Tony Dungy believes his defense needs to make an early stand against opposing offenses to do better in the field-position war
Tampa Bay Head Coach Tony Dungy was asked to look back at the team's week of preparation, but ended up glancing forward. After a good set of practices, Dungy feels his team is ready to shake off a two-game losing streak this Monday in Minnesota. However, this contest poses a different problem than the last two.
Washington and the New York Jets defeated the Buccaneers with last-minute scores. Minnesota, Dungy believes, will try to put the Bucs away early. Each of the Bucs' last two trips to Minneapolis have featured quick Viking rallies and eventual wins for the home team.
Knowing the Vikings want to strike early and stopping that high-powered offense are two different things. Dungy was asked how one avoids falling into a quick hole.
"It's just knowing that you've got to expect them to come out on fire," he said. "You have to expect them to go up the field, those kind of things. You've just got to be ready to make the plays. And then, offensively, we've got to execute like we did early in Detroit, where we're coming out aggressively, making plays, converting our third downs and staying on the field, keeping the ball. It's not a hard formula…you just have to do it."
The Bucs took an early lead in Detroit's often-noisy Silverdome in the third week of the season and coasted to a 31-10 victory. Though they got a quick field goal, the Lions didn't score a touchdown in that contest until the final play of the first half. To pursue that same result in the Metrodome, the Bucs will need to do better in the field-position war than they have in recent weeks.
"That's part of it," said Dungy. "We started out a little bit slow on defense (in Washington), let them make a couple of first downs, punt to our end, haven't made our first downs and we end up punting from the 15, 18-yard line, punt it back to midfield. So the ball's in our end the whole first quarter. We were fortunate to come out of it with a 7-0 lead – we got the one turnover – but that's something.
"We've got to be ready to play off the bat. We've got to come out and see if we can go three-and-out on defense. Make them punt early, backed up. Cover the first kickoff well and have them start at the 20 and not the 36, those kind of things."
The Bucs hope they can avoid the untimely miscues – a late turnover or a breakdown on special teams – that have undone them the last two weeks. If those problems resurface, an early lead may mask them while a quick deficit will magnify their effects.
"That's what happens," said Dungy. "If you play games when you're ahead, like we did the first three weeks, the mistakes aren't as costly. They're still there to a certain extent, but that's why you have to keep working to minimize them, because when you play good teams, when you play on the road, the mistakes show up and they hurt you."