The Buccaneers are trying to right the ship with their struggling offense as they prepare to face one of the toughest defenses in the NFL. The Philadelphia Eagles host the 0-4 Bucs on Sunday after Tampa Bay lost to the Washington Redskins 16-13 last Sunday. Quarterback Josh Johnson starts his second NFL game on Sunday, and commented on what he is working on to produce a better result in Week 5.
"Take advantage of more of the opportunities," said Johnson. "I think I played pretty well. I could have done a lot of things better, and there are a lot of things I can learn from. A lot of it is just growing with the guys. Growing with: Mike [Clayton], [Antonio Bryant], Kellen [Winslow], Jerramy [Stevens], and all the running backs. Just growing and being more in sync, that's obviously our first actual game situation. It was a good learning experience for us. There is a lot of stuff that you can't emulate in practice that we got experience in games. The Redskins you have to give them credit, they did a lot of things we didn't see on film, and they made plays."
Tampa Bay put up 229 yards, 129 rushing and 100 passing, of total offense against Washington. The Bucs offense had the benefit of four turnovers produced by the defense, but lost out on some points due to two missed field goals. A week earlier against the Giants the Bucs had only 86 yards of total offense, 28 rushing and 58 passing.
In the offseason the Bucs focused their offseason retooling to improve the offense. The team started by trading for tight end Kellen Winslow, signing running back Derrick Ward, and drafting quarterback Josh Freeman with their first pick. Tampa Bay also franchised wide receiver Antonio Bryant, re-signed wide receiver Michael Clayton, and re-signed tight end Jerramy Stevens. Head coach Raheem Morris was asked why the team has not been able to utilize the weapons they have on offense.
"Well [Bryant] has been up-and-down with the injury deal so that is kind of a no-brainer there," said Morris. "Kellen Winslow has been productive as far as the amount of receptions he's been getting, as far as that. Jerramy Stevens has been slightly productive as far as the amount of receptions he's been getting. Changing the quarterback is having to get used to it as far as the continuity with the receivers. Michael Clayton has been dinged up, and in-and-out of the lineup as far as the offseason and coming into the season starting it out hot. He came into this week a little dinged, but Cadillac [Williams] has been up and rolling. Derrick Ward has been down a little bit. Earnest Graham has been down a little bit. Again we don't use that as excuses, but those guys have been up-and-down as far as themselves and their injuries, and we move on to the next guy."
After the first two games of the season, the Buccaneers had an offense ranked in the top five of the NFL. Morris said it could be the best offense in franchise history. After two more games, the Bucs offense has fallen to 27th overall. Tampa Bay is 23rd rushing the ball averaging 97 yards per game, and 24th in passing with an average of 183 yards per contest. Quarterbacks coach Greg Olson replaced Jeff Jagodzniski as offensive coordinator after the Bucs had finished their offseason workouts, and training camp practices.
"Really going back and looking at the film he threw the ball well," said Olson. "I just think there times when he was a little quick going through his progressions and missed some opportunities for some plays that he'll watch from film, and I think he'll learn from that. He's got to slow that clock down a bit when it comes to those passing situations, and they are playing a zone and are giving him some opportunities to push it down the field. He was just a little fast through his progressions for the first time out."
Johnson replaced opening game starter Byron Leftwich after three games. Leftwich was made the third string quarterback, with Freeman being the backup signal caller. Leftwich is dealing with a hip injury, but returned to practice on Wednesday. In his three starts Leftwich completed 54.2 percent of his passes with four touchdowns, three interceptions, and a rating of 71.2.
Johnson's mobility was a leading reason for him being made the starter, as Leftwich was unable to contend with the pressure the Bucs were getting up the middle in the absence of starting center Jeff Faine. Johnson said that having a change in quarterback was more impactful than changing offensive coordinators. Leftwich was known for pushing the ball downfield, and Johnson had the expectation to throw short passes. Johnson was asked if the Bucs had an emphasis on the short passing game with him at quarterback.
"For me I felt like we had both when we had our most success on offense it involved balance-wise was in the first half," said Johnson. "That's when we had a lot, actually a few opportunities to have big plays. In the second half they were more, a lot more of a base defense. They had a lot of different types of zone coverages. The plays were pretty balanced. I mean in the second half it is tough to get plays downfield when they are playing max coverages. At the same time you have running backs underneath and that's why we were able to move the ball on our last drive."
A big part of having the offense balanced is getting starting running back Carnell ‘Cadillac' Williams going. He averaged 4.8 yards per carry (77 yards on 16 carries) on Sunday. He also had four receptions for 22 yards. Williams felt that Tampa Bay has the potential to produce a lot more.
"We left a lot of plays out on the field. I mean a lot of plays," said Williams. "It was the small things. We could have done a better job of protecting Josh. Josh could have done a better job of reading his routes in terms of coming off guys. As a whole we could have played better.
"As an offense, it's chemistry, man. I feel like right now not everyone is playing as one. Until we become one and have everyone buying in and doing their job then that's when you'll see things turning around. If we don't get on the same page we're going to continue to struggle."
Williams' quarterback echoed his comments that the chemistry of the offense is off. Johnson said that changing offensive coordinators on the eve of the final preseason game is not a reason for the players being out of sync with each other.
"For one part it is the fact that it is a new quarterback," said Johnson. "You can't emulate all the things in practice that you experience in a game. It is a different speed obviously. I know for me what helped me out a lot is slowing myself down a little bit, just with the timing of the routes so when the guys get downfield I'm not onto my next or third read. I need to slow myself down. I mean the guys with the offensive coordinator change have handled that very well. It is always going to be mental errors. That is natural. In growing through the season it is about how many of those mental errors do we reduce. That's what it is."
Olson said that as a play caller he has to stay committed to running the ball with Williams. Running back Clifton Smith fumbled the ball away to Washington on the Bucs final possession of the game. Smith had been the running back for the Bucs two-minute offense, but Olson said that Williams would get more involved in that role due his productive play.
"Really I thought on the last drive the inside runs had opened for us with Cadillac," said Olson. "I've got to, again, be committed to the run in our situation right now, especially with Cadillac Williams. I really do believe that he is back as a bright point for us right now. The way that he has come back, and as healthy as he is playing right now, and as hard as he's playing. We just got to still maintain our emphasis on the run."
In 2008 the leading player for the Bucs offense was Bryant. He missed all four preseason games due to minor knee surgery, and missed the Week 2 loss at Buffalo with knee pain. In three games Bryant has a total of seven catches for 79 yards, and a touchdown. Bryant was asked how he envisioned the offense performing.
"Definitely not 0-4," said Bryant. "That's not to say all the problems are on offense, but one thing that holds true is the offense scores points. We need to score more points. That's how you win games."
It will be a stiff challenge for a struggling offense to right itself against the Philadelphia Eagles defense. Last season the Eagles went on a postseason run that saw them win road games against the Vikings and Giants before losing to the Arizona Cardinals in the NFC Championship game. Philadelphia is known for their defense that features a diverse amount of blitzes. Johnson said that the Eagles would be hard to prepare for.
"You never know, a prime example was last week," said Johnson. "The Redskins showed a lot of things on film and they came out and showed things we didn't see. They might try and do some different blitzes from what they did last week, and [the Redskins] did. We really don't know what to expect. We know they are a very aggressive defense. They have a history of it, and it shows on film. They do some good things from their blitz packages but they also have plays from zone and stuff. If we are prepared for both this week, we should be all right on Sunday once we get a feel of how they want to attack us."