Here are some of Scott Reynolds' observations from Tampa Bay's 17-16 win at Washington:
WHAT WE LEARNED ABOUT THE BUCS OFFENSEWe learned that Josh Freeman’s slump is over.
One of the factors in Tampa Bay’s eight wins this season is when Freeman plays well the Bucs had a very good chance for victory. After spending much of the 2010 campaign with a completion percentage at 60 percent, Freeman suffered a 10-percent completion percentage drop over the last two games against Baltimore and Atlanta and threw two touchdowns and one interception.
After starting the game completing just 3-of-7 passes for 28 yards in the first quarter, Freeman broke out of his slump thanks to a 64-yard bomb to Arrelious Benn, which set up Tampa Bay’s first field goal. That was Tampa Bay’s longest offensive play of the year and the longest pass in Freeman’s two-year career. Freeman finished the game completing 15-of-25 passes (60 percent) for 266 yards with one touchdown and no interceptions. After a slow start to begin the Redskins game, Freeman caught fire and completed his final 12-of-18 passes (66.6 percent) in the game in quarters 2-4.
Freeman’s 41-yard touchdown pass to tight end Kellen Winslow in the fourth quarter was a thing of beauty in terms of the placement of the ball over the head of Redskins linebacker Rocky McIntosh. But equally as impressive was Freeman’s 2-yard gain on third-and-1 on the first play of the fourth quarter and his 3-yard scoring run on Tampa Bay’s critical 2-point conversion attempt after his TD pass to Winslow.
On that play, the 6-foot-6, 255-pound Freeman ran over middle linebacker London Fletcher and defensive tackle Vonnie Holiday at the goal line on a quarterback draw out of the shotgun to bull his way for the 2-point conversion. That play fired him up as Freeman let out a primal scream and celebrated with Cadillac Williams after the score. Freeman credited offensive coordinator Greg Olson for the play call.
“That was Olie’s call,” Freeman said. “That was a play with a couple different options on it if they give you certain looks. If they are playing quarters or a blitz or just playing man across the board and just trying to double people like they were, we can throw a bubble screen. … We can do a lot out of that set. There was nobody really there to send the line to. I miked number 59 (Fletcher), but he was just kind of working around in there. Once he saw me catch the ball he went to where he thought I was running and he guessed right. It was good to have Cadillac there to take the initial blow and push me. I just kept fighting and we got it done.”
But Freeman wasn’t without some good fortune on the day. He saw Redskins cornerback DeAngelo Hall have an easy pick-six go through his hands in the first quarter on a third-down pass to Micheal Spurlock, and also had a possible interception by Fletcher dropped later in the game. Yet Washington did not capitalize on those opportunities and Freeman capitalized on his when it mattered the most in the fourth quarter. The former Kansas State star has not notched seven come-from-behind wins in his 11 career NFL victories, including five this year.
“He’s a big-time quarterback for us,” Bucs head coach Raheem Morris said. “He’s clutch. He’s growing and he’s getting better. He’s far from being a finished product, but I like the growth and him getting better. I like the direction we’re [going in].”We learned that Benn has some wheels.
Benn, a Washington, D.C. native, saved his best game of the year for his hometown and showed some impressive speed by blowing right by Redskins cornerback DeAngelo Hall on a go route to haul in a 64-yard bomb in the second quarter. Benn caught the ball close to the Washington 30-yard line and the 6-foot-2, 220-pound receiver dragged Hall and safety Kareem Moore nearly 20 yards down to the Washington 11 before he was finally tackled. That big play set up Connor Barth’s first of three field goals for Tampa Bay.
But Benn was just getting warmed up for the dozens of family members and friends in attendance to watch the local Dunbar High School product. He finished with a career-high four catches for 122 yards and had a 43-yard catch down to the Washington 1 that the Bucs were unfortunately unable to convert to points as Freeman fumbled the ball to Washington on the next play.
“We realized it was his homecoming and I was able to call on him and recruit him,” Morris said. “He chose Illinois over me [and Kansas State], but I’m not going to hold that against him. He came out and did a great job for us catching the ball, receiving the ball and blocking on the perimeter. He’s just getting better and better in Tampa. We are extremely proud of Rejus.”
Benn, who also had a 17-yard gain on an end around against the Redskins, now has 21 catches for 345 yards and two touchdowns on the season. His 16.4-yard average is actually better than fellow rookie Mike Williams, who leads all rookies in receiving yardage with 784 yards and seven touchdowns on 52 catches. Williams is averaging 15.1 yards per catch.
The future of the Bucs offense looks bright with Benn emerging as a big-time weapon in Tampa Bay, especially during a game in which Williams was held to just one catch for 15 yards.
“We have two dynamic receivers,” Morris said. “They are trying to take away Mike Williams and they are trying to take away Kellen. These guys stepping up on the other side and doing different things is certainly a factor. I never want to take away a man’s dynamic ability. The plays that he made and the balls that he caught, he had some pretty good corners on him.”We learned that LeGarrette Blount doesn’t have a fumbling problem.
There will be some critics that will suggest that Blount needs to do a better job of holding on to the football after his second fumble this year was turned into points by an opponent. Undoubtedly, Blount must maintain ball security at all times, but this is a rookie that has fumbled just twice in 149 carries.
His first fumble occurred at Arizona when he was hit in the shoulder and got a stinger. Blount’s arm went numb and he lost control of the ball, which was scooped up and returned for a touchdown by the Cardinals.
On Sunday in Washington, Blount had the ball punched out from behind by cornerback Deangelo Hall during a 14-yard run. It was merely a great football play by Hall. Defensive players get paid, too. While no one wants to see Blount put the ball on the ground, going seven games and going over 110 carries between fumbles is not the end of the world.
Outside of that turnover, Blount had another productive day with 68 yards on 15 carries (4.5 avg.). For the season, the rookie rusher has 667 yards and five touchdowns on 149 carries (4.5 avg.).We learned that the Bucs’ makeshift offensive line keeps impressing.
Despite having just one opening day starter along the offensive line in left tackle Donald Penn, Tampa Bay’s offense isn’t slowing down. Against Washington, right guard Derek Hardman got his first NFL start replacing Davin Joseph. The Bucs couldn’t use Jeremy Zuttah, who started at right guard last week, because he is the replacement at center for center Jeff Faine, who was lost for the year due to a torn triceps.
Hardman had a rough game as he gave up the Bucs’ lone sack and was beaten regularly by defensive tackle Adam Carriker in pass protection and on some running plays. He also forced a fumble when he pulled and accidentally knocked the ball out of Freeman’s hand while pulling on first-and-goal at the 1-yard line in the fourth quarter.
Yet despite Hardman’s struggles, the patchwork offensive line managed to limit the times Freeman got hit, and produced 103 yards on the ground and 365 yards of total offense.We learned that Winslow is a weapon that can strike at any time.
Despite being held without a catch in the first half and only making one reception for 10 yards in the third quarter, Winslow came through with a huge play in the fourth quarter. Matched up one-on-one with linebacker Rocky McIntosh, Winslow made an acrobatic catch down the seam, pulled away from McIntosh in coverage, juked safety Kareem Moore and scored a 41-yard touchdown that proved to be the game-winner after Freeman’s successful two-point conversion.
“Winslow is always open,” Morris said. “If you don’t believe me, just ask him. It was certainly a great throw by Josh, and certainly a great catch and run and finish by Kellen. I’m glad he’s on my team.”WHAT WE LEARNED ABOUT THE BUCS DEFENSEWe learned that the Bucs run defense still has some major problems.
Ryan Torain’s first carry of the game went for 54 yards and was a product of Tampa Bay’s linebackers not shedding blocks aggressively enough and a poor angle by free safety Corey Lynch. Middle linebacker Barrett Ruud failed to get off the block by guard Korey Lichtensteiger, who also tripped up Lynch on the play.
Weakside linebacker Geno Hayes showed poor awareness in locating the ballcarrier and allowed Torrain to run right by him. Only a touchdown-saving tackle by cornerback E.J. Biggers saved a touchdown on Washington’s first play from scrimmage.
Torain had 121 yards on 10 carries by the end of the first quarter, picking up 12, 23 and 10 yards in three consecutive carries on Washington’s second drive. Torain had seven runs of 10 yards or more in the first half and finished the game with eight runs that resulted in automatic first downs, which is inexcusable.
Despite Torain having 158 yards on 18 carries in the first half, Tampa Bay’s run defense shut him down in the second, holding him to just 14 yards on six carries. After the game, Morris addressed the poor run defense in the first half.
“I never have any frustration with that,” Morris said. “It’s always about finding a way and finding a plan and what you need to do to help your guys out. We certainly did that.”
Although Morris said that losing Gerald McCoy and subsequent problems at the three technique position was a big reason why the Bucs run defense struggled, Tampa Bay’s linebackers were mostly to blame by doing a terrible job of shedding blocks and not making plays. McCoy and Michael Bennett also missed tackles in the backfield on runs of 23 and 11 yards, respectively. It is believed that McCoy hurt his biceps when he reached out to try to tackle Torain.
The Bucs were fortunate that despite a huge first half by Torain the Redskins only had 10 points to show for it and Tampa Bay trailed by just seven points, due to two missed field goals by Graham Gano. We learned that Hayes picked the wrong time to get arrested.
The Bucs lost starting strongside linebacker Quincy Black for the year with a broken forearm in Sunday’s triumph over the Redskins. With Hayes getting arrested and charged with two misdemeanors early Monday morning outside of the Blue Martini nightclub at International Plaza, the Bucs could be down two starting linebackers if Hayes is suspended by the front office for Sunday’s game against Detroit.
Hayes, who recorded just three tackles, one pass breakup and his first sack of the year on Sunday, has been a disappointment this season. He has made less splash plays this year and his tackle totals are down from 2009. Hayes is currently fourth on the team with 78 stops this year after recording 136 tackles last year. He is on pace to record just 93 tackles in 2010.
The combination of this arrest plus the fact that he was late to two games last year shows poor judgment. That, combined with a drop off in production this year will undoubtedly have the front office looking for some competition for the starting weakside linebacker job in 2011.We learned Bennett is going to be a key contributor down the stretch for the Bucs.
The season-ending loss of McCoy is a huge blow to Tampa Bay’s defense from a playmaking and depth standpoint. Al Woods got some reps at three technique on Sunday shortly after McCoy’s departure, but Morris relied on Bennett, who was playing defensive end in the first quarter, to help shore up the middle of the defense to help slow down Torain.
“We moved Michael Bennett inside to three technique for some more quickness to counter the zone scheme, how quick they are and how well they play and execute. He did a better job in the second half for us. We came in at halftime and put a few wrinkles in.”
With McCoy out for the season, look for Bennett, who is one of the most athletic linemen to possibly start at three technique. Frank Okam, who was recently signed up from the practice squad, will likely see a lot of action on Sunday. The 350-pound Okam is primarily a run stuffer though, so when the need for a quick, penetrating-type player is needed look for Bennett to move inside.
Roy Miller is also a candidate to move from nose tackle to three technique with Al Woods sliding in at nose tackle.We learned that the loss of Black is not fatal.
While Black, who suffered a season-ending broken forearm at Washington, has had a very good season in his second year as the team’s starting strongside linebacker, all is not lost for the Buccaneers. The combination of Adam Hayward and Dekoda Watson have filled in nicely for Black before when he missed a couple games earlier this year with an ankle sprain.
While starting in place of Black at San Francisco, Hayward notched a season-high three tackles and a tackle for loss, recovered a fumble and recorded his first NFL sack. Hayward has nine tackles, including two on Sunday in relief of Black. Watson, a rookie, also had three tackles at San Francisco while splitting time with Hayward and has eight tackles and one tackle for loss on the year.
The combination of those players can more than adequately make up for the loss of Black, whose contract is up at the end of the 2010 campaign. Hayward’s contract is up too, and he would like to make a nice statement to the Bucs and the rest of the NFL that he can be a starter on defense.
Black had eight tackles, one tackle for loss and one sack at Washington and finished the season with 84 stops, five tackles for loss, two sacks, one interception, one forced fumble and one fumble recovery. Expect the Bucs to sign middle linebacker Tyrone McKenzie from the practice squad to fill Black’s spot on the active roster. WHAT WE LEARNED ABOUT THE BUCS SPECIAL TEAMSWe learned that Barth is money inside 40 yards.
Benn wasn’t the only player that shined in a homecoming performance. Barth, who was born in nearby Arlington, Va., was a perfect 3-of-3 on his field goal attempts, hitting from 25, 44 and 35 yards in Tampa Bay’s 17-16 win at Washington. After making just 6-of-8 field goals from inside 40 yards in 2009, Barth is 13-of-13 on field goals from that distance this season.
Last year, Tampa Bay kicker Mike Nugent made just 2-of-4 field goals at Washington with two costly misses that denied the Bucs a chance at winning. The Redskins prevailed 16-13 in Week 4. But Barth’s surefooted efforts on Sunday in a rainy, sloppy game proved to be huge in Tampa Bay’s one-point victory.
Barth has been steady all season and has been hot down the stretch, making all five of his last attempts. His last missed field goal came at San Francisco. With one more successful kick he will tie his longest consecutive field goal streak this season. Barth began the year making his first six field goals until he went 0-for-2 against New Orleans.
On the year, Barth has made 17-of-21 field goals (81 percent). The 17 field goals in one season represent a personal best for Barth.WHAT WE LEARNED ABOUT THE BUCCANEERS FROM THIS WINWe learned that the Bucs didn’t win because of luck.
Morris got offended after the game when he was asked if the Bucs felt lucky to win Sunday’s game on a botched extra point attempt. He pointed to last week’s 28-24 loss to Atlanta and said, “No, I don’t feel lucky. Did you ask Atlanta if they felt lucky last week? No, we don’t feel lucky.”
Saying the Bucs “lucked out” with a failed extra point is a simpleton’s way of looking at the opportunities that both the Redskins and the Bucs missed out on. Aside from the botched extra point, the Redskins also missed two short field goals. That’s seven points worth of missed opportunities.
But the Bucs had a point blank chance for a touchdown that was screwed up when Hardman knocked the ball out of Freeman’s hands as he started to pull at the goal line. That was seven points worth of missed opportunity by Tampa Bay, so it all equaled out in the end. In fact, the Bucs deserved to win because the game boiled down to the two-point conversion attempt by Freeman, which was successful and ultimately the deciding point in the game.
To say the Bucs won solely because of luck would be grossly slighting the improved play of the Tampa Bay defense against the run, Barth’s kicking and how Freeman and the Bucs offense took over in the second half.We learned that the Bucs’ playoff chances improved on Sunday.
The Bucs won while Chicago and Green Bay lost on Sunday, which put all three teams at 8-5 through 13 games. The Bucs host two winnable games against an improving Detroit team (3-10) and a fading Seattle team (6-7) before a season-ending showdown at New Orleans that could have some real playoff ramifications. If the Bucs stay healthy enough to win those two home contests, they would get to 10 wins, but might need an 11th victory over the Saints to secure the final wild card spot.
But the Saints might have already locked up a wild card spot by then and might be resting its starters. That would improve Tampa Bay's chances of winning at the Superdome in early January. Who knows?
The Giants’ make-up game versus Minnesota at Detroit tonight is definitely worth keeping an eye on, as New York is 8-4 and still alive for a wild card spot, too.We learned that Morris' “Next man up” slogan will be severely tested down the stretch.
Over the last three games, Tampa Bay has lost six starters for the year in McCoy, Black, Joseph, Faine, free safety Cody Grimm and cornerback Aqib Talib. For the most part, Zuttah has filled in nicely for Faine, Corey Lynch has fared well in place of Grimm, E.J. Biggers has had two solid outings in place of Aqib Talib, and Hayward and Watson have picked up the slack for Black.
But Hardman has struggled in place of Joseph, and it remains to be seen how Bennett and Okam fare over the long term in place of McCoy at the very important three-technique position. Bucs general manager Mark Dominik and his able assistants Dennis Hickey and Shelton Quarles have done a great job of stocking this team with capable reserves, but at some point in time there has to be a drop off in talent despite the fact that many of the backups have risen to the occasion and not allowed a drop in play yet.
The Bucs simply cannot withstand losing another starter along either the offensive and defensive line and the roster is already thin with experience at other positions due to the fact that nearly a dozen players have been signed up from the practice squad this year. If Tampa Bay is going to make it to the playoffs and have any chance of winning a game in the postseason, this team has to avoid any more injuries to its starting lineup and that is impossible to control.
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