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Run defense sends Dallas scrambling

The Bucs, vulnerable in the ground game at times last season, step up and stop Emmitt Smith and the Cowboys.

By ROGER MILLS

© St. Petersburg Times,
published September 10, 2001


IRVING, Texas -- Emmitt Smith entered the season needing 103 yards to tie Barry Sanders for second place in NFL history for career rushing yards.

The Bucs were determined not to let him do it Sunday at their expense.

Thanks in part to an inspired tackle at the goal line from cornerback Brian Kelly, and a concerted effort to do whatever it took to contain Smith, the Bucs held the Cowboys' sure Hall of Fame back to 40 yards on 13 carries.

Smith will have to pick up his chase next Sunday at Detroit.

"We didn't want to him to get the record here, today, against us," Bucs linebacker Shelton Quarles said. "We knew they were going to run him. Now, he's a great back and is going to be in the Hall of Fame one day, but our main focus was to hold him. I'm not sure how many yards he had, but I know he did not have 103."

Running behind what has been one of the most powerful offensive lines in the game over the past decade, Smith developed a reputation for pounding his way to major yardage late in games as defenses wore down.

It seemed that would be the case again Sunday. Tampa Bay held Smith to minus-6 yards rushing in the first half, but the veteran began churning his legs in the third quarter when his first four carries were for 4, 11, 6 and 4 yards.

"Usually you don't rely on the newspaper for the scouting report but (a Cowboys coach) said that the Bucs were a unit that tires in the second quarter," safety John Lynch said. "So we knew that, even though we did contain him a bit, they were going to continue to give it to him. That was smart for them to do.

"They have a great offensive line and one of the greatest rushers ever to play the game. I think we got a little sloppy in our tackling but Emmitt can make you do that."

Smith had two more positive carries (9 and 14 yards) in the fourth quarter, but the Bucs never let him get going. "I thought the effort was great," middle linebacker Jamie Duncan said. "They had a lot of drives, like the first one on the second half, where we missed a few tackles on him. He's a great back and you have to expect one or two of those (long runs) per game. But we have to make sure we rally as a team and gang tackle, and I thought we did that all game. That's how you keep a great back down. You can't depend on one person."

In the end, the Bucs were happy that the Cowboys running game didn't have its way. During periods last year, the Bucs showed some vulnerability against the run, whether it was finishing tackles or forgetting gap discipline. In fact, the Bucs watched a number of games slip away because they were unable to clamp down on runners.

At least for Week 1, things looked better as the Bucs allowed 96 total rushing yards.

"The biggest thing is that we stopped them from gaining a whole lot of yards (on the ground)," defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin said. "We were able to do it in 1999, but not so well in 2000 so it's good to have it back. That's the biggest thing. We talked about a flashback to 1999."

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