More Bucs offense changes, more it stays same
Tampa Bay uses new formations, but the Giants say they are the same ol' plays, making it easier on defenses. The Giants defense acknowledged the Bucs offense threw a few new wrinkles at it. There was the shotgun and the four-wide receiver sets. But cornerback Phillippi Sparks said even though that gives Tampa Bay more options, the receivers are simply varying slightly the same slant routes they have always run. "They line up their 11 personnel, but they do the same things with that personnel," Sparks said.

And that sameness, Giants defensive end Michael Strahan said, means that when running backs Mike Alstott and Warrick Dunn are taken out of the equation - like they were Sunday in Tampa Bay's 17-13 loss at Raymond James Stadium - the Bucs have a problem. "Our secondary knew all they had to do is cover, and the line knew we could rush the passer," Strahan said. "It made it a lot easier for the defense."

The result was 77-yard ground effort and a combined Trent Dilfer- Eric Zeier meltdown in which the two combined to complete just 18 of 42 passes with four interceptions. Dilfer threw three, including one cornerback Andre Weathers returned 8 yards to give the Giants a 14-10 third-quarter lead. One thing the Giants would not say was that Dilfer was rattled. Yes, he threw some ill-advised passes into coverage - passes the secondary had little trouble knocking away. Even safety Percy Ellsworth, who had two picks, including one near midfield in the fourth quarter on a prayer Dilfer threw while sailing out of bounds, wouldn't take the bait. "You're not going to get me to say Trent Dilfer is a bad quarterback," he said. "He just had a bad game."

"Zeier didn't come in and do any better," Strahan said. "Any quarterback, if you put pressure on him, is going to make some throws he would like to have back."

Like the one to Weathers. The rookie out of Michigan said he never saw Dilfer throw the pass because New York's linemen blocked his view. Then the ball was at his chest. "Once I got the ball, I just looked for the end zone with wide eyes," he said.

That play came after Alstott was held to 1 yard on a plunge up the middle to the 2. Things might have been different had Bucs tight end Patrick Hape, who was open in the flat, caught a short second-down pass that was high but reachable. Giants safety Shaun Williams noted the defense was fooled on the play. "That's why I wouldn't say they have a totally predictable offense," he said. "But I watched a lot of film on these guys. When you do that, you're able to notice things. Sometimes I knew where they were going to be."

Which goes back to the original point: Should the Bucs do more to vary the offense? The Giants said that is unnecessary. "When you have running backs as good as they do and receivers as good as they do, why would you change it up?" Ellsworth said.

Said Strahan: "I don't think their offense is based on trickery. They have two of the toughest running backs we have to play all year. I don't think they should panic. If they play the way they're capable of playing, they're going to be very tough."

Damian Cristodero, The St.Petersburg Times 1999