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Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Lack of pass rush hurting

TOUCHDOWN BOUND: Wide receiver Antonio Bryant heads to the end zone on a 71-yard scoring catch in the third quarter Sunday. Bryant signed a one-year contract in the offseason.

JAMES BORCHUCK | Times

TOUCHDOWN BOUND: Wide receiver Antonio Bryant heads to the end zone on a 71-yard scoring catch in the third quarter Sunday. Bryant signed a one-year contract in the offseason.

TAMPA — The Bucs' pass rush has been lacking for the past two-plus seasons. But rarely has its absence been as glaring as in Sunday's loss to the Chargers.

QB Philip Rivers took his time as he dissected the Bucs secondary because, well, he could. The result: 9.3 yards per pass attempt and a 136.7 rating, his second highest this season.

"We've got to do a better job rushing the passer, No. 1," Bucs coach Jon Gruden said Monday. "These deep-in breaking routes take a while. That's seven-step-drop type patterns. We have to get a better rush going, certainly."

Gruden lamented the impact injuries have had on the defensive line. Chris Hovan (knee), Jovan Haye (knee), Gaines Adams (ankle) and Greg "Stylez" White (shoulder) have been limited the past several weeks, though each played against San Diego. But that doesn't explain why the problem existed weeks ago.

Asked about the progress of 2007 first-round pick Adams, Gruden cited the injury but suggested his play hasn't been good enough. Adams has 51/2 sacks, fewer than the six he registered as a rookie when he didn't start until Week 9. The Bucs tend to focus on "splash plays" from linemen because sack numbers can be misleading, but Adams hasn't been involved in many of those lately, either.

"I'm not going to make any excuses," Gruden said of Adams. "He's got to play better for us to be a heck of a football team. This is a 4-3 defense. … A 4-3 defense, the engine of it, is the guys up front. We need more from Gaines certainly, Greg White, Stylez White, Jo-Jo White, Roy White — whoever the hell else we're talking about here. We need more. … realize guys are playing through some tough injuries right now, and Gaines is one of those guys. We need these men to step up here, and obviously it's a key ingredient here in the way we play defense."

The Bucs notched a sack Sunday when DL Jimmy Wilkerson decked Rivers, but it was more a result of tight coverage causing Rivers to hold the ball too long. The Bucs have four sacks in their past four games.

Looking ahead: WR Antonio Bryant has made a compelling case for the Bucs to re-sign him, something the team might focus on. Bryant's one-year contract expires after the season.

"You can't deny that this guy has done things here in Tampa that have never been done before," Gruden said, referring to Bryant's three straight games with more than 100 yards receiving.

"This last three-game stretch is amazing. … We're hoping we can keep him around here. I'm sure he's going to have a lot of people who are going to be interested in his services. I'm really happy for him. It's all come together for him."

Garcia's health: Gruden expressed no concern with the health of QB Jeff Garcia, who received several stitches for a deep cut on his nose and played with a strained right calf muscle.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Lack of pass rush hurting 12/22/08 [Last modified: Friday, December 26, 2008 10:23am]

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