By JEFF CARLSON
Former Bucs quarterback Jeff Carlson (1990 & 1991) writes The QB Blast column here at JoeBucsFan.com. Joe is ecstatic to have him firing away. Carlson is often seen as a color analyst on Bright House Sports Network, and he trains quarterbacks of all ages locally via his company, America’s Best Quarterback.
Let’s give the coordinators of the offense and defense some credit for the Bucs’ winning record.
While it isn’t perfect on either side of the ball by any means, there have been a few standout designs or calls that have given Bucs players opportunities to make plays. And the great news is, the players have stepped up and made the plays to make the difference.
A few weeks back against the Carolina Panthers, in their first division game and on the road, Ronde Barber had his second interception in as many games and got the deserved credit for always being in the right place. But Raheem Morris must get much of the credit for that critical interception because it was the design of the coverage that had Barber had in the right place at the right time.
Carolina came to the line in a three-receiver “bunch” group to the right side. As a quarterback, I’ve never liked the bunch look much, simply because it gives the defense too much power to disguise blitzes and/or coverage. The Bucs dialed up something I hadn’t seen before and, with the outcome of the play, probably something Matt Moore hadn’t seen either.
As the receivers came off the line and scattered in different directions as usual (seam, curl and flat), Tanard Jackson, who started in the regular safety position for a Cover 2 look (deep in the seam), faded all the way outside to the flat area. Aqib Talib faded back from his outside flat space and covered the curl from behind. Ronde started the play faking a blitz and dropped back as the underneath and inside defender, holding the seam as Jackson went wide. The backside safety also gave Ronde help deep over the top, allowing him to sneak outside to the curl.
Moore was right to think that the curl would be open–and he would have been if Barber stayed with the seam route. But that help from the other safety allowed Barber to jump in front of the curl in what may have been one of the easiest interceptions of his career.
The “cool” design that allowed Barber to once again be in the right place at the right time needs to be recognized. Most defensive coordinators get famous for designing up blitzes and create big pressure to confuse blocking schemes and cause quarterbacks havoc before they throw the ball. This single coverage shift isn’t like designing the “46” Defense that made Buddy Ryan famous, or the Tampa 2 that Tony Dungy and Monte Kiffin put on the map, but there aren’t that many opportunities to see a coverage that confuses the QB so that he throws the ball right into the chest of the defender.
Ronde gets the stat added to his illustrious career, but give the defensive coordinator the assist on that one.
On Sunday, Cody Grimm evened the score against the Bengals by taking his first career pick “to the house” because Morris designed up a look that had his safety close to the line of scrimmage at the snap and immediately after the snap had him turn and sprint to the flat, where Carson Palmer thought he would have a safe completion with no underneath coverage.
Normally, a linebacker is out in the curl area and squared up to the quarterback, so he just throws to the outside of the LB, but the Bucs covered it with a safety that was out of position at the snap. By sprinting to the spot and turning around at the right time, it allowed him to steal the pass and score. Again, this credit has to be shared between player and coordinator.
On the offensive side, there is much to be concerned about with pass protection and blitz recognition by Josh Freeman.
Beating the blitz by throwing it up deep is great when it works, but is a low percentage proposition in general. The Bucs will certainly need to be better prepared to address quick pressure, and Freeman needs to recognize when there is one too many blitzers than there are blockers. They got away with a few balls that spent too much time in the air as Freeman got pressured from different angles.
What I liked was the “Dig” call to Mike Williams that resulted in a wide-open catch (even though the ball floated in the middle of the field) that would have set up a score if Williams didn’t fumble. This was a very good changeup after his success outside. It is great to know the Bucs have a guy that will go up, fight for and win the ball, but this can’t be the plan week in and week out.
This coming week will be very interesting to see how the Saints defense decides to attack the issue and how the Bucs’ week of practice time was used to fix the problem.
The Saints have to be getting a bit nervous over their average start, while the Bucs can play with confidence over their unexpectedly hot start, but I think New Orleans will bring the pressure again this Sunday and make the Bucs prove that they can make the big plays when they count once again.
Let’s hope both coordinators have another little wrinkle up their sleeves to stop the defending World Champions.