Do the Bucs fall into a pattern on offense or defense in short-yardage situations? That's what self-scouting is designed to uncover
During the season, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers work tirelessly to scout upcoming opponents. The coaches spend their days reviewing hours upon hours of game film to become well-versed on their next opponent's strategies and personnel.
However, the Bucs devoted a portion of their recently-completed bye week to a different sort of scouting. Without a game to prepare for at the end of the week, the coaching staff instead turned its analytical eyes inward.
The Buccaneers probed themselves in order to hone their play-calling and strategic decision-making for the stretch run. They asked themselves leading questions: Did we get into any sort of a rut in play-calling, returning to familiar strategies often enough for opponents to pick up on? Are there corners of the playbook that we haven't explored quite enough? Do we commonly display the same strategies in like situations?
Basically, how can we use these few days off to improve the most?
While most of the players spent their downtime last week relaxing and catching up with friends and family, Head Coach Jon Gruden and his staff spent some time trying to answer those questions.
"Well, we did a good job I think as a staff looking at a couple problem areas," Gruden said. "We looked at our tendencies, we looked at our self-scout. Basically, we looked at a lot of Viking tape, tried to look a little bit at some of our upcoming opponents, tried to use some time wisely, got away, got the coaches out of here to let them see their families and rejuvenate a little bit."
According to Gruden, the self-review returned largely positive results. Still, while it's hard to be overly critical of a 6-3 team in the thick of a division race, the coaches picked through tape of the first half of the season with a fine-toothed comb, all in an effort to finish the second half of the season even better than the first.
"We did a lot of good things," Gruden said. "That's one of the reasons why we're 6-3. Our players have done a lot of things well. But [we studied] tendencies — what are we doing in the I formation, what are we doing in split backs, what are we doing in shotgun? What are we calling on defense on third-and-one? What are we calling on the goal line? We looked at the red zone hard. There are some opportunities there that we've got to cash in on. Partly we've got to do a better job calling plays, partly we've got to do a better job of executing plays. But we self-scouted everything. You try to break some tendencies here in the coming weeks and try to expand on some things that maybe we haven't shown."
As crucial as it is to be well-prepared for the next opponent on the schedule — and the Bucs certainly will be by the time the Vikings invade Raymond James Stadium this Sunday — a gaze into the mirror and a little introspection may have given the team a chance to improve at the season's turning point.
Preparing for "AD"
When the Minnesota Vikings pay a visit to Tampa this Sunday, they'll be led by the league's only 1,000-yard rusher so far, the supremely-talented second-year back Adrian Peterson.
The reigning Offensive Rookie of the Year and Pro Bowl MVP from 2007, Peterson leads the league with 1,015 rushing yards, is tied for sixth in the NFL with his seven rushing scores and busted a key 25-yard touchdown run late in the Vikings' tense 28-27 win over the division rival Green Bay Packers on Sunday.
Facing off against Peterson this week will be a stingy Bucs defense that slipped to 11th in average rushing yards per game allowed after an uncharacteristic performance in Kansas City. Even with the blip in K.C., the Bucs have still allowed just one individual 100-yard game and just a single rushing touchdown on the year, and they're still on the south side of 100 rushing yards allowed per game, if just barely (99.3).
Something's got to give, and a Buccaneers defensive unit that always makes stopping the run its top priority will have an even greater emphasis on limiting Peterson and the Vikings' ground attack this Sunday.
"They've got a balanced attack, a great running attack," safety Tanard Jackson said. "That's our main objective week-in and week-out — stop the run. We have to do that this week."
One of the Bucs most familiar with Peterson is middle linebacker Barrett Ruud. Ruud squared off against the former Oklahoma standout while in college at Nebraska and as the man in the middle of the Bucs' defense, Ruud knows he and his teammates have a tall task on their hands in stopping his former Big 12 foe.
"He's elite," said Ruud. "He's one of the best backs out there right now, but like always, it's a team effort to stop the run. If you're out of your gap, anybody in this league can make you look bad, especially a running back of his caliber."
Gruden echoed many of his players' sentiments about the Vikings superstar running back, but knows his defense won't shrink in the face of such a challenge. Rather, the Bucs will relish the chance to succeed where others have failed and shut down one of the league's preeminent ground attacks.
"Well, we gave up some yards last week running the ball but we've done a nice job against the run," Gruden said. "We've got to double our efforts this week; this guy [Peterson] is really something. No disrespect to anybody else, but this guy's really something.
"Peterson is a great back. He is a hard-nosed, wire-to-wire finisher and I just love watching him play. I know our guys are eager for this challenge, and we're going to work hard at our run entry, and certainly our guys are excited about the challenge."
Wild, Wildâ€¦ South?
Earlier in the 2008 season, NFL analysts focused much of their attention on the top-to-bottom strength of the NFC East.
While that foursome of teams still lacks a club with a losing record and features the 8-1 New York Giants, arguably the best team in the NFC at this point, the NFC South has begun to draw some attention of its own for its overall strength. And for good reason.
For proof, look at what happened to the Bucs this weekend. While idle, they saw a Carolina Panthers team dismantle the Oakland Raiders and push their division-leading record to 7-2 and an Atlanta Falcons team join the Bucs with a 6-3 record after notching an impressive win over the New Orleans Saints, who at 4-5 are still not out of the race by any stretch.
"Everybody talks about the NFC East, but I think our division is right up there with them," Ruud said. "It's real competitive as well. Carolina is obviously playing well. Atlanta and New Orleans played each other this weekend and you've got to give Atlanta the credit they deserve. They're winning games. After a pretty tough year last year, they've really bounced back."
Added Jackson: "Everybody's winning. Atlanta's looking good. Carolina, they only have two losses. It's real competitive this year. Every game is going to count down the stretch and we need to make sure we take care of what we need to take care of."
Although the Bucs must worry about contests against Minnesota and Detroit before beginning a crucial three-week stretch of games against the other NFC South teams, Gruden admitted that the stretch run will likely end up an ultra-competitive one.
"These are going to be hard-fought games," Gruden said. "[Atlanta QB] Matt Ryan is for real; he's great, he's really something. I watched him yesterday and I tip my hat to him. He's clearly a great prospect. Drew Brees and that team in New Orleans is capable of running the table, if you ask me. They've got that kind of team. And Carolina, they've just been ornery as hell on defense all year. They've got some fine players, so it's going to be a dogfight."
Luckily for the Bucs, there are a handful of veteran leaders in the locker room that can help prevent the team from looking too far ahead on the schedule or watching the scoreboard too often. Count linebacker Derrick Brooks as one of those players.
"We've just got to worry about the Bucs," Brooks said. "We can't play anybody else's schedule and nobody can play ours. We can't get caught trying to worry what goes on outside this locker room. We've earned the position. If we take each week at a time, take care of our business, we'll get what we deserve, which is where we want to be when it's all said and done."