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1. BUCS SHOULD GO TO A RUNNING OFFENSE
The Buccaneers passing offense has been inconsistent throughout the first five games of the 2008 season. The one game that the Bucs were able to pass the ball with consistency was the third game at Chicago. That was also the one game that Tampa Bay struggled to run the ball. In the other four contests, the Bucs running game has been up to the task.
The offensive line has two first-round picks and two-second round picks among the starting five. The Buccaneers running backs of Earnest Graham and Warrick Dunn have been excellent throughout the early part of this season. Graham is averaging 5.9 yards per carry, and Dunn is averaging 5.1 yards per attempt. The Graham-Dunn tandem is on pace to total over 2,000 yards rushing, and with averages like that who knows how high the total would be if the Buccaneers were more committed to running the ball.
Tampa Bay also has some strong blocking from the tight ends, fullbacks, and some of the wide receivers. Prior to the season, Pewter Report wrote repeatedly that the Bucs were built to run, and thus far the running game has not disappointed.
With the Buccaneers passing offense not as effective at leading the team to scoring points, this reporter's opinion is that the Bucs should devote themselves to being a run-heavy team, similar to how the Jaguars were in 2007.
Like Jacksonville, the Bucs have two great backs and a powerful group of blockers. Teams would repeatedly defend the Jaguars with eight defenders near the line of scrimmage, but Jacksonville's running game was up to the challenge and still ran with great success. The belief here is that the Bucs have the talent and potential to do the same.
A running attack like that would require running the six or seven times out of 10 plays. In the first quarter they might average just two yards per carry. The second quarter would be three. In the third quarter it would be four yards per carry, and the fourth quarter would be five and beyond. Running the ball constantly on first and second down would lead to a lot more third and manageable situations.
With an offense like this the Bucs might not score a lot early in the game, and they might have to punt their share of possessions. However, running the ball that often would still lead to the team having very manageable third down situations. It would avoid the long third downs that have been difficult for the Buccaneers to convert. Even when the team would fail to convert third downs, running the ball that much would lead to the Bucs maintaining more control of the game clock, and it would help the defense stay fresh over the course of the game.
The biggest plays that the offense has had in 2008 have come from the rushing attack. The longest pass play of the season is only 38 yards, while the running game has had four plays surpass that.
In the Sporting News, Greg Cosell documented how the best teams in the NFL this season are running teams. The Tennessee Titans and New York Giants are both 5-0. According to Cosell, the Titans have run on 53 percent of offensive snaps and 64 percent of the time on first down. The Giants also run on more than half of their first downs. While the Titans and Giants have been run first teams, other successful teams have similar run-to-pass ratios. They include the 4-1 Pittsburgh Steelers, Buffalo Bills, Washington Redskins, Dallas Cowboys, and Carolina Panthers.
In the 2005 season, Gruden adapted to the team by featuring the Bucs "U" personal grouping, two tight ends. Those tight ends, Anthony Becht and Alex Smith, helped open a number of holes for Rookie of the Year Carnell Williams, and provided maximum pass protection for quarterback Chris Simms. This year, this observer believes that Gruden should adapt again by going to a predominantly rushing offense. 2. WHY DOESN'T McCOWN GET A SHOT?
After five games the Tampa Bay Buccaneers appear to be set to make their second change in starting quarterbacks this season. After benching Jeff Garcia, the Bucs are going back to the 38-year old veteran due to Brian Griese incurring an arm injury. Griese's six interceptions over two games may also have something to do with Bucs coach Jon Gruden deciding to return Garcia to the starting lineup. With Garcia and Griese providing mediocre quarterback play why not give backup Luke McCown a chance?
The passing game needs to get jump started, and McCown has the most big-play ability of any of the Bucs quarterbacks. He has the strongest arm by far. The Buccaneer receivers have not gotten consistent separation from defensive backs in the first five games, and McCown has the best fastball to fit passes into tight spots.
McCown also is the best athlete. He can make big plays with his feet. McCown proved that in the preseason, and last year he had the team's longest rush of the season with his 31-yard scamper in the final regular season game against the Carolina Panthers.
After Graham burst onto the scene last year replacing the injured backs in front of him, Gruden said that the team needed to learn from Graham's example and give opportunities to talented backups. McCown could be that player for the Bucs at quarterback.
There have been numerous Pewter Report subscribers that have wondered why McCown does not get more of an opportunity from the Bucs coaching staff. The answer to the question stems from one word that is very important to Gruden and quarterback coach Greg Olson: anticipation.
Tampa Bay's coaches highly value the trait of good anticipation from a quarterback. A lack of anticipation leads to big negative plays like taking sacks and throwing interceptions. Those big mistakes have been the criticism of McCown. However, sources recently told Pewter Report that McCown is improving his anticipation and that he is practicing well.
Garcia and Griese have not been any better this season at avoiding mistakes. Griese has completed 57.1 percent of his passes for four touchdowns and six interceptions to compile a quarterback rating of 64.6. Garcia has completed 63.8 percent of his throws with two touchdowns and two interceptions for a quarterback rating of 74.9 in his game and a half. If Griese gets to throw six interceptions in two games and still start, why doesn't McCown get a six-interception leash?
Last season, McCown had a rating of 91.7, in his three starts and five appearances. Also keep in mind that a significant amount of McCown's game action came when the Bucs were resting their best offensive players in Joey Galloway and Graham. McCown accumulated his 67.6 completion percentage, 1,009 yards, five touchdowns, three interceptions, and 117 yards rushing on 12 attempts (9.7 average) with a lot of backups playing around him.
Griese had to play without Galloway in his four starts, but Garcia had Galloway in his start but did not in relief last week. Without Galloway to throw passes to, McCown has outperformed Griese and Garcia.
The Buccaneers were willing to live with Griese's six interceptions in two games when they started him in Denver. They have gone back to Garcia after his subpar performance against the Saints. Why aren't they willing to give McCown a chance and live with some of his mistakes?
A few weeks ago Pewter Report's Scott Reynolds wrote that he believed the Buccaneers did not have as a high of an opinion of McCown as Pewter Report has editorialized. Bucs officials gave feedback that was not the case, and McCown had plenty of fans within the organization. That is definitely true, but it does not seem like those fans are the people that decide which quarterback will be lining up for Tampa Bay.
After talking with sources, the coaching staff does believe that McCown has what it takes to be a long-term starter. They point to the fact that coaching staff has elected to keep McCown over other quarterbacks who were cut or not re-signed while he has been here: Bruce Gradkowksi, Chris Simms, and Tim Rattay.
The justification given for McCown not playing according to sources was that at the end of the of all the workouts in the organized team activities, training camp, and the preseason games that the pecking order at quarterback was determined with Garcia and Griese ahead of McCown. As long as the veterans stayed healthy and somewhat productive, they would be in before McCown. Sources said the coaching staff believed that Garcia and Griese give the team the best chance to win.
McCown does what is asked of him. He is a good student of the game, and prepares each week as if he will be playing. The sources also said that what the veterans have over McCown is just experience, and they understood the reality that McCown cannot get experience if he does not play.
Here are a series of questions and answers to ponder.
Which quarterback has the most long term potential? McCown.
Which quarterback has the strongest arm? McCown.
Which quarterback is the most mobile? McCown.
Which quarterback is most likely to make big play passing the ball? McCown.
Which quarterback is most likely to make big plays running the ball? McCown.
Which quarterback is the tallest? McCown.
Which quarterback can throw the hardest fastball (getting the football into a tight spot)? McCown.
In their last series of starts, which quarterback has been the most accurate? McCown.
Over their last games, which quarterback has shown the ability to take hits and stay healthy and in the lineup? McCown.
With all that in mind, McCown is the quarterback the Bucs have parked on the bench. 3. HIDDEN YARDAGE KILLED BUCS' COMEBACK CHANCE
With 7:33 left in the fourth quarter, the Buccaneers were about to get the ball in a must-score situation down 16-6 to the Broncos. Denver punted the ball and punt returner Dexter Jackson let the ball bounce at the 30-yard line. It rolled all the way to the Tampa Bay nine-yard line where the Broncos downed it.
The announcers calling the game called out the mistake made by Jackson to not catch the ball, but looking at the tape the play is even more glaring. When the ball landed at the 30-yard line there was not another player, Buccaneer or Bronco, within 15 yards of the ball. If Jackson had fielded the ball and returned it, he could have easily gotten at least 10 yards.
If that were the case, the Buccaneers would have started 31 yards ahead of where Garcia and the offense started. The Bucs took over that drive with 7:24 left in the fourth quarter. Tampa Bay didn't reach its own 40-yard line until 4:36 remained in the game. It took nearly three minutes to move the chains 31 yards because of Jackson's gaffe. Without this gaffe, the Bucs theoretically could have scored a touchdown with 4:50 remaining, along with three timeouts and the two-minute warning instead of scoring with only 2:02 left in the game.
The Broncos would have needed about four to five first downs on the Bucs defense, not an easy task for any offense. The hidden yardage played a big part in Tampa Bay not getting another possession, a chance to send the game into overtime, and possibly another come from behind win. Instead it helped to seal the Bucs losing to an inferior team.
4. GALLOWAY'S RETURN
A week ago in the last PI Quick Hits, there was a brief discussion that wide receiver Joey Galloway could be placed on injured reserve. That was based on sources' clues and intuition. After a little more digging Galloway's injury was considered to be a 2-4 week injury, but there was talk that Galloway could be placed on IR. While it is unclear whether Galloway was part of these discussions, perhaps they were a motivating factor for the veteran receiver. He made his return to practice on Thursday of this week.
When Galloway came out of the locker room in his cleats, pants, jersey, helmet, and trademark headband, teammates cheered and teased Galloway about seeing him out on the practice field.
Gruden does not like banged up players who are capable of playing, and hold themselves out of the lineup. If a player has a significant injury like fullback B.J. Askew's torn hamstring, or running back Carnell Williams' torn knee ligament, Gruden is more understanding. Galloway is not 100 percent healthy yet, and perhaps the threat of being placed on injured reserve helped motivate him to get onto the field despite not feeling normal. 5. SOMETHING HAS TO GIVE FOR GARCIA AGAINST CAROLINA
Here is the good news: in his last four starts against the Carolina Panthers, Jeff Garcia is 4-0. Here is the bad news: in his first four starts Garcia lost all of them to Carolina. The first six games were in the NFC West when Garcia was quarterbacking the San Francisco 49ers. Those games occurred over the 1999-2001 seasons. Over the last two years Garcia beat Carolina each time he played them, one start coming for the Philadelphia Eagles, and one for the Bucs.