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President Hugh MacArthur
I think they call this rock-bottom.  The Cowboys’ game exposed the Buccaneers’ weaknesses for the entire nation to see, and the gap between a playoff team and Tampa Bay is wide indeed.  This was actually a game before two key possessions:  the last Cowboy possession of the first half and their opening possession of the second half.  The Bucs didn’t get the ball in-between, and both Cowboy drives resulted in touchdowns, turning a 14-10 contest into a 28-10 rout.

Want the good news first?  On offense, the Bucs actually competed.  Close your eyes to the 10 points for a moment, and look at the fact that they rushed for over 100 yards and a 4.2 average against one of the best run defenses in the NFL.  The pass protection was also adequate.  The Cowboy defense is one of the best, and the Buccaneer offensive line was not outmanned.  They competed and they held their own.  That tells me that the pieces are there — finally, for Tampa Bay to create a line that is a strength rather than a glaring weakness.

More good news?  Cadillac is running with authority and power.  Joey Galloway is open on most plays and makes big plays when Gradkowski can get him the ball.

What about Bruce?  He certainly made some mistakes, including a badly underthrown ball to Galloway for his first interception, but I still think Gradkowski is making progress.  It is clear that the game hasn’t slowed down for him yet.  He still doesn’t see open receivers downfield and occasionally checks himself out of a good play.  He still needs to work on his arm strength.  But, again, this kid was a sixth-round pick and is having his “Welcome to the NFL” growing pains.  He is also at the controls of a very complicated offense, and his poise in running it is a credit to him.  I cannot help but look at undrafted Tony Romo on the other side of the field and wonder how good Gradkowski will be with a couple of seasons under his belt.

Well, that’s about as much good news as I can write on a 38-10 drubbing.  The bad news really has to do with the defense.  Or, what used to be the defense.  It is gone.  Gone.  Stick a fork in Tampa Bay’s once proud defense, because they are definitely done.  As I have said before, this is a problem that will not go away this season.  There is no fix for not having a young Warren Sapp, young Derrick Brooks, and a John Lynch to disrupt offenses.  The Tampa 2 is at its best against the pass.  This Tampa Bay defense is actually at its best stopping the run.  Against the pass, they are hopeless.

We have mentioned the whys before, but they bear mentioning again.  The defense only works if you get pressure on the quarterback from the front four.  You don’t need to read any further if that doesn’t happen.  It didn’t on Thanksgiving, and as a result Jim Flynn can add to his “all-time turkey” list for next season.  The Cover-2 is a zone, and any zone will get picked to pieces if the quarterback has time.  Tony Romo had time.

It also didn’t help not having Brian Kelly to help with the talented Cowboy receivers.  Juran Bolden was game, but banged up, so even the zone coverage the Buccaneers did have was under-manned.

So, why is the defense in such sad shape?  I think it is the direct result of the top draft picks the Buccaneers have traded away since 2000 (4 number ones and 2 number twos) for Keyshawn Johnson and Jon Gruden, as well as the cap hell Rich McKay created on his way out of town.  The meager resources that the Bucs have had have needed to be devoted to fixing the offense, which was why Gruden was brought to Tampa in the first place.  It was decided long ago that the Bucs would ride this defense until it collapsed.  Mission accomplished.

Think of six high draft picks and the fact that they would be two to six year veterans right now.  Some of them certainly would be part of the defense.  The Bucs haven’t picked a defensive player in the first round since 1999.  That needs to change in 2007.

And please, don’t pay attention when idiot writers from the local newspapers blame Bruce Allen or Gruden for cap problems.  The cap hits for mistakes like Deese, Stinchcomb and Garner don’t even add up to Booger McFarland’s signing bonus.  Were those signings mistakes?  Absolutely, but Allen and Gruden were shopping at Wal-Mart, not Neiman Marcus.

And, please, don’t believe Rich McKay when he tells you that the Bucs needed to sacrifice the cap and “go for it” to win the Super Bowl.  The truth is McKay put the team squarely in cap hell after the Bucs won the Super Bowl.  Don’t believe it?  Look at the dates on the new contracts for Simeon Rice, Booger McFarland, Shelton Quarles, Martin Gramatica and Brad Johnson to name a few.  They all happened once the Bucs had won.  Jon Gruden found out about Rice’s contract (the richest ever for a defensive player) once he landed in Hawaii for the Owner’s meetings.

So, we have had neither the cap money nor the draft picks to reload the defense over the past several years, and what resources the Buccaneers have had definitely needed to be applied to the offense while the defense was still playing at a high level.  One can understand how the Bucs might think a defense that was ranked No. 1 in yardage in 2005 might be good for another season in 2006.  I guess not.

And therein lies the problem.  Issues that took years to be created will take time to fix.  It truly is serendipitous that the Buccaneers will have over $25 million to spend in free agency and will have four first-day picks in the 2007 draft.  The defense needs a total overhaul, and the picks and funds are there to fix the defense.

That brings us back to 2006 and 38-10 loss.  The Bucs have five games left in this train wreck of a season, and they might not win another one.  Their best shot is Atlanta at home.  If you want my advice, just try to enjoy watching the progress of the young players on offense, which will hopefully continue, look upon any victories as an unexpected gift, and get ready for free agency and the draft, which will be far more exciting to a Tampa Bay Buccaneers fan than the 2006 season has been.

Publisher Scott Reynolds
At least there are signs of life on the offensive side of the ball. Cadillac Williams is running more confidently and figuring out that to be an elite NFL running back, he will have to create his own plays – even when the blocking isn’t there. Williams ran hard from the start of the game, which is something he hasn’t done in every game this season. At times, he has waited for holes to develop when playing against tougher defenses only for that not to happen. That’s why Jon Gruden abandoned the running game so early in several games this year. Williams’ hard-nosed effort with 76 yards and 4.6 avg. against a tough Dallas defense is very encouraging, especially after a 122-yard effort just four days earlier. I would like to see Williams run this hard every week from here on out to have some momentum heading into 2007.

There are plays to be made in the passing game. Occasionally, Bruce Gradkowski will hit them. Too often he does not hit the plays deep downfield. I asked a Bucs official a couple of weeks ago if it was possible to actually increase your arm strength through weightlifting, knowing that just doing bench press or biceps curls won’t help you throw a football harder or further. The official said yes, and they plan on having Gradkowski do some wrist, elbow and shoulder exercises to see if they can help him add some zip, pointing out that similar types of exercises worked for Tom Brady, who didn’t have the strongest arm when he entered the NFL. If pitchers can do exercises and add 5 mph onto their fastballs, quarterbacks can, too. Despite the passing plays not being hit consistently, the good thing is that the plays are still there. What’s disappointing is that Joey Galloway is the only receiver who is consistently creating separation. Michael Clayton and his drops are almost an afterthought on offense. I would like to see Maurice Stovall have more opportunities.

Tampa Bay’s defense is a different matter. I don’t see many signs of life from this once-proud defense. Tampa Bay can’t rush the passer and can’t cover the pass. Having two new position coaches, who haven’t gotten glowing reviews from the players, isn’t helping. I love Monte Kiffin and think the world of him, but Jethro Franklin (defensive line) and Greg Burns (secondary) might not be the right guys for this defense. They both coached in a similar scheme under Kiffin’s good buddy, Pete Carroll, but the lack of success of both of their squads is quite noticeable.

What is also noticeable is the lack of star power on this defense. Yes, defensive end Simeon Rice and middle linebacker Shelton Quarles are sidelined, but neither was playing well last year before succumbing to injury. The Bucs miss cornerback Brian Kelly the most. But I’ll rattle off some names and you tell me who the playmakers on this team are. Jon Bradley. Jovan Haye. Julian Jenkins. Torrie Cox. Have I mentioned one yet? Blue Adams. Kalvin Pearson. Jermaine Phillips. Charles Bennett. How about now? Will Allen. Greg Spires. Ryan Nece. Juran Bolden. None yet? Dewayne White. Barrett Ruud. Chris Hovan. Perhaps those three guys have shown some flashes. Judging by tackle totals from yesterday, Derrick Brooks (four) and Ronde Barber (one) aren’t the playmakers they were a season ago, or even years ago. Players like Brooks reject the notion that the defense is too old. He’s right. This defense stinks. It’s mediocre at best and age has little to do with it as a whole. A lot of the old guys are hurt right now, and the old guys who are playing, including Brooks, aren’t getting the job done.
I stated on my radio show, the PewterReport.com Buccaneer Blitz, on Wednesday that I thought Jon Gruden’s job was safe this year and that he would get 2007 to see if he could turn the team around. I also said that a lot could happen in six weeks and that moods (specifically the Glazers’) can change over that time span. Thursday’s embarrassing, 38-10 drubbing in Dallas certainly didn’t help Gruden out. I still believe Gruden has to win a couple more games this season to ensure the fact that he’ll be around in 2007. Feel free to tell me where those games are. At Pittsburgh in 10 days? Atlanta on December 10? At Chicago on December 17? At Cleveland on Christmas Eve (do you really think the Bucs want to be in stinking cold Cleveland on the night before Christmas)? Against Seattle on New Year’s Eve? Gruden’s job was safe as of Monday. Six weeks is a long time.

The NFL really screwed the Bucs this year by forcing them to play three games in 11 days. Trying to overcome a 0-5 start and multiple injuries was tough enough, but then having to deal with the league’s stupidity is like kicking a guy when he’s already down. Of course, the NFL didn’t know that the Bucs would be this bad this year. Had they have known that, the NFL certainly wouldn’t have scheduled Tampa Bay to play on Monday Night Football and in the national spotlight on Thanksgiving. With an average of two days to prepare for each game (it’s actually three, but the NFL Players Association mandates that the players have off one day each week), this part of the schedule was suicide, especially with two games being on the road. The fact that the Bucs actually beat Washington last week is miraculous. Shame, shame, shame on the NFL. At the start of the season, I said the three key games for Tampa Bay would be its first three – not this three-game stretch. Why? Because at least two of the first three games (Baltimore, at Atlanta, Carolina) were winnable. Starting off 2-1 or 3-0 was going to be critical knowing that three games in 11 days and the three cold weather games in December were also on the slate.

Editor-In-Chief Jim Flynn
One can understand the fact that Tampa Bay entered Thursday’s game with injuries, without several key starters and on of a short week. You can even throw in the fact that the Bucs were playing their third game in 11 days on Thanksgiving Day. However, I’m not sure that’s an excuse for how much Dallas actually feasted on Tampa Bay. The Cowboys outgained the Bucs 435-211. They also produced 27 first downs to the Bucs’ 10. Of course, it’s tough to produce first downs when you don’t have the football. Dallas dominated time of possession Thursday, 37:17 to 22:43. What do you get when all of these stats don’t go the Bucs’ way – a 38-10 loss. In short, this was an embarrassing loss for the Bucs in front of a nationally televised audience. Tampa Bay’s defense got picked apart by Tony Romo, who was riding the bench a few weeks ago. Now, I’m not trying to take anything away from Romo or the Cowboys. They might just be the best team in the NFC, and have great balance on offense and defense. But you can’t help but be concerned about this Bucs team, which has a lot of holes that need to be filled next offseason.

Speaking of the defense, what in the world was Bucs safety Will Allen thinking when he injured his leg and opted not to take himself out of the game Thursday? Ironically, Allen got injured when he actually made a play in the offensive backfield, one of the few Allen has made this season. He got off the turf and was noticeably limping and injured, but instead of taking himself out of the game he stayed in. Dallas wisely attacked the deep-middle part of the field on the ensuing play, where Allen fell when trying to cut, which left wide receiver Terry Glenn wide open for a touchdown. I can appreciate Allen trying to tough it out, but there’s a fine line between being tough and being stupid, and I’m afraid that decision qualified Allen for the latter.

The Buccaneers, who will be close to $30 million under the salary cap next year, can afford to keep nine-time Pro Bowl linebacker Derrick Brooks. However, I’m not sure if they can afford to keep playing him at the weakside linebacker position. Brooks has clearly lost a step, and at this point you could even say he’s lost two. Brooks is mentally there, but his 33-year-old body isn’t, and it’s costing the Bucs defense. Ideally, I’d like to see Tampa Bay sign Chicago LB Lance Briggs, who is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent in 2007, to play on the weak side and move Brooks over to the strong side to replace Ryan Nece. It’s not a demotion, just a position change – one that could help the Bucs defense. If Brooks won’t go for that, the Bucs might have to release him as he’s just not the player he used to be, or needs to be to play weakside linebacker for Monte Kiffin’s defense. If Brooks opts not to retire in the offseason, let’s hope he follows the path of Shelton Quarles and agrees to change linebacker positions if the Bucs ask him to.

I really don’t want to hear people question Bucs head coach Jon Gruden’s playcalling anymore unless it’s justified. Too many times this season I’ve seen plays that are there to be made by this offense, and too many times the players have failed to make them. Ultimately, Jon Gruden is responsible for the successes and/or failures of his offense, but players like Michael Pittman, Michael Clayton and Bruce Gradkowski need to start making the plays that are there to be made. At least Gradkowski has a legitimate excuse in that he’s a rookie. But Gradkowski has got to hit wide receiver Joey Galloway when the speedy receiver busts open into the defensive backfield. These missed opportunities are becoming a disturbing trend, one that hopefully subsides as Gradkowski’s accuracy and timing improve as he gets more reps with Galloway.

If people want to continue to call for Jon Gruden to be fired at the end of the season, I hope they understand that Monte Kiffin’s name should be mentioned in the same breath. I personally don’t think Gruden or Kiffin should go anywhere, but I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a quicker slide than the one Tampa Bay’s defense is having. This unit, which ranked No. 1 overall this time last year, got flat out embarrassed by Dallas’ offense on Thursday, and it just hasn’t played well all season long. No pass rush. No turnovers. No coverage. Does this unit even deserved to be called a defense after Thursday’s pitiful performance? Tampa Bay’s offense got the Bucs off to a 7-0 start, but it never stood a chance with the way Tampa Bay’s defense performed in this game.  

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