Bucs banking on greatest resource: big-play defense

Playmakers like Brooks, S. Rice, Barber best bets to thwart Raiders' attack

Super Bowl

Raiders Vs. Bucs

January 24, 2003|By Ken Murray | Ken Murray,SUN STAFF

SAN DIEGO - In the tantalizing confrontation of No. 1 offense vs. No. 1 defense that frames the 37th Super Bowl, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are able to say they've been there before.

The season was 1999, the opponent the St. Louis Rams and the occasion the NFC championship game. St. Louis had the No. 1 offense, Tampa the No. 3 defense. Thanks to a questionable officials' call, the Rams survived the day, 11-6, and went on to win their first Super Bowl.

"I thought that the Rams were very explosive; they have a lot of speed," Bucs defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin said. "If you don't tackle, they make a lot of yards after the catch. This team does the same thing."

"This team" is the AFC champion Oakland Raiders, who play a similar, full-throttle style of offense that earned them the NFL's No. 1 ratings in total offense and pass offense this season. The Raiders don't have the speed the Rams had and they don't go for the big strike the way the Rams did.

But in quarterback Rich Gannon, running back Charlie Garner and wide receivers Jerry Rice, Tim Brown and Jerry Porter, the Raiders have a parade of playmakers who averaged 28.1 points and 389.8 yards per game.

The Bucs' defensive antidote? Playmakers of their own. In linebacker Derrick Brooks, defensive end Simeon Rice and cornerback Ronde Barber, the Bucs have a potential drive-stuffer at each level of defense.

They will all need to make plays Sunday to keep the Raiders from a runaway.

"They are going to make some plays, but we can't allow them to make the big plays," said Brooks, the NFL's Defensive Player of the Year. "We have to do what we have to do to disrupt their timing. A lot of their stuff is timing routes. When you get a chance to make a play against it, you are going to have to make the play. Whether it's a missed pass, pressure, sack - whatever it is - we have to find a way to stop them. When we are able to do that, we are a very effective defense."

The Bucs were the league's most effective defense in 2002, limiting opponents to 12.3 points and 252.8 yards per game. In addition to Brooks' big year, Rice led the NFC with 15 1/2 sacks. Barber didn't repeat as a Pro Bowler this season, but he had a strong regular season and a better postseason.

In fact, Barber had a spectacular NFC championship game against the Philadelphia Eagles. He authored a sack/forced fumble, made three tackles, knocked down four passes and had a game-clinching 92-yard interception return for a touchdown. On a defense that also includes tackle Warren Sapp and safety John Lynch, Barber often is overshadowed.

"You can't help it, with our defense and the dynamic personalities we have," Barber said. "Just on defense, you have Sapp, Lynch, Brooks. You have Simeon in there now. They are all great players and they are All-Pro players every year. You get lost in the shuffle a little bit."

Barber hopes not to get lost in the shuffle on Sunday. Oakland's receivers are much better than the group he faced in Philadelphia. He expects to line up against each of Oakland's receivers at some point, including Porter in the slot when the Raiders are in their three-receiver set. Toward that end, he's studied a lot of tape this week.

"I am a big preparation guy," Barber said. "A big part of my success is me going into games being prepared. I need to understand the monster I am facing every week. And a lot of that is me checking out the other guy's technique to see how they fared playing certain guys."

Gannon operates a short passing game with one deep threat (Porter) and a running back (Garner) who had a staggering 91 catches this season. Garner will be the responsibility of Brooks, who returned three interceptions and one fumble for touchdowns this season.

"[Garner] is a very special back," Brooks said. "He is one of the reasons the offense has played as well as it has."

Simeon Rice, meanwhile, will be in pursuit of Gannon from his right end spot. His immediate matchup is left tackle Barry Sims, who has more than a 30-pound advantage on the 268-pound Rice.

"I'm outsized every week, so it doesn't matter in terms of what I do," Rice said. "I approach the game with speed, swiftness and staying low, technique and things of that sort. I think that is what promotes my ability and allows me to play at a high level."

At a glance

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (14-4) vs. Oakland Raiders (13-5)

What: Super Bowl XXXVII

Site: Qualcomm Stadium, San Diego

When: Sunday, 6:18 p.m.

TV: Chs. 2, 7

Line: Raiders by 3 1/2

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