The Bucs want to be known as a physically-imposing, hard-hitting football team, but there’s a fine line between playing violent and playing smart. The Bucs crossed it last week. During an 18-17 loss to the Jets, the Bucs were called for three personal fouls, including one that kept alive the Jets’ only touchdown drive and one that setup Nick Folk’s 48-yard winning field goal. Bucs coach Greg Schiano said his team has to learn to play with more control, but that’s only part of the problem. Tampa Bay also was penalized five times for either a delay of game or false start. Those situations call for another form of discipline, and the Bucs need to develop it fast.
Help the quarterback
The Jets had a simple defensive game plan: limit RB Doug Martin’s effectiveness and force QB Josh Freeman to beat them. In a copycat league, the Saints are likely to take a similar approach. Freeman will have to play better, but so will his receivers, who dropped three passes last week, and especially his pass protectors. That includes the tight ends and backs, because in a carryover from the preseason, that unit allowed three sacks, five quarterback hits and 10 hurries last week. The Bucs still seem a little hesitant to roll Freeman out or move his launch point, so the pocket in front of him has to be stronger and the targets have to play better.
Make ‘em miss
One reason Bucs RB Doug Martin had a breakout rookie season last year was he proved quite adept at breaking tackles and forcing opponents to miss. According to the folks at Pro Football Focus, Martin ranked third in the league in broken tackles with 41 and second in missed tackles forced with 68. Martin was nowhere near that elusive against the Jets. He forced just one missed tackle and gained only 37 yards after contact, according to PFF, and that’s not the Martin the Bucs need. Martin can’t make all his yards on his own, but a return to 2012 form might get the running game going. New Orleans was among the league’s worst tackling teams last year, their defensive backs accounting for a league-worst 75 misses.
Saints QB Drew Brees vs. Bucs CB Darrelle Revis
This is worth the price of admission. The Bucs traded a pair of draft picks, including their 2013 first rounder, to the Jets for Revis with quarterbacks such as Brees in mind. Brees is a master at picking apart zone defenses. The Bucs employ more of a press-man scheme, so it will be interesting to watch how Brees deals with Revis. Brees has great touch and accuracy, but has a tendency to squeeze balls into tight windows. With his adequate but not great arm strength, that has not always worked out for him. Revis has elite anticipatory skills, so this could be quite a duel. With a little help from his pass rushers, who were effective at New York last week, Revis could make Brees pay. Or Brees could make it look like the Bucs overpaid for Revis.
The Bucs’ mental toughness got a pretty good test this week. From speculation the vote for captains was skewed to Freeman missing the team photo, the Bucs seemed to roll with the punches. Their focus was on reducing the mistakes that led to last week’s loss, but we won’t know until today just how well they ignored the distractions. A loss, of course, will only make the situation worse. All the motivation they need should come from the result they posted last week.
5 Questions with ... WR Eric Page
Q: Did you have any hopes of remaining at quarterback when you got to Toledo?
A: No, I kind of knew I wasn’t going to play quarterback because of my height (5-foot-10). But we had a couple of plays where I threw the ball off a lateral or a reverse, so I ended up with a couple of touchdown passes in college. For me, that was enough.
Q: What was 2012 draft day like for you, not being selected?
A: It was mentally and emotionally draining to wait around and not hear your name called. My expectations were to go in the middle rounds, but it didn’t happen. I guess it all worked out because I ended up with a team (Denver) in time to go through (offseason practices), but it was a very tough day.
Q: Describe the feeling when a punt is in the air and you’re waiting for it to drop.
A: I’m not worried about all those guys coming down to hit me. I’m worried about catching the ball. That’s the first thing and only thing on my mind. I’m not thinking about running or dodging somebody. As a punt returner, all eyes are on you and you want to make a play, but first you have to catch the ball.
Q: What are you more afraid of — heights, flying, bugs or speaking in public?
A: Heights, definitely. I ride roller-coasters, but I’m afraid every time I get on one. But still, I ride ‘em.
Q: You were with the Broncos for three months last year. What was it like being around Peyton Manning?
A: I caught about 20 balls from him and he’s a great leader. He leads by example and he can get anyone to believe in him and believe in the plan. Manning was coming back from neck surgery, but he looked right on point. He has the whole offensive scheme figured out, he has the entire defensive scheme figured out and he knows exactly where everyone is supposed to be. He’s just real, real smart.
Roy Cummings: Bucs, 28-21. Bucs overcome distractions and take care of business in their home opener.
Ira Kaufman: Saints, 30-20. Too many off-field issues, too much Drew Brees.