WR Jacquez Green has caught the attention of QB Trent Dilfer...and a lot of his passes, too
Through the first seven games of 1999, Tampa Bay's passing attack produced just seven completions of 20 or more yards, just two of over 30 yards and not one longer than a 39-yarder posted on opening day. The deep ball was a very noticeably missing element of a Buccaneer attack that was supposed to grind with the running game and strike quickly through the air.
That has changed in the last two weeks, and the Buccaneers' offense has ridden its resurgent long-passing attack to an average of 375.5 yards of offense per game in wins over New Orleans and Kansas City. Most of the quick-strike attack has been the work of two players: QB Trent Dilfer and WR Jacquez Green.
Dilfer returned to the starting lineup in New Orleans, one week after being benched in favor of Eric Zeier. After a ribcage injury sidelined Zeier, Dilfer jumped back into the mix with a determination to go deep. He has found a willing and able target in Green, who has caught three passes of over 50 yards in the last two weeks, two for touchdowns. The second-year speedster out of Florida now leads the team in receiving yards with 472, averaging 16.3 yards per catch on 29 grabs.
"Obviously, he's making big plays for us," said Buccaneer Head Coach Tony Dungy on Monday. "He has the ability to get deep and he's caught the ball very consistently. He can make people miss in the open field, so we've got to get the ball to him. He'll be playing quite a bit."
Green may slide back out of the starting spot he has possessed for three weeks with the return of injured wideouts Bert Emanuel and Karl Williams. He is not likely to relinquish his spot as the Bucs' most feared deep threat, however. Green caught a 62-yard touchdown pass against New Orleans on November 7 and followed with a 52-yards scoring catch and another crucial 54-yard reception last week. In each instance, Green got past the opposing secondary on plays in which he was basically isolated against a single defender.
Overall, Green hauled in seven passes for 164 yards against the Chiefs, tying for the sixth-most prolific receiving-yardage day in team history. He has gained the confidence of Dilfer, who seems also to be playing with quite a bit of confidence in himself. Dilfer has hit on 32 of 47 throws over the past two weeks for 497 yards, five touchdowns and just one interception. In addition to his long passes to Green, Dilfer also found TE Dave Moore for a 35-yard TD pass yesterday against the Chiefs.
"I think he is a little more relaxed," said Dungy of Dilfer after his second consecutive win. "I think he's just really having fun and enjoying being out there, and that's probably the biggest difference that I see. We're playing with more confidence all the way around on offense, which is important."
Dungy does not necessarily buy into the theory that Dilfer's short-lived benching has been the key to his improved play of late. "I don't think it is (the difference)," said Dungy. "I've been benched a couple of times myself, and I don't think it's good. I just think he made a point that if he ever got to play again, he was going to prove me wrong. So far, he has and I think that's the positive out of it. But to say that we should have benched him earlier, I don't think that's necessarily the case."
With Zeier still struggling with his injury and Dilfer appearing to be at the top of his game, there isn't much current talk of Dilfer returning to the bench. Dilfer moved into second place on the Bucs' all-time passing yardage chart with his 270 yards against the Chiefs, and he has rarely looked more efficient in his six-year Buc tenure than he has over the past two weeks. And the sudden connection in the deep passing game is a major reason why.