3 Keys to Victory
A lot of NFL coaches believe the quality of tackling tapers off as the season drags on. They say the NFL’s mandated late-season reduction in padded practices and the natural increase in bumps and bruises suffered by players are to blame. But no matter the reason, Tampa Bay is proof the theory has legs. The Bucs have been a pretty good tackling team for most of this year, but they missed a lot of tackles in the Dec. 1 loss to the Panthers and even more during last week’s loss to the 49ers. The elusiveness of some of the Panthers and 49ers players no doubt contributed to the problem, but the Bucs have to do a better job of finishing plays when they have ball carriers in their grasp.
MOVE THE CHAINS
The Bucs converted just one of 10 third downs during the loss to the 49ers and have converted only 16 of their past 82 (19.5 percent). If you really want to know why the offense has struggled of late, that’s it. Tampa Bay’s inability to move the chains on the money down has repeatedly shortchanged the offense. The most worrisome thing is that it’s not just one area, such as third-and-long, where the Bucs are struggling. It’s everywhere. Better play design and better execution can help, but the biggest issue might be the lack of reliable third-down weapons. After WR Vincent Jackson, the Bucs don’t have a reliable third-down target. They’re going to have to find one, though, if they hope to move the chains and get their offense back on track.
WORK UNDERNEATH ROUTES
The Bucs have faced some of the league’s most devastating defensive fronts in recent weeks, and they’re going up against another one today. Led by DE Robert Quinn, the Rams have 42 sacks, the third-most in the league, and rank 10th in QB hits with 55. The Bucs proved last week against San Francisco they can effectively execute a short passing game, and that’s what they’re going to want to employ against the Rams. Though the Rams do a very good job of rushing the passer, they have done a horrible job of covering receivers this year. Compared to their plus-30 pass rush grade, the Rams have a minus-34 coverage grade, according to ProFootballFocus, and have proven to be most vulnerable on short and intermediate routes. Bucs QB Mike Glennon has done a good job of hitting his short and intermediate passes this year, and if he’s given a chance to hit on them today, he should continue that success.
That 33-14 loss to the 49ers last week took a pretty big bite out of the Buccaneers. Not since their eighth straight loss earlier in the season has this team looked as down as it did after that setback. Coach Greg Schiano noticed the feeling in his locker room almost immediately and quickly implored his team not to let the 49ers beat them twice. By midweek it seemed as if the message had gotten through. Having wasted yet another chance to beat one of the league’s top teams, the Bucs spoke freely of their desire to redeem themselves by winning their last two games, starting with today’s game against the Rams in St. Louis. A win there won’t give the Bucs the signature victory that’s eluded them this year, but it would give them a chance to finish up by winning six of their last eight games. That’s incentive enough to keep up the fight.
Bucs LT Donald Penn vs. Rams DE Robert Quinn
Penn has really struggled down the stretch. According to ProFootballFocus, he’s allowed six sacks, five QB hurries and one QB hit in his past four games. This after allowing three sacks, three hits and 22 hurries in his first 10 games. Quinn, meanwhile, has established himself as one of the best pass rushers in the game. He ranks second in the league with 15 sacks and usually gets those by generating speed off the edge and working his way inside. Penn will have to be at his best to keep Quinn from wrecking the Bucs’ offensive game plan. Quinn is almost as good a run stopper as he is a pass rusher, so Penn will have to play strong both as pass protector and a run blocker. The Bucs would like to see Penn handle Quinn on his own, but they’ll have to adjust and give him some help from a tight end or a running back if he struggles.
5 Questions with S Keith Tandy
Q: How good a quarterback were you in high school in Hopkinsville, Ky.?
A: I wasn’t bad. We called probably 40 or 50 passing plays a game, and I knew how to get the ball out quick to some good receivers. My high school coach sent my highlight tape to West Virginia and they were impressed, but by the time I went for my visit, they had me pegged as a defensive back.
Q: You were a three-time Big East Academic All-Star. How important was education to you at West Virginia?
A: It was real big. One thing they always told us was whether you make the NFL or not, it’s not going to be for long. You’ll have the rest of your life to do something else. And I was always trying to compete with the people next to me in class, trying to do better than them.
Q: You were chosen in the sixth round of the 2012 draft. What was that day like?
A: It was rough and it was long. I was at home with my family, waiting for the phone to ring. It was crazy because Seattle was about to be up and suddenly I got a call with a Seattle number on it. I picked it up and it was a bill collector. I was like, ‘Oh, man.’ Tampa Bay had shown some interest in me and in the fifth round, with the Bucs picking, I see West Virginia flash up on the screen and I got excited. It turned out to be my teammate, Najee Goode, instead. But it all worked out.
Q: You are very dedicated to community endeavors. Where does that attitude of giving come from?
A: My mom was always involved in stuff like that, and I’ve got nine nieces and nephews. Whenever I have a chance to go do something for the kids here, I know how much it means to them.
Q: When is the last time you cried watching a movie or something on TV?
A: I went to the movies recently and saw “The Best Man Holiday.’’ It was weird because every time I was getting ready to cry, a funny part would come on.
Strong defense and bounce-back game for offense put Bucs back in win column.
Bucs return to their ball-hawking style and win with a flurry of takeaways.