Josh Freeman and Co. have been a great come-from-behind team ever since the second-year quarterback started his first game against the Green Bay Packers in 2009 as a rookie. But just as good as they have been in coming from behind, they are just as bad in starting games quickly. Fans, coaches, players and even the beer vendors are frustrated.
Offensive coordinator Greg Olson and Raheem Morris, the two who have pulled their hair out the most, both commented Monday during their day-after press conferences about the difficulties they encountered moving the football Sunday against the Detroit Lions.
"As we watched and just looked at it yesterday, we felt like after the big kick return, the first play they hit us with man coverage and kind of brought a blitz and hit us in the mouth and we didn’t get the push we wanted,” Olson said. “So we’re in a second-and-10 and we get back to a third-and-five with a tight end screen to Kellen [Winslow] and in that situation you’re expecting man-coverage from Detroit, which is what we got. And now it’s just a matter of executing and having to me a confidence between a quarterback and a wide receiver of knowing -- in man-to-man coverage -- here’s the man-beaters. This is the guy I am going to go to and trust that he’s going to make a play on the ball.
“We have to develop that swagger as a unit, as the skill players and quarterbacks, to where, hey, if they have their guy on their side of the field, the ball’s going to him. … If you’re one on one, the ball’s coming to you. You run and Josh [Freeman] will have the confidence to throw the ball to you and know that you’re going to make a play for him.”
Part of what doomed the Buccaneers’ offense Sunday was an inability to convert short-yardage situations. Olson talked about the team’s woes.
“When you get in a short-yardage situation – I’m sure you’re talking about the specific one, the inside fullback handoff to Earnest – it was what we call a “Bear” defense,” Olson said. “Both guards and the center are covered, which is very typical for a third-down situation. We tried to pop Earnest [Graham] through [as] in the past. We didn’t get the push and the cutoff we needed on the backside. Normally, Earnest would slip out the back end of that. But we didn’t get enough push up front. He got tripped up on Freeman’s foot, and I think that also didn’t allow him to make that cut.
“In another one, we had a run-pass option. We ended up handing the ball off and didn’t get it done out of the shotgun. There were just issues. It wasn’t anything that Detroit had done. All of those situations it was just a matter of not executing. It wasn’t very good.”
Olson was asked if he considered using another running back in those situations in the future.
“In the four years that I’ve been here, he’s never not gotten a short-yardage situation,” Olson said. “That’s part of the reason we use him there. LeGarrette [Blount] is a solid player but he’s been hit-and-miss and we have to be a lot more hit with him. Both of those guys should be able to handle the short yardage situations.
Fans and media members have been suggesting that Tampa Bay start the game running its two-minute offense. Olson addressed those thoughts.
“We’ll definitely look at it. I’ve identified it,” Olson said. “It’s our job to solve the problem, solve the issue.
“We’ve changed up the way we practice. We’ve changed up the way we look at our openers and how we practice our openers early in the week to lesson the anxiety amongst our players when they start a game. We feel like we’re a little uptight when we start the game and you do things as a coach, especially with a young team, to try to lesson their anxiety by practicing the plays and constantly going over them so they’re comfortable with whatever look they see.
“When you start a game, you obviously have an idea what the defense is going to play. You do it based on what you’ve seen in previous games and what they’ve shown in those previous situations, but often times a team starts out against you with a different game plan than they’ve shown before. We have to react quicker to those changes.
“We didn’t start the game in two-minute today. Maybe in the future we will do that. We’ll continue to work with LeGarrette in the nickel package and protections. That’s something, obviously, we haven’t neglected. [It's] something that as soon as we got back from training camp, we knew we missed all those OTAs and June minicamps and we said we got to get LeGarrette up to speed quickly so we can use him. He’s getting there and he’s working at it, and we see him in the future being able to get in there and do that.”
Offensive captain and center Jeff Faine doesn’t believe starting the game in the two-minute will make a difference. In fact, Faine thinks it can be counter-productive.
“We did it in the second half and had two three-and-outs,” Faine said. “And that puts our defense on the field for an extended period of time. We are going out there for thirty seconds and they are out there for five or six minutes [if we don’t convert a first down]. When it’s not working a lot of things can go bad. It doesn’t just affect the offense. It affects a lot of people.”
Morris also addressed the trouble the Buccaneers have faced when trying to move the ball early in a game and talked about Tampa Bay’s identity when on offense.
“That’s not how we want to win games,” Morris said. “We want to win games with Blount bludgeoning you for 130 yards and us having a couple of play-action bombs and being efficient with Freeman.
“When we go to that two-minute offense like that, we kind of take Blount out of the game. That’s something we don’t want to do. We have a weapon in Blount. We want to run the ball with him.
“Maybe as a coach, I went too fast. I went too early with the two-minute offense but I wanted to get something going, something generated, get Freeman some confidence, and get all those guys going. And it worked to the standpoint we were able to get back in the game, but we don’t want to do it like that.
“That’s something for me to second guess, that’s something for me to improve [and] that’s something for me to get better at. And we will. I’m not going to sit here and tell you we’re going to be a spread, New England Patriots, Indianapolis Colts [type of offense]. That’s not who we are. We got LeGarrette Blount, big bludgeoning back, you [have] seen run for a 1,000 yards in this league. We want him to get to that again, if not improve on it.”
Morris said the coaches will get back in the meeting rooms and keep working on a solution.
“We’re continuing to work on it, but we have to start faster,” Morris said. “We have to come out and be more efficient on our openers on offense. We have to be faster starting on defense. We got to get that three-and-out early so we can get that ball back for our guys. Yesterday on a long drive, we got three [points] twice. We scored once. You thought you kind of turned that corner with a fast start with a kickoff return to the 20. You [have] got capitalize on all those things. That’s how you start faster. It’s taking advantage of your opportunities. We said it best in our team meetings, ‘Do your job.’ Our guys got to get out there and do their job. [We] have to do our job early, we have to do it often and we have to finish.”
Morris also said he shared in some of the blame when asked if perhaps going to the up-tempo game at the start of the third quarter was the right decision.
“You can blame me for that,” Morris said. "You guys can write that. 'Coach went to the two-minute offense too early.' But I was trying to give our team a chance to get it going and we got it going at that two-minute at the end; got the three [points]. I came out the tunnel and I looked at Ollie and I said let’s go two-minute fast right here off the bat and we did. We got a chance to get back in the game, but maybe coach went to it a little bit too early. I should have given us another chance back at our game plan.
Part of growing as a young football team is believing you can excel. Olson said he didn’t quite see the attitude he wanted during the course of the Detroit game.
“There was just a different feeling on the sideline a little bit,” Olson said. “I come back to the swagger. There’s no reason for this team to blink. You guys are a good football team. Believe me, that is what our message is to our football players. You’re a 10-6 football team. You won a lot of big football games last year. You’re playing against a good football team in the Lions, but you’re a good team, yourself. There’s no reason for anybody on this team to blink and feel like, ‘Oh, no.’ We’ll be fine. Settle down, take a deep breath and play football.”