Pewter Report's Scott Reynolds offers up some analysis and observations from Tampa Bay's 38-6 loss to the visiting Pittsburgh Steelers as the Bucs lost their first game of the 2010 season and are now 2-1 heading into the bye week.WHAT WE LEARNED ABOUT THE BUCS OFFENSE• We learned that stats can be misleading.
The Bucs had 18 first downs to the Steelers’ 17. Pittsburgh converted 44 percent of its third downs (4-of-9), while Tampa Bay converted 43 percent of its third downs (6-of-14). Pittsburgh out-gained the Bucs, but only by 84 yards (387-303). Tampa Bay led in time of possession, 33:06-26:54. Looking at the aforementioned stats, one might conclude that this was a tightly contested game. Yet the stat that matters the most is points scored, and Pittsburgh dominated that, 38-13.• We learned the loss against Pittsburgh wasn’t nearly as bad as the home losses to both New York teams last year.
Both head coach Raheem Morris and quarterback Josh Freeman brushed aside references to last year’s losses to the Giants and Jets, which beat the Bucs by a combined score of 50-3. Against the Steelers, the Bucs moved the ball well at times against a stingy defense – something that they couldn’t do last year against both New York clubs. The 38 points would suggest it was a worse smackdown, but the Bucs self-destructed as much as the Steelers beat them.• We learned LeGarrette Blount is a player and can be a force on offense.
Blount’s first carry as a Buccaneer went for 12 yards and picked up a first down. He runs with a nice mix of power and nimbleness not seen in Tampa Bay since the days of Mike Alstott. Blount is the type of runner that can turn a 2-yard run into a 4-yard gain because he’s always falling forward at the end of the play. His second and third effort on his touchdown run on fourth-and-goal from the Pittsburgh 1 was somewhat reminiscent of Alstott.
With Cadillac Williams rushing six times for 13 yards (2.2 avg.) Blount’s play was the lone bright spot for Tampa Bay’s offense on Sunday. He finished the game with 27 yards and a touchdown on six carries (4.5 avg.).• We learned that Arrelious Benn is ready for more playing time.
Benn caught his first NFL pass on Sunday and followed it up with two more for a total of 33 yards. Benn caught both passes thrown his way and also a pass that bounced off the hands of fullback Earnest Graham. That was probably the only ball that bounced the Bucs’ way on Sunday. With Sammie Stroughter catching just six passes for 49 yards through three games, expect the Bucs to start rotating Benn in at the flanker position more often after the bye week.• We learned that Donald Penn is certainly a prideful guy.
After the game, Penn got feisty with reporters that suggested that he and the Bucs offensive line got beaten up by Pittsburgh’s defense on Sunday.
“Those guys were flying around and getting beat up – on Pittsburgh’s side,” Penn said. “I don’t want to hear the word ‘manhandled,’ because that was not the [expletive] case. Nobody got manhandled. This was a physical game. They won the point battle. That’s all. Our O-line doesn’t play like that. Our D-line doesn’t play like that. We don’t get manhandled. We lost the point battle.”
Of course at the end of the day, the point battle on the scoreboard is all that matters. There are no style points for knocking down James Harrison. Harrison finished the game with three tackles, but Penn surrendered sacks to defensive end Nick Eason and blitzing cornerback William Gay, as well as getting called for a holding penalty and an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty.WHAT WE LEARNED ABOUT THE BUCS DEFENSE• We learned that the Bucs miss Tanard Jackson terribly.
After Sunday’s 38-13 loss to Pittsburgh, Morris did his best to defend the play of rookie Cody Grimm, who not only saw action on defense for the first time against Pittsburgh, but he also got the start in place of Jackson, who was suspended for a year for failing another drug test. Grimm gave up Pittsburgh’s first touchdown, a 46-yard catch by receiver Mike Wallace, and also had a hand in giving up Hines Ward’s 9-yard touchdown right before halftime.
Grimm, who finished the game with six tackles, but also had several missed tackles, appeared to be overmatched on Sunday. Grimm is a heady, hustle guy, but appears to lack the ideal size and athleticism to be a starter in the NFL. He was drafted in the seventh round for a reason. How many other NFL teams would Grimm seriously start for?
“You never want to make excuses about who you miss because it doesn’t matter,” Morris said. “Nobody cares about that. You guys can feel free to write that it hurt us by not having Tanard in the run game – feel free to write it all day. I’ll never stand up here and make an excuse for not stopping the run because of any one individual player. This is a team game. We are going to continue to be a team. We will always be a team and I’ll never stop making these guys think like a team.”• We learned that Morris may consider going back to a three-man rotation at safety.
With both Grimm and strong safety Sean Jones giving up more plays than they made on Sunday, Morris said that he is open to giving Sabby Piscitelli and Corey Lynch a chance to get some snaps on defense after the bye week. Over the last two years, Morris has usually rotated three safeties on defense.
“We may go to do some of those things, but you have to go back and you have to check and evaluate,” Morris said. “Cody Grimm had a great week of practice. There was no reason to rotate going into this game. There was no reason to make those decisions going into this game. We haven’t been rotating all season. We have been playing pretty good. We wanted to stay with that type of format. We’ll go back and evaluate tape and we’ll come back ready to go versus Cincinnati.”
The smart move for Morris will be to let Piscitelli out of the doghouse and give the faster safety with 20 career starts another chance to prove himself. It would also be wise to put Lynch in on obvious passing situations considering he led the Bucs in the preseason with two interceptions and had 24 picks in college. Now is not the time for Morris to be stubborn. He has to do what is best for the sake of the defense.• We learned rookie defensive tackles Gerald McCoy and Brian Price still have some work to do.
Pewter Report made the observation during training camp that McCoy has to work on his hips. During the hoop drill where the defensive linemen are asked to run around huge hoops made of PVC pipes, McCoy didn’t stand out in this drill. He had trouble sinking his hips and getting the proper body lean while running around the hoop. This was a major issue that plagued Gaines Adams in his career that was tragically too brief.
That deficiency manifested itself on Sunday as McCoy had a clear shot at quarterback Charlie Batch, but couldn’t get his first NFL sack. McCoy beat guard Doug Legursky, but the 6-foot-5 defensive tackle came in too high and didn’t sink his hips enough to quickly redirect when Batch sidestepped him at the last minute. The result of the play was a 46-yard touchdown pass to Wallace instead of a 7-yard sack in the first quarter. McCoy was shutout by Pittsburgh as he did not record a tackle.
Price does a much better job of redirecting, and nearly had his first NFL sack on Sunday, but he couldn’t bring down Batch even though he had a hold of his jersey. Batch wound up eluding Price, rolled to his right and found Ward for a 9-yard touchdown pass on third down to put the Steelers up 28-6 at halftime.• We learned that missed tackles against a good running team will get you beat.
Aside from a play or two, middle linebacker Barrett Ruud and cornerback Ronde Barber brought the heat on Sunday against the running game, leading the team with nine tackles apiece. However, linebackers Quincy Black and Geno Hayes and safeties Grimm and Jones combined to miss plenty of tackles on running back Rashard Mendenhall, who rushed for 143 of Pittsburgh’s 201 yards on Sunday.
Last week, the Bucs had seven tackles for loss and were gang-tackling against Carolina. Against Pittsburgh, there were too many missed tackles, not enough tackles for loss (four) and not enough gang-tackling.• We learned that Aqib Talib has plenty of motivation for the rest of the season.
As if Talib’s bobbled would-be interception that turned into a touchdown for Wallace in the end zone wasn’t bad enough, Wallace rubbed some salt in the wound and called out Talib after the game.
“That’s why he plays cornerback – they can’t catch,” Wallace said.
Talib is tied for the team lead with two interceptions. The guess here is that Talib doesn’t drop another interception all season and finishes with close to 10.WHAT WE LEARNED ABOUT TAMPA BAY’S SPECIAL TEAMS• We learned that punter Chris Bryan had an awful day.
Just when you think the Bucs picked the right punter – Bryan over rookie Brent Bowden – Bryan goes out and has a dreadful performance against Pittsburgh. He punted five times for 155 yards and a 31-yard average with a 29.4-yard net.
Bryan’s first punt was a 21-yarder and gave the Steelers the ball at their 21-yard line with 4:18 left before halftime. Bryan should have pinned Pittsburgh deeper. His second punt was only a 28-yarder. Bryan’s punting was erratic, but he did salvage his day to a degree with a 32-yard punt down at the Pittsburgh 4-yard line – his only punt inside the 20. Bryan’s longest punt of the day was only 38 yards. The Bucs should consider bringing Bowden back.• We learned kicker Connor Barth is still perfect.
It bears repeating – Barth is having a phenomenal start to the 2010 campaign. He was perfect on his two field goals on Sunday from 40 and 24 yards, and is now a perfect 5-for-5 on the season. Barth was also a perfect 5-for-5 in the preseason.
Dating back to the end of the 2009 season, Barth has made 12 of his last 13 field goals (92.3 percent). If you want to count the preseason kicks, he has made 17 of his last 18 field goals (94.4 percent). That’s outstanding.• We learned Adam Hayward is still frustrating to watch.
Hayward opened the game with a bang, making a crushing hit on Steelers kick returner Mewelde Moore after only a 17-yard return out to the Pittsburgh 14. Hayward also drilled Antwaan Randle El tackle after 8-yard gain on a punt return.
But late in the third quarter, the overly-aggressive Hayward drew a 15-yard penalty unnecessary roughness penalty after Randel El fair caught a punt. Instead of starting at their 26-yard line, Pittsburgh took over at the 41 and wound up scoring a field goal at the end of the drive.WHAT WE LEARNED ABOUT THIS BUCCANEERS LOSS• We learned that in football there is a reason behind the old saying, “That’s the way the ball bounces.”
Three untimely bounces – Mike Williams’ fumble into the hands of safety Ryan Clark, Talib’s would-be interception, and Sammie Stroughter’s bobbled ball that was intercepted and returned for a 79-yard touchdown by defensive end Brett Keisel – resulted in 14 points for the Steelers and killed two promising drives by the Buccaneers offense.
“Some days we’re going to be the team that catches those bounces and picks up the fumbles and things like that,” Williams said. “We weren’t that team today. They were the better team today. We just have to fight back.”• We learned that the Bucs aren’t nearly as good as the Steelers, but aren’t as bad as the score indicates.
Tampa Bay’s 2-0 start will come into question now that it beat two 0-3 teams in Cleveland and Carolina. Still, the Bucs won those games and in order to be successful in the NFL you have to win the winnable games.
Pittsburgh clearly beat the Bucs on offense and defense on Sunday, but Tampa Bay also had plenty of self-inflicted wounds. Great teams either don’t beat themselves or they have enough talent to overcome their own mistakes. The Bucs aren’t a great team yet like Pittsburgh is.• We learned that Morris still makes some questionable game management calls.
Morris’ decision to punt on fourth-and-3 at the Pittsburgh 36 with 11:45 left in the game and trailing 38-6 was baffling. What did the Bucs have to lose? It’s not like they were at their own 36-yard line. Morris, who preaches mental toughness, physical play and violence, made a rather timid game management decision in that instance, which was disappointing.• We learned that Morris made a good decision to empty his bench in the fourth quarter.
It was wise of Morris to pull starters like Freeman, wide receivers Mike Williams and Sammie Stroughter, tight end Kellen Winslow and center Jeff Faine late in the game in insert Josh Johnson, Jeremy Zuttah and young wide receivers like Benn and Preston Parker. There was nothing to be gained in the fourth quarter of a 38-6 blowout except a “feel-better touchdown” at the end.
While it’s easy to want to pad the stats of the starters in the fourth quarter, doing so also risks injury. Plus, getting rookies like Blount, Benn and Parker some playing time and game experience will only help them develop and help the team down the road.
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