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Tampa Bay Buccaneers go from worst to first in stopping the run

The Bucs say the improvement of nose tackle Roy Miller, trying to get to Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo, is one of the keys to their improved run defense.

BRUCE MOYER | Times

The Bucs say the improvement of nose tackle Roy Miller, trying to get to Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo, is one of the keys to their improved run defense.

TAMPA — Roy Miller would rather fit in than stand out.

That's the mentality of a nose tackle, an unglamorous job in the trenches. He lines up in a three-point stance, tilted about 45 degrees, in the gap between the center and guard, trying to occupy blockers while not giving ground.

"If you're doing things well, it opens things up for other guys," Miller said. "The way Coach holds us to these standards, guys are scared to make a mistake. Everyone is more accountable. You have to just do your job."

When it comes to stopping the run, the Bucs have been all business. A year ago, Tampa Bay ranked last in the league in rushing defense at 156.1 yards per game. Under first-year coach Greg Schiano, it has gone from worst to first and least to beast.

After limiting the Cowboys to 38 yards on 23 carries — a 1.7-yard average — on Sunday, the Bucs ranked No. 1 in the league at 47.3 per game. That's 11 fewer yards per game than Seattle, which ranks second.

"Stopping the run is doing your job," Schiano said. "If you do your job and control your gap, you dictate the daylight.

"Then it's tackling, and I think they've improved as tacklers. We're not where we want to be, but they've made a huge jump as a tackling defense."

Tackle Gerald McCoy said the long days at the office, which began in the spring, set the tone.

"The whole beginning of spring and training camp was for stopping the run," McCoy said. "That's what we put all of our emphasis on."

Practices were tailored to improve technique. Linemen were drilled on overcoming double-teams. Linebackers worked on escaping blocks.

In Week 1 against Carolina, the Bucs tied a club record by allowing only 10 rushing yards. The second week, the Giants squeezed 94 yards on 25 carries. But Tampa Bay got back on track at Dallas. It recorded 11 tackles for loss, including two each by McCoy, linebacker Mason Foster and end Michael Bennett.

The improved play on the line has allowed Foster (26 tackles, seven for loss) and rookie and fellow linebacker Lavonte David (19 tackles, three for loss) to run and hit.

"I told (teammates) to own it," safety Ronde Barber said. "The only way you can be good at something is if you ultimately take ownership of something.

"Whether you feel it's the right way to do it or not, it's the way to do it. Those guys have bought in, especially Gerald and Roy. They're playing their butts off."

Unfortunately for the Bucs, they now are without end Adrian Clayborn, who suffered a season-ending knee injury last week. Daniel Te'o-Nesheim gets the start today against the Redskins, but George Johnson and linebacker Dekoda Watson might get playing time in certain situations.

"When you lose a guy like (Clayborn), that really ups the challenge, right?" Schiano said. "Because here's a guy who's a great player against the run; very disruptive."

The Redskins will present the Bucs' run defense its biggest test. They are second in the league in rushing yards at 180.7 per game. And Washington's zone blocking scheme will challenge Tampa Bay's ability to stay in the gaps and not allow cutbacks.

Rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III already has rushed 32 times for 209 yards and three touchdowns.

"They run the ball, and they set up play-action. And he's hitting guys because people are biting on the run," Schiano said. "So we have to shut that down or he'll be doing what he does every week."

Tampa Bay Buccaneers go from worst to first in stopping the run 09/28/12 [Last modified: Saturday, September 29, 2012 9:28pm]

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