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Before I give you my take on the reality of Tampa Bay's current quarterback dilemma, I want to tell you that this situation reminds me of the Trent Dilfer-Casey Weldon battle back in 1995, which was my first year of covering the Buccaneers professionally. I remember criticizing Weldon's game, saying that he was an Arena Football League-caliber player. Weldon read that in Buccaneer Magazine, didn't like it and sought me out in the locker room to read me the riot act in front of a lot of Bucs players in an attempt to embarrass me.
It didn't work as I engaged him in his loud and verbal "debate." He mistakenly called Trent Dilfer "my boy" because I had criticized Weldon instead of Dilfer, and thought I had an agenda in favoring Dilfer over him as the Bucs starter. I presented him with some facts that he didn't appreciate. I told Weldon, "Look Casey, Trent Dilfer is the worst-rated QB in the NFL … and you're behind him on the depth chart. So what does that say about you?"
I didn't mean to come across like a jerk, but the facts were on my side. I certainly didn't appreciate his hot-headed attempt to cause a scene in the locker room that would embarrass me. I've had several disagreements with players in the past that the Bucs' public relations staff has helped solve privately in the hallways of One Buc Place or in the public relations office, and that's the way to do it.
Back to present day. Do I think Leftwich is a good quarterback? Not really. I think he's a mediocre quarterback.
Is he a better quarterback than McCown right now? Yes. Leftwich has more experience, and when given the opportunity, McCown couldn't beat him out. That means McCown too is mediocre. The fact that McCown couldn't rise up and beat out a journeyman quarterback who is on his fourth team in four years tells me that McCown is either a career backup or a guy that hasn't gotten enough real-game experience to truly improve. I don't which one of these scenarios applies.
Do I think Leftwich has more upside than McCown? No. In fact, because the quarterback situation was so close, I would start McCown over Leftwich just because of the upside factor. I still really don't know what McCown is capable of because playing a total of four quarters over three games doesn't tell me a whole lot, but I have to admit that it was disappointing that McCown couldn't clearly beat Leftwich – if McCown is all that he is cracked up to be.
I can't fault Raheem Morris for picking Leftwich over McCown due to the experience factor. That will have to come in handy when the Bucs play the sack-happy Dallas Cowboys in the season opener and the New York Giants in the third week of the season. By going with a run-first approach and a strong running game, Morris knows that his quarterback doesn't have to win games for him. The QB only has to not beat his own team with mistakes and turnovers. Can Leftwich avoid beating the Bucs with mistakes? We'll see, but something tells me when this team is 0-3 that McCown may be called on to start against Washington.
Now on to the game analysis.
• Sources tell Pewter Report that out of all the running backs, Cadillac Williams had the best training camp of any of them. Against Miami, Williams also stood out in terms of pass protection with a great block on Leftwich's pass to Maurice Stovall on third-and-6, followed by a great pick up on second-and-9 against blitzing linebacker Channing Crowder as Leftwich threw an incomplete pass to Brian Clark. Yes, Williams had a nice day running the ball, but his improved pass protection caught my eye against Miami.
• Left tackle Donald Penn continues his impressive preseason and had a dominating performance against defensive end Randy Starks and outside linebacker Joey Porter all night. On third-and-6 from the Tampa Bay 34, Leftwich's 18-yard pass to Maurice Stovall picked up a first down as Penn had an outstanding block on Porter.
• The Bucs' blocked punt occurred because long snapper Andrew Economos missed a block on defensive end Reggie Torbor. That caused Clifton Smith to come over to the left to help pick up Torbor and allowed running back Patrick Cobbs to shoot in free for the deflection. Smith made up for the Bucs' blocking error by recovering the live ball for Tampa Bay after it had touches linebacker Charlie Anderson.
• With 11:20 remaining Leftwich overthrew Kellen Winslow across the middle, and I don't buy Leftwich's "timing is off" excuse. The throw was on time to Winslow. The only problem is that Winslow would have had to be 7-foot-2 – instead of 6-foot-2 – to have any chance of catching the ball. It would have been an 18-yard gain due to the fact that Winslow was wide open.
• I've knocked Jeremy Zuttah's blocking this preseason, but his block on Williams' 19-yard run was the best of the preseason. Zuttah quickly posted defensive lineman Phillip Merling and then pancaked Crowder as he got to the second level. This was textbook blocking by the second-year guard.
• Is it me or has Jeremy Trueblood's fundamentals slipped? Trueblood has looked just downright awkward during the preseason and he gave up a sack-fumble to defensive end Jevon Langford. Credit a great, subtle hold by Penn on a Dolphins defender to allow Winslow to recover the fumble.
• The Bucs' first blitz of the game came on third-and-8 as cornerback Ronde Barber came around right tackle, followed by middle linebacker Barrett Ruud. The blitz was too slow in developing and Ruud didn't get to Chad Pennington before he launched a 39-yard pass to receiver Brian Hartline. Hartline was guilty of offensive pass interference, but cornerback Elbert Mack was just as guilty, too. While Ruud didn't get a hit on the QB, defensive end Gaines Adams got a backside hit on Pennington just a second too late.
• Clifton Smith had an amazing 30-yard punt return from the 5-yard line in which he bounced off players like a pinball. This guy will not be a one-year wonder. Smith is a player.
• On Leftwich's overthrow of a wide-open Winslow on the play that could have produced a touchdown, right guard Davin Joseph allowed too much pressure up the middle. Meanwhile, Penn just manhandled Porter. It's clear that Penn is the best pass protector the Bucs have.
• Stovall has gotten much better at getting off the line of scrimmage. He seems to have fresher legs this preseason than in years past. He beat rookie cornerback Sean Smith off the ball for a 21-yard gain on third-and-11. In my opinion, the third wide receiver job is down to Stovall and rookie Sammie Stroughter. Clark has dropped way too many passes during the preseason for my liking.
• Defensive end Jimmy Wilkerson got a sack on Miami's first offensive play in the first quarter. On the Dolphins' first snap of the second quarter, Wilkerson made a great open-field tackle of Ricky Williams for no gain.
• On a second-and-10, Adams had a great spin-to-bull rush on second-year left tackle Jake Long that forced Pennington to throw incomplete. I can't recall Adams using a spin-to-bull rush last year during the regular season. Maybe he did, but I don't remember it. It's definitely what the Bucs want to see from him.
• Tampa Bay's open-field tackling has improved significantly this year. I have seen very few missed tackles during the preseason from the starters or the reserves.
• Just before the lightning delay on second-and-10, Leftwich threw the best touch pass I've seen him throw on a 4-yard toss to Ward. What does he do on the next play? Against the blitz on third-and-6, Leftwich throws a laser way too high for Cortez Hankton with absolutely no touch.
• New starting weakside linebacker Geno Hayes had a great night on defense and also on special teams. His most notable play was chasing down running back Ronnie Brown for minimal gain on second-and-7.
• Coming out of the rain delay, it's clear that the offensive line not in sync like they were in first quarter. Center Jeff Faine sat down to rest his groin and was replaced by Sean Mahan. Mahan's blocking as a whole wasn't too bad, but Luke McCown may have suffered from some of the line protection calls that Mahan made versus what a more experienced Faine may have called.
• Although it seemed like McCown was getting blitzed more than Leftwich was, that was not the case. The offensive line and extra blockers just did a better job of blocking for Leftwich than they did for McCown. Here's a breakdown of every pass play (including runs, sacks and penalties) that each quarterback had against Miami and the corresponding number of rushers on those plays:
20 pass plays
3-man rush – 2
4-man rush – 10
5-man rush – 6
6-man rush – 2
16 pass plays
4-man rush = 11
5-man rush = 3
6-man rush = 2
• Earnest Graham's pass protection was awful. He really let McCown down against Miami. Against Taylor, Graham allowed McCown to get hit on the 20-yard pass to tight end Jerramy Stevens on the sidelines that Stevens should have caught.
• Graham's 27-yard run outside off the left side was due to a great seal blocks by Winslow and Joseph, who was pulling on the play. Stroughter had a great block downfield to help spring the run, too.
• After watching Williams run this preseason and comparing him to Graham and Ward, Cadillac may have the best vision and cutting ability for this offense. I would not be surprised if Williams really pushes for playing time this year. He looked solid against Miami. I doubt the Bucs have a 1,000-yard rusher this year as a result, but the running backs may rush for 2,000 yards combined.
• The knock on McCown this preseason was that he needed to be more aggressive with the ball in throwing downfield. Against Miami, McCown threw a 20-yard pass to Stevens that was incomplete, in addition to two strikes of 33 yards and 29 yards to Campbell that were incomplete. Stevens should have made the catch and Campbell should have laid out for the possible touchdown catch in the third quarter.
• McCown showed some indecisiveness on his first sack as Mahan and Joseph allowed pressure up the middle. Stroughter was open in the left flat, but McCown couldn't see him.
• On the next play, Miami brought safety Nathan Jones on a blitz from McCown's left and Graham did a poor job in pass protection and allowed McCown to get sacked.
• On third-and long on the next play, against a four-man rush, Trueblood was badly beaten by linebacker William Kershaw and McCown's dumpoff pass was dropped by Graham after it hit him in the hands.
• On second-and-5 near the end of the second quarter, defensive tackle Dre Moore diagnosed the outlet pass to Cobbs and chased him down from behind. It was a smart play by the hustling Moore.
• On McCown's last drive of the half, he faced a five-man rush and was flagged for intentional grounding. This was a poorly called protection issue as the blitz was not diagnosed by McCown or Mahan. The blitz came from McCown's right on a side that had two tight ends – Stevens and Winslow, who had motioned from left to right. McCown also had Graham in the backfield as a potential blocker. At the snap, both tight ends went out for passes along with Graham and linebacker Quentin Moses came free off the left side right in McCown's face. McCown has to recognize that and audible for Graham or a tight end to pick up the blocker.
• After that play, Mahan got shoved into Graham on a draw play on third-and-29 against a three-man rush. Mahan was bull-rushed into the backfield by defensive tackle Tony McDaniell.
• Mack had great coverage on Miami receiver Devone Bess and forced him to make a tough, one-handed catch – out of bounds down the left sidelines.
• On next play, defensive ends Quincy Black and Stylez G. White almost converged on a sack. Black beat Brown around the corner, showing great hips on the play. On the next snap, Black deflected a pass intended for Brown in the flat.
• Hayes made a great tackle on a draw by Brown for minimal gain.
• On second-and-3 on the first drive of the third quarter, defensive end Louis Holmes shed Long's block and tackled Williams on a toss play. The Bucs knew Holmes could rush the passer. What they wanted to see was whether he could play against the run. This was a positive step for Holmes.
• Safety DeAngelo Willingham came on a blitz and didn't see Pennington roll out off play action and hit Hartline downfield with a bomb over cornerback Torrie Cox inside Tampa Bay's 10. Willingham had contain on the play and blew it big time. No wonder he was released. Cox didn't help his cause by getting flagged for defensive holding on the next play.
• Pennington proved to be elusive to linebacker Adam Hayward, who came on a blitz and missed the quarterback. Pennington wheeled from right to left and hit tight end Anthony Fasano, who was wide open in the end zone for a touchdown. Linebacker Matt McCoy blew the coverage on the play.
• McCown rebounded nicely from a shaky second quarter with four nice plays in a row. Facing a four-man rush on second-and-20, McCown zipped a pass to Hankton for 13 yards on a slant. On the next play, McCown hit Campbell for a first down just as Taylor was blitzing from McCown's right. Trueblood was late off the snap and had gotten beat. After a 4-yard scramble by McCown, he rifled a pass in between cornerback Vontae Davis and linebackers Porter and Akin Ayodele to Campbell, who ran a slant route and hauled in McCown's best pass of the night for a first down. Unfortunately for McCown, Campbell couldn't finish off the drive for him by making a touchdown catch on a pass that was a few inches too far out in front.
• Josh Freeman made the mistake of staring down wide receiver Mario Urrutia at the left hash marks on his first pass attempt and the pass was nearly picked off by rookie Shaun Smith, who got a great jump on the ball. But Freeman didn't let that play get him down as he shrugged it off and fired a great slant to Urrutia for a first down at the right hash marks.
• On second-and-6, Freeman missed wide receiver Cortez Hankton, who ran an out route while Urrutia ran a pick on a slant. Freeman's pass was high and over Hankton's head. Folks, that's a routine NFL throw that Freeman simply missed on by throwing too high. That pass is indicative of the fact that he still has a ways to go before becoming a starter. That pass tells me Freeman needs a year's worth of work on his accuracy.
• There was plenty of bad football in the fourth quarter as the third-string units played for both teams, but defensive tackle Chris Bradwell shined with an interception at the Tampa Bay 6 as defensive coordinator Jim Bates dialed up a zone blitz. Bradwell dropped in coverage and made a great, athletic play by leaping up in the air to pick off a pass intended for Greg Camarillo.
• The Bucs defense followed up that play with a nice three-and-out midway through the quarter on Miami's next possession. Rookie cornerback E.J. Biggers sacked a scrambling Chad Henne for no gain on first down, and Holmes shot through to sack Henne on third-and-7.
• Freeman's best drive of the night came with 3:32 left in the fourth quarter. He hit tight end Ryan Purvis with an 11-yard pass, followed by strikes of five yards and 13 yards to Pat Carter. Freeman hit Clark with a 6-yard gain before following up with two incompletions to end the drive on fourth-and-10 from the Miami 47 with 2:05 remaining.