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Last year, the Buccaneers' season ended when the New York Giants shut down Tampa Bay's running game and forced the Bucs to pass. With wide receiver Joey Galloway injured, the Buccaneers were unable to mount an effective attack through the air. After the loss many observers felt the Buccaneers needed to get more explosive in the passing game.
What could hurt their running game would be if the passing attack was unable to keep teams from stacking the box to take away the run. That is what happened to the team in the 2006 season.
With running back Carnell "Cadillac" Williams coming off of his impressive rookie performance, and with a sixth-round rookie Bruce Gradkowski getting the majority of starts at quarterback, teams decided to make the Gradkowski-led passing attack beat them. Unfortunately for the Bucs, he was unable to do that the majority of the time.
It is foreseeable for opposing teams to look at Tampa Bay's big talented offensive line and decide that the best way to play the Buccaneers is to put eight defenders near the line of scrimmage and dare the team to pass the ball downfield. The same way the Giants did last January. The Bucs ranked 11th in the NFL in rushing offense, and with a stable of 1,000-yard running backs and their improving young offensive line, the Buccaneers should have a strong running game again in 2008. For the season, Tampa Bay ranked 16th in passing offense.
We all know that head coach Jon Gruden loves quarterback play and the passing game. Bucs fans can be sure that the team will do its share of passing the ball in 2008, particularly when defenses are giving the team passing opportunities when they try to take away the running game. That said, will Tampa Bay be able to pass the ball better in 2008?
If the Buccaneers are unable to provide more production in their passing game there will be fewer running lanes open to the team. In order for Tampa Bay to improve in 2008, it will need a more effective passing game. In this Campbell's Cover 2, we will debate whether the Bucs will have a better passing game next season. Cover 1- The Buccaneers Will Not Have A Better Passing Attack
It is hard to look at the Buccaneers 2008 roster and anticipate the passing offense being improved. Last year, Tampa Bay's air attack ran through quarterback Jeff Garcia and Galloway. This season the same responsibility seems to fall on those two players. With Garcia, 38, and Galloway, 36, that appears to be a risky proposition.
When Galloway could not play at his normal level against the Giants due to a shoulder injury, the passing offense was not effective. Prior to Galloway being limited in that contest, Garcia was injured against the Washington Redskins on Nov. 25. Garcia played in two of the remaining five regular season games before the playoff loss. Interestingly, the Garcia to Galloway connection did not hook up for a touchdown after Garcia was injured. In fact, once Garcia went out with the back injury, Galloway did not score a touchdown the rest of the season.
The majority of their production came prior to Garcia's back injury. For the year, Garcia started 13 games completing 63.9 percent of his passes for 2,440 yards and 13 touchdowns with four interceptions for a quarterback rating of 94.6. The Pro Bowler Garcia was a good caretaker of the ball and the Bucs offense, but he wasn't a threat to light up the opposition through the air. His high number of touchdown passes in a game was two, which he did four times.
Galloway hauled in 57 receptions for 1,014 yards and six touchdowns, although Galloway had season highs in receptions (7) and yards (159) with Luke McCown at quarterback against New Orleans. Considering the number of quarterbacks the Bucs have played in a season, Tampa Bay has to have Galloway still getting into the end zone if another quarterback needs to replace Garcia.
Garcia and Galloway did not seem to remain productive when they were less than 100 percent healthy. Many times players incur more injuries, and are impacted more by their injuries as they age. With Garcia's aggressive style of play and the strength of his arm in question as he ages, it seems to be questionable to expect him to play at a high level for 16 games.
After Galloway, the wide receiver that gave the Buccaneers the most production was Ike Hilliard. Last year, Hilliard hauled in 62 passes for 722 yards and one touchdown. He produced 37 first downs from those catches. As the season went on, Hilliard's production went down as the veteran battled nagging injuries. In the first half of the season he caught 39 balls. In the second half his receptions fell to 23. While Hilliard proved to still be a reliable receiver for Tampa Bay, ideally he would be the third receiver for the team in 2008.
That is precisely one of the biggest reasons why the Bucs will struggle to improve their passing offense next season; there is not a reliable receiver outside of Galloway and Hilliard. Young receivers Michael Clayton and Maurice Stovall have combined for two touchdowns the past two seasons. Last year, they combined for 32 receptions for 387 yards and one touchdown. If the Buccaneers hope to have a more effective passing attack, they need at least one of these two receivers to step up and be a quality option with the older veterans. That is in part because Tampa Bay was unable to acquire a proven receiving option for next season.
In free agency, the team signed free agent Antonio Bryant, who was out of football in 2007. In his career, Bryant has shown some playmaking ability. His issues have been problems in the locker room with coaches and teammates, and legal trouble off of the field. In OTAs, Bryant has had moments where he flashed his explosive talent, but has also appeared rusty from his time of football. It remains to be seen whether Bryant will make the team and contribute, or wind up being a failed experiment like receiver David Boston.
Tampa Bay appeared to be in good position in the draft to get one the top receivers when none were taken in the first round in April. The second round saw a run of receivers with nine being taken. The Buccaneers were able to get a speed receiver in Dexter Jackson, but missed out on getting one with a more proven track record. Jackson played at Division-1AA Appalachian State. Not only did he play against lesser competition, he also played for a running offense. Thus, he is considered to be somewhat of a project at receiver. At the last OTA, Jackson looked much better at receiver than he had in other practices. However, being a rookie and having to learn the offense, there is a decent chance that he will not contribute much as a receiver in 2008.
In addition to adding a couple of new receivers, the Buccaneers had some turnover in their tight ends. Last year, the tight ends, Anthony Becht, Alex Smith and Jerramy Stevens, combined for nine touchdowns. The trio combined for 55 receptions for 594 yards. Becht left for St. Louis in free agency and the Bucs brought in tight ends Ben Troupe and John Gilmore. None of the Bucs tight ends is a big-play threat like the Chargers' Antonio Gates, Browns' Kellen Winslow, and Chiefs' Tony Gonzalez.
Last season, Tampa Bay played only one top 10 passing defense all season — the Indianapolis Colts were ranked second. This year, the Buccaneers play three top 10 passing defenses in Denver, Oakland, and Kansas City. The games against the Broncos and Chiefs are on the road as well. Aside from the top 10, the Bucs play three other teams with pass defenses ranked in the top half of the league. Last year, they played four teams ranked in the top half. If Tampa Bay is going to improve its pass offense this year it will have to do it against better opposition than what it played in 2007.
The Bucs are too reliant on older players, including Garcia, Galloway, and Hilliard, for offensive production. Receivers Clayton and Stovall have not proven to be reliable producers in the passing game. The most valid reason why the Buccaneers will not have a more effective passing attack in 2008 is that there is not a new player that can be relied on to be an explosive option.
Cover 2- The Buccaneers Will Have A Better Passing Attack
Tampa Bay will have an improved passing attack next year due to numerous reasons. The Bucs will have many injured players coming back healthy. They have some new options that are speed players with playmaking ability. They have more explosive pass receivers coming out of the backfield, and they have other players on the roster that finished the season strong.
Last year's starting tandem at wide receiver of Hilliard and Galloway are healthy after being limited by injuries at the end of last season. How did that Keyshawn Johnson trade work out? Galloway is on his way to being, if not already, the best wide receiver in Tampa Bay history. Both veteran receivers looked fast and effective at the OTA last week that the media was allowed to watch. Considering neither player needed knee surgery in the offseason, they should not be any slower next year. Having them back healthy is a big improvement for the Buccaneers passing attack immediately.
While the Buccaneers did not bring in a top of the line free agent receiver or first-round pick, the Bucs will have a more productive passing game due to improvements from within the roster. Towards the end of the season, Tampa Bay saw the emergence of Stevens, and a glimpse of Clayton returning to his rookie form.
Clayton did not have big receiving numbers for the third straight season, but towards the end of the year he showcased some of the playmaking that made him a rookie sensation. He hauled in a 39-yard pass against Tennessee. After spraining his ankle on a 20-yard reception against Detroit on Oct. 20, Clayton missed two games. When he came back Clayton finished the season strong for the Bucs. He had a 20-yard run on a reverse against New Orleans. Then over his final four games he caught 16 passes for 192 yards.
In the last two games of the regular season, Clayton caught five passes for 71 yards (14.2 avg.) at San Francisco, and had five receptions for 60 yards (12 avg.) against Carolina. In the playoff loss against the Giants, Clayton had three catches for 39 yards (13 avg.). In this year's OTA sessions, Clayton has looked slimmed down and faster; he looked to be getting more separation from cornerbacks and defenders.
In the last month of the season, Stevens recorded four touchdown receptions to finish second on the team in touchdown catches. Stevens (6-7, 260) presents a mismatch for defenses with his size. This was exploited on his game-winning catch against New Orleans on Dec. 2. In the last game of the season, Stevens used his size again to block off a defender to snag a pass for a touchdown. Having proven his ability when he had the opportunity in the final month, expect the Buccaneers to use Stevens over the course of the entire regular season in 2008.
Along with Stevens, the Buccaneers have two good pass-receiving tight ends in Smith and Troupe. Smith had a career-high with 385 yards, a 12-yard per catch average. He showed his ability to stretch defenses down field with receptions of 31 and 33 yards. Troupe was underutilized in Tennessee, and possesses good speed to get up field. Troupe's 2005 season of 55 catches for 530 yards and four touchdowns illustrates that. When the Buccaneers are in two tight end sets with Troupe, Smith, or Stevens they have three viable pass-catching options that are capable of making big plays.
Troupe isn't the only new Buccaneer who could bring a lot to the passing game. Tampa Bay signed Bryant and drafted the small, speedy Jackson. Both players have explosive speed and add big-play potential to the offense.
Bryant, 27, last played in 2006 for the San Francisco 49ers. For his career, Bryant has 250 receptions for 3,837 yards and 19 touchdowns. His best season came in 2005 for Cleveland when he caught 69 passes for 1,009 yards and four touchdowns. Bryant has been rusty, but has flashed his ability at times in the OTA sessions.
At the last OTA, Bryant had a good day hooking up with McCown for a bomb that resulted in a touchdown, and making other receptions downfield. At 6-foot-2, 188-pounds, Bryant has a nice combination of size and speed. If Bryant displays maturation off the field and production on the field, the Buccaneers may have found a potential successor to Galloway.
Jackson has the same big-play ability that Bryant possesses. While he may be behind the other receivers in playing time due to familiarity with the offense, by the second half of the season he may be able to offer a deep threat on offense opposite Galloway. After recovering from a hamstring injury, Jackson looked much faster at the last OTA session. He was gaining separation and looked explosive in and out of his cuts. Sources have told Pewter Report that the Bucs feel that Jackson gives them the best yards-after-the-catch of any receiver that they had in some time, outside of Galloway.
Another burner to pair with Galloway would be a huge boost to the Bucs offense. If there are downfield threats on either side of the field, it will be very hard for teams to put both safeties near the line of scrimmage. It would also help to get favorable matchups for a third receiver, tight end, or running back coming out of the backfield. With Jackson, Bryant, Galloway, and speedsters Michael Bennett or Warrick Dunn running pass routes that would be three to four home run threats that a defense would have to account for on a given play.
While Earnest Graham was a good receiver out of the backfield last season, he is not a player that poses a speed threat to break a check down pass for a huge gain. Bennett and Dunn have that kind of speed. Bennett caught a 23-yard touchdown pass against Carolina last season that he hauled in at the line of scrimmage and used his jets to get into the end zone. Dunn has averaged over eight yards a reception in his career and has 15 touchdown catches as well.
The speed of Bennett and Dunn present mismatches for Gruden to take advantage of. In the OTA sessions, Dunn and Bennett have used a lot in the passing game and the Bucs have added some new wrinkles in their offense with these two players involved in the air attack. Dunn and Bennett's lead blocker, fullback B.J. Askew, also gives the passing offense a good target.
Last year, Askew had the fifth most receptions of any fullback in the NFL. For the year he had 18 receptions for 175 yards. Askew would have ranked even higher if he had not been held out of the last three games due to an ankle injury. Sources have indicated that the Bucs feel that Askew is another dynamic receiving threat for the offense. Askew is often overlooked, and that could be why he had 9.7 yards per catch average coming out of the backfield. That average was better than those of Bennett, Graham, Dunn, Williams, and Michael Pittman.
Another free agent that will greatly help the passing game is center Jeff Faine. The veteran center will contribute to a more effective passing attack in a number of ways. Last year, the majority of the pass rush that the Buccaneers incurred came from up the middle. Faine should be a big improvement there in helping Tampa Bay's young guards to stifle the pass rush in the quarterbacks face.
Faine will also add to Tampa Bay's passing attack in his athletic ability. Last season's center, John Wade, did not possess the speed and athleticism to get out and block for screen passes and other swing plays. The Bucs believe that Faine has that ability, and it will be interesting to see the Buccaneers incorporate more of those pass plays.
Aside from Faine, the Bucs young offensive lineman of Arron Sears, Davin Joseph, Jeremy Trueblood, and Donald Penn have more experience to draw upon. The line also is boosted by the return of veteran tackle Luke Petitgout. His experience and skills will give the Buccaneers good talent and depth at the important left tackle position. With an improved offensive line, Tampa Bay will have a better passing offense in 2008.
Every season NFL teams are tested with the ability and contributions that their backup players are able to provide. This season, the Buccaneers seem to have better depth at the most important position for the passing game — quarterback. With Garcia coming back fully healthy he should be more effective with a year in Gruden's system. McCown played well in his five games last year compiling a quarterback rating of 91.7. The other quarterback is the newly reacquired Brian Griese, whose success as a Buc was well documented by Pewter Report's Jim Flynn in his last Flynn's Focus. Rookie Josh Johnson will most likely have a red-shirt season and the Buccaneers do not plan on him seeing the field in 2008.
The top four quarterbacks this year of Garcia, Griese, McCown, and Johnson seem to be more talented than last year's group of Garcia, McCown, Chris Simms, and Gradkowski. The other way that backup quarterbacks help to make a team better is in practice. With McCown and Griese throwing passes to the backup receivers, those players have practiced with better quarterbacks. Thus when they see game action they better prepared for catching passes due to practicing with those skilled quarterbacks. It will also matter as to whom the quarterbacks and receivers are matched up against.
While it is true the Bucs play more top 10 pass defenses in 2008, none of those teams made the playoffs. The Broncos, Raiders, and Chiefs all picked highly in the draft because they did not win much last season. Last year, the Bucs played two of the worst pass defenses in New Orleans and Detroit. This year, Tampa Bay will play more games against the lowest-ranked pass defenses. The Bucs play the 32nd, 31st, 30th, and 27th ranked pass defenses in Minnesota, Detroit, New Orleans, and Chicago, respectively. The schedule does not appear to be a slate that will make it hard for the passing offense to improve in 2008.
While the Buccaneers have not added a big name wide receiver in the offseason, they have added a number of players that will make their passing game more effective in 2008. Griese, Faine, Dunn, Bryant, Jackson, and Troupe all bring talent that will contribute to the Bucs having a better passing attack in 2008. The passing offense looked strong in the last OTA, and looks to be a sign of things to come. Tampa Bay should get more production out of its passing game next season.
After considering both Covers, the Buccaneers should have a better passing attack in 2008. Too often observers think that adding a big name wide receiver is the key to jump-starting a passing game, but by improving all facets of an offense, a more successful passing game is a byproduct of that. The blocking, quarterback play, better receivers at running back, diverse options at tight end, and improved receivers, would contribute as a unit to an improved passing attack.
The final point why Tampa Bay will have a better passing offense in 2008, is that this is the first time since 2003-2004 that the Bucs have the same starting quarterback returning for the next season. Brad Johnson was the last signal caller to accomplish that rare feat in Tampa Bay. Garcia should be able to build from having one season in Gruden's offense. The Bucs believe that having the continuity at the starting quarterback position will help propel the offense in 2008.
With greater depth and talent on the offense as whole, the conclusion of this Campbell's Cover 2 is that the Buccaneers will have an improved passing attack in 2008.
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