Yardbarker Horiz

Friday, July 23, 2010

What To Do With Piscitelli

It was a rugged year for the defensive backfield in 2009. It started with Tanard Jackson's four game suspension and finished with Jermaine Phillips on the injured reserve.

The 2009 version of the pass defense started out by giving up 353 yards to Dallas and Tony Romo, leaving a season-long bad smell in the air even though there were 3 interceptions by the Buccaneers in the game. Fifteen weeks later, the Buccaneers gave up 258 yards (and had zero interceptions) in a game at New Orleans and Drew Brees -- and won! This inconsistency shows clearly it wasn't just the pass defense which was the problem. Another facet of the problem was the defensive backs not getting much help up front. The Buccaneers had a total of 28 sacks over 16 games in 2009 (tied for 26th in the league) with the lowest (Jacksonville) having 14 sacks and the best (Minnesota) having 48 sacks.

Through all this, the Tampa Bay defensive backs ended the season tied for 9th with 19 interceptions in 2009 (the Packers topped the league with 30; the Raiders and Rams tied at the bottom with 8).

But there were going to be changes. You knew there were going to be changes. And there have been quite a few.

Nine year pro Jermaine Phillips is gone from the roster and, as seems to be more the rule than the exception during the Dominik/Morris era, has not been picked up by another team. Enter Sean Jones, a 7th year free agent pickup from the Philadelphia Eagles (FYI, Jones played but did not start against the Buccaneers in week 5 last year. He recorded one special teams tackle). The Buccaneers also drafted cornerback Myron Lewis which could be a very telling move -- for the safety position.

Why take a corner and not a safety? Is it possible the fans and the reporting about the problems in the defensive backfield were (gasp!!) misdirected?

One player who took a great deal of heat last season for pass defense was Sabby Piscitelli. In his third year of NFL ball he found himself in the difficult position of starting at strong safety without Tanard Jackson at free safety for the first four games.  Tanard Jackson is a big difference maker back there. Unfortunately, Piscitelli was in the area for some of the long completions in the Dallas game, leaving an impression with some fans (and bloggers) the mistakes were his. Anyone who has played a down of football knows that the player closest to the end of a play is rarely the person who broke down -- in fact, as a safety, shouldn't Piscitelli be part of the last line of defense? If Sabby had been nowhere in sight with a receiver running free in the defensive backfield then it would be correct to say he was out of position or not playing the position correctly. Did he play every down to perfection?  I'm sure Sabby himself would tell you he did not.  But to say it's on him alone is very unfair; to say he is not capable is an outright lie.

Consider this:  if it was all on the safety play, the Buccaneers would have drafted another safety as part of the youth movement, right?  But they haven't (2009 or 2010).  In 2010 they drafted on the defensive line as well as corner -- the two pieces which indirectly have the biggest impact on safety play (more quarterback pressure, better coverage outside). In 2009 they also drafted a defensive lineman and a corner. 

So is it possible the talent at safety is sufficient and just needs better support around them? I think the answer is "Yes", so my take is a different angle:  Is it possible that Sabby Piscatelli was playing the wrong position when he incurred the wrath of media and fans?

Obviously Tanard Jackson will be the starting free safety.  With former Eagle Sean Jones replacing the departed Jermaine Phillips you have a strong safety who has solid performances under his belt and plenty of experience.  With those two as capable starters Piscitelli can now be groomed for either (or both) positions.  Last year he was needed at Strong Safety -- I think the Buccaneers would be well served to give him a look at free safety where his speed plays to his advantage.  It also provides a bit of a hedge against future problems for Tanard Jackson.

I'll be watching for a Piscatelli/Jones Tampa-2 a few during the preseason.  If it proves capable it will allow for giving Tanard Jackson a breather on occasion, helping him stay fresh for the fourth quarter.  This subtle move may not generate a few extra wins for the Buccaneers (the line and corner moves could!), but it could put more players in the right position to make plays.

1 comment:

  1. So now the Bucs have signed S Cody Grimm and released undrafted free agent S Dennis Rogan. They also claimed S Matt O'Hanlon off waivers back in June. They seem to still have Corey Lynch from last year and what happened to De'von Hall? Can the Bucs afford to take 4 or 5 Safeties into the roster and reduce the number of Corners, or are some of these players "dual purpose tools" in the Defense?


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