Pewter Report's Scott Reynolds offers up some insight and observations from Tampa Bay's come-from-behind, 17-14 win over Cleveland on opening day.WHAT WE LEARNED ABOUT THE BUCCANEERS OFFENSE• We learned running back Cadillac Williams had a much better day than the stats sheet may indicate.
Williams rushed for 75 yards on 22 carries, including a 20-yard run against Cleveland. Yet fans may look at his 3.4-yard average and draw some negative conclusions and be under the false impression that Williams has lost a step.
However, Williams had an 18-yard run negated by a holding penalty on tight end Kellen Winslow in the second quarter, and a 22-yard jaunt in the third quarter wiped out due to a holding call on right guard Davin Joseph. Neither penalty truly affected the play and both were questionable.
Give Williams those two runs and his stats and suddenly he’s got 115 yards on 24 carries and a much better looking 4.79 avg.• We learned that Josh Freeman is full of resolve.
Freeman shook off the pain and discomfort of his broken right thumb to complete 60.7 percent of his passes and threw two touchdowns, the last of which came in the fourth quarter to rally his team to victory.
Freeman also showed some moxie racing down the right sideline in the first quarter for a 33-yard gain, the longest of his career. That run made up for his indecisive QB scramble in the fourth quarter when he took a sack on fourth-and-1 from the Cleveland 5 where he failed to pull the trigger on a pass to tight end John Gilmore, who was wide open.• We learned that wide receiver Mike Williams is already a stud.
Williams made a ridiculous, juggling 3-yard touchdown catch in the back of the end zone. The term “bailout” may be viewed negatively in today’s economic times, but that is the most appropriate nickname for him because he bailed out Josh Freeman against the Browns and makes those types of “bailout” catches routinely in practice.
Williams was wide open in the fourth quarter and could have had a two-touchdown day if Josh Freeman had been on target with his throw.• We learned that Micheal Spurlock is a legit wide receiver.
Spurlock has made his mark in Tampa Bay as a return specialist, but his two-catch, 49-yard performance on Sunday against Cleveland validated all of the hype he had in training camp. Both of Spurlock’s catches came on third down, the last of which was a tough, over-the-shoulder catch on first-round pick Joe Haden for his first NFL touchdown, which proved to be the game-winner for Tampa Bay.WHAT WE LEARNED ABOUT THE BUCCANEERS DEFENSE• We learned that Raheem Morris’ defense is not your father’s Tampa 2 (or Monte Kiffin’s).
Morris opened the game with Kyle Moore at left end, Gerald McCoy at right end and Ryan Sims and Roy Miller at defensive tackles in a 4-3 scheme. On one play, Miller and McCoy dropped in short zone coverage when the Bucs were in a 4-3.
A few plays later on a third down, Moore was at nose tackle in a 3-4 alignment with Tim Crowder at left end and Stylez G. White at right end. Crowder, Moore and White all served as stand-up outside linebackers on occasion.
Morris also went to a 3-3-5 alignment in nickel defense that featured McCoy and White at defensive end, rookie Brian Price at nose tackle and all three starting linebackers – Quincy Black, Barrett Ruud and Geno Hayes. Morris and the Bucs gave the Browns plenty of different looks on defense. The best way to describe Morris’ defense is to use the term hybrid, because that’s exactly what it is.• We learned that Raheem Morris has more confidence in his corners than most people do.
Morris was blitzing his safeties often in the first half and creating one-on-one matchups. The Bucs lucked out with Jake Delhomme overthrowing wide receiver Mohamed Massaquoi in the end zone with Mack in coverage. On the other side of the field, wide receiver Brian Robiskie had gotten open deep on cornerback E.J. Biggers.• We learned E.J. Biggers can play in the NFL.
Biggers, who got the start in place of the suspended Aqib Talib, rebounded from giving up an early touchdown in the first quarter. He had a big pass breakup on first-10 from the Cleveland 6 against Brian Robiskie in the fourth quarter, and recorded his first NFL interception two plays later on third down when he jumped in front of Muhammed Massaquoi to create the turnover.
• We learned that Elbert Mack is still the nickel corner for the Bucs – at least for one week.
Mack got the nod on third downs and obvious passing situations – not rookie Myron Lewis, who is the team’s third-round pick in 2010. When Aqib Talib returns to the starting lineup next week, Mack will become the team's dime corner and E.J. Biggers will become the nickel. • We learned that defensive end Tim Crowder should not be used as a coverage linebacker in the Bucs’ 3-4 scheme.
Crowder wasn’t fast enough to cover tight end Benjamin Watson on his 10-yard gain on third-and-6 in the second quarter and could not keep up with tight end Evan Moore on his 49-yard scamper down the right sideline in the third quarter. Crowder is a defensive end, not a linebacker and shouldn’t be used as such.• We learned that Bucs head coach Raheem Morris already believes in his young defense.
Instead of kicking a field goal on fourth-and-1 from the Cleveland 5 to make the score 20-14 and having to kickoff to Cleveland Pro Bowl kick returner Josh Cribbs with 39 seconds left, Morris elected to go for the first down or touchdown. That takes guts.
“That’s a defensive-minded head coach,” Morris said. “I’m going to make them go 95 yards to beat us. No way. Go for it.”WHAT WE LEARNED ABOUT THE BUCCANEERS SPECIAL TEAMS• We learned that Tampa Bay’s kick coverage problems were a mirage in the preseason and that special teams coordinator Rich Bisaccia is the best in the business at game-planning on special teams.
After allowing a 54-yard kick return to Kansas City’s Javier Arenas and a 47-yard return to Jacksonville’s Scotty McGee during the preseason, the Bucs put the clamps down on Cleveland’s Josh Cribbs. The 2009 Pro Bowler returned three kicks for only 46 yards (15.3 avg.) with a long return of 18 yards. Cribbs was also held in check on punt returns with three for just 29 yards (9.7 avg.) and a long of 15 yards.
Cornerback Elbert Mack, safeties Sabby Piscitelli and Cody Grimm, linebackers Dekoda Watson and Niko Koutouvides and long snapper Andrew Economos all recorded tackles of Cribbs either on kickoff or punt coverage.
“Rich, in my eyes is one of the best coaches I’ve ever had,” Piscitelli said. “He does such a great job of putting players in the right positions and scheming players up to make us successful. Rich is going to create the game plan for us to be successful and we just have to go out there and execute it. I think we did really well. We wanted to get everybody to the ball. This guy is hard to bring down and I think a couple of guys even brought him down with solo tackles. Economos had a nice hit on him on one of his punt returns and forced a fumble, too.
“We knew Cribbs could change the game with one return with the ball in his hands. We can’t let him change the game. Rich emphasized that I think we did a pretty good job of that.”• We learned that new punter Chris Bryan was a good pick up.
Bryan’s first punt was a 34-yarder down to the Cleveland 13. He also downed another punt inside the Browns’ 20-yard line and avoided any touchbacks. Bryan posted a 41.1-yard average with a 37-yard net and had a booming 57-yarder against Cleveland. His punting had great hang time and played a significant role in Tampa Bay containing Cleveland’s Pro Bowl return man Josh Cribbs.WHAT WE LEARNED ABOUT THIS BUCCANEERS VICTORY• We learned that although the Bucs had to rally to win this game, it could have very well been a blowout – in Tampa Bay’s favor.
The Bucs left plenty of yards and points left on the field in a game that was filled with more close calls that would favor Tampa Bay than Cleveland.
In the first quarter, safety Corey Lynch deflected a punt and was one inch away from outright blocking it, which would have swung field position 50 yards or more or perhaps set up a touchdown on a scoop-and-score scenario.
If Josh Freeman had put another six inches on a deep pass intended for rookie receiver Mike Williams, the Bucs would have had an 82-yard touchdown in the second quarter. Freeman’s pass was knocked away from Williams, who had a step on safety Mike Adams, at the last minute because it hung up in the air too long.
The Bucs missed out on some point blank red zone points when Earnest Graham fumbled on third-and-1 at the Cleveland 2 with just over two minutes left. On the Bucs’ next drive, Freeman took a sack instead of throwing a touchdown pass to a wide open John Gilmore.
Kick returner Micheal Spurlock saw a 55-yard return to the Cleveland 44 negated by a block in the back penalty on linebacker Niko Koutouvides. That was a field-position swing of 35 yards as the Bucs had to start at their own 21 instead of the Browns 44. Running back Cadillac Williams also had two runs totaling 40 yards wiped out due to two holding penalties.
This game shouldn’t have been close as the Bucs did more damage to themselves than the Browns did in this game, and that bodes well for this young Tampa Bay team if it can correct its mistakes.• We learned the blacked out Bucs vs. Browns game wasn’t close to being sold out.
Sunday’s paid attendance was only 47, 211. Bucs cornerback Ronde Barber appreciated the die-hard fans that showed up.
“We knew it wouldn’t be a sold out stadium,” Barber said. “We knew that. We also knew that the faithful would be here. I’m proud of them. They are our supporters regardless. When it did start to turn in the second half they came around.”• We learned that the heat is temporarily off head coach Raheem Morris and general manager Mark Dominik.
The Bucs did what they had to do, which was win a winnable game against Cleveland to get to 1-0. Losing a game like Sunday’s contest to an equal or lesser foe like the Browns would have been tough to overcome for such a young football team.
Morris, Dominik and the Bucs now have 15 games to win at least three more games and show some improvement over last year’s disappointing 3-13 record. That certainly seems doable with a 1-0 start.
Copyright © 2011 Pewter Report, PewterReport.com and Pewter Insider. All rights reserved. PewterReport.com, the official site of Pewter Report, is an independent source of news and commentary and is not affiliated with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers or the NFL.