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QUARTERBACK Quarterback Jeff Garcia didn’t have the big plays in the passing game like he did against the Saints last week, but he was efficient when he had to throw the ball. It should be noted that his his third game under center without an interception. Garcia went 14-for-22 for 151 yards and continues to keep plays alive with his mobility in the pocket. The nine-year veteran completed more than 63 percent of his pass attempts and had two dropped passes from wide receivers Ike Hilliard and Michael Clayton. Garcia’s ability to run the two-minute offense paid off for the Bucs at the end of the first half. The three-time Pro Bowler took over with exactly two minutes remaining in the second quarter and led the Bucs on a 12-play, 59-yard drive that culminated in a 25-yard Matt Bryant field goal just before halftime. Garcia was in the shotgun eight of the 12 plays and hit some big plays to set up the score. He found Hilliard for a 15-yard reception at the 1:39 mark on a crucial third-down conversion. Garcia then hooked up with Clayton on a 12-yard pass on a third-and-10 play with 50 seconds remaining. On second-and-7 with 27 seconds remaining, Garcia found tight end Alex Smith for an 11-yard reception and spiked the ball to save a timeout. Number seven was at his best on the scoring drive with 11:31 remaining in the fourth quarter that put the game away for the Bucs. Garcia went 3-for-3 for 48 yards on the drive, hitting Hilliard for 17 yards, running back Michael Pittman out of the backfield for 16 yards and found Pittman again for 15 yards. He did a good job of calling audibles the entire game getting the Bucs out of bad plays and into good ones. This was evident when Garcia called an audible for a draw to Pittman on a second-and-7 play at 8:14 in the first quarter. The play went for 12 yards and gave the Bucs a first down. Garcia did a good job of spreading the ball around as six receivers had at least one catch in the 24-3 victory. Tampa Bay produced 322 yards of total offense vs. St. Louis under Garcia’s guidance.
GRADE: A- RUNNING BACK Running back Earnest Graham, who garnered the nickname “Mr. August”, stole the show in the 24-3 victory over the St. Louis Rams. Graham came in and found holes to run through in the fourth quarter, helping the Bucs score 14 points and put the nail in the Rams’ coffin. Graham finished the game with 75 yards on eight carries and two touchdowns. His first carry came at the 9:55 mark of the fourth quarter when he rumbled for four yards around the right side. On first-and-10 from the Rams 28-yard line, Graham scampered for 20 yards to set up a first-and-goal for the offense. The Florida alum finished off the drive on the next play with an 8-yard touchdown run, the first touchdown of his NFL career. Graham continued his breakout game in the backfield on the following drive with 6:36 remaining in the fourth quarter. He had two carries for 32 yards, including a 28-yard touchdown run that featured the fourth-year running back bulling over safety Corey Chavous on his way to the end zone.
Running back Michael Pittman was productive running the ball against the Rams with seven carries for 56 yards, averaging eight yards a carry. Pittman also had three receptions for 35 yards out of the backfield. He had an 8-yard carry with 12 seconds remaining in the second quarter that put Matt Bryant closer for a field goal to end the first half. Pittman did most of his damage catching the ball out of the backfield, especially in the drive with 11:31 remaining in the fourth quarter that gave the Bucs a commanding 17-3 lead. Pittman had a 16-yard reception at the 10:45 mark on a first-and-10 play and had a 15-yard reception on a second-and-6 with 9:12 remaining in the fourth quarter.
Running back Carnell “Cadillac” Williams struggled for a third consecutive game to break a big play in the running game. Williams had 46 yards on 12 carries with one touchdown, but also had a fumble that led to the only points for the Rams at the start of the fourth quarter. Williams had four carries for six yards in the first half. Williams bounced back with 42 yards on eight carries in the second half, but was replaced after the first play in the fourth quarter when he fumbled the ball. Williams was stripped by nose tackle Clifton Ryan and the ball was recovered by safety Ashiomogho Atogwe. Williams didn’t get another carry in the fourth quarter.
The Bucs’ running backs rushed for 177 yards on 27 attempts (6.5 avg.) and three touchdowns on Sunday.
WIDE RECEIVERS Wide receiver Joey Galloway didn’t have the big plays down the field that came against the Saints, but he made his presence felt in the passing game. Galloway finished the game with four receptions for 42 yards. On first-and-10 with 9:42 remaining in the first quarter, Galloway got a big 14-yard catch that went for naught when Matt Bryant missed a 54-yard field goal. But the 13-year veteran had an 8-yard reception with 45 seconds remaining in the first half that helped the Bucs kick a field goal and take a 3-0 lead at halftime. The Ohio State alum had a 10-yard reception at the 12:45 mark of the third quarter on the Bucs first touchdown-scoring drive against the Rams.
Wide receiver Ike Hilliard had two receptions for 32 yards, but also had a dropped pass. Hilliard ran a nice route across the middle of the field on a first-and-10 play in the second quarter, but dropped the ball. Hilliard’s big reception came at the 1:39 mark in the second quarter when Garcia hit him down the middle of the field with a 15-yard reception.
Wide receiver Michael Clayton had a rough first half and saw little action in the second half. Clayton finished the game with one reception for 12 yards and two carries for two yards. Clayton had a big drop at the 1:06 mark of the second quarter when Garcia hit him right in the hands in stride with room to run. Clayton bounced back with his only reception of the game two plays later, but he also fumbled the ball that was recovered by Smith.
Wide receiver Maurice Stovall saw limited action on offense and was mostly used on special teams.
The Bucs converted 3-of-8 (38 percent) of their third down attempts vs. the Rams with the wide receivers playing a big role on third down.
TIGHT ENDS Tight end Alex Smith had his most productive game of the season catching the ball with three receptions for 35 yards. He also was consistent in his run blocking as the Bucs used a lot more sweep plays against the Rams. Smith’s longest reception of the game came at the 13:14 mark of the second quarter when Garcia found him for a 15-yard reception. Smith did a good job of sealing off the defensive end during Graham’s 8-yard touchdown run on a first-and-goal play at the 8:03 mark of the fourth quarter.
Tight end Anthony Becht was used mainly in two-tight end sets on running plays. The Bucs didn’t run to his side when he was in the game, but he supplied an extra blocker to keep the Rams from pursuing on the backside.
Tight end Jeremy Stevens had one pass thrown his way, an overthrow from Garcia and was used in a couple of two-tight end sets.
OFFENSIVE LINE The offensive line’s pass blocking was average at best after a stellar game against the Saints, but the unit took a step forward in their run blocking. In the first half, the Bucs struggled again to open any holes in the running game, producing only 38 yards on the ground. But the second half was a different story. The Bucs racked up 144 yards rushing in the second half along with two touchdowns. Tampa Bay routinely ran up the middle as guard Arron Sears pulled to lead the way. Even though Garcia was sacked once, he was running out of the pocket for most of the game.
Center John Wade struggled with nose tackle Adam Carriker and Clifton Ryan in moving them off the ball on running plays in the first three quarters. Wade had difficulty getting a push up the field to create a lane for the running backs.
Right guard Davin Joseph didn’t impress in the running game or the passing game facing La’Roi Glover and Carriker. One play stuck out in a third-and-4 situation with 1:18 remaining in the first quarter. Joseph was caught leaning forward on a pass play and Carriker beat him with a swim move, forcing Garcia to rush a pass to Hilliard that fell incomplete.
Right tackle Jeremy Trueblood had his third consecutive impressive performance in pass blocking and even did some damage in the running game. On Williams’ longest run of the game, a 13-yard gain, Trueblood pulled out to lead him down the sideline to set up the Bucs’ first touchdown.
Sears was impressive in his run blocking and consistent in his pass blocking. Sears pulled for many of Graham’s runs during the fourth quarter that put the game out of reach. On four running plays by Graham, Sears was leading the way for the former Gators running back. The big block came on Graham’s 28-yard touchdown run when Sears got a good chip block on linebacker Brandon Chillar to spring Graham to the end zone.
Veteran left tackle Luke Petitgout didn’t have many runs come his way and only had one bad play in pass blocking. On a first-and-10 with 1:53 remaining in the second quarter, Petitgout got bullrushed from Rams defensive end James Hall which forced Garcia, who was in the shotgun, to hurry a throw to Hilliard that fell incomplete.
Tampa Bay actually lost the time of possession vs. St. Louis, 32:46 to 27:14, but managed to control the ball and the line of scrimmage when it mattered most in the fourth quarter.
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