One On One If any team has an answer for the Raiders' top-ranked offense, it's the Buccaneers and their top-rated defense

January 27, 2003

In the postseason Tampa Bay's defense has unhinged two of the
league's finest quarterbacks, the 49ers' Jeff Garcia and the
Eagles' Donovan McNabb. Will the Raiders' Rich Gannon be the
third notch on the Bucs' belt? To try to answer the question of
how to stop this Oakland attack, I turned to a reliable,
anonymous source: the respected defensive coordinator for an AFC
team.

"Here's the problem with facing the Raiders," says our scout.
"The quarterback can run, and he can buy time. All three wide
receivers can hurt you. The running back can hurt you. The tight
end can stretch the field. So where's the weakness? Beats me,
except that you know you don't want to get into a fast-break game
with them. We did, and we lost. You want to get pressure on the
quarterback--make that, you have to get pressure on the
quarterback."

So that means blitzing, especially if your front four isn't
getting to the passer, right? "Not necessarily," he says. "They
operate out of multiple formations and run crosses and picks and
quicks. Throw a lot of blitzes at them and they'll kill you with
the quick routes."

So you don't blitz, you play off and give them stuff underneath,
right?

"Oh, no, Denver tried that, and it was painful to watch," says
our scout. "That's when Gannon had that 34-for-38 night."

You know something, I'm going to cut it off right here. You can't
blitz Oakland, you can't play off--might as well not show up.

The Titans tried a lot of schemes on Sunday. For instance,
because the Raiders' base offense features three wideouts,
Tennessee opened in a dime package with one linebacker and four
defensive backs; Oakland beat it with a long touchdown march on
the game's opening drive. So the Titans switched to a three-man
front, with three linebackers and five defensive backs,
alternating the three men on the line to keep them fresh; the
Raiders drove 85 yards for a touchdown on their second
possession. The message: Stopping Oakland isn't so much about the
defense you use as it is about the players executing it. And
Tampa Bay has the best defensive personnel in the league.

"We change our defense for no one," says outside linebacker
Derrick Brooks, the NFL Defensive Player of the Year. "We're not
changing a thing. We dictate. We attack."

The only thing unusual about that quote, which is one of the
traditional Super Bowl lies, is that it generally comes from a
coach. Of course teams change. They alter their plan every week,
and some change most of all for the biggest game of the season.
Two weeks ago the Bucs, who aren't known as a blitzing defense,
blitzed plenty against the 49ers and screwed up the whole San
Francisco operation. On Sunday they blitzed even more against the
Eagles, then fell back into zones and then worked some odd
matchups, such as middle linebacker Shelton Quarles on a wideout
or cornerback Ronde Barber on the tight end. By the fourth
quarter, Philadelphia didn't know which way to turn.

If Tampa Bay's front four can't penetrate one of the sturdier
offensive walls in football, you'll see plenty of blitzing from
odd places. "The whole idea," says middle linebacker Zach Thomas
of the Dolphins, the last team to beat Oakland, "is not to let
Gannon get comfortable. We were lucky. We could get pressure on
him with [end] Jason Taylor and the rest of our front four, but
if you can't get that pressure, you'd better start sending extra
people."

As a kind of payback for all the heat the Bucs' offense has taken
in recent seasons, the media have turned quarterback Brad Johnson
and coach Jon Gruden into folk heroes. Actually, what that tandem
has created is an attack that is competent and scores points,
often capitalizing on turnovers that shorten the field. Oakland
players say there's so much of their old coach, Gruden, in their
own offense that they're well prepared to face the one he's
created in Tampa. "It'll be like a scrimmage," Raiders wideout
Jerry Porter says.

The prediction: Tampa Bay will jump Oakland's short routes and
deliver big hits. The Raiders will counter by going deeper than
usual. The Bucs' Mike Alstott will have success running the ball,
not so much tackle-to-tackle but on the perimeter. Oakland will
run the ball only if its receivers are taking too much
punishment. The key to the game will be the Raiders' defensive
backs, who will gamble and jump routes and come up with
turnovers.

The pick: Raiders 24, Bucs 22

COLOR PHOTO: BOB ROSATO (SAPP) [COVER] THE PIRATE BOWL Bring It On! BUCCANEERS VS. RAIDERS KEY MATCHUPS SCOUTING REPORTS GRUDEN VS. CALLAHAN Tampa Bay's Warren Sapp COLOR PHOTO: JOHN W. MCDONOUGH [COVER] [See caption above] Oakland's Rich Gannon COLOR PHOTO: SCOTT AUDETTE/AP RICE COLOR PHOTO: DAVID BERGMAN MIDDLETON COLOR PHOTO: HEINZ KLUETMEIER BROOKS COLOR PHOTO: JED JACOBSOHN/GETTY IMAGES PORTER COLOR PHOTO: MARCIO JOSE SANCHEZ/AP WOODSON COLOR PHOTO: JOHN BIEVER CALLAHAN

SIX KEY MATCHUPS

1
RAIDERS LT Barry Sims versus Bucs DE Simeon Rice. Sims is a
decent run blocker, but speed rushers like Rice give him trouble
(as the Dolphins' Jason Taylor did on Dec. 15). Rice has gone
outside in both playoff games and slapped the ball from the
quarterback's hand for a fumble. Sims will probably get help.
EDGE: BUCS

2
RAIDERS LG Frank Middleton versus Bucs DT Warren Sapp. Sapp could
line up against either guard, but this matchup is more intriguing
because, as teammates in Tampa Bay for four seasons, he and
Middleton faced each other every day in practice. "Stopping
Warren's first move isn't so hard," says Middleton, a crushing
330-pound drive blocker. "It's the next two that he gets you
with." EDGE: RAIDERS

3
RAIDERS RB Charlie Garner versus Bucs OLB Derrick Brooks. Shifty
and elusive, Garner is perfect for Oakland's short passing game,
but Brooks, who will probably cover him on his routes out of the
backfield, is on a roll. He had outstanding games against the
49ers' Garrison Hearst and the Eagles' Duce Staley. EDGE:
BUCS

4
RAIDERS WRs Tim Brown, Jerry Rice and Jerry Porter versus Bucs
CBs Ronde Barber, Brian Kelly and Dwight Smith. Brown and Rice
are geniuses in the short-passing game, and Porter stretches the
field. Barber, the star of the NFC title game, is excellent in
all phases of coverage; Kelly's eight picks tied for the NFL
lead; and Smith, who will run with Porter downfield, is one of
the league's finest nickelbacks. As good as Tampa Bay's defenders
are, I don't believe they'll be able to cope with the craftiness
of the Raiders' scheme. EDGE: RAIDERS

5
RAIDERS CBs Charles Woodson, Tory James and Terrance Shaw versus
Bucs WRs Keyshawn Johnson, Keenan McCardell and Joe Jurevicius.
The 6'5", 230-pound Jurevicius has become Brad Johnson's favorite
receiver, and he will cause problems. Woodson won't respect the
speed of any Bucs wideout and will lock on tight. James is
excellent on the deep routes. EDGE: RAIDERS

6
RAIDERS COACH Bill Callahan versus Bucs coach Jon Gruden.
Oakland's attack is based on some of Gruden's theories as
implemented by Callahan and assistant coach Marc Trestman, who
constantly tinker with them. Gruden has an intricate knowledge of
the offense that is used by both teams, but he doesn't have the
personnel that the Raiders do. Bottom line: Players make systems.
EDGE: RAIDERS

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)