While Buccaneers quarterback Josh Freeman got the most pats on the back from the fans and media in Tampa Bay’s 24-20 come-from-behind victory Sunday against the Vikings, the offensive line’s play was just as crucial to the second half success when mounting their late charge. It was almost as if a light switch was flipped and the running game turned on when LeGarrette Blount scored Tampa Bay's first touchdown of the game on a 27-yard scamper behind Davin Joseph and Jeremy Trueblood.
But behind the scenes there was more to it according to coaches and players. What we see from the stands or on the television sets doesn’t always paint the perfect, clear picture.
Buccaneers’ offensive line coach Pat Morris told PewterReport.com what he felt was the differences in the two games so far in 2011.
“I think the first game was kind of unique, it was the whole offense [struggling],” Morris said. “All of a sudden you are in a two-minute mode and you are limited in your running game. That is the tallest order for an offensive line. I thought they did okay in pass protect [against Detroit] for almost the end of the first half and the second half in being able to protect with a good defensive line.”
Morris went on to talk about how they were able to get things going in the third quarter against Minnesota.
“This game was more of just a few breakdowns,” Morris said. “As an offensive line you have to get a feel for how the defense is playing it. And then once you get a feel for it you can say, ‘okay this is how they are playing this play,’ and you can run the same play a couple more times, then it breaks [open].
“You can also look at the pictures and say ‘hey, the ball should have stayed out here,’ and we tell the running back. Or the offensive linemen, you tell them ‘hey, you missed your block, you make sure you put your hat in this right spot.’ So it is kind of a process and you have to repeat it. You have to get a feel for how a guy is playing you. So during the course of a game you need to see that. Sometimes you can start a game fast and hit a big one.”
Buccaneers’ offensive coordinator Greg Olson spoke to the media Thursday about some of the problems that plagued Tampa Bay’s offense over the first two games. Most were self-inflicted he said and shared in some of the blame.
“We just think you have to look at it,” Olson said. “In the first two football games of this season, we didn't feel like in either game, it's a different feeling when you feel like you're getting physically mismatched or manhandled physically. We didn't feel like in either game that it was a physical mismatch for us. We just felt like it was a combination of penalties, it was sacks, mental breakdowns, things like that.
“That tells me as a coach that maybe I have them overloaded with information because we're not executing. It's not a matter of getting beat. Occasionally, that was the case where a guy would get beat here or a guy would get beat there. Across the board, we felt like we matched up good against both those football teams, so we just go back and clean up the execution part of it.”
Right tackle Jeremy Trueblood has been saying since preseason the key to establishing the running game is just doing it over and over until the opponent is worn down.
“We just stayed with our game plan and eventually it happened,” Trueblood said. “It just took a little longer than we wanted it to but we have to keep doing that every week and we will be alright. “
Team captain center Jeff Faine agreed with Trueblood, but took his assessment even a step further.
“I felt like against Minnesota -- and in all fairness to them and to be honest as I can be -- I think they started to run of gas a little bit,” Faine said. “We started to pound the ball a little bit and kept after the run and didn’t abandon it. That was a major difference between that game and the first one.
“Between the first and second half LeGarrette starting getting his mojo going a little bit and it started to work for us. Once that started to work then it opened up the play-action. The one to Arrelious Benn was a play-action pass and the safeties sucked up on it and it was one-on-one out there.”
While the Buccaneers were able to gather success against Minnesota in the third and fourth quarters, the albatross hanging around their necks – slow starts – will once again be front and center Sunday at 4:15 when they take on the Atlanta Falcons. Right guard Davin Joseph said the key to success is really a fairly easy one.
“Really right now it is being able to convert on third down – plain and simple,” Joseph said. “That keeps us on the field longer. We need to stay out of third-and-long situations. We need to be in third and manageable situations. If we can do that we will get those homeruns out of Blount, Mike Williams or Arrelious Benn. We will start getting our big plays.”
Someone who provided a spark to an anemic rushing attack was Jeremy Zuttah at left guard who replaced Ted Larsen in the starting lineup last Sunday. The former Rutgers star was praised by head coach Raheem Morris and also several teammates. Zuttah is thought to be a bit undersized for guard, but his agility and speed help to hide any size deficiency.
“That is one of the things I pride myself on as good or better than a lot of guys is my ability to pull and get out in space,” Zuttah said. “But watching film there are things I can definitely improve on, get more comfortable with and [have] better technique. But I think it will come with more repetitions at the position.”
The debate will rage on especially if Tampa Bay comes out Sunday and lays an egg in the first quarter again. But Faine said sometimes everyone over complicates things.
“We just have to execute,” Faine said. “At the end of the day that is what this game is all about. We have the players that can make the plays. We just have to take advantage of the opportunities we have and know that on both sides of the ball every series is meaningful.
”We think we are as good as any team in the league,” Faine said. “Right now we feel like -- and every team feels this way -- that on any given Sunday any team can beat anyone.”
Pat Morris has coached offensive linemen long enough to know it is a thankless job for the most part.
“You better know that going in [being an offensive line coach]. That’s what is a part of the nature of the position is, you might get some blame [when not completely deserved]. But you can’t have thin skin in this position.”