St. Petersburg Times Online: Sports

Weather | Sports | Forums | Comics | Classifieds | Calendar | Movies

Bucs offense makes strides

Though Brad Johnson and Co. could have capitalized on more plays, they did earn 327 yards.

By ROGER MILLS, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times, published October 7, 2002

Though Brad Johnson and Co. could have capitalized on more plays, they did earn 327 yards.

ATLANTA -- It may seem natural to the pessimist to liken the performance of the Bucs offense Sunday to a glass that is half empty instead of one that is half full.

After all, the offense, benefiting from the successful defensive efforts, had ample opportunities to put the game away.

The offense could have scored more than the one touchdown. It should not have settled for two field goals. It should not have had two turnovers.

True, true and true.

But to say that after four games Jon Gruden's offense has not made strides, well ... that's just false.

Against the Falcons, the Bucs finished with 327 yards from scrimmage on 59 plays. Yes, they could have converted more third-down opportunities (4-for-13). But they had six passing plays for more than 10 yards, had drives of 14 and 10 plays and converted one deep ball, a 76-yard touchdown from Brad Johnson to Keyshawn Johnson.

"Start off by saying 4-1," right guard Cosey Coleman said. "Any way you look at it. Any way you want to view it, we're 4-1 at this point and we're happy. Now obviously, as an offense we have to go back to the drawing board and look at things and take positive steps, more steps with an emphasis definitely being with the running game.

"But I think, from a passing standpoint, we gave Brad good time today. Even though there were times when it looked like he had pressure, we had a lot of three-step drops, so he was supposed to be getting out of there quickly."

Even with Johnson being involved in two uncharacteristic turnovers and not having his best game, the passing attack wasn't a mess. He was 17-for-31 for 261 yards and he completed passes to six receivers.

"For the most part, I think we're doing pretty well," Johnson said. "We're moving the chains. We're getting a lot of yards. The biggest thing is being a little bit better on third-down conversions, especially the third and 2s, third and 3s.

"We've been very aggressive with our play-calling. In a few of our games we've got a lot of deep coverage and Cover 2s. (Sunday) whenever they went single safety, he was 40 yards deep too. But we're going to be very aggressive with our playing calling. I feel like we are, for the most point, a high percentage team."

One thing Tampa Bay has not been is a fast starting team, something that bothers the offensive specialist considerably. In the first quarters of the past two games, the Bucs have not been able to put the ball in the end zone. Sunday, they were victimized by inactivity, as Johnson fumbled on the Bucs second possession from scrimmage and the Falcons converted an onside kick.

The Bucs had possession of the ball for only 3 minutes, 37 seconds and couldn't find any early rhythm.

"It's funny when you don't win the coin toss," Johnson said. "The coin toss is big. Not only that, then you come out there and there are a lot of TV timeouts. People don't understand that sitting at home. Every time we had the ball in the first half, we're sitting around for three minutes out there. (We're) just standing and really kind of lose our momentum."

Gruden said the series of mishaps in the first half was trying for the team, but pointed out that in the third and fourth quarters there were some productive plays.

"That was a tough start for us, honestly," Gruden said. "It was a slugfest today offensively and we kept punching, kept punching and Keyshawn Johnson delivered the big blow late in the game. It was a pretty good team effort."

The big blow was big indeed, but it was one of a number of big passing plays. Brad Johnson connected on long passes to receivers Keenan McCardell (30 yards) and Joe Jurevicius (19) and fullback Jameel Cook (13).

"We have a lot of different weapons, a lot of different guys are scoring touchdowns this year," Brad Johnson said. "We try to take advantage of certain guys on defense."

One area that needs improvement, however, is the running game. For the fourth time in five games, the Bucs have been held to less than 100 yards rushing (74 yards on 26 carries).

"We started off really slow running the ball and the offense in general," running back Michael Pittman said. "But we just kept pounding and I thought we were getting stronger toward the end of the game. We're doing a good job, but we have to start off faster. ... The defense did a great job keeping us in the game, but as an offense we have to get better."

Coleman said: "Once the running game opens up, it'll make us more dimensional. Our goal right now is not to go out and try to have that 200-yard game. That's not going to happen. We have to chip away. Make small steps in that direction."

© Copyright, St. Petersburg Times. All rights reserved.