Stillers 17, Bucs 10 ���.Oct. 21st, 2001 ����Game #5
Stillers-Bucs Postgame Analysis and Grades
The Stillers went down to Raymond James Stadium, fully aware of the Tampa reputation as one of the league's toughest, most physical teams. But instead of Tampa pushing around the Stillers, it was the Men in Black who physically dominated the Schmucs en route to a 17-10 win. The score doesn't begin to tell the story of the physical beating given to the Bucs by the Stillers.
1. Stewart drastically underthrows a bomb to a wide-open Burress, resulting in an INT, instead of a TD, on the game's opening drive.
2. Townsend sacks Johnson on 3rd and goal from the Stiller 5, causing TB to settle for a FG in the 2nd quarter.
3. On a 3rd and 3 in the 2nd quarter, Bettis completes a HB Option pass to Tuman, who runs in untouched for the TD.
4. Bettis rumbles 46 yards for a 3rd quarter TD to break the game open for the Stillers.
5. Bus rumbles 29 yards to set up a 3rd quarter Kris Brown FG.
6. With the game nearly iced away, Amos Zereoue fumbles away the ball at the TB 21 yard line, with only 4:15 remaining.
QB: Stewart had a somewhat effective day, yet showed some warts as well. He didn't do much statistically, completing 10 of 16 for 100 yards. He ran the ball pretty well (7 for 32), and he did complete some crisp, timely passes to Ward, Plex, and Edwards. But the bomb to Burress, in the midst of a very promising opening drive, should have been an easy 6 points and instead was woefully lollipopped and INT'd by Barber. Throwing to a wide-open, 6-6" primary receiver on a simple go route, this should be a cake-easy completion by even a 3rd string QB for a TD. Bear in mind that our burly tailback now has as many TD passes as does Stewart. The other INT was a pitiful, wounded-duck pass that was far off the mark and was easily INT'd again by Barber. I'm not sure if the weather caused the ball to slip from Stew's hand. There was also the poor misfire to a wide-open Breuner on the 1st series. And the play that really got my goat was the final play of the first half. Stew was flushed to his left, and facing a gauntlet of Buc defenders, chose to hold on to the ball and carry for 1-yard and no clock stoppage, rather than throwing the ball into the bleachers, stopping the clock, and avoiding being hit by defenders. This is the kind of play that can easily be glossed over in the enthusiasm of this win, but frankly, it was a dum-dum play that I could tolerate from Stewart if this were 1995 instead of 2001. On top of that, some of the play-faking was sloppy, and there was yet another fumbled snap that we luckily recovered. C+.
RB: Bettis had another big day, rushing for 143 yards on only 17 carries. The two big runs, of course, were the 46-yard scamper up RT for a TD, and the 29-yarder a short while later. Bettis busted some tackles and showed good second effort. The Doughboy also tossed a TD pass to Tuman off the HB Option play, throwing a Stewart-like, laser liner that just was short enough for Tuman to haul in. Amoz chipped in with 12 yards on 8 carries, although a few of the carries were in short yardage situations. AZ committed a grave blunder when he fumbled away the ball deep in TB territory with just over 4 minutes remaining, giving the Bucs new life and allowing them a chance at a comeback. Bettis: A+. Zereoue: C+.
FB: Witman played the bulk of the game, although Kreider played some and actually got a carry in which he plowed ahead for 12 yards. B+.
TE: On a team that hasn't gotten a big play from its TE since Eric Green departed, Tuman hauled in Bettis' pass and sauntered untouched into the EZ for a big TD. What really made this play work, was the impressive "fake-whiff" of a block that Tuman "threw" as he looped out of his stance. Defenders have seen enough of Tuman's blocking, to not even think twice that Tuman's whiff was actually a ruse to get him downfield into the pattern. Breuner had a solid day blocking, and caught the obligatory 2-yard pass. A.
WR: The numbers were small for this gang, but perhaps the most impressive number was also the smallest number --- Dropped Passes, which today was zero. Burress, despite continuing to use the totally incorrect catching technique of allowing nearly every ball to hit his chest, made it through an entire game without a drop. Of course, I wasn't overly pleased with his play on the short Stewart pass on the early bomb. While I'm certainly not absolving Stew of the poorly underthrown pass (see Stew's grade), I'm still waiting for the day -- hopefully before 2004 -- when Plex actually out-jumps a shorter defender and plucks the ball with his hands for a completion. Plex, for the 2nd week in a row, was flagged for a false start, something that should happen to a WR about once every 16 years. Ward had another very solid day, snaring 3 balls for 44 yards. The numbers don't tell the whole story, as Ward had good RAC yardage on two of those receptions, including a sterling effort on his 22-yard gainer. For the very first time in his 4-year NFL career, Ward also took a direct-snap in the shotgun formation, and ran right for 9 yards. Troy Edwards, who's been entirely forgotten this season -- other than the one WR screen per game -- snared a clutch 16-yard curl in, and also ran for 12 yards on a reverse to set up Kris' field goal. A-.
OL: Overall, the OL played well against a very tough, stout, athletic front 7. The line was able to open up some nice holes for Bettis, and their pass protection was pretty solid, too. Faneca pulled & threw a crushing block to spring Bettis on the long TD run. There were a few lousy mishaps, like Smith getting whipped, & nearly being flagged for holding, on the Ward 22-yard gain. And on one sack of Stewart, Hartings got whipped so badly by McFarland that Stew was hit just after he conducted the play-fake. And for about the 9th time this season, a simple snap to the QB was botched. But again -- overall, this was a very thorough beating administered by this O-line in the trenches�a dominating performance. A.
DL: The D-line was a bit maligned in last week's game against KC, but they regrouped and chipped in with a decent effort. Leading the way was DE Kimo von Oelhoffen, who had a weakish game last week but terrorized the Bucs with 3 sacks and 6 overall solos. Hampton and Clancy both chipped in a couple of tackles. Hampton drew my ire when he twice whiffed badly on Dunn in the backfield. But overall the D-line maintained their lanes well enough to shut down the elusive, slashing Dunn to just 31 yards on 13 carries. B+.
LB: Today was the Joey Porter show. Porter literally dominated the Bucs with explosive outside-linebacking not seen in Pittsburgh circles since the days of Greg Lloyd's prime. Porter went through and around the Buc blockers en route to 4 sacks. On top of that, his best play may have been the play in which he swam past the blocker, and then dashed toward the QB and jumped up and batted the pass back into Johnson's face. Holmes and Bell controlled the middle and helped limit Dunn's yardage. Each finished with 4 solos and 2 assists. Holmes was juked a couple times by Dunn back in the Tampa backfield early on, but rebounded with some crisp, hard-nosed tackling. Jason Gildon returned to his old self, essentially standing around the entire game and contributing little more than what the team's water boy did. Sure, Gildon had the 3 batted passes --- all on plays in which he was getting bullied and punched about by the O-line. Otherwise, Gildon played punch-the-clown the entire game, garnering a whopping 1 tackle, that on a short curl to Keyshawn. Virtually all of the success Dunn had came right at, or by, Big Jason. And the Johnson TD pass was entirely the fault of Big Jason, who, after getting easily stifled on his initial pass rush, abandoned his LOLB position and ran along the LOS toward the middle of the field while Johnson was simultaneously scrambling in the opposite direction toward the sideline and easily completing an unfettered TD pass to Murphy. Porter, Holmes, and Bell: A. Gildon: C+.
DB: Although Keyshawn finished with 10 grabs for 159 yards, this was a pretty strong all-around game by the secondary. Much of the yardage was gained late in the game, when the DBs were giving the Bucs the short stuff. DeWayne gave up some of the yardage, but his coverage was sound and his tackling very sure. DW jarred one pass from a receiver's hand just as it arrived, and had good coverage on the one bomb to the EZ. DW also supported the run well and had one sack. Chad made a superb, all-pro type play by punching the ball out of Keyshawn's hands on the late deep throw in the end zone, resulting in a Logan INT. Speaking of Logan, he had a sack of Johnson in addition to the INT, and provided good relief for the injured Brent Alex. Townsend was pretty active and chipped in with a sack and 3 solos, including a hit on Keyshawn that knocked the star receiver out of the game. Flowers was active in the run-stuffing department and significantly helped clamp down on Dunn. B+.
Spec teams: This was an unspectacular, but acceptable, effort today. The return teams did very little, but on the bright side they committed no penalties or fumbles. The KO coverage gave up a big 34-yard return to Murphy, but otherwise was ok. Kris had another clutch FG, and kicked off decently. Josh, the $6M punter, continued his season of mediocrity with another day of mediocre punting, averaging a mere 38 yds/punt. The onside recovery team did an ok job in recovering the late onsides kick, although they kept us in suspense by allowing the Buccaneer to initially snare the ball off the high hop. B.
OC: Mike Mularkey continues to show signs of intelligence and a partial disdain of Bill Cowher, both of which are helping, rather than hindering, the offense. Take the shotgun snap to Ward, serving as QB -- a play that should have been run with Ward at least 27 times since Ward entered the league in 1998, but only was run for the first time today. Getting Stewart on the move, along with the use of play fakes --- both a forbidden taboo the past 3 seasons -- have been another bonanza that has paid off handsomely. Mularkey also prepared his team well for the aggressive, athletic Bucs defense. The HB option pass was used at a good point in the game, and unlike the grab-bag approach that we've long seen from the Stiller offense, this play had a purpose and was set up days ago with astute logic (ie, an overly-aggressive defense as well as a rookie, 3rd-string safety getting the start at free safety.) Finally, the Stillers averaged 6.3 yards per rush against a defense that was ready, willing, and waiting to stuff the run. Not shabby. A.
DC: Tim Lewis did a solid job in having his crew ready to wreak havoc on the Bucs. I wasn't overly pleased when, on the 1st series, we rushed just 3 men on a 3rd & 11. But Lewis gradually strayed from the vanilla and threw the wolves at Johnson and the Bucs. The payoff was the 10 sacks and good harassment of the QB. A.
HC: Coming off a big win at KC, it would have been easy to overlook the Bucs in preparation for the MNF game against the division-rival Titans. But the Stillers appeared to be ready and eager right from the first series of the game, and they out-hit and generally manhandled the supposedly-physical Bucs. And only 1 penalty -- a fairly harmless false start by a WR -- on the road showed good discipline. A.
Given the circumstances of playing another road game, against a solid foe that was coming off a bitter OT loss, this was an incredible win that puts this Stiller team on the map around the NFL. Prior to this win, the Stillers had punched around the lowly likes of Buffalo, Cinci, and KC. Finally, today they beat a foe that is generally respected around the league. And not only did the Stillers win the game, but they physically manhandled and dominated the Bucs on both sides of the ball. It hasn't been pretty, but its been awfully effective thus far. Forget the comparisons to the '00 Ravens�let's start comparing this team to the '94 Stillers, whose defense dominated the AFC and rode the running of Barry Foster. Yes, O'Donnell was obviously more polished and prolific than Stewart is, but the similarities are nonetheless considerable. The Stillers now face the Titans at Heinz Field on Monday Nite Football, in a game that is ripe for the taking. The electricity will be sky-high as the Stillers get the chance to show their stuff in front of the entire national audience. Whether you watch it in-person or on TV, absolutely do not miss that game�it figures to be a barnburner.
One last note --- be sure to check out the photos of the tailgate party from last week's game in KC!! Simply click on the link located at the very top of our "front" page.