The conditions in Nashville promised a sloppy encounter and that’s exactly what the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Tennessee Titans served up. Nine turnovers and a combined 18 missed tackles were just the start of a game fraught with poor play. There were, however, some real positives in this game – some big offensive plays and some big splash plays on defense as well.
The Bucs’ run defense looked to get upfield frequently and that led to some stops in the backfield but also provided the space for Chris Johnson to turn the game into a track meet. Ultimately, that proved to be a decider.
A fusion of good and bad plays on a miserable day in Tennessee led to some interesting performances. Let’s take a look.
Tampa Bay – Three Performances of Note
Dropping the ball
As we head down the stretch, every team still in the hunt will find its heroes and its villains for their coming success or failure. This weekend the player taking his turn as the pantomime villain, in spite of the defense’s failings, was Josh Freeman (-1.4) who had a series of poor plays that set the Buccaneers on the road to defeat before they ultimately got there. The final fumble was the nail in the coffin but his fumble on an attempted slot screen in the second quarter hurt badly and his interception to Colin McCarthy was a momentum-killer in the fourth. Freeman is capable of late-game heroics but this was another example of either he – or the offensive play caller – simply leaving it too late.
When the offense falters and turns the ball over multiple times, the defense needs to contribute and while it couldn’t shut down the Titan offense the Buccaneer defense did chip-in as many scores as their offense. Aqib Talib (+3.6) has seen an upturn in form in recent weeks and he capped that off in style with an interception for a touchdown at the 12:10 mark of the third quarter. That play finished a string of three turnovers in the opening three minutes of the second half and put the Bucs into a winning position that they couldn’t hold. Talib tracked a crossing route by Nate Washington and when Washington drifted upfield, Talib undercut the throw to make the pick and take it back for six. Just a momentary lapse by receiver and quarterback allowed Talib a window and he made them pay in the most emphatic manner possible. Performances don’t get much better in coverage than Talib’s display in tricky conditions this week.
Splash plays and missed tackles
The Buccaneers set out with the intent to disrupt the Tennessee offense in this game, get up in their face, throw off their rhythm, and pick up the pieces as they cracked under pressure. Part of the plan worked – they were able to stop eight plays on the Tennessee side of the line of scrimmage and another three were stopped before the Titans could cross the line. The Buccaneers got the big plays they were looking for. Unfortunately for them, they gave up their fair share too as the game turned into boom-or-bust with plays tending to break to space or get blown up in the backfield. This is the model on which teams like the Colts have worked for years: get enough big plays to put your opponent in enough bad situations that, over the course of the game, you get stops in crucial situations. However, when you also miss 14 tackles, and with your penetrating style open up huge vertical creases in the running game, you hit trouble. Those creases turned the game into a track meet and against a back like Chris Johnson when you leave big gaps you get hit for runs like the 34-yarder he ripped-off with 5:57 remaining in the fourth. Eight plays stopped behind the line, eight plays of 15 yards or more for the Titans. That balance didn’t work well for the Buccaneers this week.
Tennessee – Three Performances of Note
Having a Ball
On a day greeted with so much rain it seems fitting that splash plays were the theme. The nine turnovers may have been crash plays for the offense, but a defense will always spin a takeaway as more of a splash than a crash. Dave Ball (+2.0) was just one of the many defensive players to get in on the fun in this game coming up with a pair of sacks and a turnover as he made the most of the pressure that he was able to generate. He saw little action in run defense, only on the field for 13 Tampa Bay run plays, but his mercurial turnover at the 7:17 mark of the second quarter and his third-down sack at 2:58 in the same stanza were important plays in the Titans’ win. One set up a Tennessee scoring drive to establish a touchdown lead and the other forced a three-and-out deep in Buccaneer territory. Ball has been a quite solid contributor for the Titans the last two seasons, this was his chance to take a bow in the spotlight as his turnover was surely one of the plays of the week.
Patrolling the middle
In his second career start, Colin McCarthy (+2.2) demonstrated his qualities in coverage in an impressive display of mobility and discipline in the heart of the Tennessee defense. In the offseason, the Titans brought in Barrett Ruud from Tampa Bay in a move seen to provide the Titans’ with a veteran presence at MLB but in three short weeks McCarthy has shown signs that he should be able to permanently unseat the former Buccaneer. Ruud may offer more than McCarthy as a downhill linebacker but McCarthy has shown that playing behind an excellent defensive line he has the smarts and the athletic ability to make plays for this defense. His crucial interception at the 2:25 mark of the fourth quarter was as much about Freeman as it was him, but it was the former Miami linebacker that was able to track Kellen Winslow up the field and maintain position underneath the route to make the pick. Combine that big play with five defensive stops and you have an extremely impressive outing in his first start in Tennessee.
Despite the spirited season from the Titans, we haven’t seen the vintage Chris Johnson (+2.1) in 2011 until this week. Against a team looking to shoot through and shut-off the ground game in the backfield, Johnson was able to knife his way to making the Bucs pay for their aggression. Big plays came from Tampa’s defensive line but when he got into space with their linebackers, he was away. There were negative plays as Johnson fumbled twice in 1:06 of game time at the start of the third quarter, but he was able to put those aside and find the lanes given him for five runs of more than 15 yards in the second half. That sparked the Titans’ come-from-behind win to keep them biting at the heels of the Houston Texans in the AFC South race. If teams needed reminding of Johnson’s devastating speed and ability to punish teams for poor pursuit angles and gap responsibility, this was the game to do it.
– The Titans averaged 6.5 yards per carry on 14 rushes to the right side of the line and 6.1 yards per carry on rushes to the left side of the line.
– After another three missed tackles this week Tanard Jackson now has 14 missed tackles with only 19 tackles made. That’s only just better than a 50% success rate when attempting tackles, less than ideal from a safety.
– Six members of the Titans’ back seven played all 63 defensive snaps this week.
PFF Game Ball
He put the ball on the ground but he made the Bucs pay for getting penetration and opening running lanes for him. Chris Johnson reminded us all this week what a fine running back he is.
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