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Sapp on Steckel: I miss Shula

The Buccaneers Pro Bowl defensive tackle blasts the play-calling, the formations, the lack of identity, the ...

By RICK STROUD

© St. Petersburg Times, published November 25, 2000


TAMPA -- The Bucs still can win their division. But can they win if there is division?

That's the biggest question after Friday, when outspoken defensive lineman Warren Sapp, frustrated by Tampa Bay's 6-5 record, placed much of the blame for the team's inconsistency on the new offense of first-year coordinator Les Steckel.

Saying the offense lacked an identity after 11 games, Sapp broke ranks with the ex-Marine and criticized Steckel's play-calling.

"It's killing me right now," Sapp said. "There's no doubt about it. I think the one thing that's more troubling than anything is that it's pretty much the same ballclub, in the same position, not finding a way to come out playing consistently week in and week out.

"The saddest part about it is we play at the highest professional level of football and a high school team has more base (offensive) plays than we do, because I can't tell you what it is. I can't even tell you our favorite formation."

Sapp, the reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year who leads the team in sacks with 111/2, was responding to a reporter's question about the Bucs' fleeting playoff chances.

A year ago, the Bucs were four minutes from the Super Bowl. They added three Pro Bowl players on offense and won their first three games of the 2000 season. But a loss Sunday to the Buffalo Bills could be the de facto end to their post-season hopes.

Sapp was particularly critical of the play of the Bucs offense in the 13-10 loss to the Chicago Bears Sunday. He cited a third-and-3 situation from the Bears 12-yard line at the end of the first quarter, a fake double-reverse by Jacquez Green that resulted in the loss of 3 yards.

"You can't tell me that third and 3, the (third) drive of maybe the biggest game of our season, we run a fake double reverse," Sapp said. "That's p---- football, that's what it is. That's exactly what it is. I can't get 3 yards so I'm going to trick you. I don't believe in the people in my system, so I'm going to trick you. It's Tricky Dick you, six different formations in six plays.

"I don't think a fake double reverse on third and 3 is the answer. What had we done to set up a fake double reverse? You're going into the wind. They know you're not going to throw it deep."

In fact, Sapp believes Tampa Bay's lack of a vertical passing game has further handcuffed the offense.

"For us to have the receivers we possess, and we don't challenge anybody down the field?" Sapp said. "I mean, that was our staple at the end of the year when we made that run last year. We started challenging people down the field, and (Trent) Dilfer was throwing those damn balls. We thought we'd found a new quarterback. And I know Shaun (King) can throw it deep. I don't think we've thrown a deep ball since the Washington game. I think that's the last time we've thrown the ball vertically up the field, unless you count that one hitch and go to Keyshawn (Johnson against Atlanta.")

In Steckel's defense, the Bucs offense has been statistically more productive in many areas over the 1999 season.

The Bucs have scored 88 more points than they did at this point last season. Tampa Bay also is first in the NFC with a 93.5 scoring percentage in the red zone and first in the conference with a 61.3 touchdown percentage inside the opponent's 20.

Moreover, the 23-year King has been well protected as the Bucs have allowed just 17 sacks. But he has had trouble establishing any rhythm in the passing game and especially with Johnson.

According to Sapp, the Bucs have been slow to make adjustments on offense during the game.

"Like when Dave (Moore) went down (against Green Bay)," Sapp said. "One guy affects the whole team. One guy destroyed it. We looked liked we had no idea where we were going. Dave got knocked out. Just imagine if Dave is gone for the year. I thought about that when they said that to me. After the game, I said to Les, "You don't have to wait until we go down 14 or 15 to open that thing back up.' I said to myself, "If Dave is gone, I've got to win it 3-0.' "When you do a few things very well, it's easy for you to go out and eliminate the mistakes you make in the ballgame. Because there's not 30 variables in each situation. We're just too damn unsound right now. I think that's the word you come back to when you talk about any scheme you run. I couldn't even tell you our basic run. Is it gut? I don't know and we've been watching the same thing for 12 weeks now. Maybe we'll find it."

Perhaps the biggest sign of Sapp's frustration is that he said he actually preferred the offense under Mike Shula, who was fired after four seasons.

"You know what? We used to dog the hell out of (Mike) Shula, but I'll be the first one to tell you I miss him," Sapp said. "Because, s---, at least I knew what I was getting.

"I couldn't tell you what we do right now. I couldn't tell you what our bread and butter play is. Last year, we were either going to run Power O or Tampa pass. I knew that and I didn't mind that. I knew we going to throw it to Mike (Alstott) in the flat and then try to get it to Warrick (Dunn) on a swing pass and get him to one-on-one with a couple linebackers. But at least we knew what the hell we were doing. Now we're doing a thousand and one things and we look like we don't know what the hell we're doing."

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