Bull Rush: Three Fixable Problems On D-Line

October 12th, 2009
Former Bucs defensive end Steve White

Former Bucs DE 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 the first of White’s weekly Bull Rush columns that will breakdown all things defensive line. It’s simply a can’t-miss read for the hardcore Bucs fan.

If we could judge the Buccaneers defensive line play against the Philadephia Eagles by one player, the grade would very likely be an A+. Jimmy Wilkerson had a whale of a game with three sacks, a caused fumble, a pass knocked down, and scores of tackles against the run.

But unfortunately the defensive line is a unit, and as a group they were very average against the Eagles.

A few problems were apparent in the D-line play yesterday:

1) The defensive line as a group is terrible at running pass rush games.

A pass rush game is where two and sometimes three defensive linemen work together to switch off their pass rush lanes so as to confuse the offensive line and give themselves a greater likelihood of getting to the quarterback, and also maintaining gap integrity just in case there is a draw or the quarterback tries to scramble.

Two of the more common pass rush games are EX games, where the defensive end comes inside as the penetrator first to rush the guard and then the defensive tackle loops behind him for contain, and a TEX game, where the defensive tackle tries to get to the offensive tackle’s back and rush him and the defensive end loops behind him underneath to rush the guard and or center. In general a pass rush game is only as good as the guy who is setting it up, meaning the looper, and in the Bucs defensive line just isn’t very good at it.

You have to have patience if you are a defensive tackle setting up an EX game because if the guard can tell that the defensive end is coming inside then all he has to do is step back and take him on and the whole game is thrown out of whack. The same thing goes for a defensive end on a TEX game when he is waiting for the defensive tackle to penetrate. Too many times the loopers were in such a hurry to take off that they ended up giving away the game, which both gave Donovan McNabb plenty of time to throw and also gave him lanes to run.

2) Having the defensive tackles two-gap in a 4-3 defense puts a strain on our run defense.

I have never and will never be a fan of having two-gapping defensive tackles in a 4-3 scheme. It makes it too hard for your linebackers to know which gap they are supposed to have, and by not having a nose tackle shaded on the center you give the center a free path to get up on your middle backer. This was evidenced yesterday on Brian Westbrook’s run up the middle for a touchdown.

On that play, the front side guard pushed Ryan Sims to the outside and the back side guard did just enough to get in the way of Chris Hovan while the center took one lateral step and then got up on Barrett Ruud. Westbrook could have practically walked into the endzone. It seems like the Bucs are wedded to this kind of technique for our defensive tackles for whatever reason and to me that means we will be soft up the middle for most of the year.

3) The defensive line personnel for third down just isn’t getting it done.

Since the Bucs drafted Gaines Adams they have continually had him rush from the left hand side on third downs. I never have understood this move and at this point I think it is time to go back to the drawing board.

Just think about this for a moment, Jimmy Wilkerson had three sacks yesterday, two of them were from his left end spot on early downs. The other sack was when he rushed from the defensive tackle spot but not because he made a great move. Instead, he didn’t beat his guy initially but hustled back to tackle McNabb from behind as he scrambled. Yet by my count there were nine snaps with third-down personnel and two more third downs where the Bucs used a three-man rush. On those plays Wilkerson was either rushing inside or wasn’t even in the game.

Does that make sense to anybody?

And its not just that Wilkerson is obviously our best pass rusher from left end, its also that Gaines Adams is not very good rushing from that side. Although Adams is at least getting better at rushing from the right side. He wasn’t very consistent but he did get at least some pressure from the right yesterday and he did knock down one pass. But again, that is 11 third-down rushes that he isn’t rushing from his best position.

Now I am a fan of Greg White and think he is a very good, and possibly the best, pass rusher on the team, but it is time to rethink the personnel and how we are using them on third down. In my mind the Bucs have two options: Sit Gaines on third down and let Wilkerson rush from the left and White from the right because White is a better pass rusher than Gaines at this point.

That, of course, would leave an opening for someone else to come in and rush inside. Or what is a better option, if you ask me, is that you kick White inside and let him rush at defensive tackle like he did in his first year with the team. As good as Wilkerson is at rushing from left end, he hasn’t shown that same ability at defensive tackle and White has a history of making plays at that position.

In Philadelphia, the defensive line as a group didn’t play all that bad, but in the NFL average play will often times get you beat. Wilkerson had a hell of a game with his many big plays but he was basically carrying the unit yesterday on a day when we needed even more heat on McNabb to take the pressure off of our secondary.

The end result is that as a team the Bucs got their teeth kicked in.

The encouraging thing with the defensive line is that it is all fixable. We can get better at running pass rush games. We can get our guys out of two-gapping. We can change around our third down personnel.

The real question is will we?

I guess we will all have to stay tuned to find out.

18 Responses to “Bull Rush: Three Fixable Problems On D-Line”

  1. Larry Says:

    Good read, Steve. You kind of make it easy to understand, thanks.
    It seems like there’s some techniques that are chiseled in stone and logic or reviewing tape won’t make them change a damn thing.

  2. KennyL Says:

    Very cool to read. Feel like I just finished defensive line class. Gives hope that this stuff can be fixed. Even Gaines. More Steve White. Less Joe!

  3. Mr. Lucky Says:

    Steve nice piece here. What bothers me is this: Why can’t Jim Bates figure this out himself?

  4. Terry Says:

    great article Steve.

    i think we have bigger problems than the DLine. Secondary and Wide Recieving core are bigger fish to fry.

  5. Jorge Says:

    Great read Steve! I have fond memories of your playing days.

    Quick question, are you still in game shape? I don’t care if you are around 40 or so, I still think you would be better that Adams…

  6. sgw94 Says:

    Thanks for the compliments everyone. I appreciate you checking me out.

    @Mr. Lucky: At this point the Bucs are going to be looking to shake things up so I am hoping Bates starts changing things around.

    @Jorge: I wish I could get out there and still play but alas those days are over for me. I still believe in Gaines I just think the light bulb has to go on and stay on this time.

  7. Bucked Up Says:

    He’s hired.

    Somebody call Bates and have him clear out some space in his desk.
    Steves gonna have to run the D’line from here on out.

    Seriously though, Great read and even better take on the game.
    Lack of pressure on the QB really exposes our secondary for what it is.

  8. Bucsfan5 Says:

    Great article Steve, I suggest someone print this out an mail it to One Buc Palace so Bates and his coaches can look over it an pass it out to the line before the Carolina game.

  9. Mr. Lucky Says:

    Terry – While I agree that the Bucs secondary has been burned for big plays it’s not all their fault.

    Look at the numbr of picks the secondary, mainly Taib, has. The biggest problem is this – give any quarterback enough time to throw and they’ll pick you apart no matter how good the secondary is.

    I don’t know about the rest of you but Talib really hurt me this past week. I had DeShawn Jackson in my fantasy league and Talib SHUT HIM DOWN! I mean 1 point! That my friends is a good job – especially in light of how much time Donnavan had.

    The key to any Defense is a good push up front. Once that is basic – which for the Bucs it is not – you add in a linebacker blitz or a corner blitz.

    Look at Rhonde Barber – the #1 corner in the NFL for sacks. How many times has Bates sent Rhonde over the past 3 games?

    Bates is NOT using the players talents properly and it shows on the field.

  10. Jorge Says:

    Steve–> I feel your pain!!!

    I kept yelling at the TV in anger, “Screw Maclin, where in the F%ck is D Jackson!”…DeShawn Jackson is my ace in the hole…

    If I’m watching my favorite team get killed, why couldn’t it have been by my star fantasy receiver…And I sat McNabb, I thought he would be rusty and would run more wildcat…LoLz…

  11. BigMacAttack Says:

    Steve, can you go ahead and send your RESUME to 1 Buc Place. If they don’t fire Bates this week, it should be very soon. How do you feel about lining up 5 or 6 guys on the line at times, even if they don’t all rush. I see the teams do this, both 3-4 & 4-3 and Phili does it too. How do you know who is coming and who isn’t? We always rush the same 4. You cited 2 different scenarios, and if that is for both sides or one, a little more variation. Phili changed their rush constantly all game. It was very unpredictable not to mention the gaping hole we have at Center. I’m just a fan, but does Bates have a clue? Raheem? Should Rah take over the role of DC? What about Joe Barry? I know Detroit was horrible, but Joe has learned from some of the best. Anyone, any thoughts here? Am I way off base?

  12. Louie Says:

    Don’t the Bucs have two D-Line coaches — one for ends and another for tackles? You’d think they’d have this stuff worked out. It’s just not clicking for some reason and they need to quickly re-group as Steve suggests!

  13. Johnny Deejay Says:

    For the record, Greg White has legally changed his name to Stylez G. White. And his game has dropped off dramatically since landing the new contract. I would prefer to see Quincy Black get a shot at rushing from the right side on 3rd down. He is by far the most athletic of the OLB/DE group in Tampa Bay.

  14. sgw94 Says:

    @BigMacAttack: I like the idea and concept of showing blitz more and I also like the idea and concept of having more line stunts on first and second down to keep opposing offensive lines honest, but that really doesn’t fit much into the kind of defensive scheme Bates is running. I won’t say that is good or bad just not the way I would like to see it done. Because we two gap with our inside guys it almost mandates that you stay a little more vanilla on early downs. However I will say that the Bucs have blitzed Ronde more than people probably realize. The blitzes just haven’t been all that effective.

  15. BigMacAttack Says:

    Thanks Big Steve.
    It’s really nice having your knowledge here at JBF. Great job of explaining the defense. The Bucs’ Staff could use you. Maybe Dominick will read your piece.
    Also thanks Joe. Good Job.

  16. sgw94 Says:

    @JohnnyDeeJay I realize Greg changed his name but I just can’t call a grown man Stylez. But to your other point you are simply wrong. White has the most QB pressures of any defensive lineman we have and although he hasn’t gotten any sacks he gets the most consistent pressure when he is in the game from first down to 3rd down. That isn’t an opinion, that is a fact. Quincy Black on the other hand didn’t show any pass rush ability at all during the preseason games no matter how athletic he is. Pass rushing is about a lot more than just who is fast or quick that is for sure.

  17. KennyL Says:

    “Can’t call a grown man Styles.” lol. I agree.

    Black was actually rushing off the edge a hanful of series last year and a little bit against Philly. Nothing.

  18. Bucsfan5 Says:

    “Pass rushing is about a lot more than just who is fast or quick that is for sure.” – see Gaines Adams for an example.