Bull Rush: Signs Of Progress

October 26th, 2009

stevewhiteBy STEVE WHITE
JoeBucsFan.com analyst

Steve White spent every season of the Tony Dungy era playing defensive end for the Bucs. He’s spent countless hours in the film room with the likes of Warren Sapp, Rod Marinelli and more. Joe is humbled to now have White, also a published author and blogger, as part of the JoeBucsFan.com team. Below is White’s weekly Bull Rush column that breaks down all things defensive line. It’s simply a can’t-miss read for the hardcore Bucs fan.

I know it’s generally hard to take anything positive away from a 35-7 loss, but I am actually more optimistic now about the Bucs defensive line after Sunday’s game against the Patriots than I had been previously this season.

The guys up front really didn’t play that poorly and in a few cases played better than average, and I could see this group actually getting better during that game.

The one thing that stood out for me from the start is that for whatever reason the Bucs finally let the strong side defensive tackles put their inside hand down. I can’t begin to explain to you just how much something seemingly that small can contribute to improving our defensive line play.

When you have your inside hand down as a shaded defensive lineman you have the ability to meet force with force and push blockers back into the backfield. When you have your outside hand down you are almost relegated to just going laterally with the blocker.

The guy who seemed to benefit most from the change was Chris Hovan.

Hovan has always been an above average pass rusher from inside since coming into the league, but since joining the Bucs and becoming a nose tackle his opportunities had been limited. Now that he gets to line up to the strong side (on the outside shoulder of the guard) a good part of the game he has the opportunity to show those pass rush skills off once again, especially on play action pass.

As the game went on Hovan even got a little tilt in his stance and really started working some moves. Allowing him to put his inside hand down is going to really pay off for us going forward. You could see a difference in Ryan Sims and Roy Miller also when they were to the strong side especially holding up better on double teams. But Hovan, to me, is by far the best pass rusher of the bunch, and so that is why I say most of the benefit will come from him.

By the second half Hovan had his feet staggered and even had a little bit of a tilt, looking a lot like how our strong side tackles used to line up.

I was also very encouraged by the play of our defensive ends. In his second start of the year, Greg (Stylez) White had his second sack of the year and was once again text book in playing blocks with his hands and escaping.

Jimmy Wilkerson dominated the Patriots tight ends for most of the day and was stout playing the run. Tim Crowder showed a lot of flash as a pass rusher at both left end and right end and had a real nice hustle play on a wide receiver screen. Even Michael Bennett got into the act and got a hit on Tom Brady and rushed well in an increased role. All told our defensive ends were some stat sheet stuffers yesterday.

There were still some areas that concerned me, however.

For one, the Bucs still need better rushes on play action pass.

Secondly, while we did have one really excellent “EX” game from White and Hovan (defensive end penetrates, tackle loops outside for contain), which forced a holding penalty, by in large the timing is still off on most of our pass rush games.

Third, I am still not understanding how we can have a three-man rush where Jimmy Wilkerson is not on the field. Any time a team takes their leading sack man off the field on third down there needs to be a very good reason for that and so far I can’t come up with one.

And finally we have a goal line defensive alignment that I defy any coach, player, or fan, to show me can be successful against any, if not most, goal line running plays. (I am serious about that, we can get on a chalkboard or in a film room or wherever. But until then you won’t convince me that goal line scheme can, let alone will, work.).

But those are all what I would call “fixable” areas.

At this point, its more than apparent that we have enough talent on the defensive line to be successful. What we need going forward is a little more consistency from the guys and a little more tweaking in the scheme and we should be able to take off for the rest of the year.

Emphasis, of course, on SHOULD.

15 Responses to “Bull Rush: Signs Of Progress”

  1. JK Says:

    Steve, you make some good points. My question is this. Why now? Why does it take 4 preseason games and 6 games into the regular season to make D line adjustments. I agree our line looked better than they have since the start of the season. I know you have been there in the trenches with Sapp and the rest. What really is the underlying problem? Something is wrong. The Panthers two weeks ago said you can’t stop us. You can stop our QB but you can’t stop the run. You know and I know everyone on the Bucs sideline knew another run was coming but we could not stop it, just like the last four games of last season. If it’s not coaching then it must be personnel. In my opinion the D line is by far our weakest part of the team other than our kicking game. Any insight for a very frustrated fan would be appreciated.

  2. Mr. Lucky Says:

    Steve, firstly thanks for the commentary and breaking down the X & O’s.

    My bright spot on the defense was and continues to be the play of Talib shutting down WR’s – yesterday it was Randy Moss.

    While I hope that you’re correct about the D-Line there are two things that need to improve as well and unless that happens – ouch.

    One: The play of the LB. I saw a lot of poor tackling from that group. Plus you can’t have TE’s just streak down the seam doing a pitch and catch with the QB for TD’s

    Two: The offense needs to do something other than 3 & out to keep the D-Line off the field.

    Hey Steve any idea why the wheels have fallen off the O-Line? Forget about passing game I thought that the running game would be the foundation for these young QB’s but it seems like all the team wants to do is pass the ball.

  3. Matthew Says:

    I think the Buc’s need to reload on the D line. I think with our top 3 pick we should take Suh or McCoy and with our second round pick take Mt Cody. I can not watch some NFC South team run on us for 200+ again. Also if we got these two players it would help the D as whole. Ruud could run free to the ball also would not have to bring the 8th man into the box. That would help the CB’s with more help over the top.

  4. justin Says:

    Like I said I can’t wait til next year a top choice in the draft to see if we can build our team up for the long term

  5. sgw94 Says:

    @JK I can’t say for sure why it took so long but I am just glad to see some changes being made. As for that last drive against the Panthers it was more than one thing that did us in. Some of it was scheme. Some of it was guys missing tackles and sometimes there was a LOT of holding going on that didn’t get called. But in a technical sense we weren’t overpowered or dominated we just didn’t make plays when we needed to.

    @MrLucky Later on in the week I will have my full assessment of the game on my blog but for now I think that our O Line are still good run blockers but in my personal opinion we aren’t committing to the run enough. It reminds me of when Gradkowski had to start a few years back as a rookie because everybody was hurt. At the time I thought Gruden was crazy for putting so many games in his hands instead of riding the running game even if that meant a bunch of boring low scoring games. The same applies today. I know not everyone agreed with it back then but when Dungy was here and we had “Buc Ball” it meant controlling the clock with the running game, playing great defense and making plays in the kicking game. In the situation we are in I really think we should over commit to the run and take the ball out of either the Josh’s hands by in large. Again thats just my philosophy and I know there is more than one way to skin a cat but right now we have some horses in the backfield, a pretty good aggressive O Line and we are throwing the ball around the field like the greatest show on turf.

    As for the LBs I have some thoughts about them as well but again probably best left for another post.

    Thanks for the feedback guys as usual. Its much appreciated!

  6. Jorge Says:

    Great read Steve, you’re the only good EX-player blogger on this site.

    Really good stuff, I appreciate those details that I just don’t notice on TV.

  7. sgw94 Says:

    @Matthew you are assuming a lot of some untested rookies and Mt Cody would wilt in the heat down here.

    @Jorge Thanks bro, I am glad you enjoy it!

  8. Chester Says:

    Thanks for the education, Steve. Why is the inside hand down something that is called from the sideline? Couldn’t a guy like Hovan just made the adjustment on his own? Or would that have meant the whole line would have had to change?

  9. big nick Says:

    Nice job steve, can you suit up for us again we could sure use you. Why dont the bucs bring in Simeon Rice for a tryout it couldnt hurt? Also Odell Thurman is playing well in the Ufl. Oh and BTW bucem.com is a joke

  10. sgw94 Says:

    @Chester Its not that there is a call that determines whether these guys were putting their inside hand down. That was the technique that they were being taught in practice probably since the OTAs so it had to be something they changed in practice last week and implemented in the game. And although most people think guys in the NFL can free lance when they want to I can promise you that’s not the case. If the coaches watch film after a game and see a guy consistently doing something other than what they were coached to do then that guy will probably get benched. Even if what they are doing works. That is just how it goes.

    @big nick. Thanks man. And no, those days are over lol

  11. tj Says:

    sgw you need to get in the game and coach, thanks for the insight .

  12. jklynn Says:

    Great to see Hovan finally making the plays we need. He is often too critized for lack of “stats”… however, his position in this defense is a “wait and hold the line”, so that those around him can make the big stat plays. He is strong this year, fast and with all these rookies, it’s nice to have a guy out there that knows the game and has experience. Hovan’s stats might not show on paper – but he is a power house in the center of the D-line. Nice points in the article. Brady looked to be losing his edge a little in these later years – we were in London, and he was definietly trying to avoid any hits at all cost – playing more safely than in his prior years. If we could get a stronger man next to Hovan to play, the gaps would be filled – Hovan’s out there trying to pick up the slack for lazy teammates…. Ryan Sims is just not cutting it for me…

  13. Ben Drawbaugh Says:

    Fantastic explanation and encouraging. Best post on Joe Buc Fan I’ve read. Thanks

  14. sgw94 Says:

    @jklynn There are two things I look for most when watching football and that is effort and toughness. There are two reasons for this.

    First of all it doesn’t take a boat load of talent to give great effort and to hit people. So if I don’t see that from a guy I know he won’t be playing for long. And trust me on this, if I see one of our guys not getting effort or not putting his hat on people you won’t have to wonder about it because I will be calling them out from the top of my lungs!

    Second of all those are the two things that most casual fans get most wrong when criticizing their team’s failures. Sometimes I don’t think fans get how big of an insult it is to question a football players toughness ie heart or effort. Its doubly insulting when its not true.

    Ryan Sims may not be your cup of tea and that is all good, but the guy busts his ass every single play that I have watched. He doesn’t make every play but nobody does but I don’t think anybody can question his effort. Sorry but I just can’t let that one slide because he doesn’t deserve it.

    As for your other critique about rookies I would remind you that there are no rookies currently starting for our defense.

  15. sgw94 Says:

    Thanks for the compliments @tj and @Ben !