Copyright 2009

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Publisher Scott Reynolds
“For all the talk about forcing turnovers and emphasizing that during the OTAs and training camp, the Bucs have just two turnovers in their first three games, which is very disturbing. Both of those came from strong safety Sabby Piscitelli at Buffalo. It’s not like the Bucs haven’t had opportunities because the team is generating a lot of three-and-outs. They aren't. In fact, it’s the opposite. Tampa Bay’s defense has been on the field for 196 plays through three games, an average of 65 per contest. It’s important to note that the Bucs were not exactly a turnover machine in the preseason, either. Tampa Bay only picked off four passes, forced three fumbles and recovered two loose balls. Piscitelli was the most active defender when it came to turnovers in the preseason too, picking off a pass and forcing a fumble. Where are Piscitelli's teammates? Jim Bates’ bump-and-run defense was supposed to be a risk-reward scheme that would generate more turnovers. So far it’s been all risk and almost no reward. It seems to me as if the Bucs seem content on tackling (when they are not missing tackles) rather than hitting the ballcarrier. I watched the South Florida – Florida State game on Saturday, and the primary reason the Bulls upset the Seminoles in Tallahassee was because USF’s defense was more physical and dished out hits, while the Seminoles were more passive and content on making tackles. There was a big disparity in intensity on Saturday and it showed as the physical South Florida team forced four fumbles with bone-jarring hits, while the finesse-like Seminoles didn’t force any. The Bucs could learn a lesson from how the Bulls defense played against the Seminoles and apply it towards creating more turnovers.”

“Does this Buccaneers team lack talent or does it simply lack experience? That’s what the Bucs’ brass has to decide this season. Take a look at the defense. Yes, players like linebackers Geno Hayes and Quincy Black, defensive backs Sabby Piscitelli, Elbert Mack and Aqib Talib and defensive linemen Gaines Adams, Roy Miller and Tim Crowder are all young, fast and athletic, but the NFL has been known to have quite a few guys that are good athletes yet bad football players. I haven’t seen enough of these players – and neither has the front office – to make an informed evaluation yet. It’s going to take half the season or perhaps the entire 2009 campaign to determine which of these players has a future wearing red and pewter. The best case for general manager Mark Dominik and head coach Raheem Morris is that most of these players have the talent and just need more game experience to show it. The worst-case scenario is that half or more of the aforementioned players simply don’t have what it takes to start in the NFL. That really delays Tampa Bay’s rebuilding project and puts Dominik and Morris under the gun to fill more holes than they expected in 2010.”

“The common denominator in Tampa Bay’s inability to run the ball in the last two games after rushing for 174 yards against Dallas in the season opener is the absence of center Jeff Faine. Bucs head coach Raheem Morris didn’t want to blame injuries for the team’s losses like head coach Jon Gruden was prone to do, but he couldn’t help himself in mentioning the loss of Faine, who tore his triceps in the fourth quarter against the Cowboys. ‘When you talk about not making excuses, you’re not going to do that,” Morris said. ‘Jeff Faine, one of our better players, has been out. It is not Sean Mahan’s fault. We have to get better. We have to get better play out of our running backs. We have to get better play out of our line. We have to get better plays out of our coaches and we will.’ There has been a big drop off in the level of play between Faine and Mahan, and the problem with the Bucs’ zone-blocking scheme is that it is a horizontal-based scheme in which the linemen stretch the defense sideways in unison. Because of the scheme, it’s not like the Bucs can really run away from Mahan if the team perceives him to be a weakness due to the fact that he remains a part of the blocking scheme. When the Bucs tried to run a stretch play to the right and get Derrick Ward out on the perimeter midway through the second quarter, Ward was dropped for a 5-yard loss when defensive tackle Fred Robbins shot through past Mahan and penetrated the ‘A’ gap to make the tackle. The Bucs’ running game – specifically Mahan – might catch a break next week at Washington as defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth suffered a hip injury against Detroit and may be questionable for next Sunday's contest.”

“I’m sure as the Bucs’ losses mount that there will be a growing chorus among die-hard fans and perhaps even some in the media that believe Tampa Bay should re-sign veteran linebacker Derrick Brooks. I mean, there’s no way the Bucs would allow over 200 yards rushing in a game with Brooks on the roster, right? Oh, wait … that happened last year at Carolina on Monday Night Football. But there’s no way the Bucs would allow an average of 30 points per game with Brooks on the field, right? Oh, wait … that happened in 2008 over the last four games. Okay, surely the Bucs wouldn’t lose three consecutive games with Brooks’ leadership, right? Oh, wait … Tampa Bay lost four straight games to end the season last year and blow a 9-3 start with Brooks as a starter. The point is that Brooks is not a magic bullet that is going to help Tampa Bay hit the target and earn its first win this year. Do the Buccaneers miss Brooks? Yes, but they miss the 2002 version of Derrick Brooks, who was a supreme playmaker. Tampa Bay doesn’t miss the Brooks from a year ago, who was a step slow and who had succumbed to injury down the stretch. The knee-jerk reaction is to blame the Bucs’ woes on Brooks' play and leadership not being there. How exactly would a 36-year old Brooks help the 2009 Buccaneers? What would Barrett Ruud and Quincy Black learn from Brooks this year that they haven’t learned over the last couple years? Having Brooks on this team would only rob Geno Hayes of playing time and retard his development. Hayes is one of the few young players that has stepped up early on and shown some promise. The truth is that this Buccaneers team would never foster leadership among other players under Brooks’ watch. It never happened under Brooks' tenure because he cast such a huge shadow. The only way for new leaders to emerge is to have Brooks off the team, which coupled with his slip in play, is the reason why general manager Mark Dominik and head coach Raheem Morris cut the 14-year veteran back in February. Has anyone stepped up to fill the leadership void in Brooks’ absence? No, and it may be some time before a player earns that right on the field. However, at least there is a chance for that to happen now, which is important because Brooks simply could not have been a Buccaneer forever. The fact that no other entity other than ESPN has stepped up and signed Brooks at anytime during the offseason or the regular season is a very telling sign, too.”

“As bad as the Bucs stunk it up offensively against the Giants on Sunday, I look for the team to rebound against a suspect Redskins defense and win next week at Washington. I think Byron Leftwich deserves to get the start, but he’s on a short leash if I’m Raheem Morris. With one more turnover from Leftwich before the next Tampa Bay touchdown I would roll the dice with Josh Johnson if I am Raheem Morris.”

“Speaking of Byron Leftwich, the thing that would concern me if I were general manager Mark Dominik or head coach Raheem Morris is the lack of leadership from the captain positions. Center Jeff Faine is injured, so his role as a captain is diminished somewhat because he’s not in the huddle in practice or the games, and won’t be for several weeks. Leftwich played okay over the last two weeks, but the reality is that he’s on his fourth team in four years and hasn't led the Bucs to a win in three games. Leftwich is an experienced quarterback, but he’s not necessarily a good one. On defense, Ronde Barber’s game has slipped. Tampa Bay’s record-breaking cornerback is still a solid player, but no longer the playmaker he was a few years ago. Barber is a quiet leader who does not seek to vocally lead the troops and doesn’t believe in giving rah-rah speeches – and won’t. Will Allen is a special teams captain, but is not considered to be a vocal leader. The fact that he’s only starting on defense due to Jermaine Phillips’ injury and Tanard Jackson’s suspension robs him of a lot of credibility when it comes to addressing the defense. Perhaps the most ‘rah-rah’ captain on the team is defensive tackle Chris Hovan, who just doesn’t have the production to back up his talk. At age 31, any game-changing skills that Hovan had are gone. He had a pedestrian four tackles on Sunday and his play may not be much better than that of defensive tackle Ryan Sims or rookie Roy Miller at this stage of his career. I would bet that Gaines Adams gets his first sack of the season before Hovan does. The Bucs’ best player on defense is middle linebacker Barrett Ruud, who had 14 tackles on Sunday to once again lead Tampa Bay. But Ruud’s quiet, 'aw, shucks' demeanor may undermine his leadership ability. It will take leadership in conjunction with playmaking to turn the Bucs’ season around, and through three games the Bucs have shown little of either.”

Editor-In-Chief Jim Flynn
“Tampa Bay will be hard pressed to win a game in 2009 if it can’t find a way to start games faster. The Bucs were held scoreless in the first quarter for the third straight game Sunday. That means Tampa Bay has been outscored 30-0 in the first quarter by its first three regular season opponents. In fact, the Bucs have been outscored 47-14 in the first half of their first three regular season games under head coach Raheem Morris. It’s no coincidence that the Bucs are 0-3 on the season. That type of first quarter and first half production simply isn’t going to cut it – rebuilding season or not.”

“The Bucs aimed to clean up their tackling and stop the Giants’ running game heading into Sunday’s contest after allowing Buffalo to rush for over 200 yards last week. That didn’t happen. The Giants broke out of their funk on the ground by rushing for 226 yards and one touchdown against the Bucs on Sunday. Had they not been pulled from the game early due to the Giants’ 24-0 lead in the fourth quarter, running backs Amhad Bradshaw and Brandon Jacobs would have each rushed for over 100 yards. Bradshaw had 104 yards rushing, and Jacobs fell just short of that mark, producing 92 yards rushing.”

“Tampa Bay head coach Raheem Morris said several times throughout the week heading into this game that the Bucs want to one day be like the Giants. What did he mean by that? The Giants offensive line dominated in the trenches while their ground attack produced over 200 yards. On defense, New York held Tampa Bay’s offense to just 86 yards, and the Bucs didn’t get their first down until late in the third quarter. Quarterback Byron Leftwich was under heavy duress throughout the contest. Sunday’s game was a dominating performance by the Giants in every sense of the term, and the Bucs clearly have a long way to go before they even belong on the same football field with New York, let alone resembling the team that the Giants are today.”

"The Buccaneers defense failed to record a sack against the Giants on Sunday, leaving their sack total on the 2009 regular season at three through as many games. Giants quarterback Eli Manning completed 14-of-24 passes for 161 yards and tossed two touchdowns while having a fairly comfortable pocket to throw out of throughout the game. The Bucs had just two quarterback hurries versus the Giants, both notched by defensive end Gaines Adams, whose play was improved, but still not good enough from a pass-rushing standpoint. Right now, Tampa Bay is on pace to notch just 16 sacks this season. The Bucs have a lot of problems on defense right now, and pass rush still is one of them."

Beat Writer Charlie Campbell
"The Tampa Bay Buccaneers defense were absolutely abused on first down early in the game by the New York Giants on their touchdown drives. On their first possession, the Giants had the following first down plays: Brandon Jacobs ran for five yards, Steve Smith caught a 13-yard pass, Jacobs ran for 11 yards, Smith caught a 12-yard pass and Ahmad Bradshaw ran for 14 yards. That was just on the first drive. On their second touchdown drive, the Giants had the following plays on first down: Mario Manningham caught a 10-yard pass, Manningham caught a 7-yard pass, Bradshaw ran for 38 yards and Jacobs ran for two yards on first-and-goal. New York also had a lot of good plays on first down in their final drive of the first half that resulted in a missed field goal. Part of the reason why the Bucs haven't had a good pass rush through three games is the team is allowing its opponents to rack up yards on first down. That allows the opposing offense to avoid third down, and when they are in third down, the Bucs have found themselves in numerous third-and-short situations. The Buccaneers' struggles on first down allowed the Giants to take control of the game and maintain possession of the ball. While the Bucs' pass rush has come under well-deserved criticism, the failures on first down have been a catalyst for Tampa Bay being 0-3."

"The Buccaneers should have put backup quarterback Josh Johnson into the game sooner. When the Giants went up 24-0 with 12:26 left in the fourth quarter, there was no reason to bring Byron Leftwich back out on the field. He had eight possessions up to that point that yielded one first down, no points, and one turnover. On the ninth possession, Leftwich threw three incomplete passes while taking more hits. Leftwich continued to get battered-and-bruised against the Giants like he had in the previous two games. With the potential for injury increasing with each hit, why not give the Bucs' backup quarterback some experience in a game Tampa Bay was clearly out of? Even though Johnson has ascended to being the backup quarterback, he has gotten limited reps in his NFL career. Playing in garbage time of a loss would have been a good opportunity for Johnson to see some live action. The Bucs don't give him much reps in practice during the week. Third-string quarterback Josh Freeman gets the reps that would normally go to a backup quarterback. New York saw the game was out of hand and had backup David Carr in the game early in the fourth quarter. Johnson finally got in the game with 9:33 left in the fourth quarter. Instantly, he gave the offense some energy, and started to move the ball. Johnson completed a fourth down pass to extend the drive, had a 15-yard run, and had a touchdown pass dropped by wide receiver Michael Clayton. It would have been interesting to see what Johnson could have done if head coach Raheem Morris gave him more than one possession."

"Blitzing linebacker Geno Hayes was effective for Tampa Bay in the first two games of the season. Entering the contest with the Giants, Hayes led the team with six quarterback hurries. Against New York, the Buccaneers did not do a whole lot of blitzing, and tried to get a pass rush out of their front four defensive linemen. The defensive line's play was consistent with its overall performance in the first two games. The D-line continue to struggle to pressure the quarterback. Gaines Adams was the only Buccaneer to record a hurry against the Giants, and did so twice. Hayes is a linebacker that is versatile, and is a good defender against the pass. It is understandable that the Bucs would look to use him there, but considering the effectiveness he brings as a blitzer, it was disappointing to see him not sent after New York quarterback Eli Manning more often. You can include cornerback Ronde Barber in that discussion, too. He had a sack in Week 1, and Bucs fans know how dangerous a blitzer he can be. With Barber and Hayes being two of the team's better pass rushers, one would think that Tampa Bay would send them after the quarterback more often."

"The lack of imagination by head coach Raheem Morris and the coaching staff was disappointing against New York. Morris said Tampa Bay was out-manned and out-gunned by the Giants. That became evident from the first drive of the game when New York imposed their will on the Buccaneers with a 12-play, 80-yard drive that ended in a 6-yard touchdown run. When the Bucs got the ball back they faced a fourth-and-1 at their own 39-yard line and punted. It would have been nice to see a fake punt there, like a snap to the personal protector and a run up the middle. Later in the game with the offense struggling to move the ball, Tampa Bay could have tried a number of things like a flea-flicker bomb down the field. They could have tried an end-around, a sweep to a running back with a toss back to the quarterback who throws downfield, or a halfback option. On special teams and offense the Bucs played very conservatively, and paid the price for it. The defense was on its heels the whole game as well. It could have gambled with some jailbreak blitzes and zone blitzes. Considering the Buccaneers were lagging behind the Giants in terms of talent, some gadget plays might have had the capacity to catch New York off-guard and help make up for the talent discrepancy. For the Bucs' sake, the team needs to learn from Sunday's loss and be more aggressive in the future."

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