With two days to reflect on the loss to the Bears during what is virtually the halfway mark of the season, Raheem Morris spoke to members of the media and discussed where the Buccaneers stand and where they are headed.
Morris admitted there are several aspects of play that need to be cleaned up if Tampa Bay wants to reach its goal of winning the division.
“We had a chance to sit down as a team and reflect on what is going on in the first half of the season,” Morris said. “Got a chance to look at all 71 penalties all together as a team today and be accountable for the ones we can affect -- the jumping offsides, the holdings. Some of the judgments calls, (like) the pass interference calls, we can’t affect. We won't try and worry about (those).
“We will refocus and get our game plan back to what we need to do in order to come out in the second half of the season and win the NFC South.”
Morris understands the fans' frustrations with the offensive slow starts. He and the rest of the coaching staff are just as frustrated. Penalties and a lack of execution are mental mistakes and Morris wanted his players to see it firsthand.
“I showed my team a bunch of them (penalties),” Morris said. “I showed my team the ones we can affect and the ones we can control and be better on. (We looked at) probably about 47 (penalties). We're talking about holdings, false starts, procedural issues with wide outs or tight ends moving at the same time – things of that nature. And then you really show the ones that took away plays for us.
“It's easy to say fast starts. But you can’t have fast starts if you don’t execute on the beginning and get yourself backed up. And get in to (long down) situations. Those things aren’t conducive to getting fast starts.
“The other couple things I can think about when you are dealing with fast starts are dropped balls on the first drive that we need to eliminate,” Morris continued. “So whatever that is we tried to fix today. We will be able to reiterate and talk about. And they will be able to go home and think about it and then get back here and get to work next Tuesday.”
While the head ball coach understand the Buccaneers have issues he refuses to say the sky is falling.
“The bottom line is, the best team in the NFL has seven wins,” Morris said. “The best after that has five. And we have four. So we are one game away from being the second best in the National Football League. That is the focus on the football team.”
The new CBA states that during the bye week the team must have four consecutive days off. Morris wants his players to take a break and come back with a renewed energy before traveling to New Orleans.
“Right now I want those guys to get away,” Morris said. “Be with their families; get that message ready to deal. We have a tough NFC South opponent going there where they are hot and rolling. Should be a great game. Another great bounce back game for us. The NFL is exactly what they say it is – one of the best leagues in all of sports. We are right in the mix of things where we want to be at the bye.”
Losing Earnest Graham to an Achilles injury will be a tough blow, Morris admitted, but the head coach again put on the brave face and explained they will weather the adversity.
“E.G. will be gone. We lost that guy,” Morris said. "Insurance Graham is a guy that moves around and does a lot for us. We will get some resolve from getting Blount back after the bye week. We had a young man by the name of Mossis Madu that has been moved up. We have some guys here in house. It's not as dire of a need as SportsCenter tried to make it yesterday.
“I know we only have one active guy on our roster and his name is Kregg Lumpkin. Everybody was in a dire mode. But it is never like that with the Buccaneers. We are always one step ahead, or we try and be. Mark Dominik has done a great job stacking our roster with people to go out there and win football games and that is what we have been able to do.”
Blount should be back to full strength when the Buccaneers travel to New Orleans a week from Sunday, according to Morris.
“I’m really confident about Blount,” Morris said. “ He had two weeks off. He looked good running last week and looked better today. He will have another week of rest. He will be able to come back the following week.”
Besides Blount and Graham, the Buccaneers have lost other key starters and Morris addressed those as well.
“Mason Foster, we feel real good about having the week off,” Morris said. “He has tried to tough out the last two weeks. He went out there and could have had the ability to play but I pulled him early. I didn’t like the way he was moving. I could have been wrong. I put in Hayward who played really well. But that just goes into our next-man-up theory.
“Foster went to the sideline and became an absolute cheerleader for Hayward, coached him up. That's a sign of his maturity and growth as our mike linebacker. He will be in a situation one day where I won't be able to take him off the field, because he will tell me no. But the young punk has still got to listen to me.”
Morris also addressed the injury to Tanard Jackson that occurred after picking off a Jay Cuter pass in the first half.
“Tanard is a lot better than we thought,” Morris said. “He did some of his stuff this morning. He wasn’t able to move around yet but hopefully after this bye we’ll see where he’s at. It's a hamstring type of an issue, a strain kind of an issue. He’s a tough guy. I know it’s hard to deal and hard to keep him off but that’s where I have to step in and protect him from himself as well."
While he can’t say for sure, Morris is hoping when they board their flight to New Orleans on November 5 his team will be close to full strength.
"I’m hoping so. I can’t guarantee that,” Morris said. “There’s a bunch of guys that I know will be ready. Some of those guys, the Jeremy Zuttahs, are a lot better than I thought because you thought it was a week-to-week, now it’s looking day-to-day. He’s looking better and better. It’s going to become a tough-man issue for some of those guys. We’ll see where they are."
Morris isn’t counting on the Buccaneers’ recent success in New Orleans being a factor in their next game.
“That means absolutely nothing,” Morris said. “They just scored 60 points I think, man. Hey guys, let me say this about New Orleans, at the end of the day, they’re going to have 300 yards passing.
“(It's a) matter of whether we catch the ball or not and take advantage of our opportunities. No different than this week. This week we dropped a couple of opportunities. We made some great plays. We had a chance to make a couple of other great ones. I brought it out to the defense today. Ronde Barber walks into the end zone 90 percent of the time with that ball. We have the ability to score when T-Jack pulls his hamstring a little bit and has to step out of bounds and strains it. We had the ability to get some other balls back there with Corey Lynch making some dynamic plays when he got in for T-Jack. Those are the plays we have to make when we face New Orleans. We have to capitalize on those if we want to have a chance to win.”