After two regular season games, Tampa Bay's offense has failed to score an offensive touchdown and ranks 30th overall in the National Football League.
The Buccaneers could use some help on the offensive side of the ball, especially at the wide receiver position, where Joey Galloway and Joe Jurevicius are sidelined several weeks with groin and back injuries, respectively.
The team is also without Pro Bowl WR Keenan McCardell, who is still holding out for a new contract he feels he deserves. Despite Tampa Bay's dreadful offensive performances over the past two games, don't look for the Bucs to give in to McCardell's contract demands any time soon.
"The guy is one heck of a football player and we would love to have him," said Bucs head coach Jon Gruden. "I'm not going to sit here and cry sour grapes. This is a situation that doesn't appears to have resolved itself nor does it appear to be resolving itself. It's too bad. Joe Jurevicius would help I think. Galloway, (Michael) Pittman would help. There are a lot of things that could help. The bottom line is when you look at that game yesterday we could have won that football game. There were three, four, five or seven opportunities to cash in on and we didn't get it done yesterday. We just got to get back to work here and get it done next week in Oakland because that is going to be a challenge."
McCardell, who caught a team-leading 84 passes and scored a career-high nine touchdowns last season, was scheduled to earn $2.5 million this season and is one of the league's highest-paid 34-year-old receivers, but he wants to be paid like the team's No. 1 receiver, which would call for about a $2 million annual salary increase.
"That's not playing realistic football," Gruden said when asked about bringing on McCardell. "You have to play by the rules in the NFL. There is a salary cap. You have certain rules and certain things that you have to understand. If it were up to me, I would give everybody the money. It's not my money. I would give them all the money to get the best players in here. We are in a certain situation that is very clear I think."
BUCS SEARCHING FOR TOUCHDOWNS, OFFENSIVE IDENTITY:
Tampa Bay's offense has produced three field goals in eight quarters of football. That's not exactly the way Bucs head coach Jon Gruden envisioned his team starting the 2004 regular season.
However, after reviewing film of Tampa Bay's 10-6 loss to the Seattle Seahawks, Gruden said again that plays where there to be made but weren't.
"I looked at the film very carefully and I am very pleased with the efforts of our football team," said Gruden. "Defensively, we were outstanding, holding Seattle to one of fourteen on third down and nine consecutive series forcing a punt, against an offense we have a great amount of respect for. It was a great accomplishment. I thought (defensive tackle) Anthony McFarland played outstanding in the game. (Punter) Josh Bidwell did a nice job punting the football. Offensively, we had some opportunities to make plays. Unfortunately, we did not deliver them."
The offense's slow start in Sunday's game prompted Gruden to bench starting quarterback Brad Johnson in favor of second-year signal caller Chris Simms in an effort to give the team a spark. Simms led Tampa Bay on two 71-yard scoring drives, but he fell short of leading the Bucs to victory when he was intercepted with one minute remaining in the fourth quarter.
While Johnson will start again in Oakland, Gruden suggested other personnel changes could be coming on offense, including on the offensive line and at the tight end position.
"We're going to look at that," Gruden said of some possible personnel changes. "I can't comment on all of the specific things that we will potentially do, but we will look at any edge that we can create. Right now, given the injuries and situation at wide receiver, some of these guys have been thrust into critical roles. Tim Brown has become our punt returner among other things, but we'll take a good look at it. We'll look at the running backs and the tight ends again as a staff throughout the day, and try to circulate the roster the best we can with the players we think give us the best chance in Oakland."
The blame can be spread around, but some believe Tampa Bay needs better pass protection and running lanes from its offensive line, which has allowed nine sacks in the first two games of the season.
"The pass protection at times was good, and at times we had some breakdowns," Gruden said of the offensive line's performance on Sunday. "We had some individual breakdowns that clearly hurt us. One early in the game, I think may have been in our opening possession, we had (Charlie) Garner on a big play and we had a breakdown there. A couple of balls have been batted down. We had instant penetration that caused that. In some occasions it was very good. We missed a couple blitz pickups. We handle the blitz a couple other times. We look at the tape and there are spots of good and there are spots of bad. It's spotting right now and we need to get better."
Critics believe Gruden should be getting the running backs involved more in the team's 30th ranked rushing offense. Garner has rushed 24 times for 100 yards (4.1 avg.) and caught seven passes for 28 yards while fullback Mike Alstott has rushed six times for 11 yards while hauling in four passes for 23 yards in the first two regular season games.
But without RB Michael Pittman, who has one more game remaining on a three-game suspension, Gruden suggested Garner, who has spent almost his entire career in a running-back-by-committee system, isn't quite conditioned to handle more touches.
"In hindsight it's easy (to say Garner should have rushed more)," said Gruden. "The thing is when Charlie comes out in games, at times he gets tired. We are using him as a receiver. He is not a 225 or 240-pound back. There is no question we would like to get him the ball as many times as we can. When you look back on it, there are a couple of plays where maybe we should have given it (the ball) to him again. However, when you look at the outcome of a lot of these plays on the coaches' tapes, we had opportunities to convert and make some things happen. Unfortunately, it didn't work out again yesterday."
While Alstott hasn't been involved as much as some people would like, Gruden has used the "A-Train" to convert some key third down situations over the last two games. Gruden said the situations he wants to use Alstott in just haven't come up as often as everyone would like.
"I believe he is 100 percent, but Mike has been out of football for a year," said Gruden. "We think that there is going to be a more comprehensive role for him in our offense as a ball carrier. He is a fullback here. He is a guy that we look to in goal line and short yardage situations. He is a guy that sees a lot of his touches when you have a lead and you are protecting the ball and chewing the clock. Those situations haven't arisen. We are going to try. He is not your typical halfback. He is an anvil. We have to utilize his strength and we'll do all we can to do that."
Before the season started, Gruden envisioned his offense being a balanced one, but right now it appears to be far from it.
"I thought we would be balanced offensive club, very efficient on throwing the ball," said Gruden. "I think along the way we're going to have four or five explosive plays per game. I'm talking about 20 yard plays. It's been hard getting a first down, let alone the explosive plays. It's hard to move the ball if you just pick up a game of anybody and play ball these days. If you are not getting explosive plays along the way. It's hard to go 75 or 80 yards in 12-play drives. It's hard doing that. We made a living doing that for too long around here. We got to start getting explosive plays to stay up with the times in this league. Unfortunately, that has been not being easy for us. Some of the guys you think would give us explosive plays are hurt. Some of the guys we need to help more to create those plays."
Tampa Bay's defense held Seattle's offense to just 182 yards of total offense and allowed the Seahawks to convert just 1-of-14 (7 percent) third down attempts. Like the offensive side of the ball, the Bucs defense lost some players during the offseason, including safety John Lynch and safety Warren Sapp, but that's not stopping them from dominating. In fact, Tampa Bay's defense is currently ranked 3rd overall.
Will the offense's shortcomings and the defense's responsibility of carrying the team on its back lead to divisiveness in the Bucs locker room?
"I think that divisiveness that you?re talking about has been talked about here in Tampa for maybe 30 years now," Gruden said. "The offense sits over here, the defense sits over there. I don't like to hear that. I don't have very many friends today, okay. I've got my wife, my dad who is a consultant and I've got these players. You find out who your real friends are when you get beat in a humbling, humiliating fashion. I'm not going to have a split team; an offensive bus and a defensive bus. Monte Kiffin won't allow that, I won't allow that, our players won't let that happen. If we have to, I'll put a couple defensive players on offense this week. To spread some of the spark around, I'll do that. We have a hell of a football team. They're playing hard, but we're just not getting it done right now offensively. It's a play here, it's a play there and we're not that far away but I'm confident that we can stay together."
The Philadelphia Eagles started the 2003 regular season with a 0-2 record and went on to represent the NFC in the Championship Game. If Tampa Bay's defense can continue to keep the Bucs in games while the offense works out its kinks, Gruden said his team would start winning some games.
"If we can get it going on offense, and I'm not the first coach to stand before you and say, if we can get it going offensively," said Gruden. "I'm not trying to have any fun with this at all. I have great confidence in this football team. It's just unfortunate right now that we've gotten off to such a sluggish start offensively, but I'm counting on our defense being outstanding. It's great, truly great.
"It might need to score for us, if that's what it takes for us to win, because they sure have the potential to do it.?
Tampa Bay's defense has already scored one touchdown this season. That's one more than the offense has thus far.
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