Derrick Johnson has the privilege of facing the NFL's leading runner in practice every day, as well as the league's second-ranked rushing attack overall. That should be good preparation for the Kansas City Chiefs' Week Six game at Raymond James Stadium on Sunday, because Johnson expects to see a similar emphasis from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
"The running game – strong running game, power-style running game," Johnson replied, when asked what stands out about the Buccaneers under first-year Head Coach Greg Schiano. "They kind of wait 'til you make a mistake. They like the deep ball, they like to run it of course first but they do max up and throw it deep to Vincent Jackson and those guys. They've got a nice scheme, kind of an old-school type scheme."
The Buccaneers' rushing attack got off to a strong start in 2012 with a 160-yard day in a 16-10 opening-day win over the Carolina Panthers. Since then, Tampa Bay has failed to crack triple digits again in any of three consecutive losses, though some of that has been due to situational play-calling. The Week Two game at New York, for instance, turned into a second-half aerial shootout, and the Bucs were trying to rally against a dwindling clock for most of the second half in Dallas in Week Three.
In addition, the Bucs have yet to hit any real home runs in the running game, unlike Johnson's teammate, Jamaal Charles, who broke off a 91-yard touchdown run against New Orleans in Week Three. Rookie back Doug Martin is averaging a respectable 3.6 yards per carry but has really had to work hard to grind out each yard between the tackles.
The Bucs think they're on the verge of breaking some longer runs, and Johnson sees the same potential problem.
"They don't care if they get one or two yards here or there, but as soon as you mess up, as soon as you don't play your gaps aggressively and do your assignments right, they're going to hit you for a big one," said the former 2005 first-round pick, who has been a starter for most of his eight seasons in the NFL, all in Kansas City.
The Chiefs have just one win, like the Bucs, and their four losses have largely been the product of a league-high 19 turnovers by the offense. That belies not only the potent Charles-led rushing attack but also a defense that ranks 10th in the league in yards allowed (326.8 per game). It could be argued that the more telling statistic is points allowed, and there the Chiefs rank 27th in the NFL (29.0 per game), but again, turnovers by the offense have been a major factor in that disparity between the two rankings. Short fields and scoring returns have helped pump up opposing teams' scores, as the Chiefs 19 giveaways have resulted in seven touchdowns and six field goals.
Johnson obviously knows the turnovers are a problem but he's not pointing fingers at the offense.
"It's the ultimate team game, so we have to work good for the offense and the offense has to work good for the defense, regardless of situations," he said. "Whenever I get there on the field, I'm out there to stop the offense from scoring."
Nevertheless, Johnson feels as if the Chiefs' defense has played well and will only get better as the season progresses. They have been better against the pass (eighth in the league) than the run (22nd), however, giving up 121.0 ground yards per game. Again, Johnson sees that matchup between his team's rush defense and the Bucs' ground game as the key on Sunday.
"Right now as a defense we're playing a lot better," he said. "We're kind of clicking, kind of like last year. Things are kind of coming together, slowing down for our defense. We have a young defensive team and it's going to be a big challenge this week to stop this running game but we're going to have to make them one-dimensional. I think they're running game is great. It's an old-style, downhill type of running game but they're having a lot of success at it."
Obviously, the Bucs' defense has just as great of a challenge, if not more so, against Charles and his fellow Kansas City backs. Whichever D fares better in that regard will likely see its team collect a second win on Sunday.
"At the end of the day, wins and losses, that's what we count," said Johnson. "Right now, we're a 1-4 team and we're trying to get out of the hole. Tampa Bay's trying to do the same thing, so it's one of those games where we both need a win. This week is going to be an old-school type of game. We're going to run the ball, they're going to run the ball and we'll see who does better on Sunday."