All played a significant role in Tampa Bay's 34-21 loss to the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday, but each of those mistakes is correctable, according to head coach Raheem Morris.
Morris held a noon press conference at One Buc Place Monday to discuss the disappointing loss to Dallas, which featured Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo passing for 353 yards and three touchdowns.
Tampa Bay had serious issues in its defensive backfield. As a result, Romo completed four different passes that produced 40-plus yards, including TD throws of 42, 66 yards and 80 yards.
Morris acknowledged the need for Tampa Bay's pass coverage to improve, but did not agree with some of the players' assessment that miscommunication played a role in Dallas' big passing plays vs. the Bucs.
"The word for me on defense is big plays, and we gave up four big plays yesterday that we have to limit and stop," said Morris. "That throws the defensive stats and the game all out of whack. You completely miss the fact of how well they played the first 25 minutes of that game, and a little bit after that. Those big plays, they're just heartbreakers.
"I really didn't hear anything regarding the communication deal. I just kept hearing the big-play factors. We knew exactly where everyone was and whose fault it was, but we're not into pointing fingers. That's something I have to stop. We don't do that and we won't do that. What we have to do around here is self-evaluate and have everybody in that room be accountable for what they're supposed to do. I didn't hear about communication as much as you.
"I didn't hear or see communication issues. The big plays were the obvious ones. Joe, my barber, could tell me who those plays were on. Those are the types of things you just have to coach up and stand up and make a play. Usually with a communication issue there is somebody wide open or nobody anywhere near ‘em. Communication is just a players' excuse. Communication isn't an issue."
Bucs third-year safety Sabby Piscitelli, who had a shaky preseason outing in terms of defending the deep part of the field, was seen trailing on a few of Dallas' big passing plays Sunday.
The former second-round pick has started five NFL games during his career. Morris suggested Piscitelli was not in immediate danger of being benched in favor of Will Allen while starting S Tanard Jackson continues to serve his four-game suspension for violation of the league's substance abuse policy.
"He's accountable every time [big plays] happen," Morris said of Piscitelli. "Will Allen is already in the lineup and in the rotation, so that's not really a factor. We've got 53 guys on this team, and we suit up 45, and Sabby is going to be part of that 45. He has to be a contributor, and he cannot be a hindrance. Not all the blame is on Sabby. Some other people gave up some big plays yesterday, too. But as a man and as a teammate, Sabby is accountable. We'll get him going right. He's really only in his first year as a full-time starter. He'll get better as we go. This whole team will."
Bucs cornerback Ronde Barber turned in an impressive game and received praise from Morris Monday, but Tampa Bay's secondary obviously has plenty of room to improve overall.
However, Morris suggested some of the problems the secondary had stemmed from the lack of pass rush generated by Tampa Bay's front four, which did not generate a sack Sunday.
"We hit the quarterback 10 or 11 times yesterday," said Morris. "A few of those came from Ronde, a few others came from [linebacker] Geno [Hayes] and a few others came from . The D-line only had five hits, and that was really important going into this game going up against a guy like Tony Romo. We didn't get to him as much as we needed to.
"Some of those big plays were on the guys up front. It all works together. It's easy to point the finger at the one guy who was escorting the touchdown throw, but at the same time you have to self evaluate. You have to self evaluate the call, the player and each player involved in that play. That's what we have to go back and evaluate as coaches, players and as men. That's what today is about, before we move on to Buffalo, so we're not having the same discussion next week."
The lack of pass rush has plagued Tampa Bay's defense over the last few years. The Bucs notched just 29 sacks last year despite having invested a top five draft pick in defensive end Gaines Adams in 2007.
Simply put, the pass rush must improve, and in a hurry. Morris believes that his front four will deliver in that regard.
"I'm really confident in that fact," said Morris. "These guys work too hard and care too much not to get it done. You'd like to see the QB touches go up."
Tampa Bay's defense wasn't the only culprit in its loss to Dallas. The Bucs special teams unit also struggled. The mistakes included one blocked field goal, one missed field goal, a running into the kicker penalty, a muffed punt and return specialist Clifton Smith's poor decision to field a punt at his own 1-yard line vs. Dallas.
Perhaps the biggest cause for concern is kicker Mike Nugent, who beat out injured K Matt Bryant in preseason, but only made 6-of-9 (66.6 percent) of his preseason attempts, including two misses from over 50 yards away.
A former second-round pick, Nugent had one field goal blocked, and later missed a 46-yard attempt wide right vs. Dallas.
"I'm not making excuses for Nugent because I won't, but his first kick got blocked and the second one I pulled him off the field and put in my seven-second throw and if we hit that ball to Antonio Bryant in the end zone the half is over," said Morris. "I'm not blaming [quarterback Byron] Leftwich because he had to throw the ball fast and on a line, otherwise you're going to run out of time and the half wlll be over. Seeing that executed was a positive for the team, but now I want to hit the field goal, of course, and he didn't it. He missed it. I'm not making excuses for him because he has to hit that."
When asked if the Bucs were considering signing another kicker or re-signing Bryant, who has not signed with another team, Morris was vague.
"You're always in constant evaluation of your team," said Morris. "That process will take place today and will continue tomorrow."
Morris was pleased with Tampa Bay's offense, which produced 21 points, 174 yards rushing (5.6 avg.) and two touchdowns, no sacks allowed despite 41 pass attempts by Leftwich and 450 yards vs. Dallas. The Bucs offense currently ranks fifth overall in the NFL while the defense ranks 25th.
Instead of dwelling on the negatives that came out of 2009 regular season home opener, Morris expressed optimism for the rest of the season.
"We have to get better as a team," said Morris. "Did we lose the kicking game yesterday? Yes. Did we lose the battle on defense yesterday? Yes. We won offense. We have to get the phases together and win all phases. You have a chance to win if you win two of the three phases. You have a chance to win if you win one of the three, as we saw yesterday."
QUOTE OF THE DAY Morris on Tampa Bay's first loss of the 2009 regular season.
"We had four backbreakers [on defense]. I looked at my staff today and told them, ‘If we make that two we win. If we make that two we win. We have to figure out how to do that.' We don't have to figure how to go back and help [cornerback Elbert Mack] figure out how to defend the long ball to Miles Austin. That play is dead, but let's eliminate that play somehow and the play to Roy Williams. Let's stop those two plays and we win that football game. I have all the confidence in the world that this young, Tampa Bay Buccaneers football team is going to be a good football team. I have all the confidence in the world, and I'm going to tell them that today."