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GAME GRADES OFFENSE
QUARTERBACK Starting quarterback Byron Leftwich started out the game well for Tampa Bay. The veteran signal caller fired a number of passes downfield on the first drive that moved the ball into Dallas territory.
Leftwich started out his first drive by drilling a 19-yard rope to tight end Kellen Winslow, who had gotten open in the middle of the defense. Next, Leftwich went to Jerramy Stevens for 14 yards. With the help of some nice running from the ground game, Leftwich guided the Bucs into a scoring opportunity, but the field goal attempt was blocked.
On the second possession of the game that resulted in touchdown run, Leftwich's big contribution on that drive was a 14-yard pass to running back Derrick Ward. It was a smart play by the veteran quarterback to dump the ball off just before a defensive lineman hit him. The third possession looked like Leftwich could lead the team to another score.
Leftwich threw a strike to Bryant for a 30-yard gain that brought the Bucs to midfield. Bryant ran a great route through the defense, and Leftwich hit him perfectly in stride that allowed the receiver to run for about half of the gain. A few plays later however, Leftwich missed on the scoring opportunity inside Cowboys territory. On third-and-6 Leftwich had Ward wide open in the flat for what would have been an easy first down catch and run, but Leftwich sailed the ball way too high to end the possession with a punt.
That wasn't the only overthrow by Leftwich in the first half that hurt Tampa Bay. He was too long on some passes to wide receiver Antonio Bryant in the end zone. The veteran signal caller put the Bucs in position to get some more points late in the first half when he tossed a bomb to Clayton for 47-yards along the sideline. Leftwich overthrew Bryant running into the end zone a play later, and the Bucs missed a field goal to end the second quarter.
In the first half Leftwich was 8-of-12 for 130 yards with no touchdowns and no interceptions. He had some nice throws downfield, and also had some opportunities to put more points on the board for Tampa Bay.
In the third quarter Leftwich struggled to move the ball on the Bucs first few possessions. On the final drive of the period, Leftwich got the team moving downfield. After an interception was called back by a defensive penalty, Leftwich took advantage with a 20-yard pass to Clayton running down the middle seam of the defense.
On third-and-6 a few plays later, Leftwich made a great clutch throw to set up the Buccaneers second touchdown of the game. He threw a slant on the money to wide receiver Sammie Stroughter. The play was originally ruled a 14-yard touchdown pass, but after a Dallas challenge, Stroughter was ruled down at the one-yard line. Ward ran the ball in the end zone on the next play.
Leftwich moved the ball deep into Cowboys territory on his next two drives. The first of which ended at fourth-and-7 at the Dallas 26-yard line. Leftwich tossed a pass into Winslow that would have gone for a first down, but was dropped by the tight end.
On the final drive of the game Leftwich used his tight ends some more. He hit Stevens for two passes for 23 total yards to get the drive started. A 17-yard strike to wide receiver Brian Clark moved the ball inside the Cowboys' 30-yard line. The veteran quarterback was aided by Dallas penalty that put them inside the 10-yard line. After coming up short on three attempts, Leftwich hit Winslow for a two-yard touchdown pass. It was the final throw of the game for the Bucs.
Against Dallas, Leftwich completed 25-of-41 (61 percent) of his passes for 276 yards with one touchdown and no turnovers. His quarterback rating was 89.1. It was a solid debut for the veteran signal caller in a Tampa Bay uniform. Leftwich did a good job of moving the ball, and helped the offense produce a big amount of yards. At the same time it wasn't a perfect game as the Bucs offense left some points on the field, and Leftwich had a few overthrows that could have produced points for the Buccaneers had they been accurate passes.
RUNNING BACKS Starting running back Cadillac Williams had some nice runs on the first drive of the game for the Buccaneers. Williams ripped off runs of 11 yards and 14 yards to help put the Buccaneers in field goal position. Williams showed a nice burst on a his 11-yard run, and tough physical running on the 14 yarder that included him running over some defenders. It wasn't completely good for Williams early as the Bucs fifth-year tailback did have a bad effort picking up defensive linemen Marcus Spears in pass protection. Spears got by Williams quickly, and put a big hit on Leftwich.
Williams continued his strong game with runs of seven yards and six yards up the middle of the defense to start the Bucs second drive. He made the big play to get the Bucs on the scoreboard when he took a zone left carry 35 yards to the Cowboys five-yard line. Williams had a nice burst and read his blocks perfectly. Cowboys safety Gerald Sensabaugh caught Williams from behind along the sideline in a tackle that was reminiscent of the plays that Williams sustained his knee injuries on. Williams capped off the drive a few plays later with a one-yard touchdown run up the middle. Williams did not get another carry in the first half, and finished it with eight carries for 77 yards and a touchdown.
Williams did not get a lot of work in the second half against the Cowboys. He only had five carries in the final two quarters, and finished the game with 13 carries for 97 yards (7.5 yards per carry) and a touchdown. It was an impressive game for Williams in his second comeback from a significant knee injury.
Ward came in second in the running back rotation. Ward sprung loose for a 14-yard gain after catching a floating pass from Leftwich in the flat. The Bucs free agent addition did not have the running lanes that Williams did, and totaled 17 yards in the first half on six carries.
Ward broke loose on the ground in the second half. On the Bucs second scoring drive Ward did a lot of the work to move the ball downfield, and finished the drive off. To start the possession Ward ran through a few defenders behind the left side of the offensive line for 12 yards. A few plays later Ward went behind the right side for a 22-yard gain. Ward showed great vision and cutting to weave his way up field. The two carries went for 34 yards, got the Bucs to midfield after starting at their own 16-yard line.
The former New York Giant got three more carries on that drive, including a one-yard touchdown run. Ward got a nice lead block from Earnest Graham, and he dove over the top of the scrum to get in the end zone. Ward had 62 yards rushing on 12 carries (5.2 per carry) and a touchdown. He also contributed two catches for 21 yards.
Graham finished the game with one carry for one yard, but did a good job of blocking. Fullback B.J. Askew had some nice lead blocks for his backs. Askew also recovered a fumble by Leftwich at the Bucs own 25-yard line. Askew's one touch came on a four-yard catch. Running back Clifton Smith totaled one carry for four yards, and a reception for three yards.
The Tampa Bay backfield was a real strength against the Cowboys. As a unit they carried the ball 28 times for 171 yards with two touchdowns.
WIDE RECEIVERS It was a quiet game for Buccaneers franchise wide receiver Antonio Bryant. Early in the game Bryant was not the target on a lot of passes, but did make a big play with one of his total two receptions. Bryant caught a slant from Leftwich and slashed across the field for a 30-yard gain.
Other than that catch, Bryant had one other reception that went for a loss of one yard. He was the target on five other pass attempts, and had a couple of steps on his defender while running into in the end zone on an over throw from Leftwich. Bryant came off the field in the second half of the game with a knee injury.
While Bryant was unable to produce a big game like he did regularly at the end of the 2008 season, Clayton helped pick up the slack with five catches for 93 yards. In the Bucs first possession of the game, Clayton had a great block to help spring Williams 11-yard run on the first drive, but the veteran Bucs receiver had a very costly penalty later in the possession. Clayton's illegal shift penalty negated a 14-yard reception by Bryant that would have had the Bucs in a first-and-goal situation inside the Dallas five-yard line.
Clayton tried to help make up for the penalty on the next possession when he had a great block downfield to help spring Williams 35-yard run. That wasn't the only big play that Clayton helped produce for Tampa Bay in the first half. On a deep pass from Leftwich in the final seconds of the first half, Clayton came down with a 47-yard pass. Clayton went up high and brought down the pass over Cowboys cornerback Terrence Newman.
In the second half Clayton had a nice start with a 14-yard catch. A few plays later though he dropped pass after getting open over the middle. Clayton had room to run, and tried to tip the pass back to himself. However, the six-year pro came back to hold onto a hard pass from Leftwich after taking a huge hit from Sensabaugh.
Clayton ran down the middle seam of the defense and caught the ball in stride. Sensabaugh tried to separate the ball from Clayton, but the big receiver bounced off the shot and was tackled by Cowboys safety Ken Hamlin. It was a 20-yard gain for Tampa Bay. That reception was a key play in setting up the Buccaneers second touchdown of the game.
Overall it was a good game from Clayton. He made big plays for the Bucs in the passing game catching balls downfield, and made some huge blocks in the running game to extend rushes for Williams and Ward. His penalty and dropped pass keep this from being a great game.
The backup wide receivers of Maurice Stovall, Sammie Stroughter, and Brian Clark all contributed at least one reception. Stovall got open on a curl route and was the target by Leftwich on a third-and-5 pass. Stovall dropped the ball the pass and Tampa Bay had to punt. Stovall caught a 13-yard pass for a first down in the fourth quarter. Clark had a 17-yard catch late in the fourth quarter, and that was the only pass thrown to him in the game.
Rookie wide receiver Stroughter had a nice debut for Tampa Bay. Stroughter caught a 13-yard slant from Leftwich to set up the Bucs at the Cowboys one-yard line. On the next drive Stroughter had a 10-yard catch for a first down. He totaled three catches for 25 yards.
As a unit the wide receivers did a decent job of securing passes, and did a god job of creating separation from the Cowboys defensive backs. It would have been an even better grade had they been able to score a touchdown, but if some overthrows by Leftwich had been more accurate GRADE: B-
TIGHT ENDS: The Buccaneers tight ends got active on the first possession for the offense. Winslow caught a 19-yard pass crossing the middle of the field. Winslow almost delivered a big blow to the Cowboys at the end of play when we went through Cowboys defensive end DeMarcus Ware. The Cowboys great pass rusher had to leave the game with a head injury after the play, but returned to action.
Winslow was pretty quiet for a lot of the game. The Bucs did not throw the ball very often to the league's highest paid tight end in the middle portion of the game. Later in the fourth quarter the team started throwing the ball more to Winslow with mixed results.
Winslow had a terrible dropped pass on a fourth down play late in the fourth quarter. He got open across the middle and had room to run for a first down if had hauled the pass in at the Dallas 26-yard line.
At the end of the game Winslow caught a two-yard touchdown pass on fourth-and-goal, but it was too little too late for the Buccaneers. Winslow finished the game with five catches for 30 yards and a touchdown.
Tight end Stevens got into the passing attack on the first possession of the game when he caught a 14-yard pass from Leftwich. Stevens ran a nice out route, and got open against Sensabaugh. Stevens had two catches for 23 yards on the final drive of the game. Stevens also had a dropped pass on second-and-goal during that drive that ended with Winslow's touchdown catch. For the game, Stevens finished with four catches for 41 yards.
The tight ends combined for nine catches for 71 yards and a touchdown. They did a solid job of blocking on the perimeter, and that was without blocking tight end John Gilmore who was out of the game with an injury.
OFFENSIVE LINE The Buccaneers offensive line started out the game extremely well. The middle interior of left guard Jeremy Zuttah, center Jeff Faine, and right guard Davin Joseph did a great job of opening up holes for the Bucs running backs. In the first quarter Tampa Bay ran for 41 yards. The second quarter was no different as the Bucs offensive line had a dominating performance on the second possession of the game.
Left tackle Donald Penn and Zuttah made great blocks to help open up a big hole for Williams. Faine got to the second level of the Cowboys defense and hit a block to blast open a lane for Williams on his 35-yard run. The offensive line finished the drive for the Bucs on three runs inside the Dallas five-yard culminating in Williams' touchdown run.
The offensive line did a great job of controlling the line of scrimmage in the first half. They opened up rushing lanes, and gave quarterback Byron Leftwich time to throw the ball. The Buccaneers and Cowboys just about split the time of possession, and the offense ripped off 101 yards rushing in the first half.
The second half was much like the first half where the Buccaneers offensive line did a solid job of run blocking. They sprung Ward for a 22-yard run en route to a very productive half for the running back. Tampa Bay tallied 73 yards on the ground in the third and fourth quarter, and that was on limited attempts due to the Bucs having to throw because they were behind.
The Tampa Bay tackles Donald Penn and Jeremy Trueblood had a very good showing, not allowing a sack, and blocking well for the running backs. The Cowboys 3-4 pass defense puts a lot of pressure on the offensive tackles with blitzers off the edge, and the Buccaneers tackle tandem was up for the challenge. The tackles also avoided being called for a penalty. The entire line played a penalty free game.
The Tampa Bay offensive line did a great job of protecting the passer against the Dallas Cowboys. Leftwich was not sacked once in the game. While he took a fair amount of hits, that was in large part to him holding onto the ball for a long time. Head coach Raheem Morris stated that Leftwich taking hits is part of his quarterback's game, and trying to give his receivers more time to get open down field.
Unfortunately the Tampa Bay line had two players go down and not finish the game. Zuttah (ankle) and Faine (triceps) both sustained injuries. Replacing Faine was center Jonathan Compas, and replacing Zuttah was guard Marcus Johnson. Both backups were able to do a sound job in relief of the starters.
It was a very impressive effort by Tampa Bay's front line. They won the time of possession 33:32 to 26:28. The line was the catalyst for the Bucs to put up 450 total yards of offense.