This story is intended to be read by Pewter Insider subscribers only. Sharing of the PI content with non-subscribers of this service can result in cancellation of your subscription to the service and/or further actions by the publishers.
Publisher Scott Reynolds "How refreshing was it to see Clifton Smith, who had five punt returns for touchdowns at the Division I-A level in college, return punts with authority on Sunday after watching weeks of a timid approach by fellow rookie Dexter Jackson? For all of the talk of Jackson's speed, he lacked heart and toughness in his approach to returning punts. If I recall correctly, Jacquez Green and Reidel Anthony were both fast players, but neither was the return man that Karl Williams was. Williams didn't have blazing speed, but returned the ball with heart and smarts, which is a powerful combination at the NFL level. Smith was deliberate on his first return, which was a season-long 20-yarder that set Tampa Bay's offense up in Dallas territory and led to a field goal. He followed suit with a pair of 17-yard returns later in the game. How good was Smith's day as a punt returner? Consider that he had 82 yards of return yardage on five attempts in one game. In seven games, Jackson only amassed 97 yards on 20 returns. If that doesn't tell the tale, consider that Jackson averaged 4.9 yards per punt return over seven games while Smith averaged 16.4 yards on Sunday. Yes, he did have a costly fumble on a second half kick return and he posted an underwhelming 20.7 average, but he doesn't show the hesitancy, the slipping and sliding and the misfielding of punts and kicks that Jackson did in his first seven games in the NFL. Congrats to the Bucs for making the right call and going with Smith over Jackson. But shame on them for waiting too long and failing to see what you and I saw early on regarding Slip ‘N Slide."
"After two strong showings against Carolina and Seattle, I thought Jeff Garcia's play in Dallas resembled his outing against New Orleans in the season opener. Garcia did complete 63.6 percent of his passes against the Cowboys, but Antonio Bryant and Michael Clayton were able to catch a few errant passes and bail Garcia out at times. Garcia did a little too much freelancing for my liking. He left the pocket – or looked to leave the pocket – too soon and too often. And for some reason he started jumping when throwing the ball, especially later in the game. I thought his fundamentals eroded as the game went on and that clearly affected his accuracy and the Bucs' chances of winning the game. Garcia was 12-of-17 (70.5 percent) in the first half, and was 19-of-26 (73 percent) after three quarters after going 7-of-9 in the third quarter. But with the game on the line in the fourth quarter, Garcia's happy feet went into overdrive as he completed a paltry 8-of-18 (44.4 percent) passes in the final 15 minutes of play. A prime example of this came with 13 minutes left in the fourth quarter, Garcia needlessly jumped when he threw to a wide-open Michael Clayton and missed the receiver in the middle of the field on a key third-and-10. For some reason, Garcia plays much better at Raymond James Stadium than he does on the road. After looking like the Pro Bowl Garcia of 2007 over the last two weeks at Ray-Jay, he reverted back to the Garcia we saw on the road in Week 1 at New Orleans."
"Jon Gruden will undoubtedly catch some flak for not taking enough shots downfield or for not taking any shots into the end zone. How much blame should be accessed on the play-caller or on the quarterback will always be a mystery for those outside of One Buccaneer Place. I did place a lot of the blame for the Bucs' conservative ways in the 16-13 loss in Denver at Gruden's feet. I thought he was extremely conservative with the play-calling and that played right into the hands of a shell-shocked Brian Griese, who had thrown six interceptions in the two previous games and wanted to play it safe for fear of being benched. But I'm not going to fault Gruden as much for this one. The West Coast offense is built upon the premise of having a target at each level of the defense – deep, intermediate and underneath. That gives the quarterback an option to go long, medium or short on just about any given play. The bottom line is that both Griese and Jeff Garcia are rather conservative quarterbacks by nature. It's also a fact that both veterans are given the freedom and latitude to audible to another play. Just because Gruden didn't call for a fade into the end zone shouldn't stop Garcia or Griese from calling a fade if they see a favorable coverage. Or perhaps Gruden is calling that play and it's changed to something else by the quarterbacks. We did see a couple of deep pass attempts this game and a wide receiver screen to Joey Galloway. Could Gruden's play-calling have been more aggressive or creative? Maybe, but at the end of the day, the Bucs' red zone shortcomings fall on the execution of the players. It's hard to blame Gruden for a needless sack taken by Garcia and an illegal forward pass, a holding call by center Jeff Gaine and not converting a third-and-1 on the opening drive of the game. I'm not saying that Chucky gets off free of blame in this game, but coaches coach and players play. And these players ran into a pretty good Dallas defense that masked its injured secondary by playing a lot of Cover 4 and forcing underneath throws through much of the game. Blame Gruden if you wish for the Bucs' only non-touchdown game of the year, but Garcia and Co. clearly deserve their fair share, too."
"I thought rookie cornerback Aqib Talib made a huge play on second-and-10 from the Dallas 14 with 12:22 left in the game. Talib was running stride for stride with wide receiver Terrell Owens and made a great pass breakup the second Owens was set to catch a deep ball. I thought Talib would be a ‘feast or famine' type cornerback during his rookie season. His team-leading three interceptions come as no surprise to me, but I figured he would have given up three or four touchdowns by now. Instead, the only touchdown he has allowed was the one to David Patten on opening day in New Orleans. Talib wasn't even beaten on that play. He was stride for stride with Patten, but he mistimed his jump and leapt for the ball too soon, allowing it to go over his head and into Patten's arms for the score. It's wild to think that both Ronde Barber and Phillip Buchanon have given up more passing touchdowns than Talib has. It's a credit to the rookie and to defensive backs coach Raheem Morris for Talib's incredible work in getting the Bucs' first-round draft pick ready to play this year."
"While the Bucs are 5-3 instead of the 6-2 that Bucs fans were hoping for, Pewter Report has moved to 7-1 in its predictions for the 2008 season. In the Pewter Report Season Kickoff Issue, we have accurately predicted the correct outcome of all the Bucs' games this year except for the team's home win over Carolina, which we predicted would be a loss. In my mind, the Bucs are one game ahead of our 4-4 predictions and are playing with house money by one win. A stretch of very winnable games comes up, starting with Kansas City next week to kick off the second half of the season, followed by a home contest against Minnesota and a road game at winless Detroit. The Bucs are still on schedule for at least a 10-6 finish, and whether they win the NFC South division again will largely be decided on Monday Night Football in Carolina on December 8. This is still a good football team, Bucs fans. It desperately needs to fix its offensive red zone woes in the second half of the season, and hopefully the Bucs can use the bye week to really dig in and address that. But Tampa Bay is only 11 points – spread over three games – away from being undefeated. Take solace in that."
Editor-In-Chief Jim Flynn "Granted, Dallas didn't have starting quarterback Tony Romo due to his hand injury, but the Tampa Bay Buccaneers held the Dallas Cowboys' offense, which ranked fourth overall going into this game, to just 172 yards on Sunday. The Bucs defense had one penalty-filled series that led to backup QB Brad Johnson's 2-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Roy Williams at the end of the first half. But that was Dallas' only TD of the game, and the Buccaneers still lost in Dallas on Sunday, 13-9. Tampa Bay's offense had plenty of chances to put this game away early and failed to do it, which cost the Bucs a win. Tampa Bay's first three possessions started at Dallas' 48, its own 38 and its own 48, yet the Bucs only came away with two field goals. Four of Tampa Bay's drives got inside Dallas' 25-yard line, but the Bucs could only come up with nine points. Tampa Bay's defense played to win in Dallas on Sunday. The Bucs offense, on the other hand, played not to lose, and that philosophy accomplished exactly what Tampa Bay was trying to avoid in Dallas."
"If the Bucs are going to continue to kick field goals over touchdowns, Matt Bryant will have to become more reliable down the stretch. Bryant has been through an awful lot with the tragic loss of his infant son. He's still managed to make 16-of-19 (84.2 percent) of his field goal tries during the 2008 regular season. However, there has to be some cause for concern since Bryant has missed one field goal in each of Tampa Bay's past three games. Those misses have come from 49, 51 and 51 yards, which are by no means easy chip shots for a field goal kicker. But Tampa Bay has lost games to Denver and Dallas when the defense allowed just two offensive touchdowns combined. As long as the Bucs offense continues to struggle to put the ball in the end zone, Bryant will have to be perfect on his field goal attempts."
"Bucs head coach Jon Gruden has a lot of respect for quarterback Brad Johnson, who helped Tampa Bay win Super Bowl XXXVII. While the 40-year-old quarterback no longer has the ability to stretch the field with his aging arm, Johnson showed on Sunday why he still commands respect from opposing defenses. He only completed 19-of-33 (57.7 percent) of his passes for 122 yards, but the key stat from Sunday's game was the fact that Johnson did not turn the ball over once. Tampa Bay's defense (or should I say offense?) could have desperately used a turnover that would have resulted in a touchdown since the Bucs' offense couldn't score one on Sunday. Johnson didn't play well, but he played turnover-free football, and that proved to be enough to beat his former team."
Beat Writer Charlie Campbell "In the latest PI Quick Hits, the failures of the Bucs' red zone offense were discussed. Entering the contest with Dallas, the Bucs were one of the worst red zone offenses in the NFL, and that point was driven home on Sunday against the Cowboys. At Dallas, the Bucs were 0-for-3 in producing touchdowns when getting inside the Cowboys 20-yard line. In losing by four points, when the defense holds a potent offense to 13 points, the Buccaneers red zone offense came back to bite Tampa Bay. The Bucs now have taken the ball into the opponents' end zone on 31 occasions and have only 11 touchdowns to show for it. Halfway through the season it is proven that the Bucs are a field goal offense. They do not have many red zone weapons, and they are unable to find red zone mismatches that lead to taking advantage of opportunities. In order for the Buccaneers to make a run to the postseason and win games when they get there, the Bucs defense will have to be able to hold opposing offenses to the point where field goals will be enough to win games."
"Part of the reason for the Bucs not getting touchdowns from their trips in the red zone could be because they do not take shots at the end zone. The Buccaneers quarterbacks seem to only throw the ball into the end zone when they have a goal-to-go situation. The Buccaneers had a first-and-10 from the Dallas 14 yard-line and did not throw one pass into the end zone. In their post-game comments, Bucs coach Jon Gruden and quarterback Jeff Garcia said that Dallas Cowboys were in Cover 4 for much of the game, and the way to attack this coverage is with underneath passes. If that is true then outside of Alex Smith's 34-yard catch, the Bucs did a terrible job of taking advantage of what the Cowboys were giving them. Garcia threw underneath all game and the passing offense only produced 227 yards. Even though the Cowboys may have been sitting back in zone, why wasn't it worth it to try and throw into the end zone? If the Cowboys can throw a jump ball to a tall receiver, why can't the Bucs throw a jump ball to their big target, tight end Jerramy Stevens? The Cowboys were rewarded by throwing to a covered big receiver. Garcia did have some teammates open downfield as well. On the final touchdown drive, tight end Alex Smith was running free down the seam with the end zone wide open in front of him. Instead, Garcia threw a 6-yard pass to Antonio Bryant. The play started at the Dallas 35-yard line, and Smith was open at about the Dallas 15-yard line with nobody between him and the end zone. The Bucs offense is designed to be safe with the football and throw the ball underneath on easy to complete short passes. In losing a game by four points it seems that would have been worth it for Tampa Bay to take a chance when they were within striking distance of the Cowboys end zone."
"Last season cornerback Phillip Buchanon was targeted by opposing teams in the red zone. This year the Bucs defense has done a better job of their red zone defense, but against Dallas, Buchanon's size disadvantage was exploited again. With time for only one play to go for a shot at the end zone, the Cowboys picked Buchanon as their target. They got Buchanon matched up with wide receiver Roy Williams and threw a fade pass to Williams that the big receiver jumped and made an easy touchdown catch. With big safeties like Jermaine Phillips and Sabby Piscitelli the Bucs should consider sending some safety help towards Buchanon when the opposition gets into the red zone."
"Hopefully for the Buccaneers, the loss to the Cowboys will not come back to bite them down the road later in the season. The NFC is very competitive and losses to conference playoff competitors can lead to a team watching games in January. Half way through the season the 5-3 Bucs are in second place in the division, one game behind the Carolina Panthers. The remainder of the Bucs schedule is manageable, but Carolina has a pretty easy slate. The New York Giants, Washington Redskins, and Cowboys are in the playoff hunt. The Chicago Bears and Green Bay Packers are also in the Wild Card hunt. The Bucs have tie-breakers over both of the NFC North teams. The loss against Dallas also hurts the Bucs' conference record, which is another tie-breaker for a Wild Card slot. If they finish with the same record as the Cowboys and Redskins and Giants, Sunday's loss could knock the Bucs out of the playoffs. Tampa Bay's best bet would be to win their division. That will be big challenge. The defense seems to be up to it, and the offense may be a different story."