The Bucs plan to meet RB Brandon Jacobs with a gang of tacklers on Sunday
Tanard Jackson, rookie safety for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, says he's given a decent amount of thought this week to how he plans to handle a one-on-one situation with 264-pound running back Brandon Jacobs.
At roughly 200 pounds, Jackson gives up a pretty significant weight difference to the New York Giants' tank of a ballcarrier. Jacobs, who gained 1,009 rushing yards this season and averaged 5.0 yards per tote, is the biggest back the Buccaneers have run across this season.
Every NFL back presents a specific sort of challenge, but Jacobs is not the type of threat a team runs across very often.
"You have to scheme against everybody, if it's Warrick Dunn or if it's [Jacobs]," said Jackson. "But you have to approach him differently. A guy his size, you have to approach it at your strength. A guy like me, I'm a littler safety, so I'm going to approach it the best way I know how to."
And what is that way? We'll have to wait and see.
"You'll see it Sunday," said Jackson. "I'll get him down."
Confidence is important, and Jackson has proven to be a secure tackler in his rookie season despite his size. But the Bucs aren't going into their matchup with some vague notion of matching strength with strength. As Jackson mentioned, the Bucs will come in with a specific scheme to contain Jacobs as well as possible. The crux of that scheme is to get as many defenders to the football as possible.
"Gang tackle," said linebacker Derrick Brooks. "That's been our focus; it's how we dealt with big backs in the past. Instead of three or four guys, you get five or six to the football.
"He's going to get the ball and we're going to have to get two or three guys to the football. It's no difference from the message that we've been preaching all year long. It's probably the biggest back we faced all year long. Again, we just have to get two or three guys to the football and make sure you wrap up when you get there."
Brooks' message has gotten through to the team's younger defenders. Defensive tackle Jovan Haye had just joined the Buccaneers last season when they played the Giants in New York, and he didn't suit up for that game. But he got a good look at Jacobs from the sideline and knows what the rest of his teammates found out that day.
"We've just got to get our hats on him," said Haye. "That's our main focus this week. He's a very good back, he's a big back. He's been running over folks all year, so we've definitely got to hustle and gang-tackle this week."
There is the danger, of course, that the Buccaneer defenders will be so focused on getting to the football that they'll lose focus on their specific assignments within the defense. Jacobs is more than just a straightforward bruiser; he's nimble enough to jump over into a gap that opens up due to a blown assignment. As a one-gap type of defense, the Bucs can't afford to be freelancing in order to chase after the ball indiscriminately.
"It's all about gap control and being where you're supposed to be," said linebacker Barrett Ruud.. "And then you have to tackle those guys because they're not going to go down by themselves."
Stopping Jacobs wasn't the only topic being discussed at Buccaneer headquarters this week. Below is a collection of thoughts from Tampa Bay players as they prepared for their Wild Card showdown with the Giants on Sunday, including a little more insight into the matchup with Jacobs.
Overhead at One Buccaneer Place:
LB Derrick Brooks on Brandon Jacobs and the approach to tackling him: "You just gang tackle him. Again, he is what he is – a strong, powerful running back. Will we make every one-on-one tackle with him? I don't know. But we've got a better chance of getting more guys to the football, and that's just been our emphasis this week, instead of getting three or four guys to the pile, we have to bring a couple more."
DT Chris Hovan on if facing Jacobs last year will help: "I think so. I think the guys who were here and are still playing right now got a good look at their personnel and a good look at their scheme and what they want to do against our defense, especially. We're going to keep watching film and stay in the classroom, but I think we know what to expect on Sunday."
S Tanard Jackson on how he would describe Brandon Jacobs: "Big, physical runner, who once he gets started is hard to bring down. You have to get him before he gets started at the line of scrimmage and try to not let him get going. Once he gets going, he's hard to deal with."
LB Barrett Ruud on the challenge of bringing down Brandon Jacobs: "Yeah, he's a big guy, but he's not just a big guy. He's got good feet, and he can break away too. I think it's a bit overrated that he's just a big grinder back there. He's got good feet and can make people miss. He's a complete back, too."
Brooks on Jacobs as a factor in the passing game: "He's part of the offense. When he's in there, he's running the same routes the other tailbacks are running. How much Eli throws to him depends, I guess, on their offensive plays. But again, no matter who's at tailback, they're still running the same routes. Now they've got some special plays up there they've probably put in for us that we've never seen before. That's why we have to rely on our rules and our coverages to combat that."
Jackson on comparing Jacobs to Ron Dayne, who the team saw earlier this year: "I wouldn't compare him to Dayne. I think Dayne's a little more shifty than he is. I think Dayne can get lateral, then vertical. I think Brandon Jacobs is more of a downhill runner."
Ruud on the Giants' offense: "It hurts them with Shockey going down, because he's obviously a premier tight end, but they've got an explosive passing game. They've got a well-rounded team and a good defense that makes a lot of plays."
Brooks on QB Eli Manning: "When they are running the football, it makes him a very dangerous quarterback. Whenever he has time to set his feet and make his throws, he's getting the job done. He's effective as the running game goes, so does the offense. He's made plays for them at the end of ball games. He has a knack for making plays at the end and normally making up for some of the mistakes he may have made earlier."
Jackson on getting pressure on Eli Manning: "It always starts with the front seven, and the back end has to create turnovers and create havoc on defense."
DT Jovan Haye on the Giants' offensive line: "Real good. Real solid. They come off the ball very powerful. They look real good on offense."
Jackson on handling the taller receivers like Burress: "Hit them. Big, tall receivers who like to go up and get the ball and stretch out for the ball, you have to hit them and make them think twice about it."
QB Jeff Garcia on personally facing the Giants in the playoffs again: "I'm sure they're looking forward to it. I think it's something where we run into each other a couple of times in the past and that's the past, this is a new year. They are a good football team so we have to prepare quite a bit, especially on the offensive side, for what we're getting ready to face."
Brooks on how much he savors going to the playoffs: "To me, that's something to think about when the season is over. Right now you really appreciate the position that you earned your right to be in, now we just have to capitalize on it."
Haye on the level of intensity this week: "Guys are just getting happy. We know what we've got down here. We know it's on a national stage. We haven't had any games nationally this year, so we've kind of got something to show everybody what we have."
Ruud on if he senses the intensity picking up now: "Yeah, I think so. You really feel it, more than anything, on Sunday at the game atmosphere. But definitely people are excited. This is what you play for all year, to get in a position for this run right here. So yeah, we're definitely excited."
G Davin Joseph on preparing for playoff intensity: "You have to play your hardest. You have to go out there and give it your all because it's single-elimination. Whether you play next week will be determined by how you play on Sunday."
WR Ike Hilliard on playoff intensity: "It's a whole different atmosphere. If you thought every play counted during the regular season, multiply that by 10 for the postseason. Everything is magnified in the playoffs."
DE Greg White on if the level of intensity has picked up preparing for the playoffs: "Yeah, it's cold outside. It's the postseason now. The postseason is always associated with it being cold outside. Everybody's ready to go. Everybody's more focused on a lot more details now. Even more than, believe it or not, what we were doing in the season."
Joseph on if he is excited or nervous about the playoffs: "Oh, I'm excited. I have nothing to lose. I didn't come here to be second place. You have to go in with the attitude that you want to be first, you want to be the best, and that's the only way you can go in this league."
White on the best advice he's received about the playoffs: "Stay away from distractions, stay focused. Just stay focused, really. That's about it. There's a lot of distractions being in the playoffs, being here in Tampa, but this is the most important thing going on right now."
Brooks on playing in the postseason: "It's all about appreciating the moment. You never know the next time you'll be in this situation. At the same time, I always use the words, 'sense of urgency'. No matter how much you're wired in, and I want to say I'm pretty much wired in every week, it has to step up to another level at this point."
Hilliard on if veterans need to tell the younger players what's in store in the playoffs: "You have to; they have no idea. Really the speed, the intensity and what we're playing for in this last month of the year is unlike anything they've ever experienced in their lives. Hopefully, we can bang away at the importance of playing your best ball and being accountable for the rest of your team."
Garcia on having playoff experience: "I'm sure that it means something to a team. I think one of the things that I am well aware of is how things change in the post-season compared to the regular season. The hitting is harder, the speed seems faster, the excitement is at a new level, the emotions are at a new level, so how you control that or deal with that throughout the week in your preparation is definitely key. I think this is something that we've all looked forward to. We did enough good things during the year to give us this opportunity to play a playoff game at home and now it's a matter of taking it to another level as a team and doing the necessary things that we have to do in order to prepare and go into the game with confidence that we're going to do the right things and create some great opportunities. It's just a matter of going into this knowing that I need to be good about my decision making. I need to continue to eliminate the mistakes on the field and play solid football, and hopefully give ourselves a chance to win the football game."
TE Jerramy Stevens on what he is telling the younger guys with no playoff experience: "I think you just have to tell them the reality. It's going to be a faster game. It's going to be more physical, more intense, more pressure. I don't think you need to change a lot about your preparation, or how you approach the game, you just have to go out there knowing that it's going to be a little bit quicker tempo."
Brooks on being a veteran and appreciating a playoff season: "I think the longer you play, the more you appreciate winning. After the season we went through last year, it is something special. We earned the right to be in this situation, we've just got to do something with it.
Garcia on how to you communicate to players who have never had playoff experience: "I think you have a good group of veteran leaders on this team who have been through playoffs and a few of these guys have won a Super Bowl. I think the young guys really need to focus on what they are doing, the veterans are doing, and approach it like every other week, but knowing that things are going to pick up, that preparation has to pick up and mentally you have to be more in tune with what is going on. And that physically, be ready to give everything that you have because there is no looking past this Sunday. If you don't do the necessary things on Sunday, you're not playing the next week. It's an all out mentality for this week of preparation, physically and mentally, and just focus on what's going to happen next Sunday."
White on if this season would have been as special for him if he didn't make the playoffs: "No, it wouldn't. We still have a ways to go. I'm not counting it out just because we're going into this game. We'll keep on going. There's a month left, the Super Bowl is in a few more weeks, so we'll just take it one game at a time."
White on if this season has been a dream come true: "Yeah, it's nice so far. Hopefully the dream will keep going into this week, so I'm looking forward to it."
Ruud on what he remembers from his first playoff game two years ago: "You can sense a different atmosphere. The intensity picked up a little bit. It was definitely a little bit different. You could sense that it was a little bit more important. It was kind of like the NCAA tournament in basketball or something like that. You just sense that everybody's got the do-or-die feeling in them."
Hovan on having a playoff game at home: "I first got here in '05 and then we hosted the Wild Card against Washington. It was electric in there. I can't wait. It's an atmosphere you can't describe, especially in Raymond James – outside, just playing football the way it's supposed to be played here in the playoffs. Goosebumps is pretty much the first word that comes to mind."
Brooks on talking to the team in between quarters: "It is what it is. Kiffin has always given me that, in terms of respect to say something I've got to say to our defense at any point. On the field, off the field, that's something that he's allowed me to do. I don't say a lot or use it often, so when I do say something, you know that it's important to me. But it's just a matter of the flow of the game. Most of the time it's encouragement or something that needs to be emphasized that we've really said on the sideline earlier in the ballgame. It just depends on what's going on in the game as to what I communicate to the rest of the guys."
Hilliard on if the Bucs are in good shape after many veterans got the last game off: "I can only speak for myself, but I'll be fine. I'm sure those guys will be fine; we play a lot of football. We just have to make coach correct with his decision by going out and playing some good football."
Haye on the Giants' play against New England: "I wasn't surprised. This is the NFL. They always say, any given week a team can be beat. They put a good game plan together on offense and they put up points against the Patriots, but I'm not surprised."
Jackson on the Giants' game against the Patriots: "I think that's the best game they've played all season, even though they lost. The Patriots are a great team. The Giants, they are what they are. They have some playmakers, guys like Plaxico and Brandon Jacobs, who can break open any play. We just have to do what we've been doing all season – keep the big plays to a minimum and play sound defense."
Ruud on if he watched the Giants against the Patriots: "I watched part of it. I got there late, but I definitely watched the second half and watched the finish. They played well, but the Patriots still found a way to get it done."
Hovan on the Giants playing starters against the Patriots in Week 17 while the Bucs used mostly reserves against Carolina: "It was a different situation, our situation with the Panthers and their situation with the Patriots. Their coaches let them play, and I'm sure if we were in that situation Coach Gruden would probably do the same thing. We'll see what relevance it has in the playoffs, but they've still got to come down here and they've still got to play us at our stadium. It's going to be a great matchup."
Haye on if the Giants play against New England helps their confidence this week: "For them, it probably does, but once again, they have a game this week, a new game. They're playing the Bucs this week, so it's a different look. Whatever they did last week, that was good, but they have a game this weekend to play."
Jackson on if the Giants might be drained from not resting players against New England: "No, not at all. They have a lot of veteran guys on that team, leaders who have been in many playoff runs and been in the playoffs, and we all know that it's another level in the playoffs. I think they'll be ready."
Haye on the Giants record on the road and what makes a good road team: "Just going in and concentrating on trying to be able to block out the crowd and focus on your assignment, not jumping offside, and limiting penalties. Just being able to go into a hostile environment and play ball. They're good on the road, and we're good at home, so it's going to be a great matchup this weekend."
Garcia on the Giants defensive line: "Well, their defensive line is solid. They have greats D-ends; everybody knows about them. Their D-tackles are big guys; they push the pocket. Their linebackers do an excellent job of blitzing. Their secondary does an excellent job of blitzing. They have a defensive scheme the really presents challenges and problems. That is something that we're well aware of and have to be very in tune with as far as our protection schemes are concerned. John Wade and the offensive line are going to have to do an outstanding job this weekend because they do have their hands full. Our backs are going to have to be aware of where linebackers and defensive backs are coming from and I have to be aware of that. That's just something that we will prepare as well as possible all week long. We're not exactly sure on what we're going to get on Sunday, but you have to prepare for everything and that's where Coach Gruden has us and that's were our focus is. We're aware that they are leading the league in sacks; they've done a great job at getting after the quarterback. That's the challenge for this weekend that our offensive line and running backs have to prepare for."
Hilliard on the Giants' defense: "They're a high-pressure team, obviously. Everything's created by that front four. That's pretty much how the game is played, even more so in the playoffs. You have to control the line of scrimmage to win. With Freddy Robbins and Osi [Umenyiora], those guys up front have to be neutralized to a degree in order for us to be successful. We realize the challenge at hand. Regardless of how anyone plays for 16 games, the records mean nothing now. You're going to get everybody's best brand of football, and we have to step up and meet the challenge."
T Donald Penn on what makes the Giants so good at getting to the passer: "They're well coached, they have a good technique and they're physical bunch. But we're a physical bunch too, so it's going to be a good game."
Trueblood on if the Giants defensive line: "They have a great team and we all know that. They have an outstanding front four and if we can do a good job against those guys, of course, we're going to make a name for ourselves, but more importantly we advance if we keep on doing well."
White on the Giants' defensive line: "The Giants D-line is definitely one of the best in the league. We're going to take what they have and see what they've got going and use it to apply it to the Giants' offensive line. Yeah, they're definitely one of the best lines in the league."
Trueblood on who he thinks is a bigger challenge Michael Strahan or Osi Umenyiora: "I think they are totally different players to tell you the truth. They don't offer much of the same stuff, so it depends on what type of tackle you are, to tell you the truth. Strahan is a big, strong guy and Osi is just fast and full of moves."
Penn on the Giants: "I don't know what to say about a team like this, its playoffs. So, of course, it gets bigger. It's a one game elimination. We go into every game to do our assignments no matter who we're playing. But you got to put it like this. It's a playoff game, so, of course, it gets bigger. That's going to be a big part, like it is in every game."
Stevens on the Giants: "They are a solid team and they wouldn't be here if they weren't. We have a nice challenge coming up facing the defense, but I think it starts up front. That's definitely were we have to secure it up, up front first. I think if we do that we're going to have some opportunities to get into the secondary and make some plays. Ike [Hilliard] and Joey [Galloway] are fresh, Earnest [Graham] is fresh, Jeff [Garcia] is fresh, we're ready to play, so we're excited."
Joseph on if the offensive line has improved during the season: "I think we've gotten better. We've gotten a lot better as a group, individually also. I think our communication is better, our physical-ness is better – finishing plays, understanding defenses. We can take that learning experience through the season and take it into the playoffs."
Penn on if the game hinges on the offensive line: "I think every game hinges on the offensive line. We get it going. If we don't come to play, it's hard for the rest of the team to come to play, so we usually put it on our backs. I think it all starts on the offensive line, just like on defense, it starts with the defensive line."
T Jeremy Trueblood on his improving play: "Repetition, probably seeing everything once or twice a few times, normally the third time you see it you think you got it down. By this time of the season you've seen everything, so the game slows down a little bit."
Joseph on last year's game against the Giants: "That was a different situation last year for us, and of course that was regular season and now we're in the postseason. They're a little bit different up front, also. They've had a lot more success this year than they did last year, and it's the same situation for us. I think it's a totally different situation from last year, so it's hard to look at last year and try to compare it to what we're going through right now."
Brooks on any changes he's seen in Jon Gruden: "Coach is pretty much the same, to be honest with you. Outside of some scheduling things and adjustments at practice, nothing has really changed. That is because of the rash of injuries we've had. He's obviously modified that in terms of how we practice, but the workload has been the same, his approach has been the same. Nothing has been dramatically different. Outside of giving veterans days off in training camp, our work has pretty much been the same. Again, he's just emphasized more details and that's what you do when you come off a losing streak, you've got to emphasize that. He's done a good job of that, and I think as a staff, playing more players throughout practice, getting more plays, has really became our benefit, and we've had a chance to show how deep we can go in terms of the quality and depth of the football team."