It was the same old story for the Bucs offense, just with a new chapter written. The new chapter was quarterback Jeff Garcia leading the offense against the Seattle Seahawks to open the 2007 season Sunday. The same old story was the Bucs’ inability to put any touchdowns on the scoreboard and their lack of a consistent running game.
Running back Cadillac Williams was injured in the third quarter after linebacker Lofa Tatupu stuck his helmet right on Williams’ left ribs. Williams ended the game with 60 yards on 12 carries, but 31 of those yards came at the end of the first half as Tampa Bay was just running out the clock. Running backs Michael Pittman and Earnest Graham had just 17 yards on seven carries while replacing Williams in the backfield.
If Williams is unable to go for the Bucs this week, then Pittman, who has experience in the offense as the feature back, will get the start in a must-win game against the New Orleans Saints on Sunday. This doesn’t bode well for an offense that has been held without a touchdown in seven of their last 17 regular season games.
Head coach Jon Gruden acknowledged on Monday that he must act as though he will not have Williams in the lineup when the Saints come marching in to Raymond James Stadium
“I think you have to. Unfortunately, we’re good at one thing right now offensively, and that’s contingency planning,” Gruden said. “We’ve had a number of guys in and out of our lineup the last few seasons. We’re going to count on Cadillac playing, optimistically. But realistically, we understand that he does have sore ribs and we will plan for the other guys to have a bigger role in the football game.”
Garcia now has even more pressure on him to carry more of a load in the offense and needs to score touchdowns instead of settling for field goals. Despite getting off to a fast start and grabbing the early lead, the offense was unable to sustain that success and struggled to convert on a couple of crucial third downs vs. the Seahawks. The Bucs had two third down plays in the first quarter – a Garcia sack and an incomplete pass – that Gruden stressed must be converted in future situations.
“I wasn’t sad, I was mad. I was disappointed,” Gruden said. “I was ticked off that we didn’t make a couple of plays there. I thought we had a good look on a third-and-2 on a scramble play. For whatever reason, we didn’t throw the ball there. We didn’t make a play there that we normally make there. In another situation down there we didn’t have very good pass protection. They were good drives. You feel good about that. You want to score touchdowns, but we had a couple of third-and-shorts where we are usually pretty good that we weren’t able to convert on.”
Garcia also must understand that his health is the key to the success of this offense and doesn’t need to make a big play on every snap. The nine-year veteran needs to throw the ball away or get down instead of taking the big hit. Garcia took a big hit from linebacker Leroy Hill in the third quarter that forced him out for two series. Garcia was fighting for a first down, but was held up so that Hill could deliver the blow. That’s a time where Garcia needs to just get as many yards as possible and get down.
“He’s a bit reckless sometimes when he plays,” Gruden said. “That’s his style. Unfortunately, we didn’t give him some real good looks in some critical third down passing situations. I give Seattle a lot of credit. Some of the guys that he has made miss in the past, he didn’t make miss yesterday. Their pursuit is tremendous. I have a lot of respect for [Lofa] Tatupu. More than I’ve ever had. He is a great middle linebacker. He was responsible for a lot of the splash hits yesterday. He is a fine football player.”
Gruden acknowledged that there were some positive things that came out of Sunday’s loss, but the negatives are outweighing the positives right now. Lack of a consistent running game, turnovers and no touchdowns is a bad recipe for an offense that struggled to reach the end zone on a consistent basis in 2006.
“I think there were some good things,” Gruden said. “We knew Seattle was going to be as stiff a challenge as we had all season. They won three NFC West titles for good reason. They are a veteran team and that is a very difficult place to play. It was loud, very loud. They are a very talented team. We loved the way we came out. We came out ready to roll. We came out physical and fast. We had a lead. There were four or five big plays in the football game that they made and we didn’t. In this league, against quality teams like that on the road, you can’t allow those big plays for them and you have to go make some yourself.”
RUN AND PASS BLOCKING QUITE OFFENSIVE
Tampa Bay’s offensive line’s less than stellar performance against the Seattle Seahawks was another bad sign for the offense in the season opening 20-6 loss for the Bucs. With the addition of left tackle Luke Petitgout and rookie left guard Arron Sears to go with right guard Davin Joseph and right tackle Jeremy Trueblood, this unit was said to have been upgraded in the offseason. However, Joseph was flagged for two penalties and quarterbacks Jeff Garcia and Luke McCown were sacked five times.
The run blocking didn’t open many holes for Bucs running backs and didn’t control the line of scrimmage. Sears had a couple of plays where he was pulling to lead the running back and looked slow in hitting the hole. Joseph and Trueblood should be the side that the Bucs run on when they need yards, but it doesn’t seem like there is any room to run on the right or left side.
“I think overall it was average [the offensive line play],” Gruden said. “I think a couple of the sacks we took weren’t sacks. The quarterback has to get rid of the football to say the least. Not just Jeff [Garcia], but Luke [McCown] has got to get rid of the football in a timely fashion to avoid those kinds of things. In a place where it is that loud, you take a little bit longer in the huddle to make sure that you have the play and you have the formation. At the line of scrimmage, it’s a little bit harder to communicate and you aren’t able to get off the ball as quick as you are in other places. I have to give some credit to Seattle’s defense. They play extremely well at home and they take advantage of their noise. I thought, at times, the protection was good. We had a couple of great pass protection downs, but at the end of the first half on that last possession it was poor, and a couple of times when we needed it, it wasn’t good enough.”
Trueblood and Petitgout did a good job early in the game with the speed rush defensive ends Patrick Kerney and Darryl Tapp. However, Kerney and Tapp did a good job of getting around the edge in the second half, recording two of the five Seahawks sacks. It doesn’t get any easier with the Saints coming to town with defensive ends Charles Grant and Pro Bowler Will Smith.
ROOKIES GET TASTE OF REGULAR SEASON
Safety Tanard Jackson and left guard Arron Sears started in their first career games in the NFL, defensive end Gaines Adams got playing time against left tackle Walter Jones and safety Sabby Piscitelli and linebacker Quincy Black saw some time on the special teams on Sunday. Jackson finished the game with three tackles and one pass defensed.
Adams understandably struggled against Jones, who is a 10-time Pro Bowl left tackle, and couldn’t get close enough to sniff quarterback Matt Hasselbeck. Adams finished with just one tackle. Piscitelli, however, had a glaring mistake on Ike Hilliard’s 40-yard punt return when he was called for blocking above the waist. Sears’ play wasn’t bad, but he did seem to struggle when asked to pull on running plays.
“A lot of our rookies got to play,” Gruden said. “I thought Tanard [Jackson], from a run-fit standpoint, still has a couple of things he has to clean up. Overall, I think the safety play was just okay. I’m not going to say anything more than that. Tackling wasn’t spectacular, but it was solid. I thought for the most part we played well on defense. We just gave up a couple of real big plays in some key situations that hurt us.”
QUOTE OF THE DAY
Jon Gruden on what improvements are needed to beat the New Orleans Saints on Sunday.
“The Saints are a very good team. They won 12 games I think, so did Seattle last year. Both of these teams to start the season – it’s a great measuring stick for us. I do see improvement. I think our football team sees improvement. We’re a hell of a lot better team on opening day this year than we were last year. In the first quarter, and probably 75-80 percent of that game shows that. We’ve got to continue to improve in all areas. We have to pass protect in critical situations better. We need to eliminate the big plays on defense. That’s the thing we’ve done well for years – not give up the explosive plays. Alexander got an explosive run late in the game on third-and-7. They got a big play on third-and-13, and certainly they hit the long pass on a third-and-5. We can’t give up big plays defensively and we have to score touchdowns on offense, okay? We need to score touchdowns on offense. That’s what we need to do. We have to quit getting guys hurt. Hell, I fly my brother into games now. He’s a doctor. He’s a radiologist at the Mayo Clinic in Phoenix. I have to bring him to our games to help read X-rays. It’s ridiculous. We have too many guys getting hurt and it’s got to stop. That’s one thing we have to improve upon.”
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