Pewter Report's Scott Reynolds offers up some analysis and observations from Tampa Bay's 20-7 drubbing of the Panthers in Carolina as the Bucs start the 2010 season 2-0.WHAT WE LEARNED ABOUT THE BUCS OFFENSE• We learned that the Bucs offensive line needs to do a better job of opening holes and we learned that Cadillac Williams is no longer considered an elite running back.
Granted, Williams did have a 20-yard last week against Cleveland and had an 18-yarder and a 22-yarder called back due to penalties, but his 51 yards and 1.9-yard average against Carolina came on 27 carries. Not 17 carries – 27 carries.
Give most elite running backs 20 carries and they will break a big run – even if the offensive line is not opening up many holes. Elite backs can create big plays on their own with speed and elusiveness. Williams’ longest run of the day was an 8-yarder.
The Bucs would have used speedster Kareem Huggins on Sunday if not for his pulled groin. Another woeful rushing performance similar to this and LeGarrett Blount will be pressed into service even sooner – and that may not be a bad thing.• We learned Josh Freeman isn’t selfish.
All the kid wants to do is win. He doesn’t care about his stats or style points. He admitted that he only completed 50 percent of his passes after the game and took more pride in the fact that he didn’t have any turnovers rather than hyping up his two touchdown passes.
That’s a winning attitude, and it’s no surprise this team is 2-0 with Freeman, who is 4-1 in his last five starts, acting like a winner. Having a 4:1 touchdown-to-interception ratio is playing a huge role in Tampa Bay’s hot start.
• We learned Freeman is truly a dual-threat quarterback.
Unless you followed Kansas State football intently (and I’m probably the only one around who does), you might not know that Freeman was nearly the Wildcats’ leading rusher during his junior season with 404 yards and 14 touchdowns on 107 carries. Keep in mind that sack yardage counts against rushing yardage in college football, so he likely rushed for over 500 yards.
Against the Panthers on Sunday, Freeman rushed for a career-high 43 yards on four carries. Yet as great as those scrambles were, his best run may have been shaking off Panthers defensive linemen Charles Johnson and Eric Norwood behind the line of scrimmage and firing a 40-yard pass downfield to tight end Kellen Winslow.
Through two games, Freeman has rushed for 77 yards on six carries (12.8 avg.) and picked up four first downs. Against Carolina, Freeman had runs of 17 yards, three yards, 11 yards and 12 yards. Bucs fans might not have recognized that Freeman is a dual threat as he rushed for 161 yards on 30 carries (5.4 avg.) last year, but they certainly do now.• We learned that Mike Williams is a serious threat for NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year honors.
Williams may not get enough touches to contend with Detroit running back Jahvid Best, who has four touchdowns in his first two NFL games, but the rookie receiver from Syracuse has a good chance of being the top rookie wide receiver in 2010. Through two games, Williams has seven catches for 84 yards and two highlight reel touchdowns, including Sunday’s 35-yarder in which he eluded four Carolina defenders, turning cornerbacks Chris Gamble and Richard Marshall, safety Sherrod Martin and linebacker James Anderson into the Keystone Cops.
You can tell that Freeman already has supreme confidence in Williams, evidenced by the fact that he fired a deep ball to the end zone early in the first quarter when Williams was in a one-on-one jump ball situation with Gamble. Gamble won that one, but clearly lost on Williams’ second quarter touchdown.• We learned that tight end Kellen Winslow doesn’t need any practice.
If a week off of practice helps Winslow’s ailing knee to the point where he catches four passes for 83 yards, including grabs of 24 and 40 yards to pick up first downs on scoring drives, let the veteran rest during the week for the remainder of the season.WHAT WE LEARNED ABOUT THE BUCS DEFENSE• We learned the Bucs defense knows how to finish.
In the first two games of the 2010 season, Tampa Bay has shut down and shut out opposing offenses in the second half. The Bucs have allowed zero points, outscoring foes 13-0 in the last two quarters.
Tampa Bay has also taken away opponents’ running game. The Browns rushed for just 17 yards in the second half, while the Panthers were held to only 38. That fourth down goal line stand where linebacker Geno Hayes knifed in to tackle Jonathan Stewart was a thing of beauty.
The Bucs have also recorded three sacks and recorded five turnovers in the second half this year. That’s the sign of a winning football team’s defense.• We learned why the Bucs were scouting middle linebackers so hard in the draft.
Barrett Ruud has his share of critics that harp on his lack of stoutness against the run and his difficulty shedding blocks and Sunday’s game at Carolina gave those critics more fuel to put on the fire.
Ruud was sealed off by rookie right tackle Geoff Schwartz on DeAngelo Williams’ 11-yard run up the middle in the first quarter. In the second quarter, Ruud didn’t maintain gap control and over-pursued Jonathan Stewart on his 19-yard run up the middle. Later in the second quarter, he couldn’t shed Schwartz’s block and allowed a 16-yard run up the middle by Williams. Ruud was pancaked by left tackle Jordan Gross on a 9-yard run up the middle by Williams.
In the fourth quarter, Ruud missed an ankle tackle of Williams, who picked up five yards on third-and-1. The Nebraska product also got driven back seven yards and couldn’t beat the block by tight end Dante Rosario as Mike Goodson, the player he was assigned to cover, picked up 10 yards on a reception on third-and-10. Goodson also eluded Ruud in one-on-one coverage to pick up 14 yards on a second quarter reception.
To be fair, Ruud did make some good tackles and had several good defensive calls. The stat sheet reveals that he led the team with nine stops. Yet Ruud played a big part in giving up 59 yards rushing up the middle by this account, in addition to 24 yards receiving and five first downs. Considering the Panthers recorded 278 yards, that’s over one quarter of their offensive production and nearly one-third of the team’s 16 first downs.• We learned that Ronde Barber is fighting Father Time – and winning.
Last Sunday’s interception of Jake Delhomme was no fluke. Barber recorded his second pick in as many games as he picked off Matt Moore in the third quarter to set up a field goal. Barber gambled by releasing wide receiver David Gettis downfield and trusted his instincts and film study to freelance and step in front of wide receiver Steve Smith, who was covered by Aqib Talib, to pick off the pass.
Barber finished with five tackles, a tackle for loss, one interception and two pass breakups, including a great one on third-and-2 with 7:24 left in the fourth quarter. Rookie defensive tackle Gerald McCoy guard Travelle Wharton and really pressured Jimmy Clausen and Barber swooped in and knocked the ball away from Gettis at the last minute.
Barber’s lone sin was letting Gettis get behind him deep in the third quarter. Thankfully for the Bucs, Moore’s pass was too far out in front or Gettis would have had a 74-yard touchdown.
Make no mistake. The 35-year old Barber can still play at a high level in this league, and that’s a good thing as third-round draft pick Myron Lewis’ growth has been stunted due to injury. Lewis was inactive against the Panthers.• We learned that Tim Crowder wants more playing time.
After the Bucs went sackless in their first game, Crowder answered the bell for the team and recorded two at Carolina and forced a fumble. The former second-round pick has been more productive throughout his career and this season than starting left end Kyle Moore and deserves the chance to start. At the very least, his performance should be rewarded with more playing time.
Thankfully, head coach and defensive coordinator Raheem Morris didn’t use much of the 3-4 defense against Carolina. Last week, Crowder was used as a stand-up linebacker in the 3-4 and was responsible for covering the tight end. He gave up a 10-yard pass on third-and-7 to Cleveland’s Ben Watson, in addition to a 49-yard gain to tight end Evan Moore. Crowder is a pass rusher, not a pass coverage defender after Week 2 Morris should have that figured out.• We learned that the Bucs defense came to play on third down.
All four of Tampa Bay’s sacks against Carolina came on third down with Crowder (twice), defensive end Stylez G. White and linebacker Quincy Black doing the honors. Two of the Bucs’ takeaways – Ronde Barber’s interception and Crowder’s forced fumble – also happened on third down against the Panthers.WHAT WE LEARNED ABOUT THE BUCS SPECIAL TEAMS• We learned that Andrew Economos is a heat-seeking missile.
The Bucs long snapper, who made two tackles and forced a fumble against Cleveland, has become a tackling machine. Economos dashed downfiled and recorded the Bucs’ first special teams tackle on Carolina punt returner Captain Munnerlyn.
Through two games, Economos has three special teams tackles, which matches his season total from a year ago. Economos, who was named the team’s special teams captain for the first time, trained hard during the offseason and looks faster than ever in coverage. • We learned that Connor Barth may be the real deal.
Barth made field goals of 24 and 33 yards against Carolina, and accounted for all of Tampa Bay’s second half points. He is currently 3-of-3 on the season after nailing a 49-yarder against Cleveland last week.
Barth was 5-of-5 in the preseason and made seven of his last eight field goals to end the 2009 season. Add up all the kicks in live games – preseason and regular season – and Barth is 15-of-16 kicking field goals. That’s 93.8 percent, folks. If Barth keeps this up he will be yet another fine free agent pick-up by general manager Mark Dominik.WHAT WE LEARNED ABOUT THIS BUCCANEERS VICTORY• We learned that momentum can be a very dangerous thing for a young team – in a good way.
Sometimes young football teams that are full of inexperience overcome that due to momentum and confidence. They just don’t know that they aren’t supposed to win games and be as good as their record might indicate.
That happened to Tampa Bay in 1997 when a young Bucs team started off 5-0, but later got exposed and had to rally and finish 5-6 down the stretch to make the playoffs with a 10-6 record. Don’t be surprised if the Bucs have a letdown in the middle of the season as the inexperience at key positions will ultimately surface in some costly ways.
Credit head coach Raheem Morris for using a bunch of media predictions of 2-14 (Sports Illustrated’s Peter King) and 5-11 (the local Tampa Bay newspaper) to circle the wagons before the season started and fire up his troops. It’s not that somebody forgot to tell the Bucs they were supposed to be bad this year. They didn’t listen.
For the record, Pewter Report picked the Bucs to go 7-9 this year and that’s certainly not far-fetched after a 2-0 record.• We learned that the Bucs won’t finish in last place in the NFC South this year.
That distinction will belong to the Panthers. The youngest team in the NFL is also one of the worst. Shoddy quarterback play – whether it is from Matt Moore or rookie Jimmy Clausen – will hurt Carolina all year.• We learned that Tampa Bay has a decent shot of going undefeated into the bye week.
All of a sudden, the upcoming game against the 2-0 Steelers looks potentially winnable thanks to smart, efficient quarterback play from Freeman, the opportunistic nature of Tampa Bay’s tough defense and Barth’s right leg on field goals. The fact that this game will be played at home and is a potential sell out will only help the Bucs.
Also aiding Tampa Bay is the fact that Pittsburgh’s quarterback situation is in turmoil. Ben Roethlisberger is suspended and backup Dennis Dixon hurt his knee against Tennessee on Sunday. That means that Charlie Batch or former Bucs starter Byron Leftwich will be under center at Raymond James Stadium.
One more positive in the Bucs’ favor is the fact that the offensive line handled Carolina’s pass rush pretty good and didn’t give up sack. The O-line will receive its stiffest test of the year from outside rush linebackers Lamarr Woodley and James Harrison.
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