Offensive Coordinator Les Steckel believes his quarterback and star receiver are forging a connection
Throughout most of the offseason and into training camp, optimistic Tampa Bay Buccaneer fans were cautioned that the team might need some time to get new offensive coordinator Les Steckel's offense rolling. The Bucs, of course, hoped to have success and flashes of brilliance in the early going, but didn't expect to be truly humming until five, six, eight games into the season.
Well, we're now eight games into the season, and game eight was certainly promising. With Steckel expertly mixing the run and pass against the Minnesota Vikings last week, the Bucs blasted for a season-high 413 yards and scored 41 points (seven, admittedly, on defense).
Most prominent in that midseason explosion were QB Shaun King (four touchdown passes, no interceptions) and WR Keyshawn Johnson (six receptions, 121 yards, one touchdown). Steckel was just as pleased as anyone that those two hooked up so effectively against the Vikings, but cautions against expecting the same game plan each week.
"We've got a good team," said Steckel. "We just ran into some unfortunate games. Every week is different. You go into a game and say, 'How can we win?' At Tennessee, we were known as a hard-nosed rushing team, but you look at the rankings and we were 13th in rushing, 13th in passing. That's about as balanced as you can get. But the rushing game got all the publicity, so we were a 'running team.'"
At times against Minnesota, King threw in Johnson's direction despite decent coverage by the Vikings, a strategy Johnson had lobbied hard to get into the young quarterback's mind. At 6-4 – and Steckel says Johnson plays more like 6-7 due to his leaping ability – Johnson had a definite advantage of shorter cornerback Robert Tate.
The Falcons have an excellent pair of cornerbacks in Ray Buchanan and Ashley Ambrose, but they stand 5-9 and 5-10, respectively. That means you could see that strategy employed again versus Atlanta. Still, Steckel insists, it depends quite a bit on what the Falcon defense is working hardest to take away.
"First of all, when you go into a game, you're working on your strengths versus their weaknesses, hopefully," said Steckel. "Then again, at the snap, you never know what you're going to get. I mean, you think you have a good idea most of the time, but you're never sure what they're going to do. That's why we teach progression, not to just key on one guy. Shaun's a really bright guy, so that helps a lot."
The Buccaneers do have an educated guess as to what the Falcons will do on offense on Sunday. Atlanta's linebacking corps has been weakened by injuries to Jessie Tuggle and Keith Brooking, leaving young, untested players like Jeff Kelly and Mark Simoneau to shoulder the load. That fact might actually make the Falcons more aggressive on defense.
"What I think they're doing is stunting and bringing 'backers and hoping to catch you just right," said Steckel. "When they're blitzing a lot like that, big plays can happen. We could pop one for 40 yards or they could get us for a loss of 10. I told our guys that we have to be patient and take advantage of those opportunities. Patience and perseverance – that's our motto this week."