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Guest analyst

Bucs built to avoid Giant failures

By HOWIE LONG (with John C. Cotey)
© St. Petersburg Times
published January 12, 2003

The 49ers are a team that likes to run the ball (and) the Giants did a good job of stopping that. (Terrell) Owens obviously is the big factor, and the Bucs like to play a cover-2 defense (where the priority is to) keep everything in front of you and make the tackle. I think we saw on three different occasions last weekend that Terrell Owens can make that very difficult to do, where an 8-yard gain is turned into a 35-yard gain.

With Tampa Bay, its defense is so quick, particularly the defensive tackles and Simeon Rice, that there is a hole, then there isn't a hole. How it attacks Jeff Garcia will be a big key. How it deals with Terrell Owens will be a big key.

I think the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are far better equipped to deal with Garcia than the New York Giants were. I think he altered the way they rushed the quarterback in the third and fourth quarters. Michael Strahan, I guarantee, was told on the sideline, "Don't rush the quarterback, keep this guy in the pocket." That allows him the luxury of sitting in that pocket, unabated, and make his throws, go through his progressions and pick them apart.

I don't think it will happen (against the Bucs), because I don't think the Buccaneers have to change a thing they do up front. They just go get the quarterback. If he runs, they just go get him.

When they line the military up and they say, "Okay, men, this is a very dangerous assignment, this is a covert action no one is to know about and we need three volunteers and you might not come back," that's the Owens assignment. And not a lot of people are stepping up to take the assignment. I think the Bucs are eager for it.

Can the Bucs deal with the 49ers running game with their front seven? That would allow (John) Lynch to sit back and play in the two-deep and do the things they need to do with Owens. If they are forced to roll up into an eight-man front, that opens things up. Brian Kelly has played well and Ronde Barber has played well, but let's face it, this guy (Owens) is 6 feet 4, 220 pounds, he's ripped and he runs a 4.4. It's big truck vs. little truck and who's gonna win? Big truck's going 30 mph and little truck's going 30 and they hit head on, what happens?

I think offensively the Bucs have been stuck in a quagmire here recently with Brad Johnson out, not being able to finish drives. With Rob Johnson, it's been 5-6 field goals and one touchdown. Brad gives them such a better opportunity to (score).

The big question is where is Brad Johnson physically? There's been speculation he has a fractured vertebrae. The Bucs are saying that's not the case. People close to the situation and close to him are saying that it is the case. Where does the truth lie? I don't know. How he holds up physically will be a big key. He has missed a few weeks, so is his timing off?

Where the Bucs have problems is this: There's so much pressure put on that defense play in and play out, series in and series out. They can limit a team to 130 yards total offense through three quarters and three minutes and then the floodgates open up.

I'll give you an example. Every time they go to Philadelphia, it's three quarters of great defense, and then suddenly, BANG! (Donovan) McNabb breaks a big run, Duce Staley breaks a big run and all of a sudden they have 150 yards rushing. They were gassed.

San Francisco won't have that comeback vs. the Bucs. I thought the Giants kind of faded physically in that fourth quarter when they went no-huddle.

I think the teams that were sitting at home, the Tampa Bays and the Philadelphias, had an opportunity this weekend to look at everything that can go right and wrong in playoff football and they learned from that.

I like Tampa Bay for a couple of reasons. I think San Francisco is a good football team, but I don't think it is a great football team.

I think it's a very close game. I don't think it's a high-scoring game. I think they will do the things that New York didn't do in the second half, and that's deal with Garcia and try to deal with Owens.

* * *

Howie Long, a former defensive end with the Oakland Raiders who was elected into the NFL Hall of Fame in 2000, has been a studio analyst for FOX NFL Sundaysince 1994. Regarded as one of today's top NFL studio analysts, Long won an Emmy Award in 1997 for his work as Outstanding Sports Personality/Analyst and has been nominated for an Emmy every year since making his Fox debut in 1994. He recently spoke with Times Radio/TV writer John C. Cotey about today's Bucs-49ers game.

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