Pewter Report's Scott Reynolds offers up some analysis and observations from Tampa Bay's 31-6 home loss to New Orleans as the Bucs fall to 3-2 and prepare to host the 3-3 St. Louis Rams on Sunday.WHAT WE LEARNED ABOUT THE BUCCANEERS OFFENSEWe learned it’s time to demote Cadillac Williams as the starting running back.
Through five games, Williams has done nothing as a rusher to justify him getting a sixth start at halfback. Through five games, Williams has only 188 yards and no touchdowns on 74 carries. He is on pace to rush for only 602 yards this year over 16, which is absolutely unacceptable.
Williams has become the 2-yard man this year and is averaging only 2.5 yards per carry. Against New Orleans he averaged just 1.8 yards with 10 carries 16 yards. He also has dropped four passes in five games, including three at Cincinnati last week, and fumbled against the Saints.
Is Williams, whose two knee injuries have caused him to lose some burst and speed, washed up at the age of 28, or are his problems caused by terrible run blocking by the offensive line and tight ends? It’s hard to determine, but the quickest way to find out would be to replace Williams as the primary ballcarrier because the Bucs can’t simply replace five offensive linemen.
If LeGarrette Blount, who was surprisingly inactive against the Saints, can get the ground game going with his physical running style, then Williams may be the culprit for the ground game’s woeful production. If Blount or Kregg Lumpkin struggle for yardage like Williams has, then general manager Mark Dominik knows that he may have to retool his offensive line with the exception of left tackle Donald Penn next year. Kareem Huggins is out for the year, so he's no longer an option.
Williams is one of the leaders on this young Buccaneers team, but even leaders have to produce. While he is the best pass-protecting halfback on the roster, Williams’ shortcomings as a running back appear to be hurting the team. It’s time for the Bucs to roll the dice with Blount and Lumpkin because Tampa Bay can’t keep winning with the 2-yard man. However, the emotional ties run deep with Williams, offensive coordinator Greg Olson and head coach Raheem Morris, so don’t expect to see Cadillac in the garage. Ideally, he should be the team's third down back – not the starter.We learned that receivers coach Eric Yarber needs to work on ball security and blocking drills.
The Bucs have had three consecutive fumbles from their wide receivers in as many games. Rookie Mike Williams coughed up the ball against Pittsburgh and Cincinnati. Against New Orleans, rookie Arrelious Benn fumbled the ball out of bounds after a 9-yard gain in the second quarter. Then Sammie Stroughter gets the ball ripped out of his hands by
Late in the third quarter, tight end Kellen Winslow had a 7-yard gain but could have had much more if Williams had blocked for him. Williams had two defensive backs near him that he could have blocked, but whiffed on both. On the next play, which was a wide receiver screen to Micheal Spurlock, Sammie Stroughter couldn’t block cornerback Patrick Robinson and allowed Spurlock to be dropped for a loss of two yards.We learned that Josh Freeman is the saving grace of the Buccaneers right now.
Tampa Bay can’t run the ball or stop the run. They can’t stop the deep ball and they can’t rush the passer. They can’t break off long kick returns like they used to, and outside of Sunday’s performance by newbie Robert Malone, the Bucs can’t punt, either.
Yet this team is still 3-2 when most pundits would have figured the Bucs would have had one win at the most entering the sixth game of the season. A big reason why Tampa Bay is not 0-5 or 1-4 right now is the steady and improving play of its second-year quarterback. Freeman’s goal was to accelerate his development and play like a fifth-year quarterback this year and not a second-year QB.
Through five games, Freeman is completing just over 59 percent of his passes. That represents an increase of five percentage points. More importantly, the Bucs’ first-round pick in 2009 has thrown for six touchdowns and only three interceptions. If Freeman were playing like a second-year quarterback this year the Bucs would be hard pressed to win three games this year given the troubles in the running game, the woes on defense and the inconsistency of Tampa Bay’s special teams.WHAT WE LEARNED ABOUT THE BUCCANEERS DEFENSEWe learned the Bucs run defense is awful.
The Saints came into Tampa Bay with the 31st-ranked running game due to the loss of Pierre Thomas and Reggie Bush. The Bucs had the 30th-ranked run defense and had just allowed a running back to rush for at least 143 yards in each of the last two games. Something had to give, and of course it would be Tampa Bay’s porous defense.
No one had heard of Saints running back Chris Ivory before 1:00 p.m. on Sunday, but the Bucs defense made him look like Chris Johnson after allowing him to rush for 158 yards on 15 carries (10.5 avg.). Ivory had an 18-yard run on his first carry and totaled 62 yards on four carries alone on New Orleans’ first half field goal drive. At halftime, Ivory had 81 yards on eight yards (10.1 avg.), and the Saints had rushed for 108 yards on 13 carries (8.3 avg.).
What was so bad about Ivory’s day is that his longest carry was only a 33-yard jaunt in the first half. There was no 70-yard run to skew the stats. Five of Ivory’s runs went for 10 yards or more. That means on average a third of Ivory’s runs picked up an automatic first down. Tampa Bay surrendered seven runs of 10 yards or more on Sunday.
St. Louis running back Steven Jackson, who is more talented than Rashard Mendenhall, Cedric Benson and Ivory, has to be licking his chops with the prospects of facing Tampa Bay on Sunday.We learned the Bucs pass defense is awful.
Tampa Bay’s secondary has produced nine of the team’s 10 interceptions this season, and the Bucs’ 3-1 start has helped mask some suspect coverage. But through five games, Tampa Bay has surrendered nine touchdown passes, including at least one TD pass of 37 yards or more in every contest this year.
Saints quarterback Drew Brees threw a season-high three touchdowns against the Bucs on Sunday. Brees began the game 7-of-7 for 99 yards and a touchdown in the first quarter and his play was so effortless that it was like he was going through a 7-on-7 drill during OTAs (organized team activities). One of those passes was a 41-yard strike to receiver Lance Moore, who beat cornerback Aqib Talib on the play. Although Talib has now surrendered a touchdown pass in the last four games, Morris took the blame after the game.
“We had a bust on that play,” Morris said. “It was a check and he didn’t get it and it was a bust. It was on me. You’d have to put that one on me. It was a bunch of different people. We didn’t get the check, we didn’t get the stuff we needed to get to cover that call. It was a bust. [On the second touchdown] it was a Cover 2 and they got too much time. [Brees] threw the ball to the sideline and was able to hit it in stride. It was a great throw by Drew.”
For the fourth game this year the Bucs defense did not record a sack, and the Bucs only had three legitimate chances to drop Brees. Defensive end Michael Bennett, cornerback Ronde Barber and defensive tackle Gerald McCoy all whiffed when they had a chance to sack Brees.
And what was Morris thinking by blitzing Barber and dropping defensive end Stylez G. White into pass coverage in the third quarter? On third-and-8 from the New Orleans 27, White was trying to cover wide receiver Marques Colston, who eluded the defensive end and picked up a 16-yard gain and a first down.We learned that the Bucs defense in general is awful.
Bucs head coach and defensive coordinator Raheem Morris is fond of saying that stats are for losers, but the stats show the Saints rolled up almost 500 yards and scored 31 points on Tampa Bay. That alone made the Bucs the losers on Sunday.
Just how bad was Tampa Bay’s defense against New Orleans? Consider that the Saints ran 64 plays on offense. If you take away 11 of Drew Brees’ incompletions and his interception, the Saints had 52 plays that either gained yardage or lost yardage via the run or the pass against the Buccaneers. New Orleans picked up 10 yards or more via the run or the pass on a whopping 18 of those 52 plays.
The Saints offense was so overpowering that the Bucs defense only recorded nine plays in which the Saints did not gain at least three yards out of 54 plays – and one of those nine plays was a 1-yard loss when Brees was in the victory formation at the end of the game. That means New Orleans gained three yards or more on 45 plays. No wonder the Bucs surrendered 477 yards to the Saints and gave up 31 points for the second time in the last three games. We learned that the best player on Tampa Bay’s defense right now is Cody Grimm.
This claim is made knowing that Grimm has given up long touchdowns in Cover 2 against Pittsburgh and New Orleans, but the rookie from Virginia Tech is also playing the most sound football. Grimm had four tackles, an interception, a forced fumble and a pass breakup against the Saints, and is the most consistent tackler on a very shoddy tackling football team.
Barber, who had eight stops against New Orleans and is the Bucs’ third-leading tackler and its second-leading interceptor with two, comes in a close second behind Grimm right now.
But what about Tampa Bay’s other supposed stars? Middle linebacker Barrett Ruud continues to miss tackles, can’t get off blocks quick enough and he can’t force enough turnovers. Against the Saints, Ruud only had five tackles, gave up a touchdown catch to fullback Heath Evans in the third quarter and got trucked by Ladell Betts on 6-yard reception in the fourth quarter. The Bucs have had problems stuffing the run for two years now and should seriously consider another option at middle linebacker in 2011.
Talib gave up his fourth touchdown pass in as many games and has just three big plays in the form of interceptions to try and offset those. Talib is actually getting picked on and that shouldn’t happen to Pro Bowl-caliber cornerbacks.
Hayes spends more time crashing gaps and missing tackles, as he did regularly against the Saints, and overrunning plays than he does making plays. Hayes finished the New Orleans game with a pedestrian five tackles and looks far removed from the whirling dervish he was last year when he notched 136 tackles, 14 tackles for loss, three sacks, two interceptions and one forced fumble.
And what about McCoy, the third overall pick of the draft? He got owned by guard Jahari Evans for most of the day and contributed just three tackles against New Orleans to push his season total to 16. And Bucs fans are beginning to be alarmed at the fact that neither McCoy nor second-round pick Brian Price has any sacks while Detroit defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, who was drafted by Detroit with the second overall pick, has 4.5 sacks and an interception in six games.WHAT WE LEARNED ABOUT THE BUCS SPECIAL TEAMSWe learned that the sixth time might be the charm.
The Bucs have gone through six punters over the last 12 months, which is pretty embarrassing, but they may have found a keeper in rookie Robert Malone, who was signed this week. Malone’s first punt traveled 54 yards and was downed at the New Orleans 6-yard line.
His second punt, a 45-yarder, was also a beauty, but the ball bounced inside the 10-yard line after punt returner Lance Moore acted like he was going to field it, but decided not to. The Bucs had a bevy of special teamers around him, but no one behind him to attempt to down the ball inside the 5-yard line.
Malone’s third punt was a good effort, traveling 34 yards and gaining an additional three yards after Moore was tackled for a loss back at the New Orleans 13-yard line midway through the second quarter. Malone averaged a respectable 45.7-yard average and a 40-yard net. He downed two punts inside the 20 and had one unfortunate touchback. So far, so good for Malone.We learned that Connor Barth is man – not a machine.
Barth, who came into Sunday’s game nailing 6-of-6 field goals after hitting all five of his field goal attempts in the preseason, proved to be mortal on Sunday. Both of his field goal attempts hit the right upright, which was a sign that the Bucs simply weren’t destined to beat the Saints.
New Orleans fans probably viewed that as karma (or voodoo) given the fact that Barth nailed a 47-yard game-winner last December at the Superdome in overtime to help the Bucs give the Saints only their third loss of the season, 20-17. New Orleans has had their share of heartache over its own kicking situation. Garrett Hartley missed a fourth quarter field goal against Tampa Bay last year that allowed the Bucs to force overtime, and he’s been inconsistent in 2010. Hartley missed a 33-yard field goal in the third quarter on Sunday.WHAT WE LEARNED ABOUT THE BUCCANEERS FROM THIS LOSSWe learned that Bucs fans should stop whining about blackouts.
Here’s what Tampa Bay fans have missed when the Bucs have played at Raymond James Stadium: A ho-hum season-opening win against Cleveland in Week 1 that was relatively void of big plays that would bring fans out of their seats, and they’ve been spared from seeing two blowout losses to superior teams.
The Bucs might want to petition the league to see if they can play the rest of their games on the road this year as they have a four-game winning streak away from Raymond James Stadium dating back to 2009. Conversely, dating back to the end of the 2007 season, the Bucs are a woeful 2-11 at home over the last 13 games at Raymond James Stadium.
And for those who wonder why the team doesn’t want to continue to buy up empty seats or try to have local businesses forget about the terrible economy and buy up the remaining seats, the paid attendance for the Bucs vs. Saints game was 51,759. That’s 14,098 unsold tickets shy of capacity at Raymond James Stadium, which is 65, 857.We learned that the coordinators called a poor game.
No, I’m not talking about Sean Payton and Gregg Williams, either. I’m talking about Tampa Bay’s play-callers. Raheem Morris and Greg Olson both dialed up some poor plays.
The decision by Olson and the offense to activate only two halfbacks – Williams and Kareem Huggins – was a bad one when fullback Earnest Graham, who is a regular ballcarrier, went down with a hamstring injury in the first quarter and Huggins suffered an ugly knee injury in the third quarter. With Williams averaging 1.8 yards against the Saints, having a big back like Blount or Lumpkin would have been wise.
Tight end Kellen Winslow was not involved in the offense until it was too late. Through the first half, Winslow had just one catch for two yards. Through three quarters, he had two receptions for nine yards. The Bucs tight end came alive in the fourth quarter, catching five passes for 34 yards to finish with seven receptions for 43 yards.
The Bucs’ longest gain of the day was 33 yards, but it took two 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalties by safety Malcolm Jenkins tacked on to a Freeman 3-yard run to produce it. Olson needs to scrap the zone blocking plays because they tend to result in negative runs of runs for no gain.
Morris’ defense was just a mess from the first drive on. The defense allowed scoring drives of 94, 80 and 77 yards in the first half and only had one takeaway. The Bucs didn’t force the Saints to punt, which they did only once, until the fourth quarter. The Bucs couldn’t stop the run, rush the passer or defend the pass that well.We learned that Morris might need to tailor down his defensive packages.
Over the past two games the Bucs’ 3-3-5 Redskin package, which has been used nearly as much as the 4-3 front, just hasn’t produced any favorable results. Through five games, the Bucs have just one sack from the 3-3-5 alignment, which features McCoy playing defensive end rather than the defensive tackle position he excelled at in college. He is still playing the three technique, but going against tackles rather than guards.
Morris sees the advantage to playing multiple defensive fronts to keep opponents off balance, but with so many young players such as McCoy, defensive tackle Brian Price, cornerbacks E.J. Biggers and Myron Lewis getting playing time, it may be too much to fast. Listening to McCoy after the game, it sounded like his head was swimming about all of the assignments he has to execute.
Also, Ruud and Hayes don’t seem to be making too many plays against the run or the pass.
While the theory is that offensive linemen have to spend a lot of time studying the film for tendencies of various Bucs defensive personnel they could be lined up against, the same holds true for Tampa Bay’s young defenders. McCoy has to not only study two guards while playing the 4-3, he also has to study the tendencies of a right tackle and even a left tackle when he plays the 3-4 defense.
Looking back there was something about the way former Bucs head coach Tony Dungy would stay the course of running the same base defense with a few wrinkles for each game, and not wavering until the hundreds of repetitions in practice began to take hold and the defense improved. Former Bucs defensive line coach Rod Marinelli was famous for having his linemen keep doing the same drills out of the same position and not moving defensive linemen around so that they could get used to and perfect their techniques. Perhaps it’s time for Morris, who grew up in the Tampa 2 system, to go old school with a “less is best” approach to help improve the pass rush and the run defense.We learned that the Bucs vs. Rams game will decide Tampa Bay’s fate.
The upstart Rams are 3-3 and will be bringing a Pro Bowl-caliber running back to Raymond James Stadium on Sunday. Of course that really doesn’t matter as Betty White could probably tag the Buccaneers run defense for 110 yards right now.
The Bucs have proven three things this year through five games. First, it is not in the heavyweight division. Tampa Bay has been trounced at home by the defending Super Bowl champion Saints and Pittsburgh by a combined score of 69-19.
Second, it can beat up the lightweights. The Bucs have victories over winless Carolina and Cleveland, which is 1-5.
Third, it can hang with the middleweights. Tampa Bay rallied to win on the road at Cincinnati against a 2-3 Bengals team. The Bucs will get another chance at a team that like Tampa Bay that is tottering between lightweight and middleweight status. If the Bucs win, they will be 4-2 and have a shot at a .500 record or a surprise chance at the postseason because their schedule is littered with similar lightweight-middleweight teams.
But if the Bucs can’t beat the Rams at home, five or six wins may be all this young, rebuilding team is capable of doing this year as it remains in the lightweight category.
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