DT Warren Sapp wants to put himself in the lanes that Chicago QB Cade McNown would use to scramble for yardage
As usual, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers will spend a good portion of their midweek practice time devising ways to stop the opponent's leading rusher.
The only difference is, this time that rusher is also the opposing quarterback.
Chicago ran the ball just 25 times in its narrow loss to Minnesota last Sunday, 10 of which were by QB Cade McNown. McNown led the Bears in carries (10), rushing yards (87), yards per carry (8.7) and rushing touchdowns (1), nearly leading Chicago to an upset in Minneapolis (the Vikings won 30-27 thanks to three rushing scores from their own quarterback, Duante Culpepper).
With good reason, Tampa Bay feels that its own speed on defense will help contain McNown more successfully than he was a week ago. Still, they are acutely aware of the task at hand.
"It's a challenge and we're going to be geared up to it," said DE Chidi Ahanotu, one of the team's many rangy, high-motor defenders. "It seems like he wants to break out as soon as he gets a chance. He sees some daylight and heads straight down the middle of the field. It's going to be our job up front to contain him and make his life miserable like we did the quarterback last week."
After making life difficult for Patriots' QB Drew Bledsoe on opening day last Sunday, the Bucs' defensive front has decided that it must lead the defensive charge each week by applying constant pressure.
"We have to," said DT Warren Sapp, who caught Bledsoe for 1.5 of the Bucs' six sacks. "But the thing that's different between (McNown) and Bledsoe is that this guy can run. He ran for 90 yards a week ago, and that's the thing we have to do, keep him in the pocket and make him become a passer. If we can do that, then we should be effective."
And how do you do that?
"We're just going to be in our lanes," Sapp continued. "We're going to give him no escape lanes, where he can run north and south. We're going to make him go out the back door, and when he goes out the back door, then our speed and quickness can catch up with him and get him on the ground.
"He's not that fast, it's just his quickness. He's a little elusive when he's in the pocket, but he's not overly fast. If we can make him go out the back door, then he has a long way to run and we can catch up with him."
LB Derrick Brooks actually advocates a two-pronged approach.
"One, make him one-dimensional," said Brooks. "Don't allow him to run the football, because that makes him a very dangerous quarterback if you have any indecision on defense. Secondly, once he starts scrambling around, you've got to cover your receivers downfield. The underneath guys have got to come up and tackle him. He's not afraid to pull down the ball and run it. He led the team last week in rushing and scored a couple rushing touchdowns. The dual threat is always a problem, but we've got to make him one-dimensional and dictate the action on the field."
McNown, in his second year like Bucs QB Shaun King, already faced the Buccaneers twice during his rookie campaign. The lefty scrambler was able to move the Bears against Tampa Bay's defense on occasion, but Chicago scored only nine points on three field goals in the two 1999 contests combined. Still, he gave the Bucs a quick taste of his elusive ways, running for 39 yards on eight carries in those two games. Tampa Bay might not be able to keep McNown from scrambling at all, but they have shown the ability to keep he and the Bears' offense in check.
"We feel like our speed helps us," said Dungy. "A lot of plays that he made, (tacklers) just missed him last week. We're hoping we'll be able to get him down. He gave us some problems running the ball in both games against us last year. But hopefully we can cover well enough to make him hold the ball a little bit and move around, and we'll see what happens."
It's not that the Bucs expect McNown to be intimidated. The young signal-caller came into the league with a reputation for confidence, and he's shown that same trait as a pro.
"This guy here's a real confident quarterback," said Sapp. "The thing that we have to do is get pressure on him, and get pressure on him early, to where he knows there's going to be a rush coming at him every down. Then we've just got to get him on the ground when the opportunity presents itself."
Derrick Brooks can already see progress in McNown's game from 1999 to the new season, and the extra running last week might be a part of that. "He seems to be taking more control," said Brooks. "You can tell that by his demeanor on the field. He seems to be a little bit more relaxed on the field. He's making checks out there on his own, and he's running the ball when he has to. He's not forcing himself into any mistakes. Whereas last year, he might have thrown the ball in there, this year, he's just pulling it down and running it and not trying to put his team in a bad position."
After facing one of the league's best pocket passers last week, and treating him rather rudely, the Bucs' defense has to switch gears and try to contain a mad scrambler. Sapp, for one, enjoys getting a new look each week.
"We kind of like this," said Sapp. "Put the hat on us as a defensive front and make us go out and rush a guy that can move around and do some things with his legs. We're going to try to make him beat us with his arm.
"We never let an offense dictate how we're going to play. We come out with the same intensity, the same focus that we have week in and week out, then just go out and attack them. Let them react to what we're doing."