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Bucs fail - again and again - to stop a patchwork offense on third down.
By JOANNE KORTH, Times Staff Writer
Published December 10, 2007
[Brendan Fitterer | Times]
HOUSTON - Bucs defensive end Greg White had three sacks and two forced fumbles Sunday, the type of individual performance that typically sparks a dominating defense.
The Bucs' inability to stop the Texans on third down contributed to a disheartening 28-14 loss. The pressure was there. The turnovers were there. But Houston converted a remarkable 10 of 17 third-down plays, many from short yardage.
"It's hard to get off on third and 3s," cornerback Ronde Barber said. "Those are unmanageable downs as far as defense is concerned. I can drop back and throw a 2-yard hitch or a 3-yard checkdown. We didn't play well enough on first and second down.
"I'm not going to say it's a trend. It's something that happened Sunday."
The numbers tell the story.
For the season, on third downs of 6 yards or less, offenses convert 54 percent of the time against the Bucs. When the distance is 7 yards or more, the success rate drops dramatically, to 23 percent.
On Sunday, the difference was even more drastic. The Texans converted 9 of 12 from 6 yards or less, one of their five from 7 yards or more.
"We had a lot of third and shorts," strong safety Jermaine Phillips said. "When we can get them in third-and-long situations, it allows the pass rush to get off easy. When the guys up front had the opportunity, they were getting to the quarterback.
"It's just a matter of getting them in third and long."
The disappointing performance was even more surprising considering the personnel the Texans had to use. Backup Sage Rosenfels started in place of injured Matt Schaub at quarterback, and rookie running back Darius Walker played most of the game because of an ankle injury to starter Ron Dayne.
Walker, an undrafted rookie from Notre Dame, was promoted from the practice squad last week. He made his first NFL carry early in the second quarter.
Rosenfels was 27 of 36 for 209 yards and three touchdowns, which matched a team record. Walker had 81 total yards, 16 rushes for 46 yards and six catches for 35.
"He made some unbelievably tight throws," defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin said. "He looked like Joe Montana firing it in there. 'Criminy, Sage, you're not supposed to be that good.' "
Kiffin gave credit to Rosenfels, citing a third-and-3 play when defensive end Gaines Adams flushed Rosenfels from the pocket and was about to run him down from behind for a sack. But Rosenfels stopped and threw sidearm against his body for a 9-yard completion to tight end Owen Daniels.
Rosenfels used Walker as an outlet when the receivers were covered, something he rarely did when the bullish Dayne was in the game.
"We knew when Walker was in there he provided more of a threat in terms of checkdowns," Phillips said. "We knew what we had. There's no excuses, no explanations. We just got outplayed."
That left White as the only bright spot. A former Arena Football League defensive player of the year, White leads the team with 8.5 sacks and six forced fumbles in his first full NFL season.
"The defense, we could have played better," White said. "It was hard to get off the field."
Joanne Korth can be reached at Korth@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8810.
Keeping it going
The Texans converted 10 of 17 third downs overall and 8 of 10 on two TD drives and second-half drives that consumed 7:53 and 6:15, respectively:
6 Dayne 6-yard catch
5 Johnson 8-yard catch
3 Johnson 4-yard TD
7 Walter 9-yard catch
3 Daniel 9-yard catch
3 Rosenfels fumble
6 Johnson 9-yard catch
1 Rosenfels 2-yard run
5 Walker 6-yard catch
9 Echemandu 5-yard run
[Last modified December 9, 2007, 21:37:29]