QB Shaun King thinks the Bucs' offense is looking up
The new year has a lot more zeroes in it. Tampa Bay's defense is counting on it.
Despite a 45-0 aberration in Oakland two weeks ago, the Buccaneers' defense has been the fourth hardest one in the NFL to score against. Chicago experienced that on October 24th when Tampa Bay limited the Bears to just three points in a Buccaneer win in Raymond James Stadium. Unfortunately, the Buc offense produced only six points on that day, forcing the home team to sweat it out until the end for a victory that evened its record at 3-3.
The Bucs hope things are different on Sunday, and not just because there will be a lot less sweating going on in Soldier Field. Tampa Bay has an NFC Central Division title on the line but also has an opponent that all involved believe is quite a bit better than it's 6-9 record would indicate. So, on the first day of 2000, the Buccaneers spent the day before the season finale in a Chicago hotel, watching bowl games and honing their game plan.
S Damien Robinson, who had eight tackles in the first Bucs-Bears affair of the season, believes a strong week of practice has the defense well prepared for Chicago's unusual offense under first-year coordinator Gary Crowton.
"We have to play our game on defense," said Robinson. "We have to be aggressive and tackle well."
That's advice that is, of course, fairly generic. However, the third-year safety went on to some more specifics about what appears to be one of Chicago's favorite plays. "They have about 50 different ways of running the screen, so it can be difficult," said Robinson. "We have to get everybody to the ball quickly, especially when they turn it inside, which they do a lot. We have to get our defensive line flowing to the ball."
Chicago's screen passes get the ball quickly into the hands of dangerous receivers Marcus Robinson and Bobby Engram, then let's them create yardage behind well-timed blocks. Robinson, who is listed as questionable on the injury report due to a quadricep pull, is a threat short or deep. "He's a great receiver," said Robinson. "He's a big guy that goes up and attacks the ball. He's turned into a big-play guy, and he's got great speed."
Joining Robinson as questionable on the injury list is rookie QB Cade McNown (side), who has shown flashes of brilliance at the beginning of his NFL career and is a very mobile passer.
"Cade's more of a scrambler (than Chicago QB Shane Matthews)," said Robinson. "He's looking to throw all the time (while scrambling). We have to get pressure on him, make him throw off his back foot, keep him from following through. We need to keep the pressure on him all game."
The Bucs have a mobile rookie quarterback of their own set to start on Sunday. Second-rounder Shaun King, who has impressed most with his preternatural poise, is making his first trip to Soldier Field but believes his side of the ball is as well-prepared as the Bucs' defense.
"We've got a good game plan for tomorrow," said King. "The key will be to establish our running game. Our passing game works 100% better when we're running well."
Again, those are familiar words for Buccaneer fans, but their truth has been demonstrated repeatedly, as it was last week when the Bucs ran away with their victory over Green Bay in the second half. Tampa Bay rushed for 124 yards in that contest and FB Mike Alstott pounded in two fourth-quarter touchdowns. However, an identical rushing total in the Bucs' first game with the Bears did not lead to scoreboard fireworks, in part because the passing game never found any rhythm and was unable to capitalize on the running success.
"We have to be more consistent against them this time," said King. "All 11 guys have to do what they're supposed to do on offense."
If that consistency materializes on Sunday, King is certain the Bucs will be able to make the most of it this time.
"We're fast outside," said King, referring to the excellent speed of receivers Jacquez Green and Bert Emanuel. "Teams are afraid of our guys getting behind them, so we've gotten a lot of soft coverage. Luckily, we have checked down well. We've gotten the ball to Warrick (Dunn) underneath a lot in those situations."
With the success of those underneath routes and the manner in which the Bucs' running game often builds through the game, Tampa Bay is finding out that patience often pays off on offense. That is a tougher lesson to keep in mind this January 1st, as the team spends a restless day in its Chicago hotel waiting for tomorrow's showdown.