This story is intended to be read by Pewter Insider subscribers only. Sharing of the PI content with non-subscribers of this service can result in cancellation of your subscription to the service and/or further actions by the publishers.
RED ZONE OFFENSE SHOWS IMPROVEMENT While Tampa Bay's pass rush, or lack thereof, still is a hot topic amongst Bucs fans, one statistical category that seems to have been forgotten about is the team's red zone offense, which struggled mightily last year.
Despite having the 14th-ranked offense in the NFL in 2008, the Bucs failed to turn promising drives into enough points, particularly in the form of touchdowns.
The Bucs had one of the worst red zone offenses in the league, finishing the 2008 season ranked 30th in that category. Penetrating the opponent's 20-yard line wasn't a problem for former Bucs head coach Jon Gruden's offense, which had 56 trips to the red zone. But too many drives stalled. Of their 56 trips to the red zone last season, the Bucs scored touchdowns just 22 times (39.3 percent).
Tampa Bay also came away from those drives with 26 field goals, which combined with its TDs led to a 85.7 percent success rate in terms of scoring points off trips to the red zone.
Gruden's offense ranked in the top 10 just once in his seven seasons in Tampa Bay. Ironically, Tampa Bay's new offense, which saw architect Jeff Jagodzinski fired just six months into the job and just two weeks before the start of the 2009 regular season, is off to a better start compared to Gruden's results, including total offense and red zone performance.
It's important to note that its still very early in the 2009 regular season, but the team and its fans should be encouraged by what it saw from Tampa Bay's offense vs. Dallas on Sunday.
Under the guidance of new offensive coordinator Greg Olson, the Bucs offense produced 450 yards and 21 points vs. the Cowboys. That included 174 yards and two touchdowns in the ground game department, and no sacks allowed by the offensive line even though quarterback Byron Leftwich threw 41 times in the game.
In addition to that success on offense, the Bucs got off to a great start in the red zone, scoring three touchdowns on three trips inside the 20-yard line,
That 100 percent red zone success rate currently ranks tied for first in the NFL with three other teams – Baltimore, Kansas City and Philadelphia.
While that's encouraging, Olson and Co. still have plenty of room for improvement. The Bucs had some promising drives that resulted in nothing Sunday, and that will need to change if the team plans to win more games than most people predicted.
The Bucs sustained long drives that started from their own 20, 22 and 31-yard line, but those three opportunities ended at the Dallas 20, 28 and 26 with a blocked field goal, a missed field goal and a turnover on downs, respectively.
The good news is this offense doesn't appear to need as many turnovers created by the defense in order to decorate the scoreboard. Outside of those three long scoreless drives, the Bucs' three drives that ended with touchdowns began at Tampa Bay's own 16, 20 and 28-yard line, which amounted to drives of 84, 80 and 72 yards.
That is indeed an encouraging sign for Tampa Bay's young and revamped offense, which still is a work in progress.
IT MIGHT BE NOW OR NEVER FOR BUCS' FRONT FOUR The pressure is on Tampa Bay's secondary to correct its mistakes and step up to the challenge vs. Buffalo on Sunday. The Bills, who have dangerous receivers in Terrell Owens and Lee Evans, likely will target the Bucs secondary after watching the Cowboys produce four plays of 40-plus yards, including three that resulted in touchdowns.
Tampa Bay's front four can help its secondary in that regard. The Bucs recorded just one sack vs. the Cowboys in a 34-21 loss, and that quarterback takedown came from cornerback Ronde Barber on a blitz in the first quarter.
As a result of the lack of pressure provided by Tampa Bay's front four defensive linemen, Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo completed 16-of-27 passes for 353 yards and tossed three touchdowns.
Tampa Bay's pass rushing woes have plagued the team for a while. In fact, the Bucs registered just 29 sacks in 2008. To put that number in perspective, the last two Super Bowl champions (the Pittsburgh Steelers and New York Giants) each had over 50 sacks.
While the front four plays as one unit, Bucs head coach Raheem Morris and defensive coordinator Jim Bates acknowledged this week that the defensive ends were the ones that needed to step up and help generate a better pass rush, starting in Buffalo.
"We just don't have the pass rush yet," said Morris. "We need the guy to have the two-sack game, whether it's Gaines [Adams] or Jimmy [Wilkerson]. I can't ask [defensive tackles] Ryan Sims, Chris Hovan or Roy Miller to do that. The inside pass rush right now is either going to be Stylez White or Jimmy when he moves inside. We just need one of those outside guys to step up as far as the pass rush is concerned. It's not to say the other guys can't do that, but that's where it needs to come from first."
The two players that need to step up the most are Jimmy Wilkerson, who is in a contract year, and the fourth overall pick of the 2007 NFL Draft, Gaines Adams.
Adams has 12.5 career sacks, including 6.5 in 2008, but he has been heavily criticized for a perceived lack of quarterback pressures.
Morris went as far as telling Adams he would be considered a first-round bust if he didn't register double-digit sacks this year. Many believe that to be true since Bates' 4-3 defensive system is designed to get the most out of its defensive ends in terms of QB pressures and sacks.
Adams was held without a sack or tackle vs. Dallas, which was very disappointing since he had registered two sacks vs. Cowboys left tackle Flozell Adams last year.
On Sunday, Adams will line up opposite of Bills left tackle Demetrius Bell, a second-year player and former seventh-round pick who has just one career start under his belt.
The Bills surrendered 38 sacks in 2008, and another four quarterback takedowns vs. New England on Monday night. Needless to say, the pressure is on Adams to perform Sunday.
"Get sacks. That's the main thing," said Adams. "That's what I get graded upon – sacks. I had some opportunities Sunday, but I just didn't come home. I have to find a few more things to do to get there.
"There's no pressure. My job is to get sacks and pressure the quarterback. Sacks is how I get labeled. You either get sacks or you don't get sacks."
Wilkerson is also under the gun. He had five sacks in his debut with the Bucs last year. But in his first five seasons with the Chiefs, Wilkerson notched just one sack. Wilkerson, who is used as a defensive tackle in obvious passing situations, knows the Bucs need to get more pressure on Bills quarterback Trent Edwards, who is considered mobile, than it did vs. Dallas.
“I think so,” Wilkerson said when asked if he felt added pressure to get after the quarterback. “I reviewed the film and seeing what Buffalo did to New England, if we don’t keep [Edwards] contained he can easily boot and get the first down. He’s got great speed. We have to contain him, but we also have to get to him.”
Tampa Bay's defensive tackles aren't going to lead the team in sacks in Bates' system, but starters Ryan Sims and Chris Hovan aren't trying to escape the criticism aimed towards the team's pass-rushing woes, either.
"It was timing routes all day. Everything was three- and five-step drops, then the ball was out," Sims said of playing Dallas. "We have to find a way to disrupt the timing. I had a good pass rush move a couple of times and as quick as I got there the ball was gone and the receiver was already tackled. They have a good offensive line. You have to tip your hat to those guys. I'm not saying they can't be beat. They did a pretty good job Sunday. We just have to work harder."
Dallas' offensive line was no pushover. The Cowboys allowed Romo to get sacked just 20 times last season, which helped three of their starting five O-linemen earn trips to the Pro Bowl. The Bucs know that the Cowboys offensive line might be the best one they face in 2009.
"I know that it's the biggest O-line we'll face, and it might be the best," Sims said of Dallas' offensive line. "It was a great test for us out of the gate. They have a very mobile quarterback in Tony [Romo]. It doesn't get harder than that. The biggest stride this defense is going to make is from Week 1 to Week 2. We'll really see what type of defense we have next week."
Sunday's game in Buffalo could make or break Tampa Bay's starting front four. Why? Because this unit will face a revamped Bills offensive line that features two rookie guards and Bell at left tackle. These three offensive linemen have just one career start under their belt in the NFL. That inexperience is something the Bucs defensive line must exploit on Sunday.
BUCS NEED A WIN IN A BIG WAY Even if you buy some pundits' beliefs that the playoffs are out of reach for the young and rebuilding Buccaneers, Tampa Bay still needs to record a win as soon as possible, and for a few different reasons.
First, this is a Bucs team that believes in new head coach Raheem Morris, but could be in danger of losing confidence the longer it goes without its first win. Morris is the youngest head coach in the NFL, and his players certainly are aware of that fact.
Second, there are 17 new players on Tampa Bay's current active roster from one year ago, but there are also 36 players from last year's team, which suffered a December collapse that cost the club a playoff berth and Jon Gruden and Bruce Allen their jobs.
A win in Buffalo Sunday would help erase memories of Tampa Bay's 0-4 December collapse, 1-3 preseason and Sunday's 34-21 loss to Dallas.
The Bucs have lost five straight regular season games dating back to the 2008 season. That ranks tied with Kansas City for fourth-longest losing streak in the NFL.
The Bucs don't have the worst losing streak in the league, but they're not in good company (see below). Of course, the sooner the Bucs record their first win under Morris the sooner they'll be out of this category.
Longest Current Losing Streaks In NFL Detroit – 18 St. Louis – 11 Cleveland – 7 Kansas City – 5 Tampa Bay – 5