Copyright 2006 

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.

Like many people who watch, follow or cover the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, I was quite critical of Bucs head coach Jon Gruden’s playcalling during last Sunday’s game in New York.

In a game that featured 25-35 mile-per-hour winds, the Bucs threw the ball 48 times and ran it just 13. That number is a little deceiving as rookie quarterback Bruce Gradkowski actually dropped back to throw 51 times, but pulled the ball down and ran with it on three different occasions.

The Bucs’ pass-to-run ratio was lopsided to say the least in that 17-3 loss.

Not only did Tampa Bay lose the game, its offense was held without a touchdown for the second straight game and fourth this season. That’s quite disturbing seeing as the Bucs have played seven regular season games and been held without an offensive touchdown in more than half of them.

Tampa Bay’s offensive woes have the Bucs ranked 30th in that department and have the critics out in full swing. After seeing the evidence (Cadillac Williams’ eight carries vs. the Giants), the jury outside of One Buccaneer Place has already handed down a guilty verdict to Gruden and sentenced him to at least one week’s worth of tongue lashing on sports talk radio.  

Gruden took the stand, or in this case, the podium, in his own defense Monday, explaining how defenses have been dictating Tampa Bay’s playcalling as of late, essentially daring the Bucs to throw with a rookie quarterback at the helm.

"I’d like to run it every play, not have to throw it, because it’s the safest way to win,” Gruden said Monday. “But when you’re going to get the kind of defense that we saw [on Sunday] that’s dead-set on making you do something you don’t want to do, you’re going to have to throw the ball at some point in time to make people play honest. You can’t bring a double-corner blitz and drop both defensive tackles and bring perimeter pressure over and over again and expect to run the ball with tremendous success. We’re going to have to make some plays in the passing game to take advantage of the style of defenses that we’re seeing, and unfortunately we didn’t do that [Sunday].”

But rather than continuing to ask Gruden the same old, tired questions regarding the lack of running plays he’s been calling this season, I opted to assemble a jury made up of the people whose opinion Gruden values most – his players.

So many people outside of One Buc Place, including myself, voiced their displeasure with Gruden’s unbalanced playcalling, so I wanted to give the offensive players the opportunity to chime in.

Some players opted to talk off the record while others were fine with talking on the record. But as is the case with most court cases, some new evidence and facts came to light that might help the jury members outside of One Buc Place to better understand the details that go into the Bucs offense, which in turn might help people better understand Gruden’s playcalling.

It’s no secret that Tampa Bay’s offense is quite complex. It’s wordy and is full of shifts and motions. However, what most people don’t know is the Bucs aren’t just calling one play inside the huddle. It’s not two, either. Try three.

“We have a 3-for-1 in our pocket,” said Bucs quarterback Luke McCown. “When we call the play and go up to the line we know that we can get to one of those three plays based on certain looks. So you actually are going into the huddle with three plays and at the line with three plays.”

If the play that was called in the huddle doesn’t look as good at the line of scrimmage, the quarterback has the ability to audible to one of two plays.

“We’ve got the play we call at the line of scrimmage, but then we’ve got our audibles, and our audibles list is 100 pages long,” said Bucs wide receiver Michael Clayton. “The quarterback can pick and choose which audible he wants to go to depending on the coverage. On top of that we have shifts and movement. That puts us in the best position to get the look we want at the line of scrimmage.”

Each Bucs player I spoke with commended Gruden on the job he does preparing the offensive players for the fronts the opposing defenses show each week.

“Coach Gruden is so great in terms of preparing you for whatever look the defense presents you with,” said McCown. “It’s interesting because I actually have a DVD of all of my pass plays from my rookie season with my four starts [with the Cleveland Browns] and including preseason. We didn’t have a clue. We didn’t have tip sheets that our coaches brought in or anything like that. We just called plays and ran them. That’s probably why we didn’t have a lot of success. That was tough.

“That’s what Coach Gruden is so great at. He prepares you for every look they will present you with, and then gives you options so that if you see a certain look you can get to another play that’s going to be better than the one you came to the line with. He just does a great job of arming us with plenty of ammunition at the line of scrimmage.”

With the audible factor talked about very little, but very much in play in Tampa Bay’s offense, is it possible that Gruden is calling more run plays than people think?

“There’s all types of fronts we prepare for,” said Bucs running back Michael Pittman. “When we don’t see a particular front we like when we have a run play called, we audible to a passing play. That’s just the way Coach Gruden coaches us. There are times when we want to run the ball, but we get a front we don’t like and we have to audible to a pass play.”

Two different Bucs offensive players estimated that Gradkowski audibled from a running play to a passing play at least 10 times vs. the Giants last Sunday.

If that is indeed the case, all of the sudden the run-to-pass play call ratio from Sunday’s game draws closer than what appears on paper at the end of the game.

So, how many times do the Bucs quarterbacks actually audible out of run plays to pass plays in each game?

“That happens a lot over the course of our games,” said Clayton. “Definitely more than people think.”

Williams refused to lobby for more touches this week, and believe me when I say the media gave him every chance to do so. That’s not to say he doesn’t want more, but it does suggest that Williams and the rest of Tampa Bay’s running backs understand why the Bucs have been passing the ball more than running it.

“As a running back you always want to run the football more,” said Pittman. “But at the same time, as a player, you never really want to question your head coach’s calls. That’s only going to cause animosity between that player and the coach. When Coach Gruden calls the play, as a player, we have to execute it the best way we can and make those plays. There have been times when we could have made plays, but it was a couple of dropped balls here, a couple of missed throws there, a missed block here, or whatever. It just didn’t happen. The players have to make the plays. Coach Gruden would like to have a balanced offensive attack. It wasn’t balanced in New York, but at the same time Coach Gruden calls passing plays that could have worked, and as players we have to execute the plays.”

Pittman is right. The Bucs did have several opportunities to make plays in the passing game on Sunday, but failed to do so, whether it was because of dropped passes by wide receiver Joey Galloway, or a dropped pass for a touchdown or a key fumble by Clayton, or drops by Williams.

Despite being given every opportunity to openly question their head coach’s playcalling and game plans, the Bucs players I spoke with refused to do it. And this wasn’t a case of your “company line” men supporting their head coach against their will. Instead, they went out of their way to support Gruden’s playcalling and game plans, and pointed the finger at themselves.

“There’s nothing wrong with the playcalling because the plays are there to be made,” said Clayton. “It’s there, It’s absolutely there. I know we have our fair share of breakdowns, but the plays we’re calling are there. We just have to execute them. It’s that simple.

“The plays we’ve been calling are the ones that are best for the defensive fronts we’re getting. We just have to execute. I know it might be difficult to understand, but it’s really that simple. The plays are there and will continue to be there, whether they’re called in the huddle or we check to them at the line. The one thing people don’t realize is that we all have to be on the same page, so if one guy messes up it can cause the whole play to breakdown. That’s just how precise our offense is. It’s not always going to be perfect. If it was, we’d go to the house on every play. But this isn’t Madden . We’re going to have some breakdowns, but we’ve got to take advantage of the things that the defenses are giving us.”

And what happens when the Bucs offense does start taking advantage of the things the defenses are giving them in the passing game?  

“It will open things up,” said Pittman. “It will open up the running game, play-action and even more passes. But last Sunday we really weren’t hitting anything. The running game wasn’t there, and we weren’t making the plays in the passing game, either. Everyone is going to blame Coach Gruden for it, but it’s not really his fault. As a team and as players, we have to go out and execute the plays a lot better.”

Gruden will still have his critics outside of One Buc Place that will question his playcalling, and understandably so as he is the one that is ultimately responsible for the Bucs’ successes or failures on offense. But if several of Gruden’s offensive players aren’t willing to point the finger at him, who am I to pass judgment on his playcalling?

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.



Share On Socials

About the Author: PRStaff

Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments