The Bucs' defense didn't always get Buffalo RB Fred Jackson on the ground as quickly as they could have
In their preparations for a Week Two matchup with the Buffalo Bills, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' coaching staff devised a defensive game plan that would put the focus on young Bills running back Fred Jackson.
Seeking to limit the big-play potential of wide receivers Terrell Owens and Lee Evans, the Buccaneers played more two-deep schemes with their safeties and rarely put more than seven defenders in the box. They essentially left it up to Jackson to beat them.
Unfortunately, Jackson was up to the challenge on this day, posting career highs in rushing yards (163) and combined yards (188) and powering the Bills to a 33-20 victory at Ralph Wilson Stadium.
It was an impressive performance by Jackson, to be sure, but the Buccaneers also helped his cause with their worst tackling performance of 2009. On Monday, Head Coach Raheem Morris pointed to that issue as perhaps the most significant factor in the failure of the defensive game plan.
"We just missed too many tackles on defense in all," said Morris. "That was the most missed tackles that we've had in a game up to this point. We hadn't been missing a bunch of tackles but yesterday we did and that hurt us."
Morris watched the game tape after the Buccaneers arrived back in Florida, and he counted 24 instances in which his defenders missed a tackle. According to the coaches' review of the five previous games of '09, including the preseason, they hadn't even hit double digits in that category in any previous contest.
Morris has stressed tough, physical play since he took over as the team's head coach in January, and sure tackling is obviously a central part of that. Morris also comes from a coaching background in Tampa that has long stressed the fundamentals of tackling on the practice field. That issue works its way back into the spotlight from time to time – usually following struggles such as the ones the Bucs had in Buffalo – and it usually leads to an added emphasis on tackling during the ensuing week of practice. It would be no surprise to see Morris take that approach this week as Tampa Bay gets ready for an invasion by the New York Giants.
"Missed tackles are more frustrating than just getting beat physically," said Morris. "A missed tackle is a technique, it's a want-to, it's a will, it's the stuff that has nothing to do with talent. It is all the hustle, the hit, the cap-offs, you have to have all that stuff."
Tellingly, Jackson's biggest run of the game actually came against an eight-man front, as the Bucs finally loaded up the box late in the fourth quarter because the Bills were clearly going to grind it out the rest of the way. Jackson's careened 43 yards down to the Bucs' 11, coming in contact with most of the Bucs' defense at one point or another. The Bills' runner deserved credit for the hard-nosed run but Tampa Bay defenders had several opportunities to get him on the ground.
Jackson's strong work overall allowed the Bills to hold on to the lead they forged in the early going. Eventually, the Bucs had to make an aggressive more or two on defense to try to get the ball back, and Bills quarterback Trent Edwards did a fine job of recognizing those opportunities. That's how both Owens and Evans ended up with long touchdown catches even though they caught only two other passes between them the rest of the day. It all started with the failure to wrap up Jackson when they had the chance.
"Yesterday was our worst tackling performance of this whole new regime," said Morris. "It was not a good tackling day from our unit and they know that. They will get to know that when we have a chance to talk to them."