Here are some observations and analysis from Pewter Report's Scott Reynolds following Tampa Bay's 17-10 loss at Baltimore.WHAT WE LEARNED ABOUT THE BUCS OFFENSEWe learned that the Bucs could not win a game if Josh Freeman doesn’t play well.
This has been the recurring them in all four of Tampa Bay’s losses. Freeman didn’t throw a touchdown and threw an interception that was returned for a touchdown in a 38-13 loss to Pittsburgh. Against Atlanta, he threw two second half interceptions as the offense failed to score over the final two quarters in a 27-21 loss to the Falcons.
On Sunday in a 17-10 loss at Baltimore, Freeman completed 17-of-37 (45.9 percent) for 162 yards with one touchdown and a quarterback rating of 67.6. Although he did not throw an interception he had several potential picks dropped by the Ravens defense, and his only touchdown pass of the game, a 5-yard strike to tight end Kellen Winslow, came with just 3:05 left in the game.
Only against New Orleans, where he managed to throw one touchdown and no picks while completing 58.1 percent of his passes has Freeman truly played okay in a loss. But whenever Freeman plays poorly, the youngest team in the NFL simply doesn’t have enough experienced playmakers on either side of the ball to overcome it.
In Super Bowl XL in 2005, Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, whom Freeman is often compared to, completed just 9-of-21 passes for 123 yards and two interceptions and a QB rating of 22.6. Yet the Steelers still beat Seattle 21-10 because of the running of Jerome Bettis, the play of wide receiver Hines Ward, who threw a touchdown pass, and the stingy play of the Pittsburgh defense.
With the Bucs still firmly entrenched in their rebuilding mode and youth movement, head coach Raheem Morris is right when he says, “As No. 5 goes, so goes the team.” As Tampa Bay’s defense improves and its running game matures the Bucs will be in better position to win even if Freeman has an off game like he did in Baltimore, but that’s not the case in 2010.
"He played the Ravens’defense, we’re talking about a really good defense that’s really talented," Morris said. "We’re going to have some out-of-sync plays. We have to go out there and make some plays that are outside of the box. He had some attempts to make some plays on a stretch, but just fell short. We lost this game by running out of time. It is what it is."We learned that the Bucs’ makeshift offensive line can still get the job done.
Tampa Bay’s offensive line, which has played well over the past two months, did a credible job in Baltimore against an experienced, physical front seven. Although Freeman was flushed from the pocket more than anyone wanted to see, the Bucs offensive line did not allow a sack against the Ravens. More importantly, the line went toe-to-toe with Baltimore and didn’t back down.
Ultimately, the Ravens have more talent and more experience than the collective play of Donald Penn, Jeff Faine, James Lee, Ted Larsen and Jeremy Zuttah, who replaced injured right guard Davin Joseph in the first quarter, but not by as much as you might think. For the second straight game, Tampa Bay’s offensive line was not flagged for a penalty, which is a testament to not only the players, but to superb coaching by offensive line coach Pete Mangurian. Mangurian has done a phenomenal job of preparing younger, less experienced players like Larsen and Lee to step in as starters and play well.
Although it never dominated, Tampa Bay’s offensive line did play a key role in helping the team rush for 101 yards on 23 carries (4.4 avg.) at M&T Bank Stadium, which is an impressive feat. The longest run of the day was only a 16-yarder by LeGarrette Blount, who averaged 4.2 yards per carry. Freeman contributed 27 yards on six carries (4.5 avg.) and his scrambles didn’t overly inflate Tampa Bay’s rushing total. The Bucs legitimately averaged over four yards per carry against a stout Baltimore defense and that should give a confidence boost to the makeshift offensive line.We learned that John Gilmore needs more opportunities in the passing game.
Gilmore, Tampa Bay’s designated blocking tight end, had a breakout game against Carolina three weeks ago, catching a career-high three passes for 52 yards. After not recording a catch at San Francisco, Gilmore hauled in a 30-yard reception – the Bucs’ longest play of the day on offense – at Baltimore. The Penn State product made a nifty move along the sidelines to juke a Ravens defender and pick up extra yardage after the catch.
In his ninth season, Gilmore has seven catches for 109 yards and a career-high 15.6 average. While he should not be a guy that would take catches away from Kellen Winslow, Mike Williams or Arrelious Benn, getting the ball to Gilmore once or twice per game should be in offensive coordinator Greg Olson’s game plan because of the element of surprise.
Against Carolina, Gilmore was wide open when he hauled in a 29-yard pass from Freeman. He was able to pick up 30 yards on Sunday because the Ravens didn’t respect his athleticism. In the few opportunities Gilmore has received this year he has made the most of them and needs just 38 yards to surpass his career high of 147 yards in 2008 when he made a personal-best 15 receptions.
Gilmore was also open for a touchdown on the goal line in a play-action rollout play earlier in the year, but Freeman failed to get the ball off in time. Olson should revisit that play in the weeks ahead while Gilmore is still not considered a weapon in Tampa Bay’s offensive arsenal.We learned that Sammie Stroughter is becoming an afterthought on offense.
Sometimes the old saying “out of sight, out of mind” can really sting a player in the NFL. That has happened throughout most of Maurice Stovall’s career at wide receiver. He would start to make strides only to be derailed by injuries which give other receivers the chance to step up and get more playing time.
After a promising rookie season, Stroughter, who won the starting flanker position coming out of the preseason, quickly became the fourth option in the passing game behind Williams, Winslow and Cadillac Williams, catching only 15 passes for 188 yards in the first six games of the season.
Stroughter hurt his foot at Arizona and was held without a catch in that contest. He missed the next two weeks dealing with that injury before returning to a reserve role behind Arrelious Benn at San Francisco and catching two passes for 11 yards.
Against Baltimore, Stroughter was only thrown the ball once. Although he got separation from his defender, Freeman’s pass was too far out in front. Was that simply the product of Freeman’s bad day, or has his role been reduced so much due to injury and the emergence of Benn and Micheal Spurlock that Stroughter and Freeman have lost some their chemistry together?
It will be interesting to see what transpires with Stroughter down the stretch now that he is healthy. With Spurlock being a hot-and-cold receiver and having a big dropped touchdown in the fourth quarter at Baltimore, the door could be opening for Stroughter. If not, the former seventh-round pick may be pigeon holed as a reserve receiver like Stovall.WHAT WE LEARNED ABOUT THE BUCS DEFENSEWe learned that the San Francisco game was no fluke for Tampa Bay’s defensive line.
When the Bucs recorded a season-high six sacks a week ago in San Francisco, including five by the defensive line, many looked at that feat as a fluke. After all, quarterback Troy Smith was sacked five times by St. Louis the week before.
But Tampa Bay’s defensive line followed up that performance by notching three of the team’s four sacks of Baltimore quarterback Joe Flacco. Defensive tackle Gerald McCoy, who recorded his first sack against the 49ers with two half sacks in that game, added two more to his stats sheet with two solo QB captures. McCoy now has three sacks on the year, as does defensive end Tim Crowder, who also dropped Flacco on Sunday.
Amid some talk that McCoy could be a bust after going without a sack for the first half of the season, he now stands at three sacks, which was the same amount of sacks as Warren Sapp had his rookie season, with five games left in the 2010 season. On his first solo sack, McCoy split a double-team of guard Tony Mall and right tackle Marshal Yanda to corral Flacco on third down to force a field goal. McCoy had two additional quarterback hurries and he is getting his hand placement down in conjunction with his footwork.
It seems as if the pass rush from Tampa Bay’s front four has caught fire over the past two weeks with eight sacks, and that’s a good thing with Atlanta’s Matt Ryan coming to town on Sunday. The Bucs will need to hit and sack Ryan several times in order for them to have a chance of beating the best team in the NFC.We learned that Roy Miller is playing really well against the run.
Miller, Tampa Bay's starting nose tackle, is doing a great job of moving laterally down the line of scrimmage with outstanding quickness to make tackles. He was incredibly active on Sunday and was tied for second on the team in tackles with six, including four solo stops.
Over the past three weeks Miller has been just as disruptive at nose tackle as McCoy has been as a three technique defensive tackle, and he’s been a step away from a pair of sacks himself. It looks as if the light has come on for Miller, whose ball awareness has really improved lately.
Miller is setting the tempo up front with his hustle to the ball and his refusal to be blocked. He has made a big tackle in the first quarter of the last three games to help rev up the defensive line. The fact that he is getting more reps now that second-round pick Brian Price has been placed on injured reserve may be helping Miller get into more of a rhythm of the game as well as developing some better on-field chemistry with McCoy.
The two defensive tackles have really stepped up their play over the last three weeks and that has significantly helped Tampa Bay’s rushing defense. After holding San Francisco to just 71 yards rushing last week, the Bucs defense held Ray Rice and Willis McGahee to a combined 94 yards on 23 carries as the Ravens became the second team in as many weeks that failed to top the century mark on the ground against Tampa Bay. It all starts up front and Miller has been the fire-starter against the run.We learned the Bucs are going to miss Cody Grimm.
Was it a coincidence that both of Baltimore’s passing touchdowns came shortly after Grimm suffered his broken ankle? No. Grimm has been just as assignment sound in the passing game as he has been against the run.
Tampa Bay lost the game in a three-minute span in the waning moments before halftime when Flacco hit tight end Todd Heap for a 65-yard touchdown pass and wide receiver Derrick Mason for a 10-yard touchdown. The Bucs never recovered. Morris said that there was some confusion during Heap’s touchdown pass, likely between Sabby Piscitelli, who had replaced Grimm in the lineup, and middle linebacker Barrett Ruud. That’s what can happen when a player who hasn’t taken starter reps suddenly enters the game.
"I’m not going to point fingers at anybody," Morris said. "We went out there, we had a miscommunication between two players, that’s it. The blown coverage is my fault, I’m the coach. It shouldn’t be blown coverage, I’ll take it. I didn’t communicate well enough what I wanted."
The problem with Grimm’s injury, which will cost him the season, is that Tampa Bay is now down its top two safeties this year in the seventh-round pick and former starting free safety Tanard Jackson, who was suspended by the NFL after the second game this season. Grimm finished the season with 61 tackles, two pass breakups and two picks, including one returned for a touchdown at Cincinnati.
Sean Jones has played well close to the line of scrimmage against the run and on some blitzes, including his sack of Flacco, but has not made many plays in coverage, evidenced by only two pass breakups and zero interceptions. Piscitelli has one interception this year and five in his career, but losing the savvy Grimm the week the Bucs will face Matt Ryan, Roddy White and Tony Gonzalez is a big blow.WHAT WE LEARNED ABOUT THE BUCS SPECIAL TEAMSWe learned that undisciplined play on special teams cost the Bucs.
Tampa Bay is one of the least penalized teams in the league this year, but there have been a couple games where the infractions on special teams have really been egregious. Sunday’s contest at Baltimore was one of those occasions. The Ravens game was one that was largely decided on field position and several Bucs penalties on special teams gave Baltimore some unnecessary free yardage.
Tampa Bay’s first three drives started at its own 12-, 8- and 4-yard line. Middle linebacker Niko Koutouvides was to blame for the poor start on the first and third possessions due to a pair of holding penalties that cost the team 14 years. Free safety Corey Lynch was flagged for holding in the second quarter, which gave the Ravens 10 yards on a second quarter touchdown drive, and linebacker Adam Hayward was guilty of holding on a Micheal Spurlock punt return in the third quarter backed up the Bucs offense 10 yards to its own 28. In a close contest in which field position played a big role, the Bucs couldn't afford to simply give away 34 free yards on special teams plays in which field position is affected the most.WHAT WE LEARNED ABOUT THIS BUCCANEERS LOSSWe learned that Raheem Morris is growing up before our eyes.
You have to admire the lobbying that Morris did on behalf of rookie cornerback Myron Lewis after the Ravens scored their touchdown right before halftime. Lewis was flagged for a questionable, 24-yard pass interference penalty on wide receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh late in the second quarter that gave the Ravens a first-and-goal at the 10-yard line. Flacco would hit Derrick Mason with a 10-yard scoring strike on the next play.
Lewis had textbook coverage on Houshmandzadeh and was using his wide wingspan to establish favorable positioning and force Houshmandzadeh out of bounds. At no point in time did Lewis grab or hold the Ravens receiver and he had his head turned around to look at the ball. It was a terrible call that cost the Buccaneers defense and allowed the Ravens to take a 14-point lead into halftime.
As the two teams left the field, Morris ran over and started yelling at the officials to make his case against the bad call, even demonstrating exactly how Lewis had established superior positioning on Houshmandzadeh. After watching his tirade, It’s clear that Morris has been well schooled in the art of swearing from his predecessor as he borrowed some choice expletives from former head coach Jon Gruden. Morris even went so far as to artfully pair words that start with “F” and “B” together when taking it to the officials.
“I’d call it asking an explanation," Morris said. "I disagreed with it at the time. But it is what it is. My opinion doesn’t matter in that case. The call was made, you’ve got to move on and get ready to play. That’s what we did.”
Morris is just 34 years old, yet he has the gumption and swagger to yell and scream at the refs like a seasoned head coach. History has shown that practice has paid off with some “make-up calls” later in the game from conscientious officials. Perhaps that’s what happened on Ray Rice’s 76-yard touchdown catch in the third quarter. Piscitelli made a key veteran move after feeling Baltimore wide receiver Anquan Boldin graze the back of his jersey on Rice’s screen catch and flailed his arms for a penalty, which he got seconds later.
It was the second really bad call by the officials on the day up to that point, but perhaps Morris’ politicking at halftime had something to do with it. Middle linebacker Barrett Ruud also was not flagged for an obvious pass interference call on third down with 3:20 left in the third quarter, and the Bucs got a favorable challenge call that reversed an interception by defensive end Corey Redding.We learned that the Bucs aren’t far off from being an elite team.
Blowout losses, like the ones Tampa Bay suffered earlier in the season against the likes of Pittsburgh and New Orleans appear to be a thing of the past. In the Bucs’ two recent losses to Atlanta and Baltimore, the margins of defeat in those contests have been by six and seven points, respectively. Neither the Falcons nor the Ravens topped 27 points, either, which is a sign of Tampa Bay’s improving defense.
Consider that this Bucs team is the youngest squad in football, the least penalized team in the league and has an uncanny, plus-8 turnover margin, and it is amazing that they are in playoff contention. Tampa Bay’s rebuilding mode has been put into overdrive this year due to its 7-4 record and the maturation and improvement of the young players should have the Bucs becoming a perennial playoff team sooner rather than later.
At this point, I would be shocked if the Bucs got blown out in a game during the rest of the season. That’s a sign of how far they’ve come and just how close they are to being an elite team once again.We learned that Tampa Bay has to beat Atlanta to make the playoffs.
If the Bucs lose to the Falcons on Sunday they will fall to 7-5 on the season and would likely have to win all four remaining games to avoid falling short of the postseason. The problem for Tampa Bay is that the NFC is top heavy in the South division with the Falcons having the conference’s best record at 9-2, followed by the Saints, who are ahead of the Bucs in wild card contention with an 8-3 record.
The second-place teams in the NFC East and NFC North, the New York Giants and the Green Bay Packers, also have 7-4 records like the Bucs. Morris said that the Bucs were on a race to 10 this season because 10 wins should put a team into the playoffs. However, that might not be the case in 2010 as a 10-6 team may be left out in the cold.
You just get the feeling that the season finale at New Orleans will come down to a winner-take-all wildcard playoff situation, and that will be a tall order for the Bucs to prevail in that contest. If the Bucs don’t win against the Falcons on Sunday, they essentially have no margin for error the rest of the season and must win the four remaining games to assure themselves of an 11-5 record and a playoff berth.
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