QB Brian Griese can and will continue to make big plays on the run, but some situations call for a throw-away
Shortly before halftime of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' 2005 home opener against Buffalo, quarterback Brian Griese took a snap at the Bills' 16, facing third-and-three. The play didn't go as planned, as Buffalo pressured Griese immediately and forced him to scramble out of the pocket. As he ran, Griese threw a floater out to the right sideline that, given the tight quarters down near the goal line, looked momentarily dangerous.
Instead, it settled perfectly into wide receiver Michael Clayton's hands at the one-yard line, setting up fullback Mike Alstott's touchdown run two plays later.
The Bucs took a 9-0 lead on that score en route to a 19-3 victory, and the lesson on that big third-down throw was obvious: It's always good when a quarterback takes chances.
Also, turning the ball over wins ballgames, players should take the season three games at a time and defenses shouldn't worry about stopping the run.
Those are a few things you'll never hear emanate from an NFL coach's mouth, along with "I'm going home for the afternoon, I've watched all the film I can." With the competition so tight in today's parity-driven NFL, and with turnovers so often deciding games, most coaches are thrilled when their quarterbacks decide to throw the ball away in dicey situations and live to take the next snap.
And yet, every Sunday evening during the NFL season we're treated to highlights of quarterbacks making game-changing plays out of difficult circumstances. Donovan McNabb scrambles around for 15 minutes until Terrell Owens is behind all the defenders. Brett Favre fires a heat-seeking missile between defenders for a fourth-down touchdown. Et cetera, et cetera.
Big gains can be made on the run, because as a play's design is breaking down, sometimes the defense is as well. Those plays can be demoralizing, as well, because the defense is often so close to making a big play before the quarterback turns it into something positive.
It's when too many gambles come up on the losing end that a quarterback starts hearing from his coach. And although Griese has thrown for 790 yards and six touchdowns and completed nearly 63% of his passes so far, he also has six interceptions on the season, a few that were the result of risks his coach wishes he hadn't taken.
"He's made three of his interceptions this season when he was scrambling, one against Minnesota, one against Green Bay and one [against Detroit] prior to the end of the half," said Bucs Head Coach Jon Gruden. "He is trying to get too much out of plays. Sometimes the best play you make is throwing the ball away because it's the only play. He has made some big plays on the boot, but also there's a fine line in the conversation."
As a result, on Tuesday Griese met with Gruden and the two worked to define their collective strategy and get on the same page as to when risks should be taken. This wasn't a knock-down, drag-out session, or some kind of watershed moment in the season; it was merely two professionals collaborating to get the end results in line. Griese, an eighth-year veteran who is annually one of the most accurate passers in the league, is well aware of that necessary balancing act between taking chances and avoiding unnecessary risks.
"That's been the job description of a quarterback since the start of football," said Griese. "That's what we sign up for and that's our job, our role. If you can't make those decisions, can't do it well, you're not going to play for very long."
We should remember this, too: On some level nearly every pass a quarterback throws is a risk of some sort. With all the action going on directly in front of him and all the lightning-quick defensive backs running around downfield and disguising coverages, a quarterback has to take a little leap of faith on most of his throws.
For example, Griese wasn't absolutely certain that the post pass he threw to wide receiver Joey Galloway early in the third quarter against Detroit was going to work. As he released the ball, he couldn't see all of the defenders between him and Galloway, and he wasn't completely sure if the safety was far enough out of the picture. But he threw it, and it may have been his best pass since he became a Buccaneer in 2004. Hard and tight, the pass shot 25 yards downfield between several Bills defenders and hit Galloway on the run to produce an 80-yard touchdown.
Had he lacked confidence, Griese might have checked down on that play and the Bucs may never have finished that drive in the end zone. Thus, you can bet that part of the conversation between Griese and Gruden was staying loose and confident, even if there are some mistakes that need to be eliminated.
"When there are plays to be made, you don't win football games in this league if you don't make plays," said Griese. "I see a lot of offensive football teams around the league right now that are playing really conservatively, not making plays and not scoring points. But I think we have playmakers on this team offensively, and it's my job to take the chances when plays are there, and make the decisions to be more conservative when plays are not there. I'm going to continue to work on that and hopefully make more plays than I do mistakes. I'm going to try to eliminate interceptions. I understand my role on the team and that's something I'm going to work on, bottom line."
The fine line between acceptable and unacceptable risk-taking wasn't the only topic being discussed by Buccaneer players during preparations for Sunday's game in New York. Here are a few more things we overheard in the locker room this week:
DE Simeon Rice on how the defense's sense of urgency changes when protecting a lead late in the game: "One thing about us, I think we welcome adversity. We welcome the struggle. We applaud the most difficult circumstances. We understand those circumstances, because that's where you're made. You flourish under those circumstances, you're a made guy, you're doing it in this game, you're an earner. That's what we're trying to do, we're trying to earn our rep. We're trying to earn the names that we're trying to build for ourselves. We're trying to earn our reputations. We're trying to put good film on tape week to week. That's a challenge every week we go out, be it in a good situation, up, down, having to fight through circumstances. It's not about the circumstances or situations, it's about the opportunity to be successful every time we go out. We go out there with that in mind, to take advantage of the opportunities of being successful in any given situation – backed up on the goal line, midfield, it doesn't matter. It's an opportunity to be successful, that's what matters."
DE Greg Spires on the mindset of the defense in the fourth quarter: "We don't want to get in situations where the game is on the line, obviously. But, we've just got to go out there, especially on certain changes when the offense turns the ball over. We've just got to go out there and stop them from scoring and put them in a field goal situation. That's how that's been going."
DT Chris Hovan on the defense holding onto the lead against Detroit: "If do your job individually, then collectively as a unit, we'll get the job done. There is no hesitation when the guys are out there on the field. We know that we had to go out there and stop them. It just took a bit longer than we thought it would. It worked out in the end though."
CB Brian Kelly on if the defense will be taking more chances this week: "Not really, because they have players capable of beating you. They have a lot of talent outside, in [Laveranues] Coles and [Justin] McCareins, and we all know what Curtis Martin can do. Vinny Testaverde has played and seen a lot of defenses, so he knows how to attack. We definitely need to be on it this week, can't overlook it at all."
CB Juran Bolden on this week being an opportunity to improve: "Each week you step on the field, you look for a chance to improve. This week is a good challenge; it's a team that's trying to get back on point. We looked on tape already; it's still a good team. Unfortunately, things have not fell their way, as of yet."
TE Anthony Becht on being on a team that is 4-0: "Anywhere I go, I feel that I can be a positive influence on the team. Going somewhere where they have the capability to be a winner. Tampa Bay has been able to do that this season, and I am glad I made the decision I did."
WR Joey Galloway on if he relishes the possibility of being in the playoffs: "I'm excited to be 4-0. I'm looking forward to trying to be 5-0. It's tough not to look ahead, but it's really early. We just finished the first quarter. We're looking to get the second quarter off to a good start."
Hovan on playing the New York Jets, while being 4-0: "It's New York. It's the Big Apple. If you haven't had a chance to play in New York yet, you are missing out. It's a great experience. We're going against a very tough Jets team, you really can't look at their record. They have a very good unit, and they are very well coached."
FB Jameel Cook on if there is still a lot of work ahead for the team: "Definitely, we are very humble as a team, as a unit on the offensive side of the ball, the same on the defensive side, as well as special teams. We just have to keep playing. People are going to make adjustments. We can't get discouraged because they want to shut the run down; if they want to shut the run down sometimes teams are going to do that. We just have to adjust and make the right calls."
Rice on teams wanting to beat the Bucs because they're 4-0: "Teams really just want to win week to week. If you beat us, that's another notch on your belt, but our premise is to go out there and do what we have been doing, playing with the level of intensity that we need to bring game to game and week to week, and then let all the chips fall where they may. Before, we weren't even on charts, we weren't even being talked about. Now, people are gunning for us. It doesn't matter. What matters is the fact that we go into the game with the level of intensity that we're trying to bring, do the things that we're trying to get accomplished and focus on the things ahead of us. Like I said, after that the chips where fall where they're supposed to fall. We're really just trying to better ourselves week to week because we understand the overall goal of what we're trying to get accomplished."
Rice on how he would like to be a 41-year-old quarterback just signed to play against the Bucs' defense: "I would, because I have a job again. I have another chance to explore my dreams. I get a chance to do something that I've never done before. I get a chance to set a tone for my own personal life, from my own personal perspective. With that in mind, to play this game, to love this game, is one and the same. I don't care where you're coming from, where your whereabouts are, if you have a chance at resurrecting a career, one will always do that. I'm sure he's going to try to take advantage of that. I'm sure he's happy. He's overjoyed. He wants this challenge. Who wouldn't? This is a resurrection. This is a chance to put themselves in a standing that changes their circumstances."
Bolden on not having an interception yet: "I'm not on the board yet, so I look at the situation where I can get a chance to get a pick. Hopefully, it will come this week. If not, next week, if not, the week after. But, I'm sure to get on the board soon."
Becht on how he feels about facing his old team: "They had a direction to go that they felt was going to benefit their team. And I also had an objective to where I wanted to go. You know it's a mutual leaving, I had a great five years there. It will be fun to go back and play."
Becht on giving his teammates any insight on the Jets: "I am trying to let the guys in on anything I can give them. As far as the different types of players, how they play, the different things they like to do. When it comes down to it, you got to go out there and play, regardless of what they are going to do. They are always going to tweak things here and there to make it different. You know you have to go out there and play your game."
QB Brian Griese on Joey Galloway getting more big plays than Michael Clayton: "There are only so many balls to go around. I think Michael has done some unbelievable things outside of catching the football that people haven't noticed, in the running game, so forth and so on. Joey has caught more balls and had more attention in that respect but this might be Michael Clayton's week. He might catch 10 balls and two touchdowns, I don't know. As you go through the year, defenses start to take things away, whether they take away your running game or they take away Joey Galloway or they take away Michael Clayton, and other guys need to step up and make plays. It's just a matter of what the defense dictates to you."
Galloway on so many other receivers having big years: "It's a shame there are 30 other guys having a big year. I think it really comes down to a system, it comes down to a confidence, a connection between the quarterback and the receiver. Hopefully those 30 other guys slow down."
Griese on whether defenses have been purposely taking Clayton out of the game: "Yes and no. He's had opportunities and he's made some plays for us. As far as the running game, he's been a big part of the second-level gains that we've had with Cadillac [Williams] and with Michael Pittman a little bit on Sunday. I don't know what defenses are going to try to do in the future. I just have to react. Like I said, if they're going to try to take Joey away or our running game away that means Michael Clayton's singled up and he's got to win in man-to-man coverage."
Griese on defenses respecting Galloway's presence: "Yeah, I continue to say every week that he's a threat and he adds another dimension to our offense. Just the fact that he can get down the field and we can get him the ball in situations where he can make big plays down the field adds another element to our offense. If we can continue to run the football and mix in those passes, play action-wise and straight drop-back, throwing the ball to him down the field is an important part of what we do."
Griese on how he can improve his downfield vision: "I'm working hard to understand not only our plays offensively but understanding defenses. There are new defenses every year and we're going to continue to see new looks, and I just have to be able to see the whole field. You never as a quarterback want to look at your receivers; you want to be looking at the defense and reading defenses."
Galloway on if he can see what is causing some of the team's interceptions: "I always tell [Brian] Griese, 'Throw it to me and you're safe.' No, it's just sometimes defenses fool you. They get paid, too. Those guys are professionals and that's what they get paid to do. Sometimes they win, sometimes we win. Luckily for us, our defense has played tremendously and given us an opportunity to rebound from our mistakes. We have to eliminate those and we'll be fine."
WR Ike Hilliard on the Buccaneers' team depth: "I think we've heard it from coach enough, this is one of the better teams he's been able to coach, offensively. It's just unfortunate we haven't had many guys play many downs. But, we know what kind of talent we have and we'll use our depth and work from there."
RB Earnest Graham on if he's been told what his role would be this Sunday: "It's a long week. We'll see how it goes Sunday. I haven't heard anything. I'm still in practice, taking my reps and everything. If I'm needed, I'll be ready. If not, well, I'll just keep doing what I've been doing every week."
RB Carnell Williams on how much not practicing affects him: "It's difficult because that's when you get the feel of the game plan. You get in that kind mode. It's kind of tough sitting and then trying to go out and play on Sundays."
Graham on if it makes a difference to get more reps in practice while Carnell Williams is being rested: "Yeah, definitely. I try to stay very sharp. Being around for awhile I understand that at any time you can be thrust into action and you have to be ready. I'm still preparing like I've always prepared. I'm just trying to be sharp. When I'm not physically in there taking reps I'm taking mental reps. I've been playing on the practice squad for awhile. Running the ball as a running back – running the ball, making good cuts and getting good reads – is all the same. But I'm definitely getting some more reps, as I did last week, with the guys who are going to be playing in the game. I'm just trying to stay sharp and approach it like I do every week."
Williams on if they have officially diagnosed what is wrong with his hamstring: "To me, it was kind of a strain. I just felt something in the third quarter. At first, it felt like a cramp and [the trainers] got to rubbing on it and felt like it would be best to hold me out before I actually pulled it."
Williams on the worst injury he has ever played through: "I would have to say maybe a sprained ankle. That's probably the worst injury that I've played with."
Griese on how Todd Steussie played at left tackle against Detroit: "I thought he played well. He came in and he did some really good things. I think Anthony Davis was playing well and hopefully we can get him back. We all feel confident on the offense that when Todd Steussie comes in he can not only come in and play but play well."
Griese on dealing with a loud crowd in New York: "It doesn't really affect us that much as far as the play-calling and verbiage is concerned. When we went to Minnesota it was really loud and we had our whole offense in. I don't expect that he's going to pare anything back."
Griese on T Kenyatta Walker's post-interception tackles: "That's just been great effort. He's made two tremendous plays. That's a credit to him. It's not an easy play for a tackle to make, running down a defensive back. I'm thanking him every week for that."
Kelly on the crowds influence at the end of the Detroit game: "The crowd was huge. Actually, if you look back on it, there was a situation where he had to call a timeout early in the game, they could have used that timeout in the red zone and helped them out. So, the 12th man played a big role for us, on Sunday. Anytime we step into Raymond James we know we can depend on the them."
Cook on what needs to happen for the offense now: "Last week was last week. Any given Sunday a team can step up their performance and play to an exceptional level. We did what we had to do to win, that's all that matters. We just have to come into this week with the same mentality we did last week as far as wanting to get better as a team."