NFC CHAMPIONSHIP GAME: TAMPA BAY AT PHILADELPHIA

Bucs have to protect Brad Johnson


Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive tackle Warren Sapp celebrates a play against the San Francisco 49ers' in the second quarter of the NFC Divisional playoff Sunday, Jan, 12, 2003, in Tampa, Fla. As well as they're playing and as confident as the Bucs are, they will have to buck some serious trends to reach the Super Bowl: 0-2 vs. the Eagles in the playoffs the past two years, 0-6 on the road in franchise postseason history, and 1-21 when the temperature is 40 or below.

AP Photo/J. Pat Carter
Published: Saturday, January 18, 2003 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, January 17, 2003 at 10:53 p.m.
PHILADELPHIA-- Everywhere Brad Johnson turned, there was a sea of green in his face.
Darwin Walker sacked him on the last play of the first half. Corey Simon fell on him for a 4-yard loss on his next passing attempt. N.D. Kalu drilled him for a 9-yard loss seconds later.
In a span of seven plays, including three runs, the Philadelphia Eagles sacked Johnson three times in a convincing 20-10 victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers earlier this season.
Johnson finally left the game after breaking his ribs after his fifth sack. Rob Johnson finished up, getting sacked once.
The Buccaneers (13-4) know they must to do a much better job of protecting their quarterback to have a chance in Sunday's NFC championship game against the Eagles (13-4) at Veterans Stadium.
"We need to run the ball, avoid turnovers, and give Brad time. That's the biggest thing," right tackle Kenyatta Walker said.
In his first year in Jon Gruden's offense, Johnson proved to be one of the top quarterbacks in the NFL. He completed 281 of 451 passes (62.3 percent) for 3,049 yards, 22 touchdowns and only six interceptions. His rating of 92.9 led the NFC.
But after chasing Michael Vick all over the field last week, the Eagles are glad to see Johnson, no matter how well he's played. Johnson is one of the slowest QBs in the league. And, he's struggled against Philadelphia. In his last three starts against the Eagles, Johnson has thrown six interceptions and no TDs.
"Playing against Michael Vick, you have to worry about him running every single play. It kind of takes away from the other things you're doing on the field," said linebacker Carlos Emmons, who had two sacks against the Bucs in October. "(A pocket passer) gives you a better sense to know where the quarterback is going to be and now you can concentrate more on coverage and trying to keep him from getting the ball in there."
The Eagles, who led the league with 56 sacks, rely heavily on the blitz to harass quarterbacks. But their defensive line, led by three-time Pro Bowl defensive end Hugh Douglas, also generates a lot of pressure.
Defensive coordinator Jim Johnson is known for his confusing blitz schemes and willingness to send just about any player at any time, making it difficult for offenses to plan against the Eagles. Eight of Philadelphia's sacks this year came from its secondary.
"They definitely do some things that are unorthodox," Walker said. "That's what makes them so special. The challenge is on us. It's not pressure. I think they are the ones with the pressure on them. We are underdogs."
Philadelphia blitzes frequently because it has three Pro Bowl players in its secondary, including cornerbacks Troy Vincent and Bobby Taylor and free safety Brian Dawkins. Vincent, Taylor and nickel cornerback Al Harris are strong in man-to-man coverage, allowing the safeties to go after the quarterback.
And if it's the cornerbacks who are blitzing, Dawkins, a two-time All-Pro, is excellent in coverage. Strong safety Blaine Bishop, a former Pro Bowl player, also had a solid season.
Bucs wide receiver Keyshawn Johnson respects the Eagles' secondary, but wouldn't say it's a personal challenge to beat them.
"Whether they are Pro Bowlers, guys who have been pushed into the starting lineup because Pro Bowlers got hurt, rookies, or 12-year veterans, I get fired up to play on Sunday," Johnson said. "It might be extra motivation for those who need it, but I stay motivated."

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