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President Hugh MacArthur What is perspective? Bruce Gradkowski was 14-of-34 for just 168 yards with one touchdown and three picks. He did a little better with his legs, running 10 times for 45 yards and a score. That doesn’t sound like his line against the Redskins on Sunday? It wasn’t. Those were Gradkowski’s numbers a year ago coming off a tough loss to Northern Illinois. One year. Northern Illinois to the Washington Redskins. Sunday’s numbers of 14-of-21 for 178 yards, two touchdowns and one pick are much better, and considering the competition is up a notch or two over Northern Illinois, pretty good progress for the rookie sixth-round signal caller. That, to me, is perspective.
I still would like to know where Gradkowski’s legs have gone. While he did run around enough to avoid being sacked, and did pick up a first down or two, six rushes for 9 yards just doesn’t seem equal to his capabilities. I have mentioned this before, but still remain a bit befuddled as to why Gradkowski isn’t more effective both running for yardage and buying time to find a receiver open downfield.
Still, it is hard to complain. The Bucs did not help Gradkowski by dropping four passes, including the first three he attempted. It appears that Clayton and Alex Smith are good for at least a drop a week, which is maddening. Outside of a costly pick after a long first half drive, his worst pass of the day, Gradkowski was very accurate.
I’ve mentioned in the past that sometimes the Bucs have lost games this season, but there is a strange sense of optimism that washes over me. The Redskins game was almost the opposite. All of the statistics say this game should have been a smack-down. You rush for almost 200 yards, and you should win going away. So, why do I feel less than satisfied?
Well, you can start by looking at the defense that allowed all of those rushing yards. I am not certain how it happened, but the Redskins defense has become absolutely atrocious. They cannot hold their own at the line of scrimmage. They cannot shed blocks. They cannot tackle well. It seemed to me there were two defenders out there against the Bucs’ 11 on offense: Sean Taylor and Phillip Daniels. Taylor was all over the field making plays. Daniels embarrassed rookie Jeremy Trueblood, who needs to really work on his footwork to beat the speed rush to the outside.
On offense, the Bucs were facing a team with a first-time starter at quarterback, no Clinton Portis and no Santana Moss. This situation is akin to engaging in a battle of wits with an unarmed man. However, somehow the ‘Skins managed to score 17 points. A couple of years ago, the guys the Redskins trotted out on offense would have been held to about three points by Tampa Bay’s defense.
The problems on defense were myriad on Sunday, but boil down to lack of pressure from the front four, injuries in the secondary, and the linebackers giving up some uncharacteristic plays. With Kelly and then Bolden going down, the Bucs essentially had their No. 4 and 5 corners on the field for most of the day, meaning pressure on Jason Campbell would be critical to disrupting the Redskin passing attack. It was obvious early that the Skins wouldn’t be running the ball very well, so the game quickly fell to Campbell. And, the inability of the Buccaneers front four to pressure him made this game much more of a contest than it should have been.
It is helpful to me to look at who actually played on the front four today for the Bucs: Chris Hovan and Greg Spires were the holdovers. Dewayne White was the only lineman to get decent pressure on Campbell all day, and then came a swarm of names – Julian Jenkins, Jon Bradley, Jovan Haye, Charles Bennett – fifth-rounders, seventh-rounders, cut players, practice squanders. Reminds me of the Statue of Liberty: give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses. This is a far cry from Simeon Rice, Warren Sapp, Anthony McFarland and Greg Spires.
The blitz again was marginally effective. Bringing the house on a couple of third and longs definitely hurried the young Campbell, but still the Bucs sent five or six too many times when everyone was picked up. I am tired of seeing Derrick Brooks run up to the A gap, signal he is blitzing, and then get picked up as the center and guard collapse together. This rerun happens multiple times every game. I’d like to see more blitzes off the edge, and I’d like to see the Bucs send a corner and a safety or linebacker off the same edge to ensure at least one gets through. Blitzing up the middle should be delayed or saved for when the Bucs bring seven or more.
While disappointed with some elements of defensive play, I must laud the effort of Campbell. The kid was poised, accurate, has the arm strength that was advertised, and handled himself quite well overall. Anybody with any doubts about his future as an NFL quarterback should have had them erased by his last touchdown pass to Todd Yoder in the back of the end zone. Campbell was running to his right with Greg Spires in his face and threw a bullet back to his left over the outstretched hand of Derrick Brooks in the end zone. Wow.
So, to me, this is a game that felt like it should have been 27-10 and instead we got 20-17. That’s what drops, fumbled snaps, picks, and lack of pressure up front will buy you in this league.
And yet, the Bucs won. And, there were many good things about this win aside from the continuing maturation of Mr. Gradkowski. I will offer four more: The run blocking was outstanding, the running back utilization and impact was impressive, the play-calling was superb, and the defense produced a crucial turnover that led to the deciding TD when it needed to most.
Firstly, you had to be impressed with the work of the offense in the run-blocking department. Anthony Davis was superb sealing the left side of the line to create lanes for Cadillac Williams. Dan Buenning and Davin Joseph were blasting one and two yards down the line of scrimmage consistently. Old friend Dave Moore was an unsung hero. He repeatedly put pads and hands on a Redskin linebacker to turn a probable 4 yard gain by Cadillac into a 7- or 8-yard gain. Mike Alstott and Jerald Sowell also were effective getting to the second level on blocks.
Jon Gruden really got all of his backs involved in running, catching and blocking in this game. Every back on the roster made a major contribution. It really stoked the crowd to see Alstott reaching back into the past to bowl over Shawn Springs and rip off yards for a first down. Michael Pittman provided a good change of pace running and catching the ball. Cadillac Williams had his best game of the year. You know what the best thing about Cadillac is? The guy always seems to fall forward and always seems to get one or two more yards than you think he will. He seems stopped for two yards, but somehow gets four. He seems stopped for four, but winds up with seven. What an inspirational workhorse back. He also made two nice catches, including an impressive 21-yarder.
Coach Gruden has caught quite a bit of criticism in these parts after such a poor start by his team, but one cannot criticize the play-calling today. Gruden was outstanding all day, helping lead the team to numerous time-consuming drives. The call of the day was obviously the third-and-4 slant to Galloway that went for the decisive score in the fourth quarter, but one other call I liked was a run by Caddy that went nowhere on third down to set up the field goal that made it 20-10 and provided the final margin in the game. Given that this was Caddy’s third straight carry, I am sure many fans wanted to see a pass to go for another touchdown. I am sure coach Gruden remembered all too well that the game was just 17-10 at that point, and that a costly interception on third down in the first half near the ‘Skins’ goal line denied the Buccaneers points. Coach Gruden knew that Tampa Bay needed at least three points from that fourth quarter drive, and running Cadillac had been a good choice all day. I applaud his tactics.
Lastly, no they don’t get all of those interceptions from harried quarterbacks anymore, but the Buccaneer defense does occasionally get the big turnover. Forcing Ladell Betts to fumble on his own 40 took the air out of the Redskins’ sails and put the Buccaneer offense in position to take charge of the game, which they subsequently did.
So, was the game perfect? Hardly. Teams with 3-7 records don’t play perfect games very often. The warts are still there, and they won’t go away on Thursday when the Bucs take on a Cowboys team brimming with confidence from its victory over the Indianapolis Colts. However, as I have said before, there is much to like about this Buccaneers team, and I do believe the future is bright. I am excited to see how Gradkowski will handle the pressure the Dallas defense will certainly bring, and how the Buccaneers defense will try to contain the Cowboys running attack and Tony Romo.
Publisher Scott Reynolds For all those people clamoring for Mike Alstott to touch the ball more this year, I ask you, “Why?” What has Alstott done to deserve more touches? He’s dropped the last two passes that hit him square in the hands (including one last week at Carolina) before hauling in a screen pass against Washington and tripping before getting the yardage necessary to get a first down. I love Alstott and what he’s done for this franchise, but after 11 years in the league, he’s done. His lead-blocking isn’t as good as it was last year and he’s not the ol’ A-Train with his hands on the pigskin anymore. … That’s actually what I wrote before watching Alstott rip off three carries for 25 yards late in the first quarter of the Redskins game, including a vintage A-Train smash that flattened Redskins cornerback Shawn Springs on a 16-yard dash. Just when you think Alstott is “losing it” the 32-year old show glimpses that he can still get the job done. His three carries sparked Tampa Bay’s offense and ignited the Bucs’ ground game, which rushed for a season-high 181 yards on 42 carries (4.3 avg.) against Washington. After the game, Cadillac Williams said that watching Alstott run the way he did inspired him. It’s no surprise that Williams shook off another slow start and ran with more energy and vigor. Alstott, who finished with 28 yards on six carries (4.7 avg.), and fullback Jerald Sowell had a great day lead blocking, too.
This year I’ve criticized Cadillac Williams and said that he is not showing the signs of being an elite running back. Today he ran with authority and creativity that I’ve wanted to see and I have to give him props for that. It’s easy to say that if he would have 20-25 carries each game that he would be much more productive, but you can say the same thing about throwing the ball to a receiver a dozen times. Williams broke tackles, eluded defenders and ran with confidence. He was relaxed and genuinely had fun out there. The offensive line, especially guards Dan Buenning and Davin Joseph, did a fine job of opening holes, but even when the holes weren’t there, Williams took what he could or made something happen. That’s what this team has needed from him this year. He also showed patience in the passing game and hauled in two passes for 34 yards, including a season-high 21-yarder. Well done, Caddy. Keep it up. Elite running backs are consistent.
Two 2-yard runs by Cadillac Williams and a drop by Michael Clayton on third-and-6. These three-and-outs to start the game are becoming way too familiar. Thankfully, the Bucs shook off yet another slow start to actually win a game, but Tampa Bay needs to get better production out of its star players on the first drive of games if it wants to get more wins this season.
This win over Washington feels good right now for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and their fans, but it might not feel so great in April when the NFL Draft rolls around. In April, Sunday’s victory will be just a meaningless win in a losing season. Arizona, Detroit and Oakland are all 2-8 and will pick before the Buccaneers do. But the Bucs, who are now 3-7 with the victory, are tied with Houston, Tennessee, Cleveland and Washington, but will pick behind the Redskins if they both finish with the same record because of Sunday’s outcome. No, I’m not rooting for the Bucs to lose, or suggesting that anyone do so. Quite frankly, head coach Jon Gruden and general manager Bruce Allen need all the wins they can get in this disappointing season. I’m just pointing out that the Bucs are moving away from a top 5 draft pick and are closer to a top 10 pick with Sunday’s win. Not that that’s a bad thing … until April.
While you are looking for positives in this dismal, 3-7 Buccaneers season, take solace in the fact that the Bucs barely beat a 3-6 Redskins team who was playing without Clinton Portis, Santana Moss and with a rookie QB in Jason Campbell, who was making his first NFL start. Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus – and the Bucs are three points and an onside kick recovery better than the Washington Redskins. But hey, 3-7 beats 2-8.
Editor-In-Chief Jim Flynn Pieces of Tampa Bay’s offensive line appear to be in place now and for the foreseeable future, or at least that notion will be an accurate one if this unit can play like it did Sunday on a more consistent basis. Bucs guards Dan Buenning and rookie Davin Joseph had an outstanding effort vs. the Redskins in the run-blocking department. These two players played with some real attitude Sunday, and it produced results for the Bucs’ struggling running game, which managed to get 181 yards on 42 attempts (4.3 avg.). While right tackle Jeremy Trueblood didn’t have the best outing of his young career, the rookie had a hand in helping Cadillac Williams produce 122 yards on 27 carries (4.5 avg.) on Sunday. I still wouldn’t be surprised if the Bucs attempted to upgrade the center position through free agency next year as John Wade gets blown off the ball too often.
Although Washington was playing without three key offensive starters in QB Mark Brunell, RB Clinton Portis and WR Santana Moss, you had to come away impressed with Tampa Bay’s effort on defense Sunday. This unit held Washington to 252 yards. Yes, the Redskins scored 17 points, but their last touchdown came while the Bucs were playing a lot f prevent in an effort to run the clock out with a 10-point lead. For the second straight week, the Bucs defense looked much more active than it had throughout the first half of the season, and I don’t think it’s a coincidence that younger players like defensive end Dewayne White and middle linebacker Barrett Ruud are in the lineup in place of injured and 30-something players like Simeon Rice and Shelton Quarles. At this point, I’m not expecting to see Rice or Quarles back on the football field anytime soon.
The dropped passes by Tampa Bay’s receivers have got to stop. It’s getting ridiculous. Bucs WR Michael Clayton seems like he’s never completely recovered from his dropped pass against the Arizona Cardinals in the 2004 regular season finale. He had another dropped pass today and fumbled the ball out of bounds on a double reverse. Clayton finished the game with one catch for 14 yards. I know it’s early, but if the Bucs do have a top 5 pick in the 2007 NFL Draft and Notre Dame quarterback Brady Quinn is off the board when Tampa Bay picks, I wouldn’t be surprised if the Bucs selected Georgia Tech WR Calvin Johnson. Joey Galloway, 35, isn’t getting any younger, and neither is Ike Hilliard. The Bucs should seriously think about drafting Johnson if he’s there just in case Clayton turns out to be the “B” word. And if he doesn’t, the Bucs could have one hell of a three-receiver set in Clayton, Johnson and Maurice Stovall.
I’ll be interested in seeing how Tampa Bay fares on an extremely short week against Dallas on Thanksgiving Day. The Bucs are off Monday, will practice Tuesday and have a walk-thru on Wednesday before leaving for Dallas. That means the Bucs will have little preparation heading into this football game. The good news for the Bucs is the Cowboys will be coming off a physical contest vs. the Indianapolis Colts and a short week. If Tampa Bay can somehow manage to pull off the upset in Dallas, it will improve to 4-7 and have 10 days off to celebrate what would then be a two-game winning streak.
It was nice to see vintage Mike Alstott on Sunday, even if it was only for one play when he took a handoff from rookie quarterback Bruce Gradkowski and completely laid out Redskins cornerback Shawn Springs with his shoulder and helmet en route to a 16-yard gain. At 32 (turns 33 next month), Alstott isn’t the same “A-Train” of old, but he still is an effort guy, and he gets the crowd and team going.
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