CB Brian Kelly considers Atlanta TE Alge Crumpler about as dangerous as the Chiefs' Tony Gonzalez
Alge Crumpler, fourth-year player for the Atlanta Falcons, is one of the NFL's up-and-coming stars at the tight end position. That means that, inevitably, he will be compared to Kansas City's Tony Gonzalez, current torchbearer as the league's best tight end. In fact, few would argue that Gonzalez is among the finest tight ends in NFL history, and he's still going strong.
Tampa Bay Buccaneer defenders are in a particularly appropriate position to compare Crumpler and Gonzalez, having faced the latter last Sunday and having a date with Crumpler's Falcons this Sunday. The desire to avoid bulletin board material is going to temper any true comparisons, but its telling that the Bucs see those two players in a similar light.
"A and b," said cornerback Brian Kelly of Crumpler and Gonzalez. "Very close. Right now he's the leading receiver for their offense. He definitely can get down the field, stretch the field. Maybe not as athletic [as Gonzalez], but as far as just being a big time tight end he's definitely right there.
"I think overall if he's not a notch below Gonzalez then they are neck-to-neck."
Gonzalez, of course, is freakishly athletic for his position, as demonstrated on his leaping 25-yard touchdown catch in the Bucs' win last Sunday, and his nine grabs overall for 123 yards. Crumpler may or may not be as athletically gifted as Gonzalez, but he doesn't have to be to be an extremely productive tight end.
"He's their leading receiver and rightfully so," said linebacker Derrick Brooks. "He's a big target; has some good hands and is making good plays when he has to."
This could be the Year of the Tight Ends. Amazingly, at the halfway point of the season, the leading receiver in each conference is a tight end. Eric Johnson of the San Francisco 49ers (next on the Bucs' schedule, by the way) is on top of the NFC chart with 51 catches and Antonio Gates of San Diego (no surprise, also an upcoming Buc opponent) leads everyone in the NFL with 54 grabs.
Crumpler is the Falcons' top pass-catcher, with 31 receptions for 443 yards and two touchdowns. Though he is only seventh among all NFL tight ends in catches, he is first in that group of leaders with an average of 14.2 yards per reception. Clearly, the 6-2, 262-pound tight end has found a niche in Atlanta's offense, and it involves working the seams downfield.
"He is doing what the team is asking him to do and that is to get open," said Brooks. "He's getting open. As design plays are sent to him, he's catching the ball. Again, when [quarterback] Mike [Vick] is buying time back there, he finds a way to get open. Right now, he is their leading receiver, not by accident; he's a pretty good football player."
The Bucs had trouble stopping Gonzalez but still managed to defeat the Chiefs. They would prefer not to take that chance with Crumpler and the Atlanta offense. Tampa Bay defenders know the challenge at tight end this week is roughly the same as it was seven days ago, and this time they want to come out on top.
"These are some great tight ends we're going up against," said safety Jermaine Phillips. "It provides us with a challenge. We're just going to go out there and play ball."
Crumpler's skill set was just one topic being discussed in the locker room this week. Below are some additional thoughts from Tampa Bay players on a variety of subjects.
LB Derrick Brooks on facing Michael Vick: "You just take the approach we take every week, stop the running game. Definitely take that option away from them. Then get out there and take your chances. A team that sits back on their heels, he seems to have a lot of fun playing against them. We are going to go out, line up and play our defense and see what happens."
DT Chidi Ahanotu on going against Michael Vick in his first game back with the Buccaneers: "This is a real good game to get my feet wet. It is going to be fun. I have tons of family that live in Atlanta. This is the perfect game for me to start my Buccaneer career all over again."
CB Brian Kelly on whether it will be more difficult with Vick rolling out more in the West Coast offense: "It presents a challenge. They look at the Denver [vs. Tampa Bay] game. [Jake] Plummer had some success doing that against us. We're definitely going to have to be at the edge of the perimeter game."
Brooks on Michael Vick's role in the Falcons' running game: "He's part of it. There are some designed runs in there that he is spreading out, keeping the football and you don't know when it is going to happen, you just have to defend it when it does. If you give up some yards, give up a few yards. Don't give up long runs or long touchdowns."
Kelly on whether it makes the job easier because the focus is always to first stop the run and Vick is the run: "Not necessarily because the guy has a strong arm and if you get caught up in just letting him close the lanes and run and guys from the back start coming up and getting involved in the run he's going to throw one over your head. He's definitely got the arm to throw down the field when he's running the football."
DE Simeon Rice on stopping Atlanta's running game: "It's a tall order for us. The corrections are still out there for us. We're still climbing. This is a big game for us. If we get to 4-5 we come back home for the home game and have a chance to be .500, to really get ready to do some things. So, this game is definitely a loaded game. It's worth its weight because this game, right here, is for all the marbles. No more holding back. This is our hump game. This really puts us in a really good perspective. We need this in a big way."
Brooks on whether the Falcons are a team the Buccaneers match up well against: "We've won more games against them and I have been here every time that we have played them, except two. What is it? I don't know, besides we just go up there and find a way to win, out execute them, make them play down the stretch, stop a trick play…we just find ways to win when we play against them."
Rice on how the offensive system in Atlanta has changed: "We'll soon find out. I don't know yet from a performance standpoint because we haven't played against them. We'll find out this weekend though."
DE Greg Spires on having to change the defensive plan against a West Coast offense: "I don't think so. We have been going against that type of offense all year. It going to come down to stopping the run and putting them in long situations."
S Dwight Smith on how the Bucs remain successful on defense: "We are disciplined. We know that there is only one kind of discipline and that is either you are or you are not. That is how we try to play the game."
WR Michael Clayton on whether the Atlanta game is a must-win: "It was always a must-win. We definitely have come a long way from where we started at the beginning of the season and we have the confidence level that we are not going to lose. That is just a must that you have to have when you are going into a situation like this. We just try to stay as positive as possible."
S Jermaine Phillips on playing the division-leading team: "It's huge, it's huge. Right now, they're the head of the division and if we win this game we gain a game on them. Win the next one [against Atlanta] and gain another one. Hopefully things work in our favor."
QB Brian Griese on whether the third quarter the football season is a pivotal one: "Yes, it is. No doubt. What a great position for us to be in. It's a great opportunity that we have. I am really proud of the way that we have, as a team, fought out of the hole that we put ourselves in with losing our first four games. We still have a long way to go; there's no doubt, but at least we have a chance."
Phillips on if the Falcons are a big rivalry for the Bucs: "I can't speak for everybody else. I know it's always going to be a rivalry for me. Atlanta's home, so when I go back home in the offseason I want to be able to talk a little bit."
Griese on whether he feels Atlanta is a big rival for the Bucs: "Yes. I think any time you are playing against divisional opponents, it's got to be a rivalry. It doesn't have the tradition and the amount of years of some of the other rivalries around the league, but without a doubt, within our division, this is the team we have to beat."
Clayton on whether the offense is having fun on the field now: "Definitely. We feed off of the defense because they bring so much energy. It's something that you learn week after week, the intensity level that they bring and the fun that they are having. As an offense, when you start off slow, and you see that, and they are being successful, you want to go out and try to match their intensity level. We've been working on that and we finally got it together. Now everyone is having fun. Everybody is catching balls. Everybody is getting a chance to run the ball and we are playing good."
Griese on how much more of the playbook is being used right now: "I don't know. You would have to ask Jon [Gruden] that. I don't know that I know the entire playbook. I am just trying to bring my talents to the offense and the things that I do well. If he chooses to use those things, so be it."
Spires on the team having fun: 'I know that on the defensive side we are having some fun but the offensive side is coming along. They are putting points up on the board; I'm sure they had fun last week."
Griese on the Bucs' offense playing at a high level: "We still have a lot to improve on. There are a lot of things that we can do better. Case in point, I would have liked to have finished that game on the field on Sunday, converted the third down, and not given the Chiefs a chance at the end. That's just something that I look at. There are a lot of things, I think, that we can do better and as long as everybody on our offense realizes that we can improve, and that we need to improve to win, we will be okay."
Griese on the Falcons' defense: "It's going to be a tough game. Anytime you are on the road, in your division especially, it's going to be a battle. We understand the importance of the game. I think Atlanta knows the importance of the game. I look forward to it. This is why you play."
Clayton on whether he still feels like a rookie: "No. That has been over with since the beginning of the season. I don't even look at it like that anymore and I never did. My mentality was to come out, make plays and do what I can to win; look past all of the rookie stuff. I was told by Coach Gruden, you just relax. There's no pressure. Just go out there and play your game, that's why we drafted you and I have been able to relax and do that."
Griese on new starting C Sean Mahan: "Sean did a great job. I said it on Sunday. He did a great job of picking up a lot of the audibles that we used. He did a great job of recognizing their defenses. We expect him to come in and play well."
Phillips on if he compensated for his injured arm in the second half against the Chiefs: "A little bit. Not too much, but I was a little bit. I see myself on film now and I see how I was favoring it a little bit, didn't want to lead with it. Hopefully I get over that and go play this week."
Ahanotu on having Jon Gruden as head coach in his second time around in Tampa: "There is a little more fire in the air. They have different practice styles. I have known Jon Gruden for a long time; of course Tony (Dungy) will always be family. I just got here so I am still just getting my feet wet but thus far that is the only difference I can see, a little more fire in the air."
Spires on Ahanotu: "I just met him. I have heard a lot of good things about him. A lot of guys who played with him are still here. He is a good guy. We need some guys to come in and give us that extra push. The coaches trust and believe in Chidi that he is one of the reasons that he is here."
Ahanotu on the situation in Miami: "It's the waiting plan down there now. It's not like we were getting killed, we were losing close games. I think the situation there is that they have a lot of new guys on offense; defense was pretty sound with a lot of Hall of Famers and Pro Bowlers. I think we had a lot of guys who had not been in the system; you know you can not just throw a bunch of guys on offense. On offense they had a lot of new guys. I think that Wannstedt took the fall for it. It really was not his fault but that is what head coaches are for; to take the fall for the team."