Thursday, August 6, 2009

What The Bucs' Pass Rush Is Missing

Stephen Holder of the St Petersburg Times has a pretty good article about the Buccaneer's need for a "fierce pass rush". Here is an excerpt.

The Bucs have not mustered a steady pass rush in the past several seasons. So now that quarterback pressure is central to their defensive scheme, how do the Bucs inject life into it?

By doing anything and everything.

It's all on the table: blitzes, position changes and ever-changing lineups. The Bucs believe the time has come to get creative and take chances.

If that means linebacker Quincy Black lines up with his hand in the dirt, so be it. If it calls for rookie defensive end Kyle Moore to slide inside and exploit a slow-footed guard, that's okay, too. And if the secondary is asked to hold its ground longer, then that's a price the Bucs are willing to pay.

Part of the challenge is that Tampa Bay is looking for results similar to those produced by its quarterback nemeses of yesteryear but is attempting to get them with unproven commodities such as Jimmy Wilkerson and Gaines Adams.

"They have to do better," coach Raheem Morris said. "When we talk about more pass rush, we're comparing them to Simeon Rice and Warren Sapp, Greg Spires, Booger McFarland. Those guys gave you more.

"Anything you ask (Sapp) to do, he's going to get it. Anything you ask Simeon to do as far as the pass rush, it was going to be dynamic. It was going to be special. (The current) guys are being compared to those guys in their second and third years. It's been unfair for them. But they have to come into their own."

It feels like eons have passed since the Bucs recorded eye-popping sack totals such as the franchise-record 55 in 2000 under Tony Dungy. They have averaged 29 in the past three seasons, but new coordinator Jim Bates is prepared to take chances to ensure the numbers increase.


Beyond the blitz, it's likely the Bucs will use a number of unconventional lineups along the line. Like a pair of basketball coaches, Bates and Morris are looking for mismatches that will take advantage of their players' strengths.

"Those combinations are going to confuse people, hopefully," Morris said. "Maybe I have a chance to get Gaines on a slug right tackle. We may try to exploit it. Or here is a matchup we like with Quincy Black. Let's stay with this package. Once we get to the game, we can dictate who we are going to go at."

This theoretically will make scouting the Bucs more of a challenge. When a guard or tackle can't predict who will line up across from him, he perhaps has a harder time knowing what to expect.

"That lineman has to study everybody because he'll never know who's going to be down there in front of him," Moore said. "We have all kinds of tricks up our sleeves."

Here is the deal, every team in the NFL needs a "fierce passrush". There isn't a Defensive Coordinator in the league that will tell you that they can get away with a mediocre passrush and win very many games. So the premise of the story is kind of meh to me but I give Holder props for the details he includes in the article.

Now I just so happened to have had the priveledge to play on that 2000 defensive line that produced those "eye popping" numbers. And that gives me a unique perspective on what has been missing from the Bucs' pass rush over the last few years. Contrary to popular belief it doesn't just come down to the personnel that left, although that certainly didn't help. To me the difference is that the pass rush moved away from being a coordinated effort and instead turned into a free for all. And unfortunately it looks like it may get worse under Coach Bates.

So what do I mean by "coordinated effort"? Back when I was playing with the Bucs and at least through the rest of Rod Marinelli's tenure, pass rush was about mismatches. Now when most people hear mismatches they think of a one one one situation. But we didnt' confine ourselves to that. For most of my career I played with one of the best defensive lineman ever to strap it on in Warren Sapp. So on most days he was going to have a favorable matchup somewhere along the offensive line. But you have to remember that an offensive line has 5 guys to block our (usually) 4 guys. That means that if they set the protection right (which direction the center blocks)they could, in theory, double team Sapp on every pass play.

Don't get me wrong, the big fella could beat a hell of a lot of double teams all by himself. But why put that onus on him if you didn't have to?

On the flip side of it the other 3 guys ended up with one on one opportunities when Sapp got the double team and when that happen we had to win. But if you only do one on one rushes all game long the offensive lineman can just start cheating their sets. This creates a situation where you could end up with a choice of either taking the scenic route to the Quarterback or trying an inside move and potentially losing contain.

And let me tell you something brother, you did NOT want to have to come back to the huddle if you lost containment and Sapp had a good rush going.

So in our meetings leading up to the game what we would do is identify keys that helped us to know before a snap which way a team was sending their center. We then used that information in several different ways. For one we tried to make sure that Sapp lined up away from the double team. That created a situtation where they either had to keep the protection on as they were coached giving Sapp a one on one or they had to break their rules which could lead to someone going the wrong way. Either choice usually ended up being a bad one for them.

But the other thing we did which the Bucs' haven't done well pretty much since Sapp left, is we incorporaed line games into our game plan based on their protection schemes. If we knew that the center was sliding to Sapp we could call a game where he takes an outside rush and the defensive end to his side comes inside of him. What is usually known as a TEX game was one of the most devastating weapons in our arsenal. When executed correctly it would give Sapp a one on one opportunity with an unsuspecting Offensive Tackle. In general it also succeeded in pushing the pocket back into the quarterback's face.

When we knew a center was going away from a certain side we could also use an EX game where the Defensive End comes inside and blasts the offensive guard and then the Defensive Tackle to that side loops around outside. This game could serve two purposes. Not only was it a way to potentially put immediate pressure in the quarterback's face, it also provided an opportunity to punish the offensive guard. When you think back to the Superbowl win of 2002, one of the enduring images is of Greg Spires flattening the Raiders' right guard on the way to the Quarterback. That ladies and gentleman was an EX game.

What these kinds of games also accomplished was that they closed off the passing/escape lanes for the Quarterback. When you rush one on one all of the time in general you leave at least one gap open which a QB can see the field from and or take off running through.

Now what worries me about Coach Morris' and Coach Bates' approach is that it seems that they are still just looking for one one one match ups. Don't get me wrong, it will be great if Gaines Adams, Greg White or even Quincy Black can be double digit sack guys all on their own but that is not usually how it works in this league. Constantly changing the lineupu just for the sake of match up instead of having a core group that rushes in a coordinated fashion just seems destined to fail from my point of view. You actually help an offense, not hurt it when you rely on one on one rushers. They never have to think about where they want to slide the protection.

Now maybe they will use pass rush games and they just aren't talking about it right now. And I for one wouldn't really expect them to hand a copy out of their game plan to a journalist. Still I one of the things I will be watching very closely is what they do on 3rd and medium or better. If all I see is a bunch of guys dancing to the beat of their own drum early on then I won't have high expectation of they having that "fierce passrush" that they speak of so sorely needing.

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