Gruden Challenges His Defense To Rise To Occasion
It's not often Jon Gruden drops in on his team's defensive meetings. Last week he did, though, because he had something to show the players. It was tapes of the Chicago Bears defense from last season, specifically footage of how that unit stepped up its game when the Bears lost quarterback Rex Grossman to injury and had to start a rookie. Just like the Bucs this season.
"It's really nothing different," cornerback Brian Kelly said. "It's how we win around here. We win on defense. The emphasis was there this week and [Coach Gruden] made the effort to come in and talk to us. But we carry that on our shoulders week in, week out."
For the most part Sunday, the defense did just that. They overcame a poor first-half performance - when Saints running back Deuce McAllister rushed for 117 yards and a touchdown - and held him to 6 rushing yards in the second half. "We didn't play well enough in the first half," defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin said. "In the second half, we played lights out."
The Bucs defense didn't make any adjustments in the second half to stop McAllister. Instead, the unit focused on fundamentals.
"That was one of the things we came in the locker room saying, 'Let's just focus in on tackling,'" Kelly said. "Everybody just wrap up and get in position to make the tackle. We did a better job of that in the second half."
In addition to placing an emphasis on tackling, the Bucs made a change at strong safety to shake things up. Kalvin Pearson, who played extensively in the preseason, replaced starter Jermaine Phillips for several series. "We had planned on doing that," Kiffin said. "We told Kalvin Pearson at the beginning of the week he was going to play some, that we were going to roll him in there. He's played really well. We were rolling with three safeties, like we did last year with Dexter [Jackson], Flip [Phillips] and Will Allen."
Kiffin said he'd look at the game tape before making a decision on whether Phillips would be replaced as the starter. Pearson, Phillips and Derrick Brooks tied for third on the defense with five tackles.
It was the missed tackles, though, that stood out, much like in the loss to Carolina in Week 3. McAllister's longest run of the game, a 57-yarder that set up the Saints' first points, featured a host of missed tackles.
On his touchdown run, a 24-yard burst in the second quarter, McAllister scat-stepped past the outstretched arms of nose tackle Chris Hovan and Pearson before reaching the end zone.
"I don't want to undermine what No. 26 [McAllister] does for this franchise," Gruden said. "He's a hell of a football player. They've got great runners here. It would be a fun job to have - running backs coach of the Saints."
Katherine Smith, The Tampa Tribune 9 October 2006