FB Jameel Cook (43) and the rest of the Bucs involved in the running attack know that much of their success depends on attitude
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers need to run the ball well this Sunday if they want to beat the Washington Redskins.
As Morrissey once said while with The Smiths: Stop me if you think that you've heard this one before.
Yes, the Buccaneers emphasized the same thing before taking on the Carolina Panthers last weekend, but what was that game, in the end, but a 60-minute chunk of empirical evidence for that idea? The Bucs didn't get the ground game going against the Panthers, nor in San Francisco the weekend before, and both times they were left feeling like, well, a Morrissey song.
The Bucs did improve from San Francisco to Carolina, gaining 44 yards last Sunday after getting 43 on the left coast. That one yard, however, isn't going to get one more man out of box; the Bucs fully expect to see eight-man fronts as long as they're working.
And that begs the question: What should be the response to an over-stacked line of scrimmage? Make the defense pay for that strategy by passing over it, or render it ineffective by running through it anyway?
The answer: Both. The Bucs believe they should still be able to run the ball even with an extra safety on the scene, and they also think they'll eventually exploit that look by getting big plays in the passing game. Rookie tight end Alex Smith points out that the Buccaneers aren't the first team to see an eight-man front.
"Teams are always going to stack the box, but like Coach [Gruden] said, Pittsburgh sees that week-in and week-out," said Smith. "They always have eight men in the box [against them]. It's just more of an attitude of whether you're going to get it done or not. If you say they have eight and you can't run, you're probably not going to be able to run. If you feel like you can do it and just get after them a little bit, you'll be fine."
And if attitude can trickle down from the top, the Bucs will be fine. Gruden is so focused on putting the power back into his team's running game that he was willing to pay the price in blood and blood relations on Thursday night. In a little game of "knee football" in his living room, Gruden blasted the ball right through sons Deuce, Michael and Jayson. Dad got the touchdown but ended up with a bit of rug burn on his chin. He's probable on the injury report.
Gruden needs his offensive line to once again start treating the opposition like a bunch of grade-schoolers, the way they did as the offense gained 166 rushing yards per game during the month of September.
"We've got to do a better job," he said. "We've got to come off the ball and finish blocks with authority, like we had earlier in the season. North Carolina's front had a lot to do with that, and so did San Francisco. We just haven't done as good a job. We've got to scheme better, certainly, as coaches, but by God we've got to come off the ball a hell of a lot better than we have in the last couple weeks if we ever want to be a great running team or a good running team."
Tampa Bay ran the ball just six times for 10 yards in the second half of last Sunday's game, but that was mostly a function of a big deficit and a dwindling clock. The Bucs did try a play-action fake on their first play from scrimmage in an attempt to throw over a stacked line, but they otherwise remained committed to the run. That's the philosophy with which they go into every game.
"[A lot of coaches] like to see when there are eight and nine guys in the box," said tight end Dave Moore. "They immediately want to throw the ball. But historically if you look at running teams, they don't really concern themselves with how many guys are there. They decide they are going to run it better so then they can stop [the stacking of the box]. It's kind of the philosophy we've always had."
It's also a philosophy that takes some of the guesswork out of it during the week. Are the Redskins going to play a lot of eight-man fronts, or mix it up? Will they try to stop the run at all costs or play more conservatively? It won't matter if the Bucs are determined to establish the run against any front.
"One thing we have to do is just worry about ourselves," said fullback Jameel Cook. "We've just got to keep going, keep fighting. If we do have a little setback, we have to continue to keep fighting, especially with the run game. Being an offensive player, you have to keep fighting and not give up on it."
Reviving the rushing attack wasn't the only topic being discussed by Buccaneer players during preparations for Sunday's game at Raymond James Stadium. Here are a few more things we overheard in the locker room this week:
DT Chris Hovan on facing a tough running game: "It's a challenge. It's a challenge that we're awarded to go out there and we get to prove ourselves again. So, you are going to have to relish these opportunities when you get to go and play teams like this. I mean, get excited, this is why you play football."
DE Simeon Rice on it being important to stop Clinton Portis: "Yeah, but as you saw last week, we're going to have to do a lot more than that. We're going to have to get takeaways, get sack-fumbles. We have to create a craze on defense for us to have a chance of winning games. We'll keep that in mind and go in with that dimension. In the overall perspective, we've got to get going on both sides of the ball. You can put it all on the defense. You can do that. It's cool. If that's what you think is necessary, you can do that. But from an overall perspective we've got to do better in all phases of the game."
CB Brian Kelly on the Redskins' offense: "They are doing pretty much everything well. They are running the ball well, they are throwing the ball well right now. They are a pretty balanced offense. It's really not anything leaning stronger than the other. They are doing both well."
QB Chris Simms on Washington's defense: "Great defense. A lot of team speed on the defensive side of the ball. They've got a good front seven, again. LaVar Arrington's playing a whole lot more, so he definitely adds to the speed factor. And in the secondary they're a pretty talented group with [Shawn] Springs and Sean Taylor."
C John Wade on if he's seen anything in the films about Washington's defense: "Tiki Barber ran the ball well, but that was two weeks ago and as you well know every week is different. Not different people, same people, but somehow, I mean look at our situation, sometimes you play better than others. So, hats off to Tiki, he did well, but this is our week. And like I said, I just want to try to execute every play to the letter, the way it's supposed to be executed, the way we do it on the practice field and just get the job done."
WR Joey Galloway on the Redskins defense: "They're going to bring pressure. We've got to be prepared for that. And when the opportunities come we've got to capitalize on them."
Simms on the Redskins' formations and blitzes: "They just do a lot of things out of the secondary. That's the biggest thing. As far as the fronts go and what they do with linebackers and defensive linemen, it's no different as far as how we prepare. I think the biggest thing is, a lot of corner blitzes; they like to blitz the free safety, the strong safety. But we did get a little taste of that last week against Carolina. They don't bring the corners so much, but the safeties…Minter came a number of times on Sunday. So we should prepared for all it."
Hovan on playing Washington: "This is a big game. It's the NFL, man. Every Sunday is a huge game. So, get excited, put your pads on, go out there and earn your money."
RB Carnell Williams on starting fast and establishing a run game: "That's very important to start fast. If we start fast, start the running game, that's going to open a lot of things up."
TE Alex Smith on how to fix the running game: "I think it's all in our attitude right now. If we can get back to the way we started off the season, having that swagger and that attitude like we're going to run it no matter what defenses are trying to do to us, that will get us back to where we need to be."
Wade on what needs to happen to get the ground game in gear: "We just need to execute better. That's really all it boils down to. I think preparation has been good in the past couple of weeks. We're just not carrying it over Sunday. I don't know the reason for that. I wish I did. But, we just have to come in here and work hard this week and then carry this execution over to Sunday and just be flawless mentally and not doing things to hurt ourselves."
Simms on Mike Alstott: "Mike made some big plays for us on Sunday. The two third-down conversions, I threw the ball into the flat because they kind of dropped back in zone coverages. He made some unreal plays, just breaking tackles and getting a few extra yards, which he does best. Maybe he would help. He's a big, physical runner, he comes downhill. But again, I don't know. That's Coach's decision. Cadillac [Williams] is running the ball as good as he can, and so is Pittman. We've just got to continue to work, get them some holes and we'll get some positive yards."
Galloway on if he's been able to exploit teams loading up against the run: "I don't know, it's kind of hard to tell. At times, we haven't run it well the past couple weeks. We haven't done much of anything well, so it's kind of hard to tell what's affecting what aspects of the game."
Smith on if defenses loading up the box puts him into more blocking situations: "No, not necessarily. When they stack it you're supposed to be that much more effective in the passing game. That's why they say when you're running well it opens up the passing game, because they're so concerned about the run. That kind of just drives our whole offense. If we're able to run the ball we can do a lot of play-action and deep passes."
Wade on the offense: "However the plays are called, I want to execute them to the best of our ability and give our skilled position people, who are good, chances to make plays for us. I don't think we've done that in the past couple of weeks."
Williams on the Carolina game and the Washington game: "I just feel like we came out kind of flat. Coach Gruden has definitely talked to us about coming out there with confidence, so the motto this week is: Confidence. That's exactly what we plan on doing, coming out with a lot of confidence and emotion."
Galloway on if there is anything more he can do to help the offense: "When the ball comes my way, just try to make plays. There have been some opportunities to do that that I've been successful with, and there have been some times when I haven't been successful. I have to play better, simple as that."
Simms on Galloway: "He's been unbelievable, nothing that I think has surprised anybody on our team. We've seen him every day in practice for two years. He would have had this year last year, really, if he didn't get injured. There's no doubt in my mind. He, Steve Smith and Santana Moss are probably the three fastest guys in the NFL. He's just dangerous, whether it's a five-yard throw or a 50-yard throw. He can really stretch a defense out."
Simms on what adjustments he thinks he needs to make: "Really, bottom line is eliminate that one play. I think everybody knows what play I'm talking about. I'm not saying we would have won or lost the game if that didn't happen, but nonetheless it would have been a completely different game if that play didn't happen."
Simms on if he felt better in the Carolina game than the game before: "Yeah, I felt like was in good rhythm, I threw the ball well. Again, it just goes back to the first drive of the second half. If we just get some points on that drive…we were moving the ball. I don't know where we were exactly when the interception occurred; I guess we were at about the 40, going in. Just a field goal to make it 17-10, or a touchdown to make it 17-14, would have made it a completely different game."
Simms on how settled in he is beginning to feel: "I felt leaps and bounds more comfortable on Sunday than I did the week before, I must say. I think it's more from a rhythm and timing standpoint, more than anything. It's just dropping back. I've got two full weeks of practicing with [Joey] Galloway and [Michael] Clayton and Alex Smith and Anthony Becht. I just felt like I was throwing the ball good and with my decision-making I was just in a better rhythm."
DE Greg Spires on how people assess the Bucs' defense: "It's all about what you've done for me lately, and that's how it is. Everybody's got to be accountable, and hopefully we can get this thing turned around."
Rice on the defense being asked to do more despite being ranked first in the league: "That's the world we live in. Obviously, if we were 6-1 right now we wouldn't be talking about this, but we're not. We're 5-3, but we're still not out of it by any means. Actually, we're doing pretty good. But we've got to do a lot better."
Spires on if he feels like the number-one defense in the NFL: "It feels like we're losing, on a two-game losing streak. We have to do something to get this thing turned around. No, it doesn't feel like we're the number one defense."
LB Derrick Brooks on how much the team relies on the defense: "No one is asking us to do more that what we ask ourselves. You know after the ball game we didn't have any turnovers. You look around the locker room, pretty much everyone said that. We've got to get turnovers, period. You know, if we would have won the game, we still would be saying, 'we got to get turnovers,' because that's what this defense does."
S Will Allen on how the team relies on the defense to make big plays: "We rely on the whole team to make big plays, whether it's special teams or offense. We get happy when Joey Galloway catches a big bomb, or Michael Pittman, or Cadillac [Williams] runs for a big play. And then special teams come up with a big stop, or a big punt, and then on defense, you know getting a sack, or getting an interception, or fumble recovery. We thrive on the big play. That's been our trademark here in Tampa Bay. We just have to keep doing it, and bring more to the table."
Rice on the defense missing the knockout punch: "We've got to score on offense a little bit more. We have to score on both sides of the ball a little bit more. From an overall perspective, we have to spread the responsibility across the board. We understand our strength – we're going to always play to our strength – but there's a certain amount of accountability that every phase has to have."
Hovan on who needs to get the Bucs back into the turnover column: "I think it relies on everybody. Everybody on this team has got to be accountable for what they do – offense, defense, special teams. Teams win games; not one phase of a team wins games. We have to come together and rally around each other, and everyone, when afforded the opportunity, has to go out there and make plays."
Rice on creating more takeaways: "Yeah, we've got to do that. We've got to do what's required. We have to step up and make big plays, myself, everybody. We're all in that boat."
Spires on if turnovers have been down because of lack of pressure in the pocket: "That's definitely it. I think that could be one of the reasons why the turnovers are down, because a lot of our turnovers come off sacks that cause fumbles. And when you have that, that brings the number [of turnovers up] and we haven't been having those sacks."
Rice on if it's also important to not play crazed just to get turnovers: "Yeah, you have to have some poise. When you [get crazed] you kind of get undisciplined, but you have to pick up the energy to a certain degree."
Allen on if the pass rush starts turnovers: "It starts with everybody. It's the linebackers getting great zone drops, [defensive] line getting a pass rush and being smart and disciplined in the secondary. So everybody is included."
DT Wyms on the Bucs' heavy defensive line rotation: "I think a lot of teams rotate guys. I know when I first got here when Warren [Sapp] was here and Booger [Anthony McFarland] was playing nose guard they never came out of the game, ever. They probably played 60 or 70 snaps. I think Rod [Marinelli] has kind of adapted to having a little more talent and being a little more deeper, so he plays more guys. I think all of us get a pretty good amount of reps. We are adjusting and we make sure that guys are spelled and make sure we're fresh for the fourth quarter, get a pass rush when we need it."
Wyms on the Bucs' defensive tackle rotation: "We're giving them a different look. I'm a different player than Booger, Booger's a different player than Hovan, so they get a different look they have to adjust to every time a different guy comes into the game. That's part of our job, part of the strategy we put on the field on Sunday."
Spires on the lack of sacks: "We've been put in the type of game where they just run on us when they get the lead. Plus, they've been across that 50 when they get that ball a lot of the time. We've been put in a situation where we're trying to hold them to a field goal instead of a touchdown."
Rice on being the master of the sack-fumble: "I still am. I'm on deck. I've got five of them. I'm far ahead of where I was last year. The onus starts with me but it doesn't fall just to me. It's spread across the whole defense. Once we do that, we'll be running on track. But like I said, it takes the whole team to really turn this thing around, in terms of where we going and what we want to get accomplished. We keep that presence in mind and we do what we need to do to take it to the next level."
Wyms on not starting for the Buccaneers: "I look at it like this; the only thing starting means is that you're the guy who runs through the tunnel when the game starts. I think when the game is on the line, at the end of the game, and we have to get a pass rush to win the game, I'll be in the game. It doesn't really matter if I start. Right now, as long as I'm playing and I'm a part of the defense, as long as I get an opportunity to make plays, running out of the tunnel means nothing to me."
Kelly on the mood in the Bucs' locker room: "A little frustrated. But that's good to be frustrated at this point. We're 5-3. We're not where we want to be right now. But we're not out of it by any means. We just got to get a win. Once you get a win and things start steam rolling, we can get a streak going."
FB Jameel Cook on what he would say to the fans: "Just continue to have faith in us. I know they do. We have tremendous, great fans here in Tampa. I know they're going to continue to have our back and we're not going to let you down. We're just going to keep on playing and we're going to bring a 'W' back."