Head Coach Jon Gruden knows the Bucs will face yet another explosive offense this weekend
Echoing a thought he has stuck to consistently in the past – no matter how well or poorly his team was performing in the league rankings – Jon Gruden derided the importance of statistics on Wednesday. Stats are for agents and contract-makers, Gruden said, but not for those who want to determine how good a team really is.
The specific topic in this case was the back-to-back games his team, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, will play against the NFL's number-one and number-two ranked offenses. Having dispatched of the top-ranked Philadelphia Eagles last Sunday, the Bucs will now travel to the Meadowlands to take on number two, the New York Giants.
Still, while Gruden may not agree with their method, he independently comes to the same conclusion as the stat-keepers when it comes to the Giants' offense: It's really good.
"The Giants fall right in line with a lot of the others we've seen, only their running back is exceptionally hot right now," said Gruden, having caught some of Tiki Barber's act against the Dallas Cowboys on Monday night. "They have a bevy of skilled people here and Tom Coughlin drives them hard.
"Tiki Barber is a handful and they've got another back who's built like any back I've seen. This [Brandon] Jacobs is a monster. They have it going right now. You can tell they know what they're doing. It will be a great challenge for our defense."
Well, since we all agree on the underlying premise, perhaps a few stats wouldn't hurt. The Giants come in just 28 yards under the Eagles, averaging 389.5 per game, including 152.3 on the ground and 237.2 through the air. Quarterback Eli Manning has a 90.7 passer rating, Barber leads the league with 647 rushing yards, massive back Brandon Jacobs has three rushing touchdowns and a 4.9-yard per-carry average and four different players have at least 20 catches and 222 receiving yards. The Giants have turned the ball over just 11 times and allowed only one touchdown off a giveaway in their last three games.
In other words, stats aside, they fit the definition of a good offense by the Bucs' coach. "A good offense is an offense that doesn't turn it over, that wins games, that can run it and throw it," said Gruden. "We haven't seen a team that didn't have a great offense."
Last Sunday, the Eagles became the first team to put up 500 yards on a Buccaneer defense in 21 years. They had a 300-yard passer (Donovan McNabb), a 100-yard rusher (Brian Westbrook) and a 100-yard receiver (that Westbrook guy again). And they lost, mostly because two of their four giveaways were returned for touchdowns by Tiki's twin brother, Ronde Barber. The Eagles have a fabulous offense – Gruden would never argue otherwise – but on that particular day it wasn't good enough to win because it turned the ball over too many times. Barber's two touchdowns – and, yeah, a 62-yard field goal by Matt Bryant – rendered those 500 yards moot.
Moot…but not forgotten. The Bucs don't expect to give up 500 yards and win on a regular basis. The defense had stressed getting turnovers and scoring by itself leading up to the Philadelphia game, and it delivered. But the Bucs know they'll have to tackle better and be more stingy overall in order to beat the Giants in the Meadowlands.
That is the only real adjustment the Bucs have to make when going from the #1 offense to the #2 offense.
"We've just got to do what we do and do it better," said defensive end Dewayne White. You've got to get better tackling, pretty much. We missed a whole lot of tackles this past week…the previous weeks, in fact.
"We've got a huge challenge ahead of us. We've got to go out and stop Tiki Barber, hopefully make them one-dimensional and make them throw the ball a lot. That is the main focus, because we don't want to give up a lot of yards to him. We've just got to go out and tackle him."
The Giants' offense has definitely been good enough to win, averaging 27.3 points per outing during the three-game winning streak that has taken New York to the top of the NFC East standings. And points are the one statistic that means exactly what it appears to mean.
"If you're not careful, you get caught worrying about statistics more than you do worrying about that scoreboard up there, which is really most important," said Gruden.
Another New Face
Tampa Bay's defense got a bit of personnel alteration on Wednesday when Brian Kelly went to injured reserve. The Bucs lost a corner but added a defensive lineman in Jovan Haye, a young and versatile player the team hopes will fit its system.
Placing Kelly on I.R. was done with a nod to next season, when the Bucs hope their starting left cornerback will be fully recovered from the troublesome turf toe injury that has plagued him this fall.
"We're going to give him a chance to get his foot healed properly and hopefully come back 100 percent next year," said Gruden. "It's a big, big loss for us. It's a big loss for our team."
Juran Bolden, who was held out of practice on Wednesday due to his own nagging hip ailment, will remain as the starter in Kelly's place. Torrie Cox has subsequently moved up into the nickel back role, and both have performed well. Bolden had one of the three interceptions off McNabb on Sunday.
However, the Bucs hope that the recently-signed Phillip Buchanon will work his way into the mix, too, now that Kelly has officially been shelved for the season.
"He's doing good," said Gruden of Buchanon, who just signed with the team last week after being released by Houston. "We weren't really counting on Brian to play this week or anytime soon. We just wish him well and hope he has a speedy recovery. We brought in Buchanon because we think he's got talent and the sooner he learns our stuff the better. We'll see what he can do, but he's doing a good job. He's a great kid, he's bright-eyed and he has talent."
As for Haye, the Bucs will try him at a different position than he played for Carolina, the team that drafted him in the sixth round in 2005. Haye was primarily a defensive end for the Panthers, but he'll get most of his action with the Buccaneers at the "three-technique" defensive tackle position. Ellis Wyms is the Bucs' starter there after last week's trade of Anthony McFarland to Indianapolis.
"Jovan Haye is a guy we liked coming out of college," said Gruden. "He played with Carolina for awhile, had a pretty good season and went to Cleveland. We kept our eyes on him. He's a guy we think fits our scheme. He's a one-gap guy who has some linebacker in his background. He's got some position versatility. Strong guy, good kid, smart, loves football, so we're going to look at him."
Wyms, incidentally, did not practice on Wednesday either, instead resting an ankle injury he sustained against the Eagles. Bolden and Wyms are two of the seven players listed as questionable on the Bucs' first official injury report of the week, though they are the only two on that list who missed practice.
The other Buccaneers considered questionable for the game are tight end Anthony Becht (foot), wide receiver Mark Jones (hamstring), linebacker Shelton Quarles (knee), defensive end Simeon Rice (shoulder) and wide receiver Maurice Stovall. Jones and Stovall have each missed the last two games due to their injuries. Obviously, quarterback Chris Simms is still out due to his splenectomy.
The Giants' injury report is lengthy, as well, beginning with LaVar Arrington and the Achilles tendon tear he suffered during Monday's game. Arrington is out for the season but has not yet been placed on injured reserve. Gruden knows that's a blow to the Giants' defense but believes they'll be able to cover the loss well.
"He's a great player who obviously was an impact in the game while he played against Dallas," said Gruden. "I give [General Manager] Ernie Accorsi and Tom Coughlin credit – they've drafted extremely well. They're deep. They've got a lot of big, fast, physical players."
A couple of them are also on the injury report, however, including dangerous defensive end Osi Umenyiora. Umenyiora suffered a hip flexor injury against the Cowboys and is considered questionable for the game. Starting right cornerback Sam Madison is also on the report, questionable due to a hamstring injury.
If the 2006 World Series goes seven games, the deciding contest will begin while the Buccaneers are flying back from New York – the city in which most observers expected at least half of the series to be played.
Instead, the St. Louis Cardinals and Detroit Tigers are fighting for the title, and that's a bit of a problem for Gruden. He feels some allegiance to the Cardinals thanks to his friendship with manager Tony LaRussa, but also wants the best for Detroit manager Jim Leyland.
Gruden watched some of Game Three on Tuesday night and was excited to see the Cardinals take a 2-1 series lead with their 5-0 victory.
"Oh, yeah, I'm fired up, man," said Gruden. "That was a big win for us last night. The problem is, I really like Jim Leyland, too, so I can't say anything to make Jim mad. He's a grouch when he's mad at you."
The Cardinals limped into the playoffs, losing much of an 8.5-game lead to the Astros in the final two weeks of the season. However, they've hit their stride in series wins over San Diego and the New York Mets and are now just two wins away from their first championship since 1982. At this point, it's much easier to see the Cardinals' strengths than the weaknesses that plagued them down the stretch.
"I think so much of [Albert] Pujols," said Gruden. "Jim Edmonds, the clutch hit last night, I saw that. [Scott] Rolen's a war-daddy at third base, [David] Eckstein's a scrapper, man, and when [Chris] Carpenter has the ball they're going to win. Give him one or two runs, you're going to win. That's just the way it is."