"why the heck are you still blitzing!"
How bout them Cowboys! Well if the Bucs take that same Casino Blitz mentality into this week's game at Dallas they will see the same results as last week...a record setting day for an elite quarterback. The Bucs coaching staff features 2 coordinators who were with the Giants last year. You would think they would know better than to play right into the Giants strengths and expose the Bucs weaknesses. When you review the coaches' film (available every Wednesday on nfl.com rewind) you see the Bucs blitzed early, often and most times with disastrous results. Given the Bucs built an early lead it's even more surprising they wouldn't sit back in their vaunted Tampa 2 and make the Giants work their way down the field for scores. Defensively the Bucs Blitz happy scheme was smoked for 510 yards passing by an elite quarterback using experienced receivers well versed in exploiting the blitz. As I wrote in the pre-season, the Bucs defensive game plan appears to be predicated on the blitz and when you are facing elite QB's in 12 of your 16 games that is a recipe for disaster. As we do every week, with the help of opinions from players, coaches and former NFL coaches...let's review the game quarter by quarter and pick out the good, the bad and the "why the heck are you still blitzing!"
It's clear from play one the Giants game plan is to isolate Hakeem Nicks on Aqib Talib and go after him. Talib had an awful day. When he wasn't holding he was getting beat and sometimes both on the same play. To keep saying this guy is an elite corner is ridiculous because obviously other teams think he's extremely vulnerable. On the second play Manning hits Nicks for 40 yards down the sideline beating Talib. After a David Wilson dropped pass, Manning goes after Talib again and this time Talib makes a nice play forcing a field goal but the Giants were just getting started. 3-0 G-Men
The Bucs first possession they try and establish the run with Doug Martin behind Carl Nicks and Donald Penn. Nicks obliterates the linebacker but the Giants are waiting for Martin's cutback move and he only gets 4. If he hugs the double team he might get more. Freeman then checks to a hot route to Mike Williams as the Giants threaten blitz. He throws on time, on target, perfect execution as Williams makes a guy miss and gets 11. As I predicted on my show on 620 WDAE Saturday morning the Bucs would take an early shot deep to Vincent Jackson off play-action and they execute to perfection. VJax uses a veteran nudge on Cory Webster to create space (replacement refs aren't calling this subtle move) and Freeman drops it in for 41. The drive stalls when the Bucs can't execute 2 screen plays. On 3-7 DJ Ware (not LaGarrette Blount) stumbles to get to his receiving point throwing the timing off, Dallas Clark whiffs his block (not unusual) and Jason Pierre Paul (JPP) runs down the play from the backside. Conner Barth hits from 45 and it's 3-3.
On the Giants next possession rookie LB Levonte David shines. On a 1st-10 the Giants go misdirection but David is not fooled. He takes no false steps reads his keys, slips the block and makes the tackle! This kid is going to be fabulous. David hurt his hand/wrist later in the game and simply wasn't as effective playing with one hand obviously and it really aided the Giants comeback in my opinion. Later in the drive on 3-5 the Bucs come again with the blitz and get burned. Victor Cruz finds an opening and beats Eric Wright and gets 20 to keep the drive alive. On 2nd and goal from the 2, David, Roy Miller and Gerald McCoy do a great job slipping blocks and stopping Bradshaw short. On 3rd and goal from the 6, the Bucs rush 3 this time and Bennett can't handle the pass from Eli forcing a field goal. Notice the Rush 3 working, the blitz not working...a theme of this game and the Bucs never adjusted. 6-3 Giants.
Bucs next possession another great play action pass to VJax where Freeman throws on time and on target. These plays will be the staple of the Bucs offense and when you can execute like this they are unstoppable! Especially when you combine them with deep routes off play-action which the Bucs do on the very next play. VJax is wide open but Freeman overthrows him! You have to give your guy a chance in 1 on 1 coverage and the overthrow is the cardinal sin. The Bucs have to punt instead of hanging 6 more on the Giants.
The second quarter starts with a nice pick by Mason Foster on a very badly thrown ball by Eli off pressure from Bennett while just rushing 4. No Blitz! The Bucs covert the turnover into 7 points when the Giants get burned by the Blitz, Freeman reads it perfectly and floats the ball up to VJax who again uses the subtle nudge to gain separation and secure the touchdown. 10-6 Bucs. Freeman and VJax are developing great chemistry against the blitz just like Eli has with Nicks, Cruz and Bennett. Even though the Bucs lost they are developing winning tools. Play action passing with VJax, Martin in the running game but they need more weapons and certainly an identity on defense.
The Bucs have a nice couple defensive series on next 2 NY possessions. Mason Foster with a rare quick read and beats the tackle to the spot to stuff the run. Clayborn, Bennett and McCoy overpower blocks. This is how Schiano wants his team to play against the run. On the next Giant possession 3rd-6, the Bucs rush 3, drop 8 and Brandon McDonald is there to collect the Manning overthrow and get the pick. From there the Bucs running game needs just 2 plays to score. A well blocked first down play to Martin that gets 5 and then Martin shows his incredible talent and vision, he presses the hole inside then spins outside and outruns everyone to the corner. Give Nicks, Penn and Lorig credit for dominating blocks but Martin makes an incredible individual play 17-6 Bucs.
The Giants next possession they start running the football as Andre Brown the Giants 3rd string back gets 46 yards on 4 carries. On 2 plays Mason Foster gets blocked and can't get off, David hurts his wrist missing the tackle, Talib looks unwilling to tackle Brown and the d-line is getting handled as the Bucs work in some back-ups. The lack of depth is startling. Later in the drive Eric Wright is called for holding Cruz on a 2nd-20 to keep the drive alive. Killer penalty. Then on 1-10, the Bucs blitz 6 and get burned again. Talib 1 on 1 can't get a good jam on Cruz who easily scores on a skinny post. 17-13 Bucs lead.
After a Bucs 3 and out, Eli beats the Bucs blitz on back to back plays for 11 and 13 yards. Then Wright throws out the bait and Eli bites, he fakes the blitz and drops back in the passing lane and picks Manning taking it to the house just before halftime! The Pick 6 puts the Bucs up 24-13 at the half and they classy Giant fans are booing Eli off the field after 3 interceptions! The Super Bowl Honeymoon didn't last long! Notice the free agent pay-offs for the Bucs. VJax, Wright, Nicks paying huge dividends! Hmmm...maybe this spending money thing does help! While Bucs fans must be feeling good, the coaches should be making adjustments to stop blitzing and getting burned but clearly they did not.
The Bucs special teams played well and put 3 points up on the first possession. Arrelious Benn rips off a 55 yard return showing the guts to hit the hole with speed. After a 3 and out Conner Barth hits from 52 right down the middle. On the Giants next possession on 3-5 the Bucs rush 4 and Dakoda Watson knocks the ball down to force a punt.
On the Bucs next possession on a 1-15 Freeman goes back shoulder fade to VJax with perfect execution. This play takes detailed execution and chemistry which we saw little of in the passing game last year. A huge leap for Freeman and a staple of many great offenses including the Giants. On a 2-8 the Bucs new staple running play. They pull the massive but incredibly agile 360 pound Nicks from the off side, they also pull 6-9 330 pound Demar Dotson (Who played well and will start again this week for Trueblood) and wham! 8 easy yards as the 5-7 Martin hides behind the human wall! Next, a key missed call by the "replacements" on 2nd-6 Martin sweeps left and clearly gets his facemask yanked right in front of the side judge! No Call! Instead of 1-10 at the Giants 35, the Bucs get stuffed on 3rd-1 and must punt it away. Killer no-call .
On the next Giants possession Talib gets called for holding and pass interference one of the calls negating a possible Ronde interception. On the final 2 plays of the drive from the Bucs 18, the Bucs decide NOT to blitz and Mark Barron makes a great diving knock away to save a touchdown and Ronde almost gets a pick 6 to deny the next play. The Bucs rarely blitzed in the Red Zone and forced 4 field goals while they got burned from long range on the blitz giving up huge plays for TD's and let the Giants score too quickly.
On the Bucs last possession of the third quarter the "replacements" strike again. VJax is hammered by Kenny Phillips in a text book example of defenseless receiver and a helmet to helmet hit. Aikman exclaims on the broadcast "I'm not sure there is an easier call to make!" On the next play Freeman throws a horrific pick. He throws off his back foot, late over the middle and high. The "Triple Lindy" of QB mistakes!
The Giants have to settle for another field goal as the Bucs rush 3 (no blitz) on 3rd and goal from the 5 forcing Manning to throw it away. 27-19 Bucs still lead.
On the Bucs next possession a crucial mistake by WR Mike Williams that reminds of last years lack of attention to details. On 3rd-8 a crucial possession play, Williams runs his rout 2 yards short of the stick. The Bucs pick up the Blitz, Freeman delivers on time and on target but Williams dances instead of diving for the first down! Details men! Details! The Bucs would have had a first down at the Giants 48 with 7:52 to play. Instead they have to punt the ball away.
3 plays later on a 3rd-2, The Bucs call a Nickel/Will blitz with Eric Wright comes off the slot man on a blitz and Mason Foster blitzes from the middle. Foster almost gets home but at the last second Brown reaches out and just forces Foster wide of Manning. Meanwhile Ronde is now 1 on 1 with Cruz. Ronde squats on the route expecting Cruz to cut the pattern off in the face of Wright's blitz but Cruz takes it deep and he's wide open for an 82 yard score. The Giants covert the 2 point conversion and it's 27-27 with 6:48 to play. If the Bucs play 2 high safeties and make Eli check it down they might score but it would eat up a ton more clock. Schiano gambled and lost again with the Blitz.
The Bucs can't answer on offense and go 3 and out. On the critical 3rd and 6 VJax can't come up with the back shoulder fade and the Bucs punt it away to a red hot Manning. The Bucs get burned on the next blitz as Nicks gets wide open inside for 15. Then on 1st-10 the Bucs don't blitz and the 5-10 Mcdonald is in perfect position but plays the bigger man instead of the ball. The 6-6 Bennett beats him up high for the touchdown. By the way where is 6-2 Myron Lewis the Bucs biggest corner? Now it's 34-27 Giants with 3:59 to play.
Now that the Bucs have to score they go wide open. The new Bucs offensive coaches OC Mike Sullivan and QB coach Ron Turner have worked extensively with Freeman's mechanics and "quieting his helmet" and making him more focused in the pocket. Freeman is spot on with three darts to the previously invisible Dallas Clark for 3 straight completions. Then Freeman shows incredible arm strength throwing deep off his back foot 60 yards in the air to Mike Williams who is 1 on 1 with Tryon and Williams makes a great adjustment, cuts in front for a terrific TD and we are tied at 34 with 1:58 left.
On 1-10 the Bucs rush 3 and get burned in the seam by a wide open Barden for a 24 yard gain. So the Bucs go back to the blitz sending Barber and Barron and guess what...Hicks beats Talib again! This time down the sideline for 50 yards. With 1:20 left Schiano calls for the Bucs to allow the score, a gutsy and brilliant call that few rookie coaches would make. But the Giants are too smart, just like in the Super Bowl they take a knee at the one and eat up another 40 seconds as they score on the next play. Now the Bucs get it with 25 seconds instead. Freeman almost pulls off a miracle with 2 great throws. The first to VJax for 21 then a laser down the sideline to Mike Williams that would have set up the Bucs at the 16 yard line with 2 shots at the end zone. Williams makes the catch in bounds but coughs it up on a crunching hit. The replay assistant challenges the call and the "replacements" get the call right as Williams needed to control the ball to the ground and did not. Freeman throws a desperation pick on the next play and game over....except for "kneel-gate" which we dealt with in our previous post.
The Bucs are in trouble defensively this week at Dallas. They certainly can't live by the blitz against Tony Romo who will do exactly what Eli did if the Bucs go that route. The good news is the Bucs have some offensive weapons to work with mainly VJax and Doug Martin. Freeman is much improved, the running game is dangerous and if they can just slow teams down, make them work for their scores they can possibly outscore teams. Until they can find some credible pass rushers they will struggle on defense. No question this team is much more competitive and will rarely get blown out. However...if they get some key injuries...they will get blown out!