For years a dependable resource, the Bucs defense showed a different face last weekend. A return to its usual performance is promised.
By RICK STROUD, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published September 15, 2002
BALTIMORE -- It's one thing to be booed off the field. It's another when it's the Bucs defense that has its own jeering section.
|[Times photo: Toni L. Sandys]
Brian Kelly (25) and Derrick Brooks team for a Week 1 tackle of Joe Horn, in a game in which the Saints had success on third downs.
Yet that was the case a week ago when Tampa Bay allowed the Saints to convert a clock-strangling 6-of-9 third downs to start the game.
It's not as if the Bucs crumbled like feta. The Saints' last six possessions resulted in an interception and five consecutive punts, including two in overtime.
But a lack of pressure on the quarterback, coupled with a weak effort against the run, made the Bucs defensive line look ordinary.
"As far as the standards of this defense and the standard of the star players that we have on this defense, (coaches) weren't happy with the way we played at all and let us know," defensive end Ellis Wyms said.
"We've got to step it up. We've got to get back to dominating up front, rushing the passer, trampling the run -- how we're used to doing it around here."
For the Bucs' sake, they better do it today against the Ravens. Quarterback Chris Redman is in his first year of starting in the NFL and had thrown three passes before this season. But he is protected by one of the best offensive lines in football that includes Pro Bowl left tackle Jonathan Ogden.
"On offense, I really like our line," Ravens coach Brian Billick said. "It's the best group we've started since I've been here, better than our Super Bowl line, which helped us become the fifth-best rushing team in the league that year."
Last weekend, the Bucs looked vulnerable against the run as Saints tailback Deuce McAllister rushed for 109 yards. Since 1996, Tampa Bay is 1-18 when allowing an opposing running back to reach the century mark rushing.
While Redman enjoyed a decent debut (20-for-34 for 218 yards, 1 TD) in a 10-7 loss at Carolina, the Ravens will try to keep the pressure off in Week 2 by riding running back Jamal Lewis.
"They're not going to put the game on (Redman's) shoulders," defensive tackle Warren Sapp said. "That's just not a smart thing to do. They've got a great running back in Jamal Lewis. We gave up 100 yards rushing. They're coming to run the ball. We've got to put the big-boy pads on and turn them into a one-dimensional team and see what we've got.
"We've got to start that early. If we start that early and they've got 20 yards in the first quarter and we're moving and have got field position, it's a totally different ballgame. That's the thing. We've got to jump on top of them."
It's hard to imagine the Bucs defense starting slower than it did against New Orleans. The first two possessions resulted in 24 plays for 100 yards and seven first downs.
"We typically get off the field better than that," general manager Rich McKay said. "Fifty percent, at the end of the day, in third-down conversions is not our standards. I'm sure Monte (Kiffin) would rather see it in the 35 or 40 percent range.
"But we have done this before. We've gotten off in games to slow starts on that first drive. It usually takes a little feeling-out process. The thing I like about the defense was, in both instances, they held them (to field goals). The game really didn't get out of reach."
When the Bucs did pressure the quarterback, they had trouble getting him on the ground. Most of the rush came from inside. Sapp and Chartric Darby recorded Tampa Bay's sacks. Blitzing linebacker Alshermond Singleton forced an interception by Derrick Brooks.
"You can talk about our standards. But we didn't expect a team to come out and convert third downs on us," Sapp said. "They come down and score on the first drive, the second drive. And after we get that settled down, they come right back in the third quarter and get another one on us. After that, we found a way to pretty much shut it down."
Of course, the NFL is a copycat league and the Ravens watch film. They are likely to borrow the Saints' game plan. "They were using a two-man route with doubling me and (Anthony McFarland) inside and keeping the tight ends in," Sapp said. "We had to get a rush from the outside. But they made some ugly third-down conversions. They got them, though. ... They were just max protecting and seeing if they could find a hole in the zone. They did a good job. With all that said, we gave ourselves a shot to win that ballgame. That's all you can ask."
Or as defensive end Simeon Rice said, "We've got the smelling salts under our noses. We've had our wakeup call."
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