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QUARTERBACKS Bruce Gradkowski showed some toughness in this contest by standing tall in the pocket and taking a big hit from Saints defensive tackle Antwan Lake to find Joey Galloway for a 27-yard gain before their 44-yard touchdown connection. Gradkowski scrambled for seven yards on a third-and-7 situation and took a big shot from cornerback Fred Thomas as he crossed the marker. He finished with two runs for 12 yards. Gradkowski took another hit as he fired a missile to Galloway for their second touchdown connection of the day. The rookie quarterback had a masterful second quarter that improved his final stats, which were 18-of-31 for 185 yards and two touchdowns with no interceptions. However, Gradkowski struggled mightily to start the game, and completed just three of his first 10 passes for eight yards. However, he was 15-of-21 for 177 yards and two touchdowns after that.
Like the rest of his teammates, Gradkowski started slowly and didn’t put his team in position to win early. While he helped rally the team to within three points in the half, the offense couldn’t sustain any drives in the second half, picking up just two first downs over the final two quarters. Gradkowski missed a wide-open Michael Clayton on fourth-and-3 early in the fourth quarter that prefaced a Saints drive that took nine minutes off the clock. Gradkowski needed a third quarter that matched his second quarter. After two relatively poor outings against Philadelphia and New York, Gradkowski showed some improvement on Sunday against the Saints. He needs to start faster and be more patient and decisive in the first quarter. He’s checking the ball down too quickly to his backs and tight ends. Gradkowski also must do a better job of protecting the football. He had three fumbles today and was lucky that he only lost one. Two fumbles came on sacks and one came on his first down run and the ball went out of bounds.
RUNNING BACKS It was another slow start for Cadillac Williams, and both he and the offensive line deserve their share of the blame. Williams didn’t have many holes to run through and didn’t make anything happen on his own. Much like last week, when the Bucs fell behind early on the scoreboard, Williams’ day was done – expect for another meaningless, third-down carry on a delay that caught the defense off guard, just as it did last week at New York. Against the Saints, Williams ripped off a 16-yarder. Before that carry, Williams had just 23 yards on 11 carries (2.09 avg.). And like last week, Williams dropped two catchable passes, although he did have one catch for five yards.
Third-down back Michael Pittman had one carry for three yards and had six catches for only 27 yards, including a 12-yard gain that picked up a first down. Earnest Graham got two carries and logged 12 yards in garbage time.
Fullback Mike Alstott is officially no longer a part of this offense. He did not have any carries or any catches on Sunday, which is the first time he hasn’t touched the ball in a game all season. Alstott was used as a fullback, but the Bucs also tried running out of a one-back set.
The Buccaneers running game appears to be going nowhere. The Saints joined the chorus of teams that have been stacking the box and taking away Tampa Bay’s chance of having a successful ground attack. The offensive line is getting outgunned at the point of attack and is losing the battle for the line of scrimmage. Williams is not doing his part by breaking tackles or making defenders miss when he has the opportunity. He is also dropping too many catchable passes.
WIDE RECEIVERS If Joey Galloway hadn’t stumbled on his 27-yard catch, it would have been a touchdown. The good news for Galloway is that he got a beautiful, 44-yard bomb that fell into his hands for a score two plays later as he scorched Saints cornerback Fred Thomas. Galloway finished with four catches for 97 yards, and also caught a 17-yard touchdown pass right before halftime. However, he didn’t catch a pass in the second half, which was due to a combination of poor play-calling, poor execution by the quarterback and the pass protection and the Saints defense.
Michael Clayton worked the middle of the field to pick up a couple of first downs with his four catches for 38 yards. Clayton did have a 2-yard run on third-and-3 wind up being about six inches short of a first down.
Veteran Ike Hilliard was called for a false start on third-and-6 that turned Tampa Bay’s down and distance into third-and-11, but atoned for that mistake with a nice 10-yard catch on third down to pick up a first down.
Tampa Bay’s wide receivers did a pretty good job of getting open against New Orleans, but breakdowns in pass protection and impatience by rookie quarterback Bruce Gradkowski did not allow the Bucs to connect with the receivers on as many pass plays as Jon Gruden would have liked. The wide receivers didn't have any drops today, which was an improvement over last week.
TIGHT ENDS Alex Smith is a good tight end with decent speed, but it takes him a while to get to top gear, which makes him a useless outlet receiver. Smith finished with just two catches for eight yards against New Orleans. Smith is more dangerous working the defense down the seams, but he and Gradkowski were unable to connect on a pass player longer than five yards all day.
Smith and tight end Anthony Becht did not do a good job in the running blocking department as Tampa Bay could only muster 68 yards on 18 carries. Becht didn’t have any passes thrown his way.
OFFENSIVE LINE Right tackle Jeremy Trueblood was whistled for a false start on Tampa Bay’s first possession, forcing the Bucs into a third-and-10 situation. He also allowed a sack by Charles Grant late in the fourth quarter. This might have been Trueblood’s worst outing as a pro as he had a hard time getting proper pad level against the Saints’ defensive linemen. Trueblood also didn’t get much push off the line of scrimmage in the running game.
Left tackle Anthony Davis gave up a bad sack to Saints defensive end Will Smith to set up the Bucs in a third-and-17 situation in the first quarter. Davis didn’t do a good job of sustaining his blocks and looked lackadaisical on some plays. Tampa Bay could not establish a ground game running behind Davis despite several runs to the left side.
Sean Mahan got the start at left guard again for Dan Buenning, who is injured, but whose name isn’t showing up on the injury report. Mahan is getting known for giving up at least one sack per game, and that’s exactly what happened on Sunday as he surrendered a sack to Will Smith on a tackle-end twist. Mahan is a liability in the running game and his pass protection is barely adequate.
Right guard Davin Joseph had some moments where he shined, but also struggled against an aggressive Saints defensive front. Joseph got beat due to technique and missing assignments several times throughout the game, although he did not give up a sack.
Center John Wade had two opportunities to snap the ball when a Saints defender jumped offsides but failed to do so. He also got bull rushed up the middle on several pass plays, which forced Bruce Gradkowski to rush some throws. Wade is no longer stout enough in pass protection to handle defensive tackles one-on-one and can’t get enough push off the line of scrimmage in the running game.
Tampa Bay’s offensive line isn’t physical enough to create holes in the running game or strong and athletic enough to stave off New Orleans’ talented and quick defensive linemen. The offensive line is still a mess or a work in progress, depending on if you are a glass half-full or a glass half-empty observer. Either way, it’s simply not good.
For the second straight week, Tampa Bay was dominated in time of possession 37:21 to 22:39. The Bucs were a woeful 4-of-14 (29 percent) on third down.
Scott Reynolds is in his 25th year of covering the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as the vice president, publisher and senior Bucs beat writer for PewterReport.com. Author of the popular SR's Fab 5 column on Fridays, Reynolds oversees web development and forges marketing partnerships for PewterReport.com in addition to his editorial duties. A graduate of Kansas State University in 1995, Reynolds spent six years giving back to the community as the defensive line coach for his sons' Pop Warner team, the South Pasco Predators. Reynolds can be reached at: email@example.com