In the win over the Rams last week, it was almost as if the Buccaneers were two completely different teams in the first and second halves. The first half was riddled with stalled drives, big plays by the opposition, and penalties. The second half was highlighted by defensive stands, establishment of a running game, and a game winning drive. So, what was the big difference between the two halves? Blocking and tackling, the most fundamental aspects of football at any level.
In the first half, the running game was sputtering and the Bucs surrendered three sacks. The first half rushing total (excluding sacks) was only 37 yards, and that included three rushes by Josh Freeman for 29 yards on designated passing plays. While there are no specific stats to describe blocking, these are two of the best ways to measure how well a team is blocking. If you aren’t opening up holes and protecting the quarterback, you are not blocking well.
In the second half, things were very different. LeGarrette Blount got going and finished with 72 yards (which would have been over a hundred, but Jeremy Trueblood decided that he was more important than the team and committed an idiotic penalty). The offensive line did not give up a sack, and Freeman was able to capitalize. With time to pass and a running game to make the down and distance more manageable, the Bucs showed they can move the ball against a pretty good Rams defense.
The Bucs missed a lot of tackles in the first half. Some of Steven Jackson’s substantial gains started out with missed tackles. While I admit that it is hard to bring down a back with his size and speed, as a defender you have to at least slow the runner down or direct him back to the other defenders on the field. This is what the defense did more of in the second half, and what the great Buccaneer defenses of the past did. This was exemplified by when the final link to those great defenses, Ronde Barber, came up to make a tackle on Steven Jackson at the 12:32 mark of the fourth quarter. Most people likely won’t even remember the play, but it is one of those “hidden plays” within a game which have a substantial impact.
It wasn’t a spectacular highlight reel play, and Jackson even gained 2 yards on the play. If Barber misses the tackle, though, it may have gone for 8 yards or more to set up a second and short. The key to the play is that the Rams had just gotten some of the momentum back in the game with a big first down to midfield. By stopping Jackson with a sure tackle for a short gain, Sam Bradford was forced to try and get the remainder of the yards through the air and they were forced to punt after two incomplete passes. This is an example of how improved tackling in the second half helped turn the teams fortunes, and eventually resulted in the win.
Thus, simply by blocking and tackling better, the Bucs were able to overcome penalties and a horrid first half. In order to keep on winning and continue the surprise season, the Bucs will need to continue to block and tackle the way they did in the second half.