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People naturally start pointing fingers when teams start a season 0-3. With the Tampa Bay Buccaneers off to an 0-3 start, Pewter Report’s Jim Flynn has decided to use this Pewter Insider column to identify four areas the Bucs must improve in if they are to turn their season around.

Tampa Bay needs to get off to faster starts on both sides of the football. The offense has struggled to move the ball, and the defense has struggled to get opposing offenses off the field. In fact, the Bucs have been outscored 51-10 in the first half through three regular season games. Tampa Bay’s inability to move the ball offensively and get the ball back defensively has contributed to the Bucs getting dominated in time of possession this year, 34:47 to 25:13. To put that stat in perspective, the Bucs held onto the ball an average of 30:45 through 16 regular season games in 2005. The Bucs, who are converting nearly 37 percent of their third downs, need to convert more, and the defense needs to find a way to get itself off the field in a more timely manner.

Turnovers are absolutely killing the Buccaneers. Quarterback Chris Simms had thrown seven interceptions through 11 regular season games in 2005. Simms produced that same interception total through Tampa Bay’s first three regular season games in ’06. Before he suffered the severe internal injury that required emergency surgery on Sunday, Simms, who is one tough competitor, had completed just 54.7 percent of his passes for 585 yards and tossed one touchdown and seven interceptions. Now, not all of the blame can be put on Simms. Tampa Bay’s defense hasn’t helped matters. This unit has struggled to create turnovers and capitalize on turnover opportunities. Last year, Tampa Bay’s playoff team forced 16 fumbles and intercepted 17 passes through 16 games. This year, through three games, the Bucs defense has just one interception. And while it has forced 10 fumbles, the Bucs have recovered just four of them.

As a rookie, Bucs running back Carnell “Cadillac” Williams carried the Bucs to the playoffs on his back by rushing for 1,178 yards (4.1 avg.) and six touchdowns. He averaged 20 carries per game in 2005 en route to earning NFL Rookie of the Year honors. One of the reasons why the Bucs got off to a 4-0 start in 2005 was because of Williams’ production in the first three games. In fact, Williams set an NFL rookie record by rushing for 434 yards on 88 carries in his first three games as a pro. This year, Williams, who has battled some back spasms, has carried the ball just 42 times for 107 yards (2.5 avg.) and one touchdown. His longest run of the year is 11 yards. As a result, Tampa Bay’s offense is ranked 31st overall and dead last (32nd) in the running game. The running game, or lack thereof, has also hindered Tampa Bay’s ability to move the chains. The Bucs rank last (16th) in the NFC in first downs produced on offense. The Bucs have 43 first downs, and only nine of them have come via the running game. Not only does Williams need more carries, Tampa Bay's offensive line needs to create more holes for Cadillac.

Tampa Bay’s defense has finished nine consecutive seasons ranked in the Top 10 in the NFL under Bucs defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin. The Bucs were hoping for a 10th straight year of domination on the defensive side of the ball, but they’re a long way away from accomplishing that feat. Tampa Bay’s defense is off to a disappointing start. It currently is allowing opposing offenses to produce an average of 334 yards per game, including 170 yards via the running game. As a result, the Bucs currently rank 21st overall in defense and dead last (32nd) against the run. Tampa Bay’s defense has six starters that are 30 years of age or older, and some feel this unit is starting to show its age. The Bucs defense has uncharacteristically missed tackles and failed to make enough big plays. The Bucs have notched just five sacks and one interception through three games. The Bucs are allowing offenses to convert just 30.8 percent of third down attempts, but that stat is deceiving as this unit is also allowing an average of 5.55 yards per play on first down, which means opposing offenses aren’t necessarily needing third downs to keep the chains moving. They’re converting too many times on second down. If the Bucs are going to turn their season around, the defense must find a way to stop the run, create turnovers, and most importantly, dominate games again.

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