New Buccaneers offensive coordinator Mike Sullivan made a favorable impression at his introductory press conference. Here are five things that Pewter Report’s Scott Reynolds took away from Sullivan’s impressive debut in Tampa Bay.1. Tough, Physical, Disciplined, Smart, Explosive
The highlight of Sullivan’s initial press conference in Tampa Bay might have been the five words to describe the vision for the offense he, offensive assistant Jimmy Raye and head coach Greg Schiano the Buccaneers will have in 2012.
“If this offense could be described in literally five words – tough, physical, disciplined, smart and explosive,” Sullivan said.
The former Giants quarterbacks coach believes in “a commitment to a running game, and have the ability to have big plays, explosive plays, game-changing type plays” in the passing game.
Establishing a strong running game and then using play-action passes to hit big plays downfield is an organizational philosophy shared by Schiano and general manager Mark Dominik, and one that will be embraced by Sullivan. That means that opponents will likely get a healthy dose of running back LeGarrette Blount to soften the defense, stack the box with a safety and then create more favorable matchups in the passing game for Josh Freeman to use play action. The running game is where the toughness and physicality come into play, and the downfield passes off play-action are expected to generate more explosive plays than a year ago.
Freeman is at his best as a play-action passer and threw more touchdowns and fewer interceptions (25 TDs, six INTs) when the Bucs established a more effective and more consistent running game in 2010 when Tampa Bay won 10 games. Last year, the Bucs struggled to run the ball, and as a result, Freeman threw a career-high 22 interceptions and just 16 touchdowns.
The Bucs were also guilty of way too many offensive penalties, ranging from holding, to false starts to offensive pass interference infractions. Sullivan will demand a smarter, more disciplined offense in 2012.
“All roads have to lead to those five words in terms of how we want to be known throughout the league, and present a product that the fans are going to be fired up about and they are going want to support,” Sullivan said. “And our opponents, upon the conclusion of the game, will hopefully be able to describe us in that manner.”
The Bucs offense was tough and physical at times, but not nearly as smart, disciplined or explosive as it needed to be in 2011 to have any sustained success and win more than four games.2. The success of Eli Manning
Having won two Super Bowls and coached the most recent Super Bowl MVP in Manning, Sullivan brings instant credibility to Tampa Bay’s offense from a coaching perspective. Sullivan has helped turn Manning into one of the elite quarterbacks in the league over the past four years.
While Freeman was having a great year in 2010 before slumping badly last season, Manning was doing the opposite in New York. He struggled in 2010 with interceptions, throwing a career-high 25 picks and 31 touchdowns completing 62.9 percent of his passes for 4,002 yards. Manning and Sullivan made some offseason changes that changed the fortunes of the signal caller and the Giants. In 2011 during the Giants’ Super Bowl run, Manning threw 29 touchdowns, only 16 interceptions and passed for a franchise-record 4,933 yards.
“We had a very long meeting at the end of the season,” Sullivan said. “[Manning] was frustrated. I was frustrated, but rightfully so because turnovers lose football games. And the most important thing is to protect the football. And he was frustrated with it, and I was frustrated with it. I think we sat down; it was really a chance to get some things off his chest, things he would like to be different. Some of the things in what I can do to be better and help serve and be better.
“Sometimes taking a sack is a good thing and throwing it away [is a good thing]. And he was aware of it. But I think it was an emphasizing of it in the coming year, as a quarterback, it was really going to be a focus on three things – accuracy, leadership and the decision-making.”
Freeman was too impatient in 2011 and that led to a rash of interceptions last season. In fact, Freeman threw picks in all but four contests a year ago. He likely shares some of the frustration that Manning had a year ago, and the good news is that Sullivan was able to turn around Manning. That bodes well for a potential Freeman turnaround in 2012 as he learns to improve his decision-making.3. Planning a surprise attack
Aside from sharing his philosophy of being an offense that likes to run the ball and throw downfield, Sullivan was rather vague when describing the scheme in which he will run. He didn’t say if he favored two tight end sets or going with four wide receivers. Sullivan didn’t say if he preferred a fullback and a halfback either in an I-formation or in a split back set, or if he was going to go with a single back formation.
“I will say this in advance – and I will apologize in advance if I am vague, it is deliberately, as you would expect. I would just assume with all those tremendous coordinators and opponents that they can find things out in September,” Sullivan said. “We are just going to be general and broad, and I apologize and just would hope the great Buccaneer fans would hang in there with us and know we are grinding away and are obsessed with preparation and details and we are not going to be outworked or prepared with a plan. And that will out an offense on the field that will do everything to help us win.”
Because Sullivan has never called plays before, there isn’t any film of his offenses to study. That could be a huge advantage for the Buccaneers, especially since opposing defenses love to study tendencies. Without film or any prior knowledge of what the Bucs plan on running in terms of formations, personnel groupings and style of plays, the job of Tampa Bay’s opponents just got more difficult.
Sullivan is smart enough to know the advantage he has heading into the 2012 season and used it wisely during his introductory press conference. While fans will be curious to know exactly how the Bucs offense will look in the coming year, they should be pleased to know that Sullivan is planning a sneak attack for September. 4. Sullivan is the anti-Mike Martz
The Bucs had the luxury of having an offensive coordinator in Greg Olson, who didn’t have an ego or take a dictatorial approach when it came to running an offense. In his initial press conference with the Buccaneers, Sullivan appeared to be eager to make designing the offense and the game plans a collaborative effort.
“We are in the process of exchanging ideas with Coach [Jimmy] Raye and well as coach [P.J.] Fleck and [Brian] Angelichio from their vantage points. We are in dialogue and we are exchanging ideas,” Sullivan said. “Everything we are going to do as a staff, all of the work that is going on right now as we speak trying to learn the language and draw upon all the great experience of a guy like Jimmy Raye, who has been in so many battles and has so much experience he brings to the table. And the other coaches who have been assembled.”
In other words, Sullivan and his assistants will have an open exchange when it comes to ideas and attacking opponents. That approach will keep the assistants happy and any possible friction to a minimum. It also increases the accountability among the assistants because they will have a say-so in formulating the offense. It appears as if Sullivan is the anti-Mike Martz in that regards.5. An intimate knowledge of the NFC East
The Buccaneers will be playing the NFC East, a division Sullivan knows quite well, this year. Having the former Giants quarterbacks coach on staff should serve Tampa Bay well as it prepares to face New York, Philadelphia, Washington and Dallas. Sullivan has spent the last eight years game-planning to play the Eagles, Redskins and Cowboys twice a year and knows the personnel on those teams intimately.
The fact the Bucs and Sullivan will play the Giants will also serve Tampa Bay well. Sullivan knows the Giants’ personnel best of all, and his insight could help the Bucs when the two teams square off. And with Tampa Bay playing at New York, a place where the Bucs haven’t fared well in years past, having Sullivan’s knowledge of the new stadium and how wind and weather conditions affect the play certainly won’t hurt.
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