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President Hugh MacArthur Bill Parcells once said, ‘You are what your record says you are.” And, at 2-7, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ record says they are not a good football team. In the past, bad football teams were just not competitive. In today’s topsy turvy NFL, the new definition for bad teams are the ones that make critical mistakes on the handful of plays that decide games.
This new definition fit last night’s game perfectly. For much of the game the Buccaneers outplayed the Panthers. I still don’t think the Panthers are a very good team, and their 5-4 record attests to mediocrity. The Bucs just made the mistakes that bad teams make. When you turn the ball over on four consecutive possessions, you just aren’t going to win many football games. It’s really as simple as that.
What else was bad? Well, despite the usual storm of idiot-fueled media criticism he will face, I thought Bucs head coach Jon Gruden called an excellent game. Unfortunately, he had little help from his young offensive team in executing it. Bruce Gradkowski played well in spots, but missing a wide open Joey Galloway……….and “wide open” is an overused phrase in the NFL, but definitely not in this case, on a 40-yard toss for a certain touchdown was a critical error. When Bruce did throw the ball accurately he wasn’t helped by drops from Clayton, Galloway, Alex Smith, Alstott and Cadillac Williams. The Bucs must lead the league in dropped balls as well as batted passes.
I would like to see Gradkowski use his athleticism more when he runs. Yes, he must secure the ball, but I don’t like his two hands on the ball running technique, and I still wonder if he is an instinctive runner. The guy ran a 4.58 at the combine. This is someone with the speed to tuck the ball away high and tight and just take off. Yet, Gradkowski seems a reluctant runner, and one that is looking to go down instead of break one. Obviously the coaching staff is coaching him to avoid injury, but I’d like to see if Bruce can be more of a weapon with his feet. There aren’t too many QBs with his foot speed in the NFL.
The run blocking wasn’t great, and I am sure the media geniuses will be all over Gruden for relying on Gradkowski again, but the fact is Carolina had eight and nine men in the box all night, which makes any running tough. It also means receivers are open, so Gruden had little choice but to throw. Gruden isn’t the one that needs to throw it on target, catch it, or pick the right receiver in the heat of the action.
What was bad on defense? Well, I have discussed the lack of pressure from the front four in the past, so won’t go into it again here. The two things that I saw on defense that I hope are discussed this week at One Buc Place are Torrie Cox playing nickel back and the poor safety play of Phillips and Allen. Torrie Cox can do some good things for a football team. Covering receivers (especially Steve Smith) one on one is not one of them. I realize the Bucs love to put Ronde in the slot when they go to the nickel package, but who among Bucs’ fans wasn’t praying for a run every time they saw Cox up in press coverage on Smith? This guy has been burned more than a well-done steak.
The safety play was again poor in the passing game. Jermaine Phillips brings nice pop to run support, but his play and Will Allen’s against the pass continues to be poor. Bad angles and dropped interceptions for both were very costly. Which brings me to a question, or rather a couple of questions on these topics: Why the heck is Alan Zemaitis inactive every week? This guy played Cover 2 in college, and you cannot tell me our defense is that complicated. He certainly can’t get burned any worse than Torrie Cox has been during the past couple of weeks. Heck, I’d even try him at safety to see if that can improve the coverage. And where is Blue Adams? He was a corner. He has the fearlessness to stick his nose in to support the run, as his special teams’ coverage play will attest. Isn’t it at least time to try something different in the defensive backfield? Heck, I’d even try Buchanon in the nickel position. The guy was a first round draft choice. In fact, he was one of the Raider picks in compensation for the Gruden deal.
Okay, enough with the bad, so what looked good last night? Well, I do think Bruce Gradkowski is starting to improve. He showed great poise and started fast. If he ever gets some help running the offense, he might just be a steal as a sixth-round quarterback. It will be fun to watch him develop.
Though some sacks were given up, I think Jeremy Trueblood did a good job manning up against Julius Peppers, who in my view is the best defensive end in football. When he could get his hands on Peppers, Trueblood was able to stand him up and stop him in his tracks. I do think the future is bright for the right side of the offensive line. It was also nice to see Dan Buenning out on the field again.
On defense, I actually think the Buccaneers played better this week with Rice, Wyms and Quarles out. That doesn’t mean I want any of them replaced. It just means that the young, hungry guys stepped up. DeWayne White, Julian Jenkins and Barrett Ruud all gave very good accounts of themselves. White and Jenkins where stout against the run, and gave Chris Hovan all the help he needed in that department. The young legs of Ruud were all over the field delivering punishment. As for the veterans, Ronde Barber played an outstanding game with a pick and a forced fumble. The defense needs rebuilding, and I am sure it will get an overhaul in the offseason, but there are some good pieces here to build around, which is comforting.
And, that is why 2-7 feels a bit sad. There is quite a bit to like about this Tampa Bay Buccaneer team. They played well enough to win for much of the game, but couldn’t capitalize on opportunities, and made those four crucial turnovers. The media will be all over Gruden and Allen. Blame them if you like, but this team has been handicapped by a lack of draft picks and cap space since they have been here, and this is what you get when that happens. Next season there is $25 million of cap space and extra draft picks. I think the future of this team is still bright. Coach Gruden should keep those shades handy.
Publisher Scott Reynolds A lot of Bucs fans and some in the media will fret over Bruce Gradkowski missing a wide open Joey Galloway for a touchdown in the first quarter of Tampa Bay’s 24-10 loss at Carolina. They will shudder at his two costly interceptions on misfires to Galloway and Michael Clayton. Folks, they call it ‘timing’ for a reason. It takes time to get into sync with players. I might remind you that Gradkowski is a rookie, who didn’t start getting starter snaps until the bye week. In this microwave, instant message, instant results world we live in, the word ‘patience’ is almost a dirty word. Yet it’s the right word in this situation for the Buccaneers. Fans must understand that the season is over, and resign themselves to the fact that the Bucs are destined to lose more games than they’ll win down the stretch. I suggest being patient and look for any improvement down the stretch that the team can build on in 2007. If fans want to believe this team will win every Sunday and be unrealistic, then there are in for a lot of misery, anger and angst in November and December. Just be thankful that the team is finally out of salary cap hell in 2007, has a boatload of salary cap room and a full complement of what will undoubtedly be high draft picks (except for Indianapolis’ second-rounder).
Unfortunately, Cadillac Williams is helping me make my point that he’s not an elite running back. I know that Williams doesn’t have many holes to run through due to shoddy offensive line play, but his dropped pass and his fumble had nothing to do with the offensive line. Well, sort of. In a move that was Errict Rhett-like, Williams actually fumbled the ball by running into the butt of rookie right guard Davin Joseph. Williams missed the hole opening to his left and ran into Joseph’s backside. The Panthers turned that turnover into a touchdown. On the Bucs’ next series, Williams ripped off a 9-yard run on a draw, which was his longest gain of the night, but failed to gain a yard on a critical third-and-1. To make matters worse, he dropped a pass in the second half that hit him right in the hands when he was wide open.
ESPN’s broadcast of the Monday Night Football game was absolutely wretched. With a stupid, worthless appearance by NASCAR pretty boy Jeff Gordon in the second quarter, Tony Kornheiser trying to be cute and funny by giving Gordon a Belgian waffle maker and watching Joe Theismann do laps at a NASCAR practice track, ESPN’s attempt at hosting Monday Night Football is a joke. ESPN actually missed a play by wasting time showing too many silly graphics, and didn’t show nearly enough replays. With Kornheiser not knowing a lick about football, he brings Theismann down to his level in terms of their discussion and banter. The result is that Theismann, the only guy with a football I.Q. (and that may be pushing it after he called Jeremy Trueblood Jermaine Trueblood and calling Davin Joseph David Joseph) doesn’t spend enough time talking football and Xs and Os. Kornheiser and those stupid guests they have each week are making Monday Night Football on ESPN a real downer. It’s a shame because ESPN’s college football Saturday broadcasts are the best in the country. Why can’t they follow the same successful formula – talk football and show football? It’s really that simple.
When Jon Gruden says his offense is young, pay attention. Rookie quarterback Bruce Gradkowski accounted for three turnovers (two interceptions, one fumble), while second-year running back Cadillac Williams fumbled the ball and dropped a catchable pass. Third-year wide receiver Michael Clayton also had a couple of drops. Now you know why Gruden has a reputation for liking veterans instead of young players because young players are more prone to making mistakes, such as costly turnovers. The problem is that he is stuck with them and has to coach them up.
Don’t get upset when Jon Gruden keeps saying that he takes full responsibility for the Bucs’ losses and refuses to throw his players under the bus, even when they are the ones dropping passes and interceptions, throwing interceptions, missing blocks, fumbling and blowing coverages. All Gruden is trying to do is keep his team together. A coach who throws his players under the bus is inviting divisiveness in the locker room. Gruden has learned from a divided locker room in 2004 and has become a lot more humble. The fans and the media won’t always like the fact that he won’t call out players in press conferences, but Gruden is wisely saving the butt-chewing for behind-closed-door team meetings. At 2-7, he simply can’t afford to lose this locker room.
Editor-In-Chief Jim Flynn I’ve seen enough of Bucs safeties Will Allen and Jermaine Phillips. At times, these guys look lost on the football field, and the bad angles, blown coverages and dropped interceptions they’ve had this season are inexcusable, especially for Phillips, who entered the league in 2002. At least Allen is only in his third year and has shown the ability to make plays (notched four interceptions between 2003 and 2004). Phillips just isn’t a playmaker. He’s recorded two interceptions in four and a half seasons as a Buc. I completely expect the Bucs to use a first-day draft pick on a safety as well as sign a veteran in free agency in 2007. The good news for the Bucs is safety is a deep position in free agency and the draft next year.
I’m in no rush to get Shelton Quarles back on the football field if I’m the Bucs. Tampa Bay’s defense looked a lot quicker on Monday night, and it’s no coincidence that three veteran starters – defensive end Simeon Rice, under tackle Ellis Wyms and Quarles – were out of the lineup and Dewayne White, Julian Jenkins and Barrett Ruud were playing in their place. Jenkins and White played well, but I thought Ruud, who notched six tackles vs. the Panthers, was outstanding, especially when he attacked the run on the perimeter. I watched him make plays that I’m just not sure Quarles has the ability to make at 35.
Can Bruce Gradkowski throw the deep ball? Well, no, not right now, or at least he hasn’t shown the ability to do so. However, I’m starting to worry that he will always have trouble with the deep ball. It was never a strength of his in college as his 70 percent completion percentage came on mostly short to intermediate passes, and he struggled with the deep ball a bit in training camp and even preseason. There are plenty of successful quarterbacks in the NFL that don’t throw the football well, and Gradkowski likely will only get better as timing is an issue between he and his receivers right now. Of course, it doesn’t help that Chris Simms throws one of the best deep balls in the league, so the Bucs were spoiled to a degree in that regard. Although he doesn’t throw the deep ball well, Gradkowski has the mobility and accuracy on short-to-intermediate passes that Bucs head coach Jon Gruden craves in a West Coast offense and quarterback.
How important will it be for the Bucs to defeat the Washington Redskins at home on Sunday? Well, for starters, their schedule doesn’t get any easier with their remaining games at Dallas, at Pittsburgh, vs. Atlanta, at Chicago, at Cleveland and vs. Seattle. But Tampa Bay will also be attempting to avoid a horrific 2-8 start. The last time the Bucs had that bad of a start in a regular season? The 1996 season, which was Tony Dungy’s first with the Buccaneers.”