Halfway through the 2010 football season and the Bucs are on track for Raheem’s “Race to Ten”. The Bucs have seen some great performances out of their young players, exciting finishes and at the very least have become an exciting team to watch.
Second Quarter Record: 2-2
Overall Record: 5-3
While the second quarter of the season saw losses to the Steelers and Falcons along with a pair of nail-biting victories, Tampa Bay stayed in contention in the NFC and they on track to play meaningful games in December.
Most Valuable Player: Josh Freeman, Quarterback
What else can be said about Josh Freeman, or as I like to call him – the Freechise? Four fourth quarter comeback victories already on the season and he’s on pace for 3,444 yards, 20 touchdown passes and only 10 ints.
Freeman continues to add new elements (and highlights) each week he plays. If there’s anyone in Tampa Bay worth the price of admission, it’s definitely Josh.
Offensive Player of the Half: Mike Williams, Wide Receiver
Giving Freeman a big time target, Williams has exploded on the scene in Tampa Bay. On pace for 72 receptions, 1118 yds and 10 touchdowns as a rookie, Williams has given the Bucs a big play threat in the passing game they’ve never possessed.
Defensive Player of the Half: Aqib Talib, cornerback
While has made the impact on defense Talib has. While admittingly starting the first quarter of the season off slowly, Talib has put it together in recent weeks and has emerged as the playmaker on the defense while containing the top weapons he’s going up against.
With 24 tackles, 5 interceptions (including one for a touchdown), Talib’s making a run for the Pro Bowl.
Special Teams Player of the Half: Michael Spurlock, Kick Returner
Now that the Preston Parker as a kick returner experiment appears to be over, Spurlock has shown why he is deadly in the return game. He nearly had two kickoff returns for touchdowns in Atlanta (he settled for one) and he’s averaging 27.5 yards a return – ranking him 6th in the NFL among returners with at least 20 attempts.
Most Improved Player of the Half: Cody Grimm, Safety
When Tanard Jackson was suspended again by the NFL, things looked bleak for the Buccaneers secondary. Instead of moving vet Sabby Piscitelli to FS to fill the hole, the Bucs opted to try rookie 7th round draft pick Cody Grimm.
After a rough outing against Pittsburgh, Grimm has shown excellent instincts and a nose for the football, ranking fifth on the team with 42 tackles (31 solo) and two interceptions – one returned for a crucial pick six against Cincinnati.
Most Disappointing Player of the Half: The entire Bucs defensive line
Six sacks in eight games, a 30th ranked run defense giving up 147 yards a game – there’s no part of their game the Bucs’ defensive line can hang their hat on and say, “There – we’re pretty good at that.”
Gerald McCoy has been slow coming around but is improving. It’s unfair to compare him to Detroit’s Defensive Rookie of the Year candidate in Ndamukong Suh. Suh has players like Kyle Vanden Bosch and Cliff Avril helping him out.
McCoy has no players alongside him that would start for any other team in the NFL.
This is where the “Let’s go young” philosophy has failed the Buccaneers. A veteran defensive end like Vanden Bosch or Aaron Kampman could have done wonders for the learning curve of McCoy.
Instead, he’s left to figure it out by himself surrounded by other youngsters trying to do the same.
Rookie of the Half: Mike Williams, Wide Receiver
Every single week, we see a new aspect of Mike Williams’ game that just has to invigorate the fan base. He’s made clutch catches, spectacular plays, and simply put – the number one guy for Josh Freeman. When it’s all said and done, Freeman-to-Williams may be whispered among some of the great connections in NFL lore.
To get there, Williams is going to need to stop with the annoying drops early in games. Drops derailed the once promising career of another former Buc wideout - who we’ll just call number 80 for fear of bringing his negative energy into Mike’s game – so it’s something that he needs to nip in the bud.
Then again, T.O. has been in the league forever and still has those drops. He’s not too bad of a football player.
Best Game of the Half: Tampa Bay 38, Arizona 35
Winning this game was an unbelievable accomplishment for this young football team. Granted, Arizona is not the same team that won the NFC a couple years ago, but heading out to the west coast and blowing a 17 point lead in a matter of minutes…most young teams would fold their tent.
Not this team or their franchise quarterback. Freeman strapped his team on his back for the fourth time this year, giving the Bucs the leading score and his defense held on to the lead to get a crucial 5th win, setting the stage for an exciting second half of the season.
Worst Game of the Half: New Orleans 31, Tampa Bay 6
Worse than Pittsburgh, where the Bucs just had a lot of bad luck go against them, the Saints came in, took the Bucs’ measuring stick and beat them over the head with it. Total domination from start to finish, the Saints outclassed the Bucs – even with a banged up running game.
When some guy named Chris Ivory runs for over a buck fifty against you, you’re getting your backside handed to you.
Best Coaching Move: Making LaGarrette Blount the primary ball carrier
Blount has proven, at least in the short term, to be the beastly power back we all hoped he would become. Now getting the majority of the carries, Blount has zoomed past starter Cadillac Williams to lead the team with 268 yards on the ground and 3 touchdowns.
Worst Coaching Move: Starting games with Cadillac Williams at running back
Look, we all comprehend that Blount doesn’t understand the blocking schemes well enough to be an every down back. That was painfully evident in the first half of the Atlanta game when a linebacker came in scott free and drilled Freeman in the back.
But what is the point of starting Carnell Williams? You’re all but guaranteeing a short opening drive with Caddy in the game (unless you throw the majority of the drive) and you don’t get an opportunity to dictate the running game to your opponent early and often.
One carry for LaGarrette Blount in the first half of the Atlanta game is ridiculous.
Reasons for Hope: This young team believes in itself, its quarterback and its coach. They still have a favorable schedule down the stretch and if they continue to beat the teams they should, there’s no reason the Buccaneers shouldn’t be playing meaningful games in December.
Reasons for Suicide Watch: Despite coming very close in Atlanta, the Bucs still haven’t beaten a team with a winning record.
Record Prediction: 10-6
With the emergence of the running game and a favorable schedule, I indeed believe that the Buccaneers are capable of succeeding in Coach Morris’ goal of a race to ten.
The Bucs are starting to do a bit better against the run but they need to improve and finding a pass rush wouldn’t be a bad idea, either.
Freeman, Williams, Blount, and the rest of the youngsters on offense need to continue to get better. That’s what’s so exciting about this team, folks. They’re only going to get better.
Stay thirsty for Bucs football, my friends.