QB Trent Dilfer expects a fierce pass rush on Sunday
QB Trent Dilfer, by all accounts, is as relaxed and confident as he has ever been as an NFL starter. The circumstances of the last few weeks – benched in favor of Eric Zeier, back in the lineup a week later after a Zeier injury, praised after an outstanding effort last Sunday in New Orleans – have combined to remove any fear of failure.
That's not to say there won't be pressure on Dilfer on Sunday against the Kansas City Chiefs. Indeed, if Chief pass-rushers extraordinaire Derrick Thomas and Chester McGlockton have any say in the matter, the Bucs' signal-caller will feel quite a bit of heat. Dilfer and the Tampa Bay offense is gearing up for that challenge.
"The philosophy of the day is to give Derrick and Chester a game they don't want to play," said Dilfer on Saturday, shortly after the team finished its final walk-through. "We don't want to get in situations where those guys are running downhill. We're going to run the ball at them, spread them out with four-wide formations and get the ball out of my hand quickly. We need to give them different looks and keep them off balance."
Just a few weeks ago, Dilfer may have believed he wasn't going to have to face Thomas' legendary pass rush. Six games into the season, after the Bucs slipped past Chicago 6-3 to bring their record to 3-3, he was demoted to second string behind Zeier. Though noone in the Buccaneer organization felt the ills of the league's 29th-ranked offense rested solely at Dilfer's feet, it was eventually decided that starting Zeier would give the team a better chance to win. The decision was, barring injury or unusual circumstance, permanent.
However, Zeier suffered a ribcage injury in his first start, a 20-3 loss at Detroit on 10/31. Zeier's performance in that contest (29 of 44 for 256 yards, no touchdowns or interceptions) was strong, particularly after a seven-week layoff, but a first-quarter injury worsened during the following week.
Enter Dilfer, again. Back under center in New Orleans, Dilfer completed 15 of 20 passes for 227 yards, a season-best three touchdowns and no interceptions as Tampa Bay rolled to a reinvigorating 31-16 win. There's no opportunity for a quarterback controversy yet, as Zeier is still unable to play. Meanwhile, Dilfer prepares for his second consecutive start with a helpful looseness.
"The times I've played poorly," said Dilfer, "it has been more of a 'fear-to-fail' thing. It was as if, 'I know what kind of game I have to play to beat this team, and I don't want to make any mistakes.' When I've played that way, things haven't gone well. When I went out there and just trusted my instincts and my ability, I've done well."
Dilfer regained his perspective with his week on the bench. "I tried to enjoy it," he said, "but I didn't. I tried to add enthusiasm to practice…I became a cheerleader. I've learned a lot from my mistakes in the past, and I was determined not to make them again. I was prepared to use the next nine weeks to help make the team better any way that I could."
Of course, his task is much more obvious now. With the Buccaneers desperately needing to build a winning streak, Dilfer must decipher an aggressive Kansas City defense that ranks 11th in the league overall. With former defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham now in charge, the perenially-tough Chiefs are succeeding with a wide variety of defensive looks.
"They've been at their best when they've been in their junk packages," said Dilfer, referring to unusual schemes with four linebackers or multiple defensive backs. "I don't mean junk as in bad…they're very good schemes. We have to try to stay in situations and formations that keep them out of those schemes as much as possible."