Buccaneers head coach Jon Gruden addressed the media after Tampa Bay's 13-9 loss to the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday. Overall, Gruden said he was pleased with the effort of the game, and was proud of the team. Gruden spent a decent amount of time discussing the Bucs struggles in the red zone.
"We focus more on the red zone than any team I've ever been around," said Gruden. "It's not about focusing on the red zone, it's about getting it done down there. We had chances to make plays, and it's a tough place to make plays. It's getting harder and harder. It's not easy, but third-and-1 at the 19, and we used our number one short yardage play and we got stuffed. That's a credit to Dallas. They have players, too. We'll try to be as creative and aggressive as we can, and zoom in on it. At the same time, we're 5-3 and we feel good about our team. We're going to use the by week to hopefully get some guys well so we can get everybody out there practicing in the red zone and in the two-minute drill. It's been a challenge every week.
"We're looking at it. Statistics say we're not very good at times, and there are some instances where we're clearly playing for a field goal at times, and there's also some instances were we have to do a better job. Third-and-1 – you have to convert that play. There were a couple of other situations throughout the year where we just didn't cash in. We haven't gotten it done, and as a play caller and offensive coach I have to take responsibility for it. We're doing some good things. We're 5-3, we've got a good football team and we're fighting through a lot of injuries. We've lost three games by nine points. That gives me reason to believe we can have a good season. We just have to continue to improve."
The Bucs are 29th in the NFL in red zone offense. They have gone into the red zone 31 times this year and have produced 11 touchdowns (35.5 percent). Not only did the Buccaneers not get into the end zone, Tampa Bay also had a tough time running the ball against the Cowboys. The Bucs ran for 49 yards against Dallas. Gruden gave the credit to the opposition.
"We've seen two pretty good run defenses," said Gruden. "The Dallas Cowboys are a good defensive team against the run. We're probably asking Earnest Graham to do too much. We've lost both of our fullbacks and we're trying to get more involved in a one-back attack. At the same time, injuries have taken a toll on us. Warrick [Dunn] only carried the ball one time yesterday. It's got something to do with that. It also has something to do with seeing some pretty good run defenses. We threw the ball for a lot of yards in the first half against Seattle. We're going to continue to run the football, but we've got to do both. To be a great football team you have to run and pass, and you have to be able to stop the run and stop the pass. You have to do all of it to be great, and that's what our goal is here. Based on our standards here, I think we can do better running the football.
"We didn't run the ball very well. Our first run, second run and third run, we had a second-and-3, we had a holding call. We have a shortage of backs, just so we're all on the same page, and that also has an impact on where we are right now. We didn't run the ball particularly well, and we haven't run the ball to our standards the last two weeks. We throw the ball here. We have good receivers and I think we proved that last week vs. Seattle, and I think we proved that earlier in the season. We've got to get more done running the football. We had some stuffs on first down and we had too many negative plays. We tossed the ball one time and our runner slipped and fell. We got held twice on third-and-1. It just wasn't a real productive day running the football, and we've got to take a look at that and hopefully some health can return to the backfield. We desperately need it right now."
Tampa Bay came out of the game with Dallas having incurred another injury to a key player. Safety Jermaine Phillips hurt his arm against the Cowboys. Gruden feared that Phillips arm was broken. While the team enjoyed the return of wide receiver Joey Galloway, they also dealt with some of their offensive weapons playing through injuries. Namely running back Warrick Dunn and wide receiver Ike Hilliard.
"[Dunn] played yesterday, but clearly wasn't himself," said Gruden. "I love that guy. What he and Ike Hilliard did yesterday for our team, our fans and this organization speaks volumes. Their presence means a lot. Their performance means a lot. Hopefully they have a good week of practice and hopefully they feel much better and can perform to the standard that they're capable of performing from a health standpoint. They will. Those are two good players. We need them down the stretch.
"We're concerned about Jermaine Phillips' left forearm. He's getting evaluated. Hopefully Warrick Dunn and a couple of guys who have been injured, like B.J. Askew, can improve this week and see a more prominent role in Kansas City."
While the Buccaneers were disappointed with their loss to Dallas, they are still 5-3 and in second place in their division one game behind first place Carolina. Tampa Bay enters the second half of the season with a few games against teams that have struggled in 2008. They play Kansas City, Detroit, Oakland, and San Diego who have a combined six wins on the season. The Bucs also play their divisional rivals once each in the second half. With the NFC South and the NFC very competitive, the Bucs schedule could prove to make a big difference in the team making the playoffs.
"The Saints aren't going anywhere and the Panthers and Falcons are doing well," said Gruden. "The Atlanta Falcons have played very well in the first half. It's going to be a great race. We're happy to be 5-3. We're not thrilled. We would have liked to have done better, but we've had a lot of guys contribute.
"I think we're a good football team. With the injuries, I give a lot of guys credit. Ike Hilliard, Warrick Dunn really played through it yesterday, Barrett Ruud has really played through it. Derrick Brooks has played through it. We have a bye week coming up. We have to muster as much energy, focus and concentration as we can because we need to win this game in Kansas City somehow and someway and get to the bye week and try to get our troops healed for the final seven weeks. That's our objective."