Pewter Report's Scott Reynolds offers up some analysis and observations from Tampa Bay's come-from-behind, 18-17 victory against St. Louis, which allowed the Bucs to improve to 4-2 on the season heading into next Sunday's game at Arizona on Halloween.WHAT WE LEARNED ABOUT THE BUCS OFFENSE• We learned that Josh Freeman is the man.
Although we kind of knew that, didn’t we? Freeman is not just becoming a franchise QB. He is blossoming into becoming an elite NFL quarterback before our eyes. Freeman has just 15 career starts, but already has five come-from-behind, fourth quarter wins under his belt, including Sunday’s 18-17 victory over St. Louis.
What is allowing him to have such a successful second year is the fact that he has seven touchdowns and just three interceptions through six games with a QB rating of 82.8. He is on pace to throw 18 touchdowns and only eight picks this year. Any quarterback in the league would gladly take a 3:1 TD to INT ratio, and that’s what Freeman has thus far in 2010.
Freeman also scrambled for 40 yards on five carries and now has 154 yards rushing on 23 carries (6.7 avg.). Last year, he rushed 30 times for 161 yards (5.4 avg.) and will undoubtedly eclipse that total next game. Who knows? He may out-rush Williams this season. After rushing for 12 yards on four carries against St. Louis, Williams now has just 202 yards rushing on 80 carries (2.5 avg.).• We learned that the Bucs just found their new starting running back.
It only took head coach Raheem Morris and offensive coordinator Greg Olson a month to figure out what Pewter Report already knew after Tampa Bay’s 38-13 loss to Pittsburgh. Undrafted free agent rookie LeGarrette Blount is the most physically talented running back on Tampa Bay’s roster. All he needed was a chance to prove that, which he (finally!) received on Sunday.
Cadillac Williams had rushed for just two yards on three carries in the first half and was off to his typical cold start. And after rushing once for six yards in the second quarter, Olson (finally!) leaned on Blount in the second half and the former Oregon star delivered.
His first run in the third quarter went for eight yards. Blount’s next carry picked up three yards and a first down, but was negated by a penalty. Three plays later, he had a 9-yard run, followed by a 12-yard jaunt. Near the end of the third quarter, Blount ripped off a tackle-breaking, Ram-dragging 17-yard run. Unfortunately for the Bucs, his 46-yard run in the fourth quarter was wiped out due to an illegal block above the waist penalty by right tackle Jeremy Trueblood. He still finished the game with 72 yards on 11 carries (6.5 avg.).
In 80 carries this year, Williams has just three runs that have picked up 10 yards or more, including a 10-yard gain on a draw on Sunday. In just 21 carries during his rookie campaign, Blount already has three carries of 10 yards or more, including two against St. Louis. With Williams averaging just 2.5 yards per carry through six games, there is no doubt that Blount, who is averaging 4.9 yards per carry, should be used to run the football.
On Monday, Olson said that Williams is the best running back on the team until somebody beats him out. On Sunday, Blount did just that, showing more speed, more burst and the ability to step out of tackles, power through tackles and break tackles against the Rams.
“I’m excited,” Morris said. “You can’t say enough about the young man and I wish they hadn’t taken that big run away from him. He runs hard, he runs resilient, and he runs tough. He’s kind of a symbol of our football team and some of the good things that we talk about. He’s young. He’s in the fight. He’s playing fast. He’s playing hard. He’s learning every single day.”• We learned that Cadillac Williams should be the third down back.
What is wrong with the Bucs running game – the offensive line or Cadillac Williams? In Sunday’s 18-17 victory over St. Louis, one of the greatest mysteries in Tampa Bay was solved. It wasn’t the line.
Yes, the line did block a bit better in the second half after a dreadful first half, but Blount also made quite a few things happen on his own and broke a dozen or so tackles on Sunday, which is something Williams has struggled to do – evidenced by his 2.5-yard rushing average this season. What Williams excelled at was catching the ball as he led the team with eight receptions for 34 yards and one touchdown, including five on the last drive.
Williams has become a much better receiver over the years and is the best back when it comes to pass protection. Just like Michael Pittman had to do when Williams burst onto the scene in 2005 as the featured runner, Cadillac needs to become the team’s third down back and let Blount be the primary ballcarrier. Williams’ 2.5-yard per carry is proof that he no longer has what it takes to be a lead running back in the NFL. But his clutch touchdown reception shows that he still has what it takes to make plays in the passing game.
“LeGarrette Blount was able to get us rushing yards today. Cadillac made some big-time catches today and actually scored the game-winning touchdown,” Morris said. “Everybody has a role right now for us and we’re not going to play the game of fighting daggers and throwing stones for who’s going to run out of the tunnel. I think this team just has to win. I think that’s the most important value for us.”• We learned that the offensive line can step up when it has to.
After allowing Freeman to get sacked three times in the first half, totaling 87 yards and creating barely enough room in the running game for the backs to rush for just eight yards on five carries through the first 30 minutes, the offensive line stepped up. In the second half, Tampa Bay’s offense generated 226 yards, Freeman wasn’t sacked once and Blount and Williams were able to rush for a combined 76 yards on 10 carries (7.6 avg.).
On the Bucs’ final drive, which covered 81 yards, who would have thought that it would be Donald Penn, Davin Joseph, Jeremy Zuttah, Ted Larsen and James Lee leading Tampa Bay to victory? Only Penn and Joseph were regular starters.
Zuttah has done a really good job in place of Jeff Faine at center and looks more apt to play that position instead of guard. Larsen, a rookie, played admirably well in place of veteran left guard Keydrick Vincent. The same could be said for Lee, a veteran backup who saw action as an extra tight end throughout the game and then filled in for the injured Jeremy Trueblood on the final drive.
“I’m really proud of all our guys, they just kept fighting,” Freeman said. “Rough day, from a penalty standpoint. We’d get a drive going and then a penalty would set us back. Kellen [Winslow] on that fourth down, and we had [Ted] Larsen, a rookie, making his first career start. He did a good job. James Lee came in at the end of the game and he also stepped up and did a good job.”WHAT WE LEARNED ABOUT THE BUCS DEFENSE• We learned that cornerback Ronde Barber is the Bucs’ best tackler this year.
The 35-year old Barber has had a tremendous season thus far with two key interceptions, several quarterback hurries and some surefire tackling. Although middle linebacker Barrett Ruud led Tampa Bay with 11 on Sunday against St. Louis, Barber was next with 10, including nine solo stops.
Barber masterfully wrapped up Steven Jackson’s legs multiple times at or near the line of scrimmage to prevent him from getting a head of steam and getting to the second level. Jackson rushed 22 times for 110 yards, but was held to just 36 in the second half.
At first glance, you might cringe knowing that a cornerback is second on the team in tackles, but Barber is no ordinary corner. In fact, in nickel situations, Barber becomes more of a third linebacker rather than a slot corner. Through six games, Ruud leads the team with 60 tackles, while Barber is next with 48. But Ruud has missed his share of tackles, while Barber appears to be steadier in bringing down ballcarriers.• We learned that the Bucs still can’t sack the quarterback.
Somehow the Bucs managed to sack Bradford in the first quarter, which snapped a three-game streak in which Tampa Bay failed to record a sack. Defensive end Stylez G. White appeared to do the honors, and while his sack-fumble of Bradford was verified by instant replay, it sure seemed to this observer that the rookie passer’s right arm was going forward upon impact and that it should have been ruled an incomplete pass.
“We’ve been saying to each other on the d-line, get off the ball, we get off the field, cause destruction,” White said. “We’re just trying to make it happen, and came up with a sack. We still have to get more sacks, we only had one but we’ll take it.”
After that questionable sack by White, who has two and is tied with Tim Crowder for the team lead, the Bucs unfortunately didn’t get too close to Bradford the rest of the game, especially in the pocket.• We learned that cornerback Aqib Talib is in a funk.
No, Talib didn’t give up any touchdowns on Sunday, but it was surprising to see St. Louis and rookie quarterback Sam Bradford challenge Talib and target him on the first offensive play of the game. That doesn't happen to Pro Bowl-caliber cornerbacks. Talib has three interceptions on the season to lead the Bucs, but has also dropped a couple of interceptions this year. He had two surefire interception opportunities that were missed on Sunday as the ball bounced out of his hands twice.
Although he only gave up a few catches in the passing game, something just seems kind of off about Talib’s play lately. Dropping interceptions is not going to help improve his confidence, either.• We learned that E.J. Biggers can flat out play.
Biggers was usually charged with the responsibility of covering wide receiver Brandon Gibson on Sunday, and was targeted by the Rams. He finished the game allowing just a few catches, including only one by Gibson, and had one tackle and a team-high two pass break-ups, including a diving effort while covering Gibson with 10:23 left in the second quarter.
It was interesting to note that on third-and-1 from the Tampa Bay 20, Biggers was the boundary corner on the field along with Barber, not Talib, who was on the sidelines. Biggers now has six pass breakups to lead the team. Not bad for a part-time defender, who is turning out to be an absolute steal by Bucs director of college scouting Dennis Hickey and the front office, who drafted Biggers in the seventh round in 2009.• We learned that Gerald McCoy hasn’t turned the corner yet.
On Wednesday, McCoy spoke to the media and essentially said that he had a revelation on Monday about what head coach and defensive coordinator Raheem Morris wanted out of him and how he was expected to play the three technique defensive tackle. Well if McCoy supposedly knew exactly what to do, he didn’t show it on Sunday.
The third overall pick in the 2010 NFL Draft disappointed with just two tackles and was not the disruptive force that three technique defensive tackles are supposed to be. McCoy has now gone six games without a sack and didn’t come close to getting to Bradford on Sunday.
When McCoy did penetrate the backfield against the run, he seemed to lack the change of direction ability or pursuit speed necessary to make a play in the backfield. It’s way too early in his career to start calling McCoy a bust, but that talk – warranted or not – will begin soon. He certainly hasn’t shown that he’s a first-round-caliber talent yet, especially one worth taking with the third overall pick. WHAT WE LEARNED ABOUT THE BUCS SPECIAL TEAMS• We learned that Connor Barth is back to his old self.
After a two-kick hiccup last week in which both of his field goal attempts hit the right upright, Barth was back to nailing every single one of his kicks. That’s what he did in the preseason when he went 5-of-5, and that’s what he did during the first four games when he made 6-of-6 field goal attempts.
Barth was a hero on Sunday, accounting for all of Tampa Bay’s 12 points outside of the game-winning touchdown that came with 10 seconds left. Barth was perfect on a career-high four field goals, drilling kicks from 35, 38, 39 and a season-long 53-yarder, which was a yard shy of tying his career-long of 54 yards. Through six games, Barth has made 10-of-12 field goals (83.3 percent).• We learned that Tampa Bay may have found its punter.
In his second NFL game, rookie Robert Malone averaged 40 yards per punt and had a net of 35.5 against St. Louis. But more importantly, Malone showed he had a booming leg, nailing a career-long 55-yarder versus the Rams a week after launching a 54-yarder against the Saints.
Dangerous punt returner Danny Amendola was held in check with 18 return yards on two punts, and Malone had one touchback and forced a fair catch. Through two games, Malone is averaging 42.4 yards with a 37.4-yard net, and has three punts downed inside the 20 with just one touchback.WHAT WE LEARNED ABOUT THE BUCCANEERS FROM THIS VICTORY• We learned that nothing phases Morris’ team.
Sometimes ignorance is bliss, and this young Tampa Bay team is full of ignorance, which is a good thing. Getting blown out at home by New Orleans the previous week? No big deal. Having a miserable first half filled with penalties, blown opportunities on offense and lackluster defense? Just shrug it off.
“It was the worst first half of football I’ve ever been a part of in a long, long time,” running back Cadillac Williams said. “It was just unreal the way we started, but to have a chance to win it at the end, you have to tip your hat to the defense. Those guys did a great job of getting three-and-out and getting the ball back to us.”
Nothing really sticks with this Teflon-coated Tampa Bay team. It’s amazing to see such a young team continue to hang around games and then flip the switch at the end when it needs to and turn on the defense to get the stops and turn on the offense to get the points.
“I don’t know where the credit comes from or goes to for our resiliency, but we’ve got it,” Barber said. “We’re a young football team that doesn’t like to lose and comes back when we have to.”• We learned that the Bucs can beat two opponents on the same Sunday.
Not only did the Bucs overcome the Rams at the end of the game, they also overcame themselves. The first rule in football is “don’t beat yourself.”
That was a rule that was not only broken on Sunday, it was obliterated as the Bucs nearly killed themselves with a season-high 12 penalties for 92 yards. Yet Tampa Bay stopped beating itself and started to beat St. Louis when it mattered most, and that’s the sign of a winner. It’s safe to say that if the Bucs had only had a fourth of those penalties like usual, they beat the Rams by 10 points or more on Sunday.
This Tampa Bay team is talented. The only thing holding it back is a combination of untimely youth, inexperience and self-destruction, but you would expect that from the third-youngest team in the NFL. When this team matures and begins executing on a more consistent basis – look out.• We learned that tight end Jerramy Stevens might not be wearing red and pewter much longer.
After getting arrested for allegedly possessing enough marijuana to be charged with the intent to distribute on Saturday night, the Bucs won without their backup tight end on Sunday. Don’t be surprised to see general manager Mark Dominik release the 30-year old Stevens, who is no longer a featured part of the offense and is not known for his blocking.
“That’s not our teammate, man, that’s our brother,” fellow tight end John Gilmore said. “We went out there to represent the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and he wouldn’t have wanted that any other way. He [texted] me and Kellen [Winslow] in the morning and said, ‘Go out there and ball.’ He wasn’t concerned about what he had going on, he was concerned about this team. That’s the type of guy he is.”
Uh, no. If Stevens was so concerned about his team he would have been at the team hotel on Saturday night getting mentally prepared to play the Rams in a key game – not allegedly driving around Tampa with a bunch of pot in his car. With rookie Erik Lorig doing well thus far at fullback and tight end and with Ryan Purvis on the practice squad, Dominik has enough options to avoid a public relations hit on a controversial player with a checkered past and move on.• We learned that at 4-2 anything is possible for the Buccaneers.
Morris boldly said after the game that Tampa Bay is the best team in the NFC.
“Well, our record speaks to that, doesn’t it?” said Barber.
Not quite. The Bucs are just behind NFC South rival Atlanta, which is atop the NFC with a 5-2 record. Tampa Bay, the New York Giants and Seattle all are 4-2 to start the season. The Bucs' four wins eclipses their victory total from a year ago when the team finished with a terrible 3-13 record.
Don’t be too concerned that three out of the next four games are on the road. The Bucs are actually 4-0 in the last four road contests dating back to last year when Tampa Bay triumphed at Seattle and at New Orleans. This year, the Bucs have knocked off the Panthers and Bengals away from Raymond James Stadium.
Right now the Bucs have plenty of momentum and with three of their four victories coming in comeback fashion, there is an ultra-high level of confidence in the Tampa Bay locker room.
“If you interview anyone from last year, man, we’re just tired of losing,” Gilmore said. “That’s not a feeling you want. That’s not the type of feeling you want around the building. You want a winning attitude. Winning is contagious and so is losing. To be off to a 4-2 start, that gives us the chance to be better and do some big things this year.”
Just how big will depend on how they fare on the road in the coming month. Tampa Bay will need to continue to greatly improve its pass rush and its run defense, which surrendered 161 yards on the ground on Sunday after coming into the Rams game worst in the league by allowing an average of 157 yards. The Bucs can’t continue to live this dangerously and come away with last-minute wins. Or can they?
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.