The glaring discrepancy between run and pass plays called against the Giants by Jon Gruden was answered by Tampa Bay’s head coach during his Monday press conference.
Facing a 14-point deficit and having the wind at their backs, Gruden elected to all but abandon the running game in the second quarter in New York. The Bucs handed off just twice, once to Cadillac Williams and again to Michael Pittman, failing to produce any positive results.
Twenty-one pass plays were called in the quarter with six going for completions. Rookie quarterback Bruce Gradkowski was sacked twice in that quarter and scrambled for a short gain on another play.
For the game, running plays outnumbered pass attempts, 48 to13. Needless to say, the Bucs are looking to have more balance in their offensive attack.
“Their needs to be more balance and certainly commitment to the running game,” Gruden said Monday. “Again, yesterday the circumstances, weather-wise, dictated.”
Down by two touchdowns with under nine minutes to play in the second quarter, Gruden wanted to take advantage of the wind, feeling the offense was getting some good looks. Considering Williams gained four yards on his first five carries, the idea to pass more with the wind at their backs seemed logical.
“We were down 14-0, “ Gruden said. “We have the wind, basically, for eight more minutes. We’re going to take advantage of it, throw the football because we felt we had some good passes. We’re getting a lot of zone blitzes and things of that nature. We didn’t just get one good look or two good looks, we got several great looks in the passing game. If we can make a play there, or two, it will change the game.”
The plays in question alluded to dropped passes by receivers Joey Galloway and Michael Clayton. Gruden refused to allow the conditions to be an excuse for the drops. Later on, in the Bucs locker room, neither did Gradkowski.
“There’s definitely some plays downfield to be made, but on everyone’s part,” Gradkowski said. “The wind is not an excuse. We just have to make plays.”
The QB confirmed there was a significant difference in wind during the second quarter, saying it was a lot easier to pass the ball going in that direction.
Galloway’s dropped passes would have put the Bucs in scoring position, and Clayton’s miscue happened in the end zone, which would have cut New York’s lead in half going into the break. Instead Tampa Bay settled for a field goal.
Gradkowski, who completed less than half of his attempts, refused to throw his teammates under the bus.
“You just move on. You just forget about it and play the next play,” Gradkowski said of the drops. “You know, because there’s a bunch of times out there where I miss throws and they don’t say anything to me. You know we’re all working hard out there.”
The Giants, like most of the defenses Tampa Bay has faced since Gradkowski took over for Simms in Week 4, dared the rookie quarterback to beat them downfield. That may explain, to some extent, the reason he has attempted 118 passes in his last three starts.
Against Philadelphia, the week before, Gradkowski did overthrow Galloway on plays downfield that would have possibly resulted in points. The errors on both the throwing and receiving ends of the ball were a major topic on Monday.
“You make mistakes,” Gradkowski said as he prepared to go into the team’s film session. “You know you have to hold guys accountable, but also understand that there working just as hard as you are. You know guys are going to drop balls. I’m going to miss throws. We’re going to miss blocks, but you just have to find a way to make it work.”
CADDY REVED UP WITH NO PLACE TO GO Tampa Bay running back Cadillac Williams is averaging just 16 rushes per game this season as opposed to averaging 32 carries over the Bucs’ first three games of last season, a factor that helped him establish an NFL rookie record by gaining 434 yards over that span in 2005.
On Monday, Williams was asked if he could remember the last time he carried the ball just eight times in a regular season game, like he did on Sunday against the Giants. He quickly answered, “Actually, I was coming off my injury [last year] against San Francisco. I think I had eight carries.”
When questioned if he could recall the last time he was healthy and had only eight carries, he hesitated, said “yes,” but then chuckled a bit saying, “No, I can’t.”
For the record, it was actually 13 carries against the 49ers last year. He was returning from a two-game hiatus from an injured foot. Sunday’s eight rushes tied his career low, which was established against Baltimore in this year’s season opener. Prior to that, his lowest number of carries for any one game in his professional career was 10 against Washington in Week 9 of 2005.
On Monday, Bucs head coach Jon Gruden was questioned about his confidence in Williams, to which he responded bluntly, “He looks good. I have a lot of confidence in him.”
Gruden went on to explain that last season the Bucs began the year 4-0 and were ahead in most of those games, therefore the running game got more carries as the team was trying to run the clock out in the fourth quarter of games. This year has been different. Tampa Bay’s offense has struggled, failing to score a touchdown in four of its first seven games, including two straight against Cincinnati and Philadelphia.
Needless to say, being behind in most games this year has dictated the amount of times the team has elected to pass this season.
With the exception of some “back spasms,” there have been no reported problems with Williams’ health so far this season and he has not appeared on the team’s injury report. But logic and NFL history have shown that teams with rookie quarterbacks tend to lean more on their running game, not shy away from it.
Last season the Bucs had an established veteran at quarterback in Brian Griese for the first quarter of the season. Against Green Bay, in Week 3, Williams carried the ball 37 times, which ended up tying him with Jacksonville’s Fred Taylor for the most carries in one game in the 2005 season. Only Taylor needed overtime against the Jets to reach that number.
Williams finished last season with the fifth most rushing attempts (290) in franchise history.
So it’s hard to explain why the Cadillac isn’t being driven as much. The day after his eight-carry performance, Williams refused to express any displeasure with the team’s game plan or Gruden’s play calling, saying he was, “Cool right now and going with the flow.” But his body language and some of his words hinted otherwise.
“When you get to running the ball you just get into that rhythm,” Williams said. “I’m one of those players where I feel like the next carry is going to be the best carry. I’m just looking for opportunities and I feel like if I get them, I’m going to produce.”
PASS DEFENSE Coach Gruden did an eloquent job in defense of his decision to air it out Sunday, stating his case by saying it was the Giants defense that dictated the game plan.
He pointed toward New York bringing double corner blitz packages along with perimeter pressure as reasons for the lack of running success.
“I’d like to run it every play and not have to throw it,” Gruden said. “Because that’s the safest way to win. But when you’re going to get the kind of defense we did yesterday, that’s dead set on making you do something you don’t want to do, you’re going to have to throw the ball at some point in time to make people play honest.
“We’re going to have to make some plays in the passing game to take advantage of some of the defenses we’re seeing and unfortunately we didn’t do that yesterday.”
There is plenty of room for improvement in the passing game considering the Bucs rank next to last in the NFC in passing (169.1 ypg). To his credit, Gradkowski has done a tremendous job in protecting the football, throwing just one interception in 155 attempts this season.
WEATHER, YOU CAN USE THAT EXCUSE Reports of 40 mile-per-hour wind gusts in Giants Stadium were not erroneous. Anybody who witnessed Tampa Bay kicker Matt Bryant in pre-game warm-ups could see the football looked more like a whiffle ball when traveling through the air.
While Gruden would not discount the impact bad weather had on the game, he did not and will not allow worse than ideal conditions to get into his players’ heads.
“If I say the weather wasn’t a factor I’d be lying,” Gruden said. “Weather certainly was tough, on the Giant receivers, it was tough on our receivers. But we’re going to play in a lot worse weather conditions than that, in Pittsburgh, in Chicago, in Cleveland later this year. We’ve got to play in the elements better.”
After this week’s home game against New Orleans, Tampa Bay will play five of its next seven games on the road, outdoors. While Pittsburgh, Chicago and Cleveland are practically assured of being foul weather games, November dates in Carolina and Dallas can present less than ideal conditions as well.
The last time the Bucs won a December road game in a cold-weather venue was when they beat a 4-12 Bears team in 2002. In fact, the Buccaneers are 2-21 all-time in games in which the temperature at kickoff was below 40 degrees Fahrenheit. A stat you wouldn’t be able to tell by Gruden’s comments.
“I like the cold weather personally. I love it,” Gruden said. “It wasn’t that cold [Sunday]. We’re going to see a hell of a lot worse situations weather-wise than what we saw yesterday, I can promise you that. Whether we’ve got to, I don’t know, travel to Pittsburgh on Tuesday or Wednesday and practice outdoors, I don’t know. But I’m not going to use the weather as an excuse.”