Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Defense Needs To Get The Ball Back
TAMPA - Bucs coach Jon Gruden doesn't count yards. He counts turnovers instead because he's learned through the years that it's usually the turnovers that determine the winners and losers in the NFL. Look at the Bucs season so far. In the four games in which they've won the turnover battle, they're 4-0. In the four games in which they've either lost or tied the turnover battle, they're 0-4. It would seem that the simple solution to turning around their season is for the Bucs to again start winning the turnover battle. If only it were that easy. As much as the Bucs talk about forcing takeaways, there's no sure-fire way to accomplish it. They can hit hard and rake at the ball, but that doesn't guarantee it's going to pop out of a runner's hands.They can jump a route the way Jaguars cornerback Aaron Glenn did against quarterback Jeff Garcia on Sunday, but there's no guarantee they're going to steal the ball for an interception. Just ask Ronde Barber; he jumped a couple of routes three weeks back in a game against Tennessee, but he failed to secure one ball and failed to come down with both feet in bounds on another. And while they could devote practice time to tightening up their takeaway technique, they really can't do that either because that could add to their injury woes. So what's a team to do? Well, as linebacker Derrick Brooks put it, they have to continue to work hard and hit hard and more than anything they have to hope for a little luck. 'I mean, those first 15 plays, the Jaguars run the ball 15 times and we're in there hitting them, diving onto the pile and raking at the ball, and the ball finally pops out and the referee blows his whistle and says the play's stopped,' Brooks said. 'It's just something we constantly go through. But we'll get on a run here again soon and the turnovers will come in bunches for us.' That run better come soon. November is the month when the true playoff contenders start to separate themselves from the rest of the pack, and Brooks knows the role turnovers can play in the process. 'The record is obvious,' he said. 'So you've got to hang your hat on getting turnovers. I mean, any time the defense scores a touchdown that team tends to win. We saw that on Sunday.' What the Bucs saw was Jacksonville averaging 3 yards per rush and passing for 100 total yards - and winning despite those pedestrian offensive numbers. The reason: turnovers. Despite a first-time starter at quarterback and 44 rushes, the Jaguars did not turn the ball over. The Bucs, meanwhile, turned the ball over three times on Garcia interceptions, his first three picks of the year. It didn't matter that only one of those picks might have been Garcia's fault; what mattered was the bottom line. That bottom line was established in similar fashion at Detroit the week before, when Earnest Graham fumbled away a Garcia handoff and Garcia fumbled away a muffed snap in front of the Lions goal line. When the Bucs failed to take the ball from the Lions even once, the game's outcome was all but decided and the Bucs' two-game losing streak had its spark. 'Obviously, the last two weeks, our turnover ratio is what's hurt us,' Gruden said. 'We've turned the ball over too many times in two weeks and we haven't got any turnovers and usually that will do you in. 'You can go through all the statistics you want; you can play fantasy football and draft whoever you want; at the end of the day, it's the turnover ratio that decides football games.' The urgency for turnovers is expected to increase this week. Brooks worries, though, that such a demand could result in other problems for the Bucs. 'We obviously have to get more turnovers,' he said, 'but at the same time we don't want to be so turnover-focused that we lose our technique to the point where a guy is guessing and trying to create a turnover and we get hit for a big play. 'There's a fine line you have to walk between getting turnovers and not getting beat, but we have to find a way to start winning games again. For our defense not to have turnovers for two games in a row, that's not the way to turn the corner. We really have to find a way to do it.'
Reporter Roy Cummings can be reached at (813) 259-7979 or firstname.lastname@example.org.