As the 3-2 Buccaneers approach Sunday’s game with the New Orleans Saints, much has been made of Tampa Bay’s passing game or perceived lack thereof. But through the first five games the Buccaneers are actually outpacing the 2010 squad in that statistical category, averaging almost 16 more yards through the air (225.8) than last season (210.1).
Part of the reason for the perceived gloom and doom is the Buccaneers inability to get their wide receivers more involved in the offense. Running back Earnest Graham is the team’s leading receiver (23 catches, 143 yards), followed by tight end Kellen Winslow (22 receptions, 217 yards).
2010 rookie sensation Mike Williams is admittedly having a poor season compared to his 2010 numbers, where he was second on the team in receptions with 65 and led with 964 yards and 11 touchdowns.
Bucs offensive coordinator Greg Olson admires Williams’ willingness to fall on the sword, but says lots of factors are hampering the development of the passing game.
“Mike has big broad shoulders but for Mike to put that all on himself ... we win and lose as a team,” Olson said. “There are a number of reasons why his production is down. It doesn’t just fall on Mike playing poorly. For him to step up and say that, I admire that. Of course everybody in that room feels that way, coaching staff including. We all have got to be better. I certainly admire a guy who would step up and say something like that but that’s not all on Mike Williams.
“We can all play better. I can coach better. I can call better plays. And we will have to in order for us to get better.”
One who also admits he needs to play better is quarterback Josh Freeman. During the entire 16 games of 2010, Freeman threw just six interceptions. Through five games this season the Bucs signal caller has already matched that mark.
"If you’re going to be taking shots down the field, you have to know when to take your chances and when not to,” Freeman said. “It’s something I’m working on. The good thing is it’s not like I’m just throwing blind into coverage. I see everything that I throw and it’s something that’s easily fixable.”
Just like in the case of Mike Williams, Olson refused to throw his player under the bus.
“It falls on everybody, even the two interceptions that were thrown this week,” Olson said. “If you replay it you’ll see there was pressure on him at the time that he threw the ball. But again, it’s about decision-making and us as a coaching staff helping him out in those situations somewhat."
“So there’s still some trial by fire there with him,” Olson went on to say. “He’s still learning the throws he can and can’t make in certain situations and understanding the game and where we’re at in the game; when it’s time to really force the play or not force the play. But we have to help him out. Everyone has to help him out: the linemen up front, the receivers downfield, the backs behind him, the coaches. Everybody. We’re all involved in that.”
Olson continued to reiterate that Freeman’s struggles can be attributed to everyone on the offensive side of the ball.
“It’s really easy when you look at the turnovers last week to look at Josh Freeman,” Olson said. “But when you put in the tape you have to look at the depth of the route [and] the protection up front. There’s a lot that goes into that.”
Decision making – not being too aggressive – is the problem according to Olson.
“We never want to take away his aggressiveness,” Olson said. “But it’s still all about the development of No. 5. We always talk about that. You look at all those guys that he aspires to be -- the Drew Brees, Tom Bradys, Aaron Rodgers -- you never want to take away their aggressiveness. It’s just about making smart decisions. He’s still learning and he’ll be better for it.”