CB Elbert Mack knows the Bills may try to test the Bucs' secondary after Dallas stung it for several long plays on opening weekend
There is a lot of game tape being watched in team headquarters in Buffalo, New York and Tampa Bay, Florida this week. Coaches and players for the Buffalo Bills and Tampa Bay Buccaneers are scouting strengths and weaknesses, looking for clues to help shape their game plans and assessing which players on the opposing team might be ripe for the picking.
Some clues are subtle. Some are 80-yard touchdown passes.
The Buccaneers and Bills will meet in Buffalo on Sunday in the second â€˜09 game for a pair of franchises that opened the season with frustrating losses. The Bills surrendered a 12-point lead with 5:32 to play thanks in large part to a fumbled kickoff return. The Buccaneers lost to the Dallas Cowboys, 34-21, despite racking up 450 yards of offense and playing solid defense for about 80% of their snaps.
It was four big plays in particular that doomed the Buccaneers — three long touchdown passes and another 44-yard completion that set up Dallas' last touchdown. Watched on a loop, those four plays might lead an opposing team to believe that Tampa Bay's secondary — long one of the most successful units in the NFL — is now the team's weak link.
And that's why the Buccaneers' defense won't be surprised if the Bills try to follow the Cowboys' lead and go for the big play in the passing game on Sunday.
"If I'm watching Buffalo and they show me a weakness, would I attack the weakness?" asked Buccaneers' defensive tackle Chris Hovan. "Damn right I'd attack the weakness. This is the NFL. This is based on weaknesses and strengths, so we're going to have to go out there, overcome what we did and just play that much stronger."
Of course, the NFL is never as simple as it seems on the surface. Teams are constantly trying to anticipate what their opponents will do in order to strike back with the unexpected. The Bills won't just launch one pump-fake deep pass after another because s similar play worked against the Buccaneers on opening day. Still, the Cowboy game seemed to expose an opportunity for opposing offenses against the Bucs' defense.
At least, that's what Buccaneer defenders — none of whom lost any confidence after the season opener — are expecting their opponents to think.
"Why wouldn't you?" asked cornerback Elbert Mack, who accepted responsibility for a missed tackle on one of those long TDs. "If we thought there was a weakness in their secondary I'm pretty sure our offense would do the same thing. Everything that happened [against Dallas] was very correctable. Obviously I've got to tackle that guy on the sideline and we've just got to step up and make more plays. We'll be alright."
Head Coach Raheem Morris, who was previously in charge of the secondary before a pair of promotions last January, told his defensive backs that the struggles against Dallas could still be turned to their advantage. If bad moments on the game tape prompted future opponents to test them, the Bucs' defensive backs could find themselves in position to make game-changing plays for the good.
Or, to put it more simply, they're coming after you now, so make them pay.
Safety Sabby Piscitelli won't complain if the Bills decide to look in his direction.
"I hope so," he said. "I hope so. As a DB, you've got to have a short memory, but at the same time you open up opportunities for yourself to make more plays. I take that as motivation and a challenge. I'm moving on this week and I'm excited to go to Buffalo, go out there and make some plays."
The Bucs' safeties, Piscitelli and Jermaine Phillips, were singled out for scrutiny on some plays on Sunday, as was Mack. The defensive line was criticized for not getting enough pressure on the quarterback. Nobody on the defense was able to secure a turnover. Inside the Buccaneer locker room, the loss was treated as a team affair; no fingers were being pointed.
Of course, that doesn't stop the Bills from focusing in on one specific player or position. If that happens to be Mack or Piscitelli or any other Tampa Bay defender, that's just fine with the Buccaneers. Speaking for his teammates, Mack said he looks forward to the possibility of being targeted by the Bills.
"Definitely," said Mack. "I want redemption. Who doesn't? This creates more opportunities for me. At the end of the day, we just have to play hard and execute."