DT Warren Sapp believes he'll have to do less running around against Shane Matthews than Cade McNown, but that's not necessarily a good thing
In the locker room, they're answering questions about the Bears. In the scouting department, they're taking a look a little farther ahead. In the communications department, they're evaluating the season as a whole. Let's take a look at what the various folks in One Buc Place were discussing on Thursday.
As promised, we've taken a little time to keep abreast of the possibilities for Tampa Bay's 2000 schedule, just as the Bucs' scouting department is doing. Using a formula that we first described in the Stadium Club section on November 3, the NFL devises each team's list of opponents for the next season based on the results from the current season.
The schedule is formed each year using the division rankings of each team and a rotating division plan for inter-conference games. The upshot is that, one second after the final NFL whistle is blown on Christmas Day this year, every team can know exactly who its 16 opponents for 2001 will be. Dates, times and television schedules aren't announced until March.
At this moment, the Buccaneers are in second place in the NFC Central – that is, they would win a tiebreaker with Detroit for the second spot if it was figured right now. The Bucs and Lions split their two head-to-head games, but Tampa Bay's 4-2 division record is slightly better than Detroit's 3-2. Obviously, that's not completely fair to the Lions at this point, but that's the way the tiebreaker would currently fall.
Should the Bucs finish in that spot, they will play the NFC Central's second-place schedule. That is, they will automatically be matched up with the first and second-place teams in the NFC West and the third and the second and fourth-place squads in the NFC East. At the moment, that would lead to home games against St. Louis and Philadelphia and road trips to Dallas and New Orleans.
Interconference games are generally predetermined, but when you face the AFC Central, as the Bucs and the rest of the NFC Central will next year, another formula comes into play, since the AFC Central is the only division with six teams. Right now, Tampa Bay would draw home games against the second and third-place teams (Baltimore and Pittsburgh) and away games at the first and fifth-place teams (Tennessee and Cleveland).
Of course, eight contests against the rest of the NFC Central would fill out the balance of the schedule.
DT Warren Sapp entertained the media on Thursday afternoon, as he often does during the noon open-locker room period. Here are Sapp's current thoughts on a few important topics:
How is DT Anthony McFarland doing?
Getting better and better. That's the one thing about playing D-line in this league…the more reps you get, the better you're going to get. He's seeing a lot more different things. He was joking with me yesterday that it's a lot different when you come in spelling a guy for 16 weeks than actually playing for 16 weeks. He said some mornings he wakes up good and sore, and I said, 'Now you have an appreciation for what we do in this league.'
It's just learning. That's the biggest thing about it – he's willing to learn and take advice and understand what's going on around him. He's done a good job of holding that center a lot of times and giving me more true one-on-ones. We benefit from that.
Does the switch from Cade McNown to Shane Matthews eliminate most of the Bears' scrambling threat?
I think so. But, we never worried about that with Cade, either. We always said, if we eliminate the north-south run, if he has to come out the back door, we have enough speed to catch him. Cade isn't overly fast, he's just very quick. That's the one thing that Shane doesn't have, but I think Shane is a more seasoned quarterback than Cade is. He might have more a pocket presence than Cade did, because he isn't that scrambler or able to elude guys.
The guys that you worry about aren't the ones that can run. It's the guy with that pocket presence that can just take a step and get away from the rush. Dan Marino proved that for years. You don't have to be overly mobile to not get taken down in the pocket.
Didn't Matthews appear to want to join the Buccaneers this past offseason?
He'll be here with us. On Sunday.
What do you see in the Bears' offense now, late in the season?
I think they're more committed to the run. I think that's a good thing for them. The old Bears team would run power-O at least 30 times a game. No doubt about it, you knew you were going to get power-O. When the new offensive coordinator came in, he kind of took that away from them. But they've got a big physical line and that's the strength of their ballclub, the front five.
When they got away from that, it kind of opened a can of worms for them. They realized that, 'If we run the ball, we're going to become more effective in how we're going about these games.' I think they used the screens and the stuff that they do as their running game, but that's kind of hit or miss. Either you've got a big play or you've got no play. When you're running the ball like they used to, you open up some things in the offensive game plan.
Are the Bears better than their 2-8 record would indicate?
They are 2-8, but when you watch them on film, they play much better than a 2-8 ballclub. They've played some real tight ballgames against some good clubs and come out on the losing end of them. That happens in this league.
We've just got to go in with the challenge that this is our next opponent. This isn't a 2-8 opponent. This isn't Atlanta when they were horrible or the Bucs when they were horrible. You can't just show up and win. I think the Indianapolis Colts game proves that, when you're down 27-0 and now you've got to get out of your game plan to try to get back, and now it's too late and you've lost.
We've always had good, hard-fought games with them. We've beaten them 6-3 sometimes. We've been in some dogfights with them, and that's what we're expecting this week.
The Buccaneers' hustling communications staff has had its hands busy this season trying to keep up with all of the team records being broken or threatened. Those efforts have also prompted the staff to do a little extra research, and here's a gem they recently turned up.
The 2000 Bucs have scored 252 points through 10 games. Research indicates that Tampa Bay has never had that many points this early in the season before. In fact, the team has only broken 200 after 10 outings on four other occasions, most recently 1997 (208). The previous 10-game high for Tampa Bay was 219, posted in 1987.
The 1984 squad had only 187 points through 10 games but nearly doubled that down the stretch to set the still-standing franchise record of 335. The 2000 Bucs appear to be well on their way to toppling that mark, standing just 84 points shy of surpassing it. Interestingly, that works out to exactly two touchdowns (14 points) per game for the final six weeks. **