we're pretty good. When they don't we're average."
There was also some discussion on whether Marcus Jones, who has taken over at right defensive end this season, is as good of a run-stopper as his predecessor at that position, Steve White. Dungy disagreed completely with the notion.
"We're really not happy with our run defense," he said. "It should be better than it is, and I don't think it's because Marcus is playing. Marcus plays the run pretty well."
Dungy, as you know, is remarkably even-keeled, so his conferences never take on a confrontational tone, even when the Bucs are struggling. However, victories sometimes bring out a little understated playfulness in the Bucs' coach, and that was evident on Monday. Dungy broke the room into laughter on several occasions.
Asked if he liked Reidel Anthony's touchdown-catch dance, which hit the airwaves again on Sunday after Anthony's 19-yard score in the second quarter, Dungy responded with:
"Usually, when he's dancing, something good has happened for us, so I can't say that I dislike it."
Maybe not, but we can certainly read between the lines.
One of the key plays on Sunday was a 14-yard scramble on third-and-two by QB Shaun King early in the fourth quarter. Several times, King cut back towards the middle of the field to prolong the run, which was actually much longer than 14 yards since he started deep in his own backfield. Asked if Shaun King has improved as an open-field runner as the season has progressed, Dungy said:
"We had (noted college scrambler) Joe Hamilton work with him a little bit after a couple of those runs earlier in the year where he was running into the tacklers."
One press conference attendee floated the theory to Dungy that King wasn't doing all he could to finish the offense's drives because he knew K Martin Gramatica could hit field goals from far away. Dungy wasn't buying it.
"You'd like to eat up the whole time, go down and score a touchdown and not leave them much time to go," he said. "Obviously, we'd have all felt worse than we do today if Martin had missed those two. I think that does ease our minds a little bit."
Though most of the press conference was used to discuss the Green Bay game, the session actually started with a short discussion on the Bucs' upcoming trip to Chicago. Knowing what was lingering on the horizon, Dungy jumped ahead to the next question.
"We have to check the weather," he said. "If the weather isn't right, we probably don't have a chance. We may not even go."
The Bucs, of course, are notorious for never having won a game in which the temperature at kickoff is below 40 degrees. It is likely to be beneath that marker at Soldier Field on Sunday, but Dungy, who scoffs at the notion that the Bucs can't win in cold weather, treats such questions with bemusement. Not to mention amusement for the onlookers.
Dungy also offered an explanation of how the Bucs' were caught off-guard by the Packers' successful fake field goal. In effect, it was similar to Tampa Bay's onside kick attempt in the second quarter, a calculated gamble that, in the Packers' case, paid off.
The obvious question was whether the Bucs are particularly susceptible to such fakes due to a particular way of playing against the field goal try.
"No, we have different kinds of rushes and we have different kinds of safe deals," said Dungy. "On that one, we were going for an all-out rush. We were trying to block it. We had shown our safe look a couple of times…same look but play safe and cover everyone, not really rush all out. So we felt that would deter them from faking, but it was a good play on their part at the right time, just like we've had some in the past against people that were rushing all out. It's kind of a guessing game and they guessed right on that one."