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This week’s SR’s Fab 5 is sponsored by CAMP BOW WOW

Here are five things that caught my attention this week:

FAB 1. Despite the way you feel about Tampa Bay’s offense after its underachieving performance in last Sunday’s 16-13 loss at Denver, the Bucs offense has improved in 2008. Take a look at the first five games of 2007 and compare them to the first five games of this year and see for yourself.

It’s a pretty fair comparison in that the team started off 3-2 in each year by losing the season opener on the road, winning three straight, including a road game, and then losing the fifth game on the road to an AFC team. The only significant difference as it pertains to the offense is two-thirds of an extra quarter for the overtime period at Chicago.

In 2007, the Bucs rolled up 1,478 yards in the first five contests, averaging 295.6 yards per game. The Bucs surpassed 300 yards of total offense in only three games. In 2008, Tampa Bay has accumulated 1,751 yards through five games, averaging 350.2 yards – a gain of 56 yards per game from a year ago. The Bucs have not had a game this year where the offensive output has been below 300 yards.

Last year, Tampa Bay picked up 83 first downs and ran 269 offensive plays, an average of 53.8 plays per game. In 2008, the Bucs have generated 98 first downs and ran 340 plays, an average of 68 plays per game. Don’t think that the yardage, the number of offensive plays and first down numbers are skewed by the overtime game in Chicago, though. Any additional gains from those two extra possessions are offset by the fact that Tampa Bay has actually lost possessions from three touchdowns by its defense. After the Bucs’ defensive scores, the ball has gone right back to the opposing offenses.

So the difference is 15 more first downs and 71 more plays for the 2008 offense – that’s basically an extra game’s worth of offense for Tampa Bay. That’s good news for the Buccaneers.

The bad news is that despite the fact that the Bucs can march the ball up and down the field with a greater proficiency than a year ago, Tampa Bay has really struggled with scoring. Despite piling up more yards, more first downs and running more plays per game than they did a year ago, the Bucs have 93 offensive points (18.6 points per game) in 2008 after scoring 95 points (19 points per game) on offense in 2007.

After scoring 11 touchdowns on offense and kicking six field goals in the first five games last year, Tampa Bay has only scored nine offensive touchdowns and kicked 10 field goals in 2008. The culprit has been the play of the quarterback, and possibly the play-calling, too.

Despite the addition of sought-after free agent Jeff Garcia, he only mustered 13 passing touchdowns while playing in 12.5 games last year. That’s an average of one passing score per game. Garcia threw for 924 yards but only had one game with more than 200 yards passing in the first five contests, and he did not throw a single touchdown pass in three of the first five games of the 2007 season.

The Bucs wanted more big plays and more touchdowns out of the quarterback position in 2008, which prompted their flirtation with Brett Favre, who already has 12 touchdown passes in four games this season with the New York Jets. Between Garcia and Brian Griese, who has started the last four games after Garcia was benched after Week 1, Tampa Bay has six touchdown passes in five games. That puts the Bucs on pace to throw for 19 TDs in 2008.

While the six combined passing touchdowns was two more than Garcia had at the start of the 2007 season, Tampa Bay’s quarterbacks should have produced more by now than they have, given the fact that all 10 of Matt Bryant’s field goals have come from within the opponents’ red zone (the line of scrimmage of those kicks was no further than the 20-yard line).

To say that Tampa Bay’s seventh-ranked offense stinks or hasn’t improved is simply not true, folks. It’s the red zone scoring that is putrid for the Buccaneers. Gruden’s offense ranks 28th in the NFL with 21 trips into the red zone – which amazingly is tied for second in the league – and has only come away with eight touchdowns. That’s a terrible 38.1 percent red zone offense percentage.

With 21 trips inside the red zone, imagine if the Bucs had scored touchdowns half of the time they settled for field goals. That would be another five TDs and a net gain of 20 points (minus the points generated from the field goals they kicked instead). If they were to come in the right games against New Orleans and Denver, the Bucs are 5-0 considering the margin of their two defeats has totaled seven points.

FAB 2. Oh where have you gone, Brad Johnson? The answer is Johnson is in Dallas where he is a backup to Cowboys Pro Bowl quarterback Tony Romo.

Why does Johnson’s name come up in this week’s SR’s Fab 5 when he hasn’t quarterbacked for the Bucs since the 2004 season? Because he is missed.

No, the Bucs don’t miss the 40-year old Johnson. They miss the 34-year old Johnson who helped lead Tampa Bay to the Super Bowl.

Don’t go suggesting that the Bucs defense was the sole reason why Tampa Bay made it to Super Bowl XXXVII and won it. Jon Gruden’s offense played a big role, too, and Johnson led the way.

If you didn’t appreciate Johnson as much as you should have while he was in red and pewter, you’re about to find a whole new level of appreciation for his passing prowess as a Buccaneer. Super Bowl victory aside, Johnson is easily the most accomplished passer in Gruden’s offense in Tampa Bay.

In 33 games played under Gruden’s watch, Johnson had 10 games with two touchdown passes, two more with three TD passes, three games with four touchdown passes and one game with five scoring strikes. In fact, the last time any Tampa Bay quarterback has thrown four touchdown passes in a game was when Johnson did it in a 30-28 home loss to Atlanta on December 12, 2003. Granted, he threw four interceptions in that game, but it’s been over four years since any Bucs passer has been fortunate enough to find the end zone that many times in a game.

If Johnson’s numbers don’t dazzle you, then be prepared to be very disappointed. Brian Griese has played in the majority of 22 games under Gruden and has only produced two games where he has thrown for three touchdowns in a single game. Griese has only thrown two touchdowns in nine of those games.

By comparison, Chris Simms played in 17 games under Gruden and has had only two games with two touchdown passes. Simms never threw for three scores in any game in Tampa Bay.

Jeff Garcia has played in 12.5 games in Tampa Bay and has only had four games in which he has thrown two touchdown passes. Like Simms, Garcia has not thrown for three scores in any game in red and pewter.

Bruce Gradkowski played in the majority of 12 games under Gruden and was able to throw two touchdown passes in four of those contests. Like Simms and Garcia, he did not throw three TDs in any game as a Buc.

In only 3.5 games, Luke McCown has thrown for two touchdowns in two of those games, but he has not thrown for three touchdowns in an NFL game before.

In fact, Tim Rattay, who played in 2.5 games in Tampa Bay, is the only other quarterback under Gruden to throw for three touchdowns in a game aside from Griese and Johnson. Rattay relieved Gradkowski against Chicago on December 24, 2006 and rallied the Bucs to force overtime with three second-half touchdowns.

So what does all this mean? It means that after Johnson’s last three-touchdown game in 2003, the Bucs have only had three three-touchdown performances out of six different Tampa Bay quarterbacks over the last four years. That’s three games with a QB passing for three scores out of the last 72 contests.

That’s hardly a mark of quarterback proficiency. It’s rather pathetic, actually. J.P. Losman and Rex Grossman had two games with at least three touchdowns in them in the 2006 season alone.

In hindsight, Johnson was blessed in 2002 and 2003, throwing to the likes of wide receivers Keyshawn Johnson, Keenan McCardell and Joe Jurevicius, in addition to tight ends Ken Dilger and Rickey Dudley. None of those players remained past the 2004 season in Tampa Bay and only Jurevicius is still presently in the NFL.

Of the current crop of wide receivers and tight ends in Tampa Bay, only injured receiver Joey Galloway and tight end Jerramy Stevens are in the class of those five pass-catchers from Tampa Bay’s Super Bowl run in terms of playmaking ability with Ike Hilliard just outside that circle. But that’s it.

It’s amazing for a coach like Gruden – whose baby is the passing game given how closely he works with the quarterbacks and receivers in practice – that the Bucs have had such mediocre passing performances since Johnson’s departure. Not having the likes of Keyshawn, McCardell, Dilger and others has certainly contributed to the lack of fireworks from the passing game, but general manager Bruce Allen and the team’s scouting department has had five offseasons to bring in playmaking weapons on offense to aid Tampa Bay’s quarterback – whoever the hell it is during a given week.

Beware – vomit alert coming! I remember speaking with a Bucs official at training camp and asking him why the team didn’t trade a second-round pick for Miami wide receiver Chris Chambers like San Diego did. The reason was because the team saw more value in such a high, premium pick – a pick that was used on Appalachian State wide receiver and alleged return specialist Dexter Jackson, who has zero catches and a 25-yard kick return average, but has struggled mightily on punt returns in 2008, averaging only 4.5 yards per return.

Meanwhile, Chambers caught 35 passes for 555 yards (15.9 avg.) and four touchdowns in 10 games for the Chargers in 2007. Through five games in 2008, Chambers has 11 catches for 226 yards (20.5 avg.) and five touchdowns. Don’t you think that 2008 second-round pick would have been more wisely invested in a receiver in his prime like the 30-year old Chambers rather than Jackson?

Back to the Bucs’ quarterbacks. On Monday after the Bucs’ 16-13 loss to Denver in which Tampa Bay scored only 13 points and had to settle for two red zone field goals, former Oakland Raiders personnel honcho and current NFL commentator Michael Lombardi who wrote on NationalFootballPost.com: “I thought watching the game, the Bucs don’t have a starting quarterback, they have two backups in Brian Griese and Jeff Garcia. They would be much better with Brett Favre and made a mistake on that one.”

After Sunday’s game I agree wholeheartedly with Lombardi’s assessment, except the part about Favre. It sounds like the Packers were dead set on trading him to the New York Jets rather than an NFC team like the Bucs. But I think that both Griese and Garcia are playing mediocre football and would make better backups than starters right now. Griese will give Gruden more plays, but also more interceptions, while Garcia’s track record in Tampa Bay is all about managing games and not turning the ball over, but not throwing a lot of touchdown passes.

Oh, for the days of Brad Johnson in his prime. As someone who admittedly underappreciated Brad Johnson, I never thought I would ever say that, but he could really make Gruden’s offense go until age caught up with him in 2004.

FAB 3. Here are some of my thoughts after watching the game film of the Buccaneers vs. Broncos game:

• At the 14:53 mark of the second quarter, Bucs quarterback Brian Griese ran a naked bootleg to the right that was quickly sniffed out by a savvy Denver defense. There were four Broncos defenders in the area and nowhere for Griese to throw the ball. He was flushed out of bounds by linebacker D.J. Williams for a sack. While everyone would like to see Michael Clayton catch the ball more often and– I don’t know … score a touchdown maybe? – you have to appreciate the kid’s blocking prowess. Recognizing that he was covered and that Griese was trying to scramble, he peeled back and threw a right shoulder into defensive end John Engelberger, who was in pursuit. Engelberger got rocked by Clayton’s decleating block. Wow.

• At the 13:24 mark of the second quarter, Griese should have recognized tight end Alex Smith got a clean release from the line of scrimmage and led him on a pass down the seam. Instead Griese waited for Smith to get deeper in his route and that proved to be costly as left tackle Donald Penn picked the wrong down to take a nap. Penn failed to engage Ebenezer Ekuban, who easily beat him with a quick swim move to the inside to set up a second-and-18. To compound matters, Griese took a delay of game to create a second-and-23 situation.

• On the second-and-23 down, tight end Jerramy Stevens was split out wide right as a receiver. His job was to block cornerback Champ Bailey on a quick pass to running back Earnest Graham. But Bailey diagnosed the play quickly and Stevens failed to pick up the block. Bailey closed in on Graham, who only gained three yards on the play. Had Stevens made the block, Graham could have bounced the play outside for a gain of about seven or eight yards and brought up a more manageable third-and-long situation.

• As if Jeremy Trueblood’s holding penalty on Broncos defensive end Elvis Dumervil negating a first down pick-up by wide receiver Michael Clayton wasn’t enough, on the next play – a third-and-12 situation – Denver only rushed three and got a sack against Tampa Bay’s front five. Dumervil got outside of Trueblood and sacked Brian Griese by grabbing his facemask. It’s a shame for the Bucs that no penalty was called because it would have given Tampa Bay a first down in Denver territory. The Bucs got beat by the Broncos and the officials on that series.

• Perhaps the most infamous play of the first half was the toss to Warrick Dunn for a 4-yard gain with 18 seconds left before halftime. Tampa Bay had a first-and-10 from the Denver 17-yard line and one timeout, but seemed to wimp out with the Dunn run to set up a field goal and not try for a touchdown. Bucs head coach Jon Gruden said he liked the call because it was against an all-out middle blitz, but on the snap of the ball, none of Denver’s linebackers or safeties blitzed. Instead, they quickly read the play and moved laterally to the left to tackle Dunn for only a 4-yard gain. The play took too long to develop and center Jeff Faine was unable to trap a single linebacker. Right guard Davin Joseph pulled, but was not able to block the initial Broncos defender, who fought off a block by wide receiver Antonio Bryant to record the tackle. The Broncos never fully committed to blitzing the middle and the play was doomed from the start.

• I know the West Coast offense is a horizontal based offense featuring a lot of slants and crossing routes, but why in the world would a receiver run a 2-yard route on a third-and-4 situation? But that’s what happened with 13:15 left in the third quarter when Brian Griese hit Antonio Bryant with a 2-yard gain. If not for Bryant lunging backwards to pick up two more yards, the Bucs would have had to punt. I don’t know if this is simply poor play design, a poor route run by Bryant or a poor decision to throw it to Bryant by Griese. Could be all three.

• Linebacker Quincy Black made two nice, open-field tackles on special teams. He nailed Eddie Royal, who entered the game as the second-best punt returner in the NFL with a 16.6-yard average, twice in the first half. Did you know that Black is now Tampa Bay’s leading special teams tackler with seven stops this year?

• Offensive linemen are supposed to have their heads on a swivel, right, Jeremy Trueblood? Trueblood should have been looking for the delayed corner blitz from Champ Bailey, but kudos go out to Denver’s coaching staff for that play call. With 8:39 left in the third quarter, Griese got blindsided by Bailey and was knocked from the game. It wasn’t Trueblood’s responsibility, but he could have helped out if he had his head on a swivel.

• Kudos to Tampa Bay’s red zone defense, which was a mess at the end of last year, giving up too many touchdowns against Houston, San Francisco, Carolina and the New York Giants at the end of 2007. Although Denver scored one touchdown on Sunday, the Bucs defense held firm at its own 9-yard line on third down and forced a field goal to make the score 16-6 early in the fourth quarter. The fact that Tampa Bay only allowed one touchdown against Denver’s high octane offense was quite an accomplishment.

• I said it in the Pewter Report Roundtable and I’ll say it again. Jeff Garcia’s interception at Denver was one of the worst I’ve ever seen. The pass itself was a yard behind Antonio Bryant, who was running a crossing route. The problem was that between Garcia and Bryant was defensive tackle Marcus Thomas and an official. The Broncos would have had the ball inside the Tampa Bay 25-yard line if Thomas hadn’t fumbled and that pick would have been disastrous for the Buccaneers.

• Donald Penn had a rather poor game. He lacked intensity and focus. Aside from getting beaten badly on a sack by Ebenzer Ekuban in the second quarter, Penn made a horrible attempt to block the corner on a third-and-2 toss to the left with 9:24 left in the fourth quarter. Penn hesitated, which caused Warrick Dunn to string the play out to the sidelines instead of run decisively for the corner to get the first down. If Penn engages his defender sooner, Dunn likely picks up the first down.

• I wonder how the game would have changed if defensive end Kevin Carter came up with that interception at 7:47 in the third quarter.

FAB 4. Tampa Bay head coach Jon Gruden said that Denver dropped eight into coverage and rushed three down linemen 23 times last Sunday. He said that it was difficult to throw into coverage because Denver played five underneath in coverage with three defenders deep. I realize I’m not a football coach, but if there were five underneath defenders and only three deep, shouldn’t the Bucs have thrown more deep passes against fewer defenders?

That’s one way to attack it, but it didn’t seem like Brian Griese, who had thrown six interceptions the two previous weeks versus Chicago and Green Bay, wanted to throw into coverage at all. Instead, he dumped the ball down to the backs and tight ends and threw to receivers who were running shallow crossing routes under the coverage.

Another way – and perhaps the best way – to attack a three-man front and eight defenders dropping into coverage is to run, run, run the ball.

“We saw a lot of Cover 2 last week,” Clayton said. “All week we prepared for man and we didn’t get it. We got a lot of Cover 3 and a lot of Cover 2. With our running game, we’re going to see a lot more of that. It invites the run and we have to run it. The way we block it up with our receivers, it helps us spring some big runs.”

Yet Tampa Bay only ran the ball 21 times against the Broncos, whose run defense was one of the worst in the NFL entering Sunday’s game. Part of the reason for the lower than expected run total could be due to the fact that Tampa Bay had a two-minute drive at the end of each half that forced the team to throw the ball, in addition to some costly offensive penalties that affected the down and distance. Another part of the reason was the play-calling.

“We need to execute plays better and we have to come with some other plays,” Bucs tight end Jerramy Stevens said. “Teams are really starting to play a lot of [zone] coverage to us. [Denver] had a three-man rush 25 or 30 times in the game. That’s unheard of. Obviously, it’s a compliment to how well we run routes and how well we run the offense, but we need to run the ball.

“How do you beat a three-man front? Run the ball with a power running game – downhill. We wanted to run the ball, but we were in some long-yardage situations and that made it hard to run the ball. It was a tough game to call I’m sure. We weren’t expecting them to be in that many three down lineman fronts. That’s got to be a hard position to be in as a play-caller. We were asking for the run [from Denver] and we were getting it. We felt like we could run on almost every down because they were in that three-man front, especially out of our three-wide sets. Hey man, you can always go back and play woulda, coulda, shoulda, but it was one game. I think we learned from it that we have to mix up our play-calling and our personnel. People are starting to adjust to our three- and two-tight end sets. People are starting to play a lot of [zone] coverage. As someone who is involved in that, shoot – we have to run against that to get teams back into a base defense. We’ll see what we’ve got for this week.”

FAB 5. Here are a couple of things to hold you over until the next edition of SR’s Fab 5 – after a word from our sponsor.

SR’s FAB 5 SPONSOR: CAMP BOW WOW
Please allow me to introduce you to a new section in each SR’s Fab 5, which recognizes one of Pewter Report’s sponsors. I ask you to read this paragraph in each edition as it is these companies that support our efforts and make it possible for you to enjoy Pewter Report’s coverage of the Buccaneers. This week’s sponsor is Camp Bow Wow. For those of you who don’t know, Camp Bow Wow is North America’s premier doggy day camp and overnight camp. Your canine companion will get the chance to play all day in the indoor/outdoor play yards and you can watch your pet frolic around and have a good time online anytime on Camper Cam. Camp Bow Wow’s Certified Camp Counselors are expertly trained in dog behavior, safety and health management to make sure your dog has a great time. Camp Bow Wow is located just minutes away from Raymond James Stadium and the Tampa Airport so if you are traveling to or from Tampa for a Bucs game or business, or live locally and just want your pup to have fun while you are at the Bucs game instead of sitting home all alone, drop them off at Camp Bow Wow. Visit CampBowWowUSA.com for more information on the Tampa location or to find a camp in your American state or province in Canada. Tell them Pewter Report sent you.

• Before we finish up with some Bucs football, I just wanted to give a quick shout out to my attorney and Pewter Report subscriber and advertiser Robert A. LeVine. As I mentioned in section Fab 5 in my previous SR’s Fab 5, I had sued my banking institution for negligence in the case of selling me the wrong type of extended auto warranty and I had praised LeVine prior to even knowing the outcome of the case. Well, I just settled my lawsuit and made out even better than I expected. Not only did I get about 95 percent of the cash I was seeking, I also got an extra 20,000 miles of coverage on a policy that had wrongfully expired as a very valuable bonus. That was a job well done by LeVine. Again, I highly recommend LeVine’s legal services and counsel to anyone in the Tampa Bay area. He offers Pewter Report subscribers a discount, so give him a call at (813) 805-8705 or drop him an e-mail at LawyerLeVine@verizon.net to set up a consultation.

• One of the Bucs beat writers I respect the most is Chris Harry from the Orlando Sentinel. Over two weeks ago, Harry called for the Buccaneers to trade for Detroit Lions wide receiver Roy Williams. I absolutely second that motion, as do a lot of Buccaneers fans out there from what I’ve read on the message boards. Kudos to Harry for being out front on this idea and being the first media member to suggest it. Yes, Williams has dropped some passes and has been disgruntled up in Detroit. He wants out and will get his wish either this year via trade or next year in free agency. But the Bucs can’t afford to wait until 2009. Some team will trade for him and he won’t be available next year. The Bucs goofed on not trading for Chris Chambers last year and have proven that they cannot draft a starting caliber wide receiver (see Michael Clayton, Maurice Stovall, Dexter Jackson, etc.). General manager Bruce Allen must act now. This could be oft-injured Joey Galloway’s last year in the NFL, Ike Hilliard will be 33 next year and Clayton is a free agent in 2009. Who knows if Stovall and Jackson will ever pan out on offense? The Bucs need a big, speedy productive playmaker like Williams, who has 29 touchdowns, 66 plays over 20 yards and 13 plays over 40 yards in his career. Go get him, Bruce.

• Tampa Bay’s run defense has been superb this year, only allowing 99.6 yards per contest through five games. While that’s only good enough for 14th in the NFL rankings, the Bucs have not allowed a 100-yard rusher, nor have they allowed a rushing touchdown in 2008. The Bucs run defense will be tested by a Carolina team coming off its best rushing day of the year last Sunday in a 34-0 shellacking of the Chiefs at Kansas City. Although the Panthers did not have a single 100-yard rusher in the first four weeks of the 2008 campaign, DeAngelo Williams ripped off 123 yards and two touchdowns on 20 carries against the Chiefs, while rookie backup Jonathan Stewart had 72 yards on 19 carries. The 205 rushing yards that Carolina generated last week has to concern Tampa Bay, especially since Williams and Stewart have combined for six rushing touchdowns this season. Prior to the K.C. game in which he didn’t find the end zone, the 5-foot-10, 235-pound Stewart had scored four touchdowns over the previous three games. The rookie is averaging 4.2 yards per carry and is a load to bring down. For the 5-foot-9, 217-pound Williams, his toughness has allowed him to average 4.3 yards per carry through five games, but he’s thick and quick and has the ability to rip off big runs. It’s a shame that middle linebacker Barrett Ruud won’t be at 100 percent because the Bucs will need him on Sunday. Tampa Bay has not given up a rushing touchdown, but expect that to change on Sunday. The Panthers have scored six rushing TDs this season.

• Tampa Bay has never trailed at halftime this year. The Bucs have had the lead at halftime in their first four games and were tied with the Broncos at halftime last Sunday. But Tampa Bay has simply gotten killed in the third quarter this year, 35-10. The Bucs have outscored their opponents 24-20 in the first quarter and 36-12 in the second quarter. Tampa Bay also owns a 44-27 advantage in the fourth quarter and overtime, but that third quarter has been a killer. The Bucs coaches need to make some better halftime adjustments.

• Want some evidence that the Bucs made the right decision to bench quarterback Jeff Garcia after the Week 1 loss at New Orleans because he was very rusty after missing most of training camp and the preseason with a calf injury? Colts quarterback Peyton Manning only has a QB rating of 79.2 this year after missing all of training camp and the preseason with a knee injury. Manning is an elite QB and has mustered up enough skill to lead the Colts to come-from-behind wins at Minnesota and at Houston this year. But he’s Peyton Manning. He has the intangibles and prowess to pull that off. Yet the usually sharp Manning has the Colts ahead by three touchdowns heading into the fourth quarter and usually doesn’t have to engineer many fourth quarterbacks. See what can happen to even one of the greatest quarterbacks when they miss the preseason and training camp? Manning has the leeway from head coach Tony Dungy to stay in the lineup and work through his issues because he’s a future Hall of Famer. Garcia’s not in Manning’s class and was rightfully pulled. It’s hard to argue with that decision because the Bucs were 3-0 without Garcia playing. But after a slow start in Denver after reliving the injured Brian Griese, Garcia did manage to lead Tampa Bay on a touchdown drive at the end of the game. Hopefully for the Bucs, Garcia can have that momentum carry over into this week’s game against Carolina.

• And finally, what do the Buccaneers think about the team’s poor performance in the red zone (38 percent touchdown percentage)? Tampa Bay’s offense is ranked 28th in the NFL in that category. Here’s what some of the offensive players have to say about it:

“To me, that’s the coaches' job – all of the coaches [to figure it out],” Bucs tight end Jerramy Stevens said. “Obviously, it’s our job to execute and that’s part of the problem, too. We haven’t had as good of execution as we need. We’ve been a little bit off a few times – even the play I was involved in. It’s just a hair here and a hair there. That’s what football is all about. We need to come up with some better plays, too. We need to throw the ball into the end zone more. I’m of the opinion to throw the ball into the end zone more. But I don’t run this [offense]. I just run the plays. Everybody has to play better, though. I almost had a touchdown in the red zone last week at Denver. I was heated about that play because it was open. We worked on it all week in practice and to be just a little bit off was frustrating. We knew they stiffened up and were hard to score on, especially in the tight red zone. They have a pretty good percentage of keeping people out of the end zone in the tight red zone. You can’t miss opportunities like that.”

“It’s self-inflicted wounds – whether it’s a breakdown in protection or a dropped ball,” said Bucs receiver Ike Hilliard, who has three red zone touchdowns this season. “However you want to look at it. If we were getting physically beaten, that would be one thing, but on many occasions we’re just going out and doing it to ourselves. It’s a little bit tighter to work in down there. It’s easily an area we have to pick it up. If you look at the numbers, execution has to pick up. That’s been the thing that has hurt us whether it is spacing on different route concepts or lack of depth on a route or not getting off the jam, or not picking up the right guys. All of that works hand in hand. As much as we’ve worked, we should be better.”

“With red zone scoring, any improvement in that at any point in time would be a plus. We would welcome that for sure,” said Bucs right tackle Jeremy Trueblood.

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About the Author: Scott Reynolds

Scott Reynolds is in his 25th year of covering the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as the vice president, publisher and senior Bucs beat writer for PewterReport.com. Author of the popular SR's Fab 5 column on Fridays, Reynolds oversees web development and forges marketing partnerships for PewterReport.com in addition to his editorial duties. A graduate of Kansas State University in 1995, Reynolds spent six years giving back to the community as the defensive line coach for his sons' Pop Warner team, the South Pasco Predators. Reynolds can be reached at: sr@pewterreport.com
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