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President Hugh MacArthur “Well, there are several things we can take away from this seemingly lost season as the Bucs’ sit at 2-6. Firstly, this defense needs a major overhaul in the offseason. It has been gratifying to see how the tackling has improved over the past couple of weeks. The Saints could not run the ball all day until late in the game when the contest had been decided. Missed tackles were few, and Derrick Brooks, Juran Bolden and Ronde Barber were active and aggressive. Why then does the defense need an overhaul? Simply, it cannot pressure the passer anymore. There has been a slow decline in the Tampa pass rush since 2002, and that decline has finally reached the point of no return. As most fans know, the Tampa 2 defense is predicated upon getting to the quarterback with just four linemen rushing. Sacking the quarterback or making him hurry his throw with seven players in coverage usually leads to good things for the defense. Tampa executed this plan very well in past seasons, and the long streaks of games with at least one sack and one turnover are direct results of the success of the front four. The front four did not get much pressure on Drew Brees. When the Bucs’ played Cover 2 or Cover 3, Brees completely picked the defense apart. He clearly knows how to attack zone defenses, and consistently found receivers in the seams between the corner and safety and also over the middle. Without pressure, any zone will be destroyed by a good quarterback, and we saw a lot of that on Sunday.”
“To remedy the pass rush problem, Tampa Bay has been blitzing more this season that I have ever seen in the past 10 seasons under a Monte Kiffin defense. The problem is, unlike Jim Johnson of the Eagles, who predicates his entire pass defense strategy on the blitz, Kiffin’s version of the Tampa 2 doesn’t have many blitzes in it. Consequently, the Buccaneers are just not a good blitzing team. They haven’t practiced it much and the players aren’t used to it. They blitzed the Saints with abandon on Sunday, but how many pass rushers ran free to Drew Brees? Zero. That’s right, zero. Even when the Buccaneers brought six pass rushers, all of them were picked up by the Saints’ protectors. This is obviously a huge problem, because when you blitz and don’t get to the quarterback, your secondary is vulnerable in man coverage. The Buccaneers secondary is banged up and not good in man coverage anyway. Go back and look at Torrie Cox chasing helplessly after Saints’ receivers in the first quarter if you need any more evidence of that. So, when faced with accomplished passing attacks, the defense will remain vulnerable, and unfortunately I can’t see how this can be addressed during this season. It is obvious the Bucs need to get someone to finally replace Warren Sapp at under tackle. It is equally obvious that more youth is needed at defensive end. I must admit it is frustrating watching Mark Anderson rack up 7.5 sacks in his first seven games as a Bear and realizing the Bucs passed on him in the 2006 draft for Julian Jenkins.”
"But, with so many three-and-outs, the blame for Sunday’s debacle against the Saints must be spread to the offense as well. Scrutinizing Jon Gruden’s offense, it is becoming ever clearer to me that a veteran, mobile quarterback is required to run it. It is a shame the Bucs were still in cap hell (thanks again, Rich McKay) before the 2006 season, because it sure looked like Drew Brees could run a West Coast offense. He continues to look superb running many of the same plays Gruden draws up. I know he’d look great in pewter and red. It is easy to knock Gruden for entering the season with Chris Simms as the starter, but most observers thought Simms could be the answer.It is clear that the cap prevented retaining Brian Griese, and the Bucs resisted fan pressure to sign Simms to a lucrative extension by giving him a one-year deal. Gruden likely knew he didn’t have the right fit with Simms, but there just wasn’t much he could do about it.”
“So, what are we to do at the quarterback position? I am not knocking Bruce Gradkowski. To the contrary, I think he shows much promise and could well be the quarterback of the future in this offense. I just don’t think Gruden or Buccaneers fans want to see him learn on the job for the next season or two. What is the answer? Well, though it is highly unlikely to happen, my colleague Jim Flynn has suggested seeing Brett Favre in pewter for a season or two might be just what the doctor ordered. Seeing the Packers lose to the lowly Bills and the new Packers offense continue to stumble, perhaps Favre will be frustrated enough to leave and head south to play another year instead of retire. If not, expect a veteran QB to be signed in free agency or acquired via trade.”
“Beyond that, and allowing for some time for the unit to gel, someone has to be held accountable for the poor offensive line play. I cannot believe that Sean Mahan is the answer at left guard. He nearly got Gradkowski killed on Sunday while giving a matador block to Charles Grant. It is either that or a 10-yard holding penalty with him. Dan Buenning on one leg or Jeb Terry must be better than this.”
“The bottom line for me is that this offense will continue to be erratic until a veteran quarterback is running it and the blocking improves. I think the maturation of some young players still make the future bright for the offense, but the immediate future would feel better with an experienced signal caller.”
“Lastly, I have no idea what the plan was on special teams today. Rich Bisaccia will have to explain to someone why he was punting down the middle of the field to Reggie Bush. Given that Bush single-handedly beat the Bucs earlier this season with a punt return for a touchdown, you would think punting out of bounds and taking your chances would be preferable to watching Bush rip through the Bucs’ coverage. The special teams have never been special under Bisaccia. Until more is demanded, then it is hard to foresee when the unit will improve.”
“The schedule doesn’t get any easier next week at Carolina, and the Panthers will be desperate for a win at 4-4. High intensity games against the Redskins (3-5) and Cowboys (4-4) follow in very short order. Jon Gruden will need all of his considerable coaching skills to motivate this team and help them execute to avoid being 2-9 by Thanksgiving. Here’s hoping he can pull off another miracle or two.”
Publisher Scott Reynolds “What to do about Tampa Bay’s dreadful offensive line that can neither open holes in the running game or protect the passer well enough? Let’s look at the current components here. The Bucs have a left tackle in Anthony Davis that was an undrafted free agent and has been in the system now for four years. They have a guard in Sean Mahan that was a fifth-round draft pick who played so bad at right guard that the Bucs spent their first-round pick on a player to replace him. At center is an aging veteran in John Wade, who was a fifth-round pick that Jacksonville didn’t put up much of a fight to keep in 2003. At right guard is Davin Joseph, this year’s first-round pick, who hasn’t done enough yet for us to evaluate whether he’s going to be really good, really bad or somewhere in between. The same is true for right tackle Jeremy Trueblood, who was Tampa Bay’s second-round pick. Trueblood has flashed some promise in previous games, but may have played his worst game on Sunday. So what do these components tell us? The Bucs thought pretty highly of the guys on the right side of the line, but they are young and inexperienced, but potentially good. As for the guy in the middle and the fellows on the left side of the line? Wade’s play is definitely slipping and the team will have to address the center position in free agency or the draft. Mahan just isn’t a very good guard. His name should be Mahanhandled. Davis has flashed well as a pass protector and can be a dominant run blocker, but he’s not consistent enough for the Bucs’ liking. The guy the Bucs really miss is Dan Buenning, who was their most consistent lineman last year. He’s supposedly injured, yet is not listed on the team’s injury report. To summarize, the Bucs are really young, but can be quite good based on the draft status and supposed talent on the right side, and aren’t very good at center or the left side, perhaps until Buenning gets back in the lineup. And as for offensive line coach Bill Muir? He simply isn’t earning his paycheck this year. He hasn’t coached the new guys up to speed yet and the play from the veteran guys is slipping. Jon Gruden may be forced to shake up his staff next year and Muir’s head could be on the chopping block.”
“I had one inside source tell me last week that the Buccaneers aren’t dead set on cutting cornerback Brian Kelly next season. That may be a good thing, because like in 2003, the defense misses him badly. Kelly, who is on injured reserve and had surgery to correct a turf toe injury last week, only played in two games this year before going on injured reserve. In his last game, which was at New Orleans, he led the Buccaneers with eight tackles that day and shut down receiver Joe Horn, whose longest gain was 17 yards. The Bucs certainly could have used a healthy Kelly on Sunday in a rematch against the Saints. Tampa Bay likes Kelly as a player, they just don’t like the fact that he wants a new contract at age 30 and has a degenerative toe condition. They are also not fond of his agent, Gary Uberstine, which has tussled with the front office before (see Keenan McCardell and Derrick Deese). However, Kelly may get swept up in the sweeping changes that are coming on defense next year. Now that their season is officially over – don’t expect any miracle comebacks from 2-6, folks – the Bucs would be wise to start playing Alan Zemaitis and getting him some playing experience.”
“If I’m the New Orleans Saints, I’m feeling pretty good about myself today. I just swept the defending NFC South champion Buccaneers, Atlanta lost and I’m on top of the division. However, I don’t like the fact that I drafted such a soft player with the second overall pick. Yep, that’s right, folks. Reggie Bush is soft. He may be fast, but he’s soft. His trademark coming out of USC was speed and elusiveness. It certainly wasn’t strength, power or the ability to break tackles. Did you see Bush’s stat line yesterday? Eleven carries for minus-5 yards? This guy has yet to make a significant contribution on offense as a running back, and he never might unless he toughens up. There was a reason why LenDale White scored more rushing touchdowns than Bush did at USC and why Bush didn’t average 20 carries per game. Bush doesn’t have the speed to simply juke and outrun everybody at the NFL level. Even old man Derrick Brooks didn’t miss tackling Bush, who went down easily whenever contact was made. The Saints are lucky to still have Deuce McAllister around.”
“The outcry last week from Buccaneers fans was Tampa Bay failing to run the ball enough and passing the ball too much in the wind at Giants Stadium. This week, the fans will lament the fact that Mike Alstott didn’t get any touches against the Saints. This marks the second time in the last 25 games that Alstott hasn’t touched the ball. But before you go wistfully dreaming about the A-Train days of lore, understand that Alstott hasn’t done much at all with his opportunities, averaging 2.1 yards per carry and 3.3 yards per catch. To think that an aging, 11-year fullback would have made that much of a difference in the outcome of Sunday’s game would be foolish. Yes, the Bucs need to use Alstott more in short yardage situations, but Alstott would be more effective in third-and-1 situations than the Bucs’ third-and-3 opportunity when Michael Clayton got the handoff on the counter and came up about six inches short.”
“Want to know the scariest thing about the Bucs’ 2-6 situation? The coaches have no clue how to fix their problems this year. That’s not to say that Tampa Bay needs new coaches. Jon Gruden and Monte Kiffin got this team to 11-5 last year and didn’t forget how to coach overnight. But the look on Kiffin’s face is bewilderment. Gruden looks clueless. Both coaches know what the answer is – get better players – but that can’t be done until the offseason. They have to work with what they have right now, and what they have isn’t very good. Are the Bucs not playing up to their potential this year? Or was this team simply overachieving last year? If the latter is the case, that’s a testament to good coaching by Gruden and Kiffin in 2005. But this year, neither coach is pushing the right buttons with players as both sides of the ball have regressed mightily. On offense, Gruden needs his young players to come of age quickly. On defense, Kiffin just needs better players. Some of the younger players aren’t worth a darn, and his older players just don’t have it anymore. It’s hard to kill a bear with a BB gun, and right now that’s what both Gruden and Kiffin are armed with. The offseason can’t get here fast enough for those two. The only real question is whether they will win enough games down the stretch for them to remain in Tampa Bay when it rolls around.”
Editor-In-Chief Jim Flynn “Brace yourselves, Bucs fans. If you thought the first half of Tampa Bay’s season was tough to watch, the second half might get even worse for the 2-6 Buccaneers. Let’s face it. This team just isn’t good. The Bucs offense doesn’t deserve to be called one at this point, and the defense isn’t playing much of it these days. I’m not going to say the Bucs defense is getting old. While that’s a fact, I’m starting to believe age isn’t the only culprit. It all starts up front with Monte Kiffin’s defense, and this unit is failing to get to the quarterback on a consistent basis. To their credit, the Bucs defense held Deuce McAllister and Reggie Bush in check Sunday, but the front four failed to pressure QB Drew Brees. To make matters worse, the Saints picked up every blitz Kiffin threw at them, which allowed Brees to pick the Bucs defense apart, throwing for 314 yards and three touchdowns and helping the Saints convert 53 percent of their third down attempts."
"Speaking of the defensive line, where the hell was Simeon Rice today? The Bucs defense caught a major break when Saints starting left tackle Jammal Brown missed Sunday’s game with an injury. Starting in Brown’s place was backup T Zach Strief, who hadn’t played a down in an NFL regular season game before Sunday. Somehow, Rice was held in check by Strief, a rookie that entered the NFL in April as a seventh-round draft pick. The main reason Tampa Bay’s secondary got picked apart by New Orleans QB Drew Brees was because of the lack of pass rush from Tampa Bay’s front four. Rice has got to find a way to dominate a game like this one. The Bucs needed him to, and he didn’t deliver. Neither did the rest of Tampa Bay’s defensive linemen."
"The lone bright spot on the offensive side of the ball was wide receiver Joey Galloway, who hauled in two touchdown passes from rookie quarterback Bruce Gradkowski. The Saints normally play a lot of man-to-man defense, which has allowed Galloway to have success vs. cornerback Fred Thomas in the past. However, the Saints played a lot of zone defense Sunday, which only allowed Galloway to haul in four passes. However, the Bucs did make a few of those catches count with touchdowns."
"Even with the Saints playing more zone coverage Sunday, Bucs rookie quarterback Bruce Gradkowski struggled to find open receivers and let go of the ball too early too often in this game. There were plays where Gradkowski took the check down when he had an open tight end Alex Smith or wide receiver Michael Clayton downfield. Gradkowski, whose two touchdown passes to Galloway were impressive to say the least, is a rookie, so some of his mistakes are excusable, but something tells me the Bucs might want to take a look at Luke McCown at some point this season, especially if the offense continues to get off to horrifically slow starts and fails to move the chains on a consistent basis."
"It should be really interesting to see if Jon Gruden can hold his locker room together or if he starts to lose it as this team’s season continues to sputter. If the Bucs continue to lose, and lose in this type of horrific fashion, critics will start calling for Gruden’s job, and if his players turn on him, the Glazers will have a hard time giving he and Bucs general manager Bruce Allen the 2007 season, where the Bucs will have a top 10 draft pick and approximately $30 million to spend in free agency. The 2006 season might be ugly and get uglier before it’s all said and done, but the 2007 offseason will be worth waiting for as the Bucs will be one of the most active teams in the NFL.”