Here are some observations and analysis from Pewter Report's Scott Reynolds following Tampa Bay's 21-0 shutout win at San Francisco.
WHAT WE LEARNED ABOUT THE BUCS OFFENSEWe learned that Josh Franchise should be in the national media spotlight.
Welcome to the party, Mark Sanchez. You’re late.
Good for you, Sanchez. You’ve got two back-to-back come-from-behind wins under your belt. Freeman, Tampa Bay’s franchise QB, already did that back in Weeks 5-6 at Cincinnati and at home against St. Louis. In fact, Freeman, who was 13-of-20 for 136 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions, has led the Bucs to four comeback wins in the fourth quarter this year en route to a 7-3 record, which is identical to the Jets’ mark after 10 games.
Sanchez has been getting entirely too much love from Sports Illustrated’s Peter King and others while the national media virtually ignores the play of Freeman, who doesn’t have the luxury of being surrounded by experienced veterans on offense and defense like Sanchez is. Of course Sanchez plays for the media darling New York Jets, while Freeman plays down south in a mid-market town like Tampa. Yet, let’s compare the two first-round quarterbacks from the 2009 season and see how they stack up.
In 2010, Sanchez has completed 185-of-336 of his passes (55.1 percent) for 2,306 yards with 15 touchdowns and seven interceptions and a QB rating of 82.8. Meanwhile, Freeman has more favorable stats, completing 177-of-290 passes (61 percent) for 2,099 yards with 14 touchdowns, five interceptions and a QB rating of 92. Freeman is a more accurate quarterback with a six-percent better completion percentage, two less interceptions and a QB rating nearly 10 points higher than Sanchez’s.
Sanchez has scored two rushing touchdowns, but is only averaging 3.0 yards per carry with 54 yards on 18 totes. Freeman, who should be getting serious Pro Bowl and MVP consideration, is the NFL’s best running quarterback not named Michael Vick, and has rushed for 236 yards on 39 carries, an average of 6.1 yards per carry.
I’d love to see King or another national writer with high-level contacts in every NFL front office ask general managers and head coaches which young, rising star they would like to quarterback their team if they had to choose? I’m guessing the size of the 6-foot-6, 255-pound Freeman compared to the 6-foot-2, 225-pound build of Sanchez would greatly tip the scales towards Freeman, in addition to the enhanced mobility, greater accuracy and the moxie and savvy of the former Kansas State product. I think the choice would be 2:1 in favor of Josh Franchise.We learned that the Bucs made the right call in letting Mike Williams play on Sunday.
Tampa Bay’s fourth-round draft pick, who is leading all rookies in receiving yards (681), receiving average (15.8) and is tied for the lead with receiving touchdowns (six), was arrested early Friday morning for suspicion of DUI. After the team captains, coaches and front office huddled together Friday afternoon, it was determined that the case against Williams, who blew under the legal limit in a breathalyzer, might be flimsy and that he had not been found guilty of anything yet.
So Williams was allowed to travel with the team and it paid off in Tampa Bay’s 21-0 victory in San Francisco as the Syracuse product delivered three catches for 54 yards, including a 33-yard reception, which was the longest play of the day for either team. Williams has flashed his speed and his clutch hands in the end zone before, but also showed he could make some great adjustments to underthrown balls.
The 33-yard pass from Freeman came against double coverage by safety Dashon Goldson and cornerback Shawntae Spencer, and the 8-yard touchdown catch saw Spencer get flagged for pass interference as he mugged Williams in the end zone while Freeman, who was immediately pressured by defensive end Justin Smith and had to get off a quick, fluttering toss. Both passes were underthrown and yet Williams effortlessly hauled them in.
With just six games left in 2010, Williams is on pace to finish with 1,089 receiving yards and is just slightly ahead of Dallas’ Dez Bryant in terms of most rookie receiver statistics.We learned that good things happen when Donald Penn is in California.
Penn stayed away from One Buccaneer Place this offseason in a contract dispute, remaining in his home state of California where he worked out daily with a personal trainer to shed close to 40 pounds. His holdout worked as Penn was rewarded with a lucrative, long-term contract extension and he made it to training camp in time for the first day of practice.
On Sunday, in his home state, Penn caught the first pass intentionally thrown his way. If you recall, Penn caught a deflected pass last year at Philadelphia and trucked 15 yards with the ball, picking up a first down against the Eagles. At San Francisco, Penn was a tackle eligible on a play on third-and-goal from the 1 and hauled in a play-action pass from Freeman. Penn showed off his athleticism and great hands by making a nice, fingertip catch for his first career touchdown.
Penn, who also held his first charity football clinic in his hometown of Playa Del Ray this summer, had a golden moment in the Golden State on Sunday – and he wasn’t the only one. For the first time this season, the Bucs offensive line was not flagged for a single penalty, and helped Tampa Bay rush for 162 yards and hold a 36:24 to 23:36 time of possession advantage on Sunday against the 49ers.
We learned to expect a highlight reel run from LeGarrette Blount every week. First it was the hurdle on a 48-yard run in Arizona three weeks ago. Then it was the 360-spin-dive last week against Carolina. On Sunday in San Francisco, Blount provided yet another highlight with yet another hurdle, this time at the expense of safety Reggie Smith during a 16-yard run into the 49ers red zone.
But that wasn’t Blount’s only highlight run. He also escaped the arm tackle of defensive end Ray McDonald, ripped off an 11-yard run before delivering a left forearm smash to the face of outside linebacker Parys Harrelson, who was immediately knocked to the ground. Harrelson felt the “Blount Force” in full effect.
That run displayed the power and brute force that Blount possesses. The rookie sensation rushed for 82 yards on 26 carries (3.2 avg.) and his 441 yards on 101 carries trails only New Orleans’ Chris Ivory (481 yards) among first-year players. Blount is on pace to rush for 819 yards this season, and his four rushing touchdowns is tied with Detroit’s Jahvid Best for the most among rookies.We learned Cadillac Williams is thriving in a role as a complementary back.
After picking up a 10-yard gain and scoring a 45-yard touchdown on draws on a pair of third down situations last week against Carolina, Williams scored a 6-yard touchdown off another draw play against San Francisco. The Bucs had used a similar play where left guard Ted Larsen pulls to the right to clear the way for Williams, but on Sunday, Williams didn’t follow Larsen and improvised once he saw inside linebacker Patrick Willis commit to follow the pulling guard.
Williams saw Willis’ initial movement and cut back inside the left of center Jeff Faine. That caught Willis flat-footed and he wasn’t able to make the tackle at the 1-yard line as Williams scored and finished the day with 51 yards on seven carries, including a 26-yarder.
The Bucs’ have been getting a nice, 1-2 punch from Blount and Williams over the last games as Tampa Bay has produced a combined total of 348 yards rushing and three touchdowns in wins over Carolina and San Francisco.We learned that Josh Johnson is becoming a factor on offense.
Credit offensive coordinator Greg Olson for making the most out of Tampa Bay’s roster – even getting some production from the backup quarterback. But the athletic Johnson is not just a backup QB, he’s the Bucs’ designated Wildcat quarterback and he saw action on three plays on Sunday in San Francisco – and all three picked up first downs.
After rushing for a 14-yard run and a first down on a QB sweep last week against Carolina, Johnson ripped off a 7-yard run on second-and-7 at the end of the first quarter. Then he took a shotgun snap and threw a 7-yard pass to wide receiver Arrelious Benn on second-and-5 in the second quarter. In the third quarter, Johnson lined up at receiver and ran a clear out for tight end Kellen Winslow, who caught a 10-yard pass on third-and-7.
Johnson has participated in four plays on offense over the last two games and the Bucs have picked up a first down on every one of those snaps. Olson deserves a lot of praise for finding ways to incorporate a backup quarterback, who typically holds a clipboard, into the offense and getting production out of Johnson on every play. Johnson now has three carries for 32 yards (10.7 avg.) and has completed 10-of-12 passes (83.3 percent) for 88 yards and a QB rating of 97.2.WHAT WE LEARNED ABOUT THE BUCS DEFENSEWe learned that Ronde Barber has too much history to make to retire in 2011.
The 35-year old cornerback intercepted his 40th career pass on Sunday in San Francisco, becoming the only player in NFL history to notch 40 INTs and post at least 25 sacks. Barber has 26 sacks and takes just as much pride in tackling quarterbacks as he does picking them off.
Barber is probably too humble to admit it, but deep down becoming the only NFL cornerback, defensive back and player to notch 40 interceptions and 30 sacks has to be alluring. That would all but cement his Hall of Fame status.
Tampa Bay’s all-time leading interceptor is in the final year of his contract, but despite the fact that the team is in the midst of a youth movement, Barber knows he has a place on Raheem Morris’ roster next year if he wants one. The tough, instinctive Barber is playing his role as cornerback and quasi-linebacker in nickel defense quite well. He is tied for second on the team with 68 tackles, has eight pass breakups, five tackles for loss, three picks, one sack and one forced fumble on the year.
In his 14th year, Barber is fighting Father Time – and kicking his butt. The Bucs would be wise to sign him to a one- or two-year contract extension at season’s end. With young corners like Aqib Talib, Elbert Mack, E.J. Biggers and Myron Lewis on the roster, Barber’s continued wisdom and leadership by example will only accelerate the learning curve of those players.We learned that the Bucs defensive line could get to the quarterback – and dominate the line of scrimmage.
Simply put, Tampa Bay’s defensive line won Sunday’s game at San Francisco and was instrumental in the Bucs shutting out the 49ers 21-0. The defensive line recorded five of the Bucs’ season-high six sacks of quarterback Troy Smith.
Smith, who was sacked five times last week at St. Louis, was sacked in the first quarter by defensive end Michael Bennett, who led Tampa Bay in sacks in the preseason. We saw Bennett’s athleticism in full display as he dove for the scrambling Smith and grabbed him around the legs for a 2-yard loss on first down at the start of San Francisco’s second offensive possession. The sack was a product of a great interior rush by nose tackle Roy Miller, who applied pressure up the middle.
For Miller, it might have been his best game as a Buccaneer. The second-year nose tackle knifed in the backfield to make a 4-yard tackle for loss in the first quarter and finished with three tackles and caused plenty of disruption. Miller also drew a 10-yard holding penalty on center David Baas in the third quarter.
Rookie defensive tackles Gerald McCoy and Al Woods combined to get the second sack of the first quarter, which was the first QB capture of their respective NFL careers. Second-year defensive end Alex Magee stopped tight end Delany Walker on an end around for a 3-yard gain and also recorded his first sack as a Buccaneer.
Veteran Stylez G. White got into the act as well, recording a solo sack and splitting a fourth quarter sack with McCoy. White now leads the team with 4.5 sacks.
The only game that came close to this type of performance by the defensive line was at Carolina, but that was mostly in the second half when three of the team’s four sacks took place. Against San Francisco, Tampa Bay’s defensive line started off dominant against the run and the pass, and played a huge role in allowing just 64 yards in the first half and 189 yards in the entire game.
For the first time all season, Tampa Bay’s defense recorded a shutout in the first half, and the defensive line played a huge role in that feat by harassing Smith from the first quarter on and not letting up. The Bucs now have 14 sacks on the season with nearly half of them coming against San Francisco.We learned the Bucs can stop the run.
That’s not a typo, although it may be an anomaly as it’s only happened once this year, but Tampa Bay did hold the 49ers to 71 yards rushing on 19 carries. And most of that rushing yardage was Smith scrambling for his life (five carries, 45 yards).
Frank Gore is a formidable NFL runner and was held to a harmless 23 carries on 12 yards (1.9 avg.). The defensive line was stout against the run, shedding blocks and filling their gaps, while free safety Cody Grimm was as effective as ever as an in-the-box run stuffer.
Here are each of Gore’s 12 carries:
Not a carry over 10 yards, six carries for less than three yards, including two runs for negative yardage. In his first five carries, Gore rushed for three yards. What’s the best way to stop a big-time running back? Not let him get started, and that’s exactly what the Bucs did on Sunday.We learned that Adam Hayward is more than a special teamer.
Hayward got a rare start on defense for the Buccaneers in place of the injured Quincy Black at strongside linebacker and made the most of it. Like last week, Hayward split time with rookie Dekoda Watson at Sam linebacker, but his strong performance last week against Carolina earned him the start.
Things started off a bit dubious for the sixth-round pick in the 2007 NFL Draft when Hayward was flagged for a personal foul for roughing the passer. But he came right back and recovered a fumble forced by Geno Hayes on the next play.
En route to recording two tackles and a tackle for loss against San Francisco, Hayward dropped Smith for a 3-yard sack, the first of his NFL career. Hayward had the best game of his four-year career on defense on Sunday and his rise up the Bucs’ depth chart continues.WHAT WE LEARNED ABOUT THE BUCS SPECIAL TEAMSWe learned that rookie Robert Malone might be a keeper.
It took Bucs general manager Mark Dominik awhile to find kicker Connor Barth on the waiver wire, and it seems after six punters in two years, that Dominik has found a good one in Malone, a rookie from Fresno State.
Malone had only his second touchback this season against the 49ers, but that came on a season-long and career-high 61-yard punt from the Tampa Bay 39. Malone’s punt dropped inside the 10-yard, but wide receiver Maurice Stovall was unable to down the ball inside the 1-yard line.
Malone also handled a poor snap from Andrew Economos in the fourth quarter and still got off a 39-yard punt down to the San Francisco 9-yard line. He finished the day with a 39.4-yard average and a 32.2-yard net with two touchbacks. On the season, Malone is averaging 41.6 yards per punt with a 36-yard net. He also has nine punts downed inside the 20 and only two touchbacks in his rookie campaign.WHAT WE LEARNED ABOUT THIS BUCCANEERS VICTORYWe learned that the race to 10 is on ... like Donkey Kong.
Admit it. When Morris first spoke of this year’s team goal, which was a “race to 10” you snickered. I admitted that plenty of my Tampa Bay media colleagues and the Pewter Report staff did. Nice t-shirt slogan, Raheem. Nice lofty goal for a young, inexperienced team to shoot for.
Pewter Report bought in a little more than other media members did, forecasting a 7-9 record while most believed a 5-11 record would be in the forecast in Tampa Bay. I’ve been on record saying before the season started that one of the most dangerous things in the NFL is a young team full of confidence because it simply doesn’t know how bad and inexperienced it’s supposed to be. This is a confident, young Bucs squad with seven wins under its belt, including two dominant wins in a row against inferior teams.
With six games remaining, the Bucs might indeed be able to finish 10-6, which would require the team to go 3-3 down the stretch. With home games against Detroit and Seattle, and an away game at Washington, that’s completely doable. The Bucs even have a chance against 7-3 Baltimore and 8-2 Atlanta, which are the next two opponents, as well as a shot at New Orleans against the 7-3 Saints in the season finale in January.
This looks like more than a t-shirt slogan. With Sunday’s win in San Francisco and the team playing its best football right now, the race to 10 is about to become a reality. We learned that the Glazers were right all along.
Team ownership has endured some major criticism over the last two years from fans and the media for not spending enough money on the Buccaneers while carrying a massive debt for the amount paid for their soccer team, Manchester United. It’s true that outside of contracts for center Jeff Faine and tight end Kellen Winslow, who was acquired in a trade last year, the Glazers haven’t been big spenders in free agency since 2004 when they spent entirely too much money on running back Charlie Garner and offensive tackles Derrick Deese and Todd Steussie and in 2009 with running back Derrick Ward, kicker Mike Nugent and wide receiver Michael Clayton.
The problem is that for those players and a litany of others the return on investment has been quite poor for nearly a decade. Despite Tampa Bay winning two NFC South division titles in the Bruce Allen era, the team has yet to win a postseason contest since the Super Bowl during the 2002 season. It’s hard to blame the Glazers for not wanting to waste money, which is what they have done with a majority of their free agent signings since 2003.
The Glazers wanted to get back to the winning formula they used to get to the Super Bowl, which was to build through the draft – a formula even Dominik, a former pro personnel director who played a role in signing some of those free agents and wasting the Glazers money, bought into. Outside of first-round selections like Freeman and McCoy, draft picks are cheap, so naturally payroll is going to go down.
While fans want to see some activity and some signs of life in March during free agency that their team is indeed getting better, the Bucs sat on the sidelines, knowing that any veteran stop-gap player acquired in free agency would only take reps away from a younger, inexperienced players. The 2010 season would be Year Two of “play the young guys,” and it was up to Dominik and Morris to ensure that they had the right young guys.
A roster full of nearly every 2009 and 2010 draft pick by director of college scouting Dennis Hickey and some shrewd waiver wire and practice squad plucking from Dominik has quickly turned the Bucs around from a 3-13 team last year to a 7-3 playoff contender this season. It’s time for disgruntled Bucs fans to get over the Glazers. Yes, ticket prices could be lower and that’s one thing the Glazers have plenty of control over, but the Glazers’ plan of building a young, talented team through the draft is working. Ownership has been willing to take hits with their public popularity and at the ticket office in the short term to ensure that it could build a perennial playoff team for the long haul. It appears to be working, but the real proof will be in 2011 when the Bucs have a harder schedule.
It’s time for fans to get over any ill will towards the Glazers for not spending money on the team or any of their loyalties to Manchester United. With over 65,000 fans in attendance at San Francisco to see a 2-9 49ers team on Sunday at Candlestick Park, it’s time for Bucs fans to start buying individual game tickets and supporting their 7-3 Buccaneers instead of having this young, exciting team play in front of just 44,000.We learned that Dominik and Morris deserve contract extensions.
I suggested this a few weeks ago when Tampa Bay started off 5-2, but Tampa Bay’s general manager and head coach deserve to not only have their two-year club options picked up, but they also deserve pay raises after a 7-3 start that has exceeded almost everyone’s expectations heading into 2010. Dominik is one of the league’s lesser-paid general managers, and the fact that Morris is the head coach and the defensive coordinator and is making less than a million per year makes him the best bargain in the league.
Do the right thing, Glazers.
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