SR’s Fab 5 is a collection of inside scoop, analysis and insight from yours truly, Pewter Report publisher and Bucs beat writer Scott Reynolds. Here are a few things that caught my attention this week at One Buc Place:
FAB 1. GLENNON MAY NOT BE A STAR, BUT HE CAN GET THE JOB DONE
Tampa Bay fans look around the NFC South with quarterback envy.
All three of the starting quarterbacks of the Buccaneers’ division rivals have been to the playoffs and the Pro Bowl. One QB has even won a Super Bowl and was named the MVP.
That would be Drew Brees, who will square off against Tampa Bay in New Orleans on Sunday. Brees has the quickest release in the league, and perhaps an even quicker mind when it comes to locating open receivers. He’s a record-setter that has thrown for over 4,000 yards an astonishing eight times – including an NFL record four times with at least 5,000 passing yards.
In Atlanta, Matt Ryan is a two-time Pro Bowler with the cool nickname “Matty Ice.” He’s thrown for over 4,000 yards in each of the last three seasons and took the Falcons to the NFC Championship Game in 2012, which earned Ryan, a previous first-round pick, a five-year contract extension worth $104 million.
Carolina has Cam Newton, the first overall pick in the 2011 NFL Draft, and one of the league’s most dynamic quarterbacks. A two-time Pro Bowler that is a threat to run or pass on any play, Newton has averaged 3,766 passing yards and 677 rushing yards per season over the past three, and accounted for 92 total touchdowns since entering the league. Newton led the Panthers to an NFC South division title and the playoffs last year.
The Saints invested big money in Brees in 2006 when he was a prized free agent, and the Falcons and Panthers each have a first-round pick invested in their quarterbacks. For decades the Buccaneers’ first-round quarterback hasn’t gotten the job done.
Vinny Testaverde, the number one overall pick in 1987, didn’t record a winning season in his six seasons in Tampa Bay. Trent Dilfer, the Bucs’ first-rounder in 1993, led the Bucs to just one winning season as a full-time starter and that was in 1997. Josh Freeman, a first-round pick in 2009 and the team’s latest attempt to develop a franchise quarterback, flamed out of the NFL after last season at the age of 25.
Until the Buccaneers find a franchise quarterback that can go toe-to-toe with Brees, Ryan and Newton twice a year, it seems like Tampa Bay is going to continue to be the cellar dweller in the NFC South for years to come.
The Bucs’ latest hope in nearly 40 years of quarterback futility is Mike Glennon, the team’s third-round pick last year and author of the winning script in Pittsburgh last week – a 5-yard touchdown toss to Vincent Jackson to lift the Bucs to their first victory of the season, 27-24, with seven seconds left.
In a season that was quickly spiraling out of control in Tampa Bay, Glennon saved the day in Pittsburgh and provided a glimmer of hope that shockingly has the Bucs just two games out of first place in the NFC South as they head to New Orleans on Sunday. Although he needs to complete more than 50 percent of his passes, Glennon looked more poised than McCown in the first three games of the season and has been more productive.
In two and a half games this season, McCown has thrown for 420 yards with two passing touchdowns, two rushing touchdowns, four interceptions, including a pick-six and two fumbles while going 0-3 in his starts with a 65.8 QB rating. Over the past six quarters, Glennon has thrown for 423 yards with three touchdowns and just one interception for a QB rating of 85.6 while winning his lone start at Pittsburgh.
With Glennon playing so well against the Steelers, Bucs fans have begun to wonder if starting him from the beginning of the season would have made the difference in the Carolina and St. Louis games. The fact that Glennon wasn’t truly given the opportunity to compete for the starting quarterback job with McCown wasn’t right, especially if Lovie Smith and general manager Jason Licht honestly believe Glennon is the franchise’s quarterback of the future.
Why not see if Glennon could pick up where he left off in 2013? After all, the second-year QB showed some promise in his rookie season, completing 247-of-416 passes (59.4 percent) for 2,608 yards with 19 touchdowns and just nine interceptions in 13 starts.
It’s hard to fault Smith’s logic in starting the veteran, though. He had personal experience with McCown in Chicago, and knew his leadership qualities would serve the team well. There’s nothing wrong with Smith’s premise about getting the entire team to rally around McCown from the first day of offseason conditioning, and not having the distraction that a true, open quarterback competition could bring.
The fact that McCown was signed to a two-year, $10 million contract and is earning $5 million this year also played a big part in the team wanting to start McCown out of the gate. The truth is that McCown was better in the OTAs, the mini-camps and training camp than Glennon was. He was more accurate with his passes and showed more mobility.
But a funny thing happened on the way to the Bucs’ 2014 season opener. Glennon fully grasped the offense and caught up to McCown behind the scenes. Keep in mind that the designated backup quarterback’s talents were masked a bit by throwing to Tampa Bay’s second-string wide receivers and tight ends behind a second-string offensive line in the preseason. Glennon never received a rep with the starters during the month of August, which is something that Smith doesn’t second guess.
“I don’t have any regrets, we let things play out and I tell guys – you start off with a group and eventually if you deserve, wherever you belong, that’s where you’ll end up,” Smith said. “No regrets at all and as far as [Sunday’s] game it was good to see – I saw the same guy that I’ve seen with everything else that we’ve asked him to do, a poised and confident player that can play football. When you’re labeled the ‘Quarterback of the Future’ that’s what you’re supposed to do when you come out. The future was in front of us a little bit earlier than the initial plan, but you need to be ready at all times and again, how he handled it there right at the end, having to make that final throw kind of said it all.”
Is Glennon the long-awaited franchise quarterback that Bucs fans have been dying for? We’ll know by the end of 2014 – if he gets the chance to start the remaining 12 games, which he should because McCown isn’t the future.
“You need an elite quarterback to win in this league, man,” former Bucs head coach Jon Gruden once told me.
Is Glennon elite? Why not find out now?
Glennon doesn’t have Tom Brady’s movie star looks, nor does he have Colin Kaepernick’s chiseled, athletic body. Glennon doesn’t have Peyton Manning’s presence at the line of scrimmage, nor does he have Philip Rivers’ swagger.
The 6-foot-6 Glennon looks a little gangly at times in the pocket, and like a young giraffe when he scrambles, but he sure can throw a beautiful spiral and has a ton of poise under pressure. Glennon is more like Robert Carradine’s Lewis Skolnick character in Revenge of the Nerds movie than he is Stan Gable. But we all know who wound up with Betty Childs at the end of the movie.
He may not be everything Bucs fans have dreamed about in their ideal franchise quarterback, but if Glennon can win, who cares?
Think about Tampa Bay’s Super Bowl roster and rank the most popular Buccaneers. Let me know when you get to quarterback Brad Johnson.
Johnson is probably around number 12 on the list, alongside the likes of Michael Pittman and Ken Dilger.
Prior to winning the Super Bowl, Joe Flacco was likely buried in the Baltimore popularity contest behind Ray Lewis, Ray Rice, Ed Reed, Terrell Suggs, Haloti Ngata, and alongside the likes of Torrey Smith, Jacoby Jones and Dennis Pitta.
No one will confuse Glennon with Johnny Manziel, especially when it comes to improvisational ability. But if Glennon can develop into a smart, efficient football player like Johnson did and Flacco has done, he may indeed become the franchise quarterback the Tampa Bay fan base has wanted for decades.
FAB 2. IF GLENNON ISN’T THE GUY, QB HELP COULD BE ON THE WAY IN 2015
With 13 starts as a rookie in 2013 and the possibility of 13 more starts in 2014 if he can wrest the starting job away from veteran Josh McCown for the rest of the season, Mike Glennon will have 26 games worth of film to be evaluated by Bucs general manager Jason Licht and head coach Lovie Smith. The biggest question in Tampa Bay heading into next season could be the quarterback position if Glennon doesn’t assert himself and live up to his “Quarterback of the Future” moniker.
For those Bucs fans that like to do some in-season scouting, here is a look at the top seven quarterbacks that are likely to be selected in the first three rounds of the 2015 NFL Draft.
PROJECTED FIRST-ROUND QUARTERBACKS
1. Oregon QB Marcus Mariota – 6-4, 215 – Junior
Mariota burst onto the scene as a redshirt freshman, throwing for 2,677 yards and throwing 32 touchdowns and just six interceptions, while rushing for 752 yards and five TDs. Last year, Mariota threw for 3,665 yards with 31 scores and only four picks, while gaining 715 yards on the ground with eight touchdowns. In 2014, Mariota is completing 74 percent of his passes for 1,135 yards with 15 touchdowns and no interceptions to go along with 215 rushing yards and three touchdowns, but he has had inadequate offensive line play thus far, which played a role in Oregon’s loss to Arizona on Thursday night. Mariota has ideal NFL size, supreme athleticism and speed, amazing accuracy and a great football I.Q. He is poised to be the first overall pick in the 2015 NFL Draft.
2. Florida State QB Jameis Winston – 6-4, 235 – Redshirt Sophomore
The athletic Winston won the Heisman Trophy last year while leading Florida State to a national championship, throwing for 4,057 yards with 40 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. Winston also rushed for four touchdowns last year and has one this year. Scouts believe Winston has first-round talent, but a series of off-field character concerns have created serious questions for NFL teams. Winston has seven touchdowns this season for the undefeated Seminoles, but he has already thrown four interceptions and would be considered a top 15 pick at this point in time – despite his character concerns.
3. UCLA QB Brett Hundley – 6-3, 227 – Junior
Hundley made a wise decision to return for his junior season after back-to-back seasons in which he threw for over 3,000 yards and at least 24 touchdowns. Hundley is almost as fast and as athletic as Mariota is, and has touchdown runs of 72 yards and 86 yards to his credit, while racking up almost 1,100 yards and 20 rushing touchdowns. As a junior, Hundley is completing 74 percent of his passes and lit up Arizona State for 355 yards and four touchdowns through the air, and 72 yards and a touchdown on the ground. If Hundley can find consistency this year he’ll likely be a top 20 pick next spring.
4. Michigan State QB Connor Cook – 6-4, 220 – Junior
Cook had a breakout sophomore campaign in 2013 while leading the Spartans to a Rose Bowl victory over Stanford and throwing for 2,755 yards with 22 touchdowns and just six interceptions. Cook is a pocket passer with enough mobility to elude pass rushers and throw downfield, but is not considered to be a scrambler. Cook, who has NFL size and arm strength, has raised his completion percentage from 58.7 percent to 69.2 percent while throwing for 837 yards with nine touchdowns and just two picks. Cook’s profile with NFL scouts is on the rise and he’s a low first-round prospect right now.
5. Stanford QB Kevin Hogan – 6-4, 228 – Junior
Hogan became a starter midway through his freshman year, completing 71.7 percent of his throws for 1,096 yards with nine touchdowns and three interceptions. As a full-time starter in 2013, Hogan led the Cardinal to the Rose Bowl while completing 61 percent of his passes for 2,630 yards with 20 TDs and 10 picks. Hogan is off to a solid start this year, raising his completion percentage to 71 percent and throwing eight touchdowns and two INTs. With ideal size, good arm strength and above average intelligence, Hogan is considered to be a solid NFL QB prospect and carries a second- or third-round grade at the present time.
6. Baylor QB Bryce Petty – 6-3, 230 – Senior
Petty had a breakout junior season with 4,200 yards, 32 touchdowns and just three interceptions while leading Baylor to the Big XII title and a BCS bowl. Petty is a good athlete and also scored 14 touchdowns on the ground. While he is in a prolific passing system, Petty has good arm strength, nice size and sound decision-making that could translate well in the NFL. A back injury caused him to miss the third game of the season, but Petty has still completed 65.3 percent of his passes for 913 yards with seven touchdowns and one pick and is considered to be a second- or third-rounder right now.
7. Oregon State QB Sean Mannion – 6-5, 220 – Senior
What you see is what you get with Mannion, a four-year starter who has completed no less than 64.5 percent of his passes in each of his first three seasons, but no more than 66.3 percent, either. It took Mannion three years to throw more touchdowns than interceptions as he started off with 31 TDs and 31 INTs during his first two years combined. As a junior, Mannion threw for 4,662 yards with 37 touchdowns and 15 interceptions. But without star receiver Brandin Cooks, who was a first-round pick by New Orleans in May, Mannion has struggled as a senior, evidenced by four touchdowns and four picks. NFL teams love his size, arm strength and experience, but question his decision-making, which has caused him to throw too many picks. Mannion will likely rise no further than the third round in the 2015 NFL Draft.
If you are looking for a sleeper quarterback in the 2015 NFL Draft, look no further than East Carolina’s prolific passer, Shane Carden, who has the Pirates off to a hot, 3-1 start. Carden, a three-year starter, began his ECU career completing 66.1 percent of his passes for 3,116 yards with 23 touchdowns and 10 interceptions, in addition to eight touchdowns on the ground as a sophomore in 2012.
During his breakout junior season, he completed 70.5 percent of his throws for 4,139 yards with 33 TDs and 10 INTs, in addition to 10 rushing scores. Carden showed that his 447-yard, five-touchdown performance against Old Dominion in which he completed 46-of-54 of his passes (85.2 percent) was no fluke when he completed 32-of-47 passes (68.1 percent) for three touchdowns and one interception in a 55-31 upset win at North Carolina. He also rushed eight times for 22 yards and three touchdowns against the Tar Heels.
Against Tulsa, Lovie Smith’s alma mater, he completed 34-of-50 passes (68 percent) for 384 yards and five touchdowns in a 58-24 victory last year. Against in-state rival North Carolina State, Carden completed 23-of-30 passes for 255 yards and three touchdowns in a 42-28 win, while rushing for two touchdowns. In a 55-13 win over Southern Miss, where Bucs QBs coach Marcus Arroyo was the offensive coordinator, Carden completed 30-of-37 throws (81.1 percent) for three touchdowns and one rushing touchdown last year.
Carden is 0-2 against South Carolina, including a 33-23 defeat this year in which he completed 32-of-46 passes for 321 yards with two interceptions and one touchdown, but he engineered two upsets of ACC schools Virginia Tech and North Carolina. He completed 23-of-47 passes (48.9 percent) for 427 yards with three touchdowns and a rushing touchdown in the last 16 seconds of the game to give the Pirates a 28-21 win over the Hokies. The Pirates’ victory shouldn’t have been a surprise. Last year, East Carolina lost at Virginia Tech, 15-10, in a close game as Carden threw three interceptions and just one touchdown.
In a 70-41 thrashing of the Tar Heels two weeks ago, Carden completed 30-of-48 passes (62.5 percent) for 438 yards with four touchdowns and one interception with two rushing scores. Carden and the Pirates should destroy winless SMU on Saturday before coming to Tampa to play South Florida on October 11.
Caden has a well-built, 6-foot-2, 221-pound frame and has good mobility outside of the pocket and down near the goal line. With looks that closely resemble Brett Favre, Carden plays like him too, as he is a bit of a gunslinger. NFL scouts can’t ignore his production and although he’s rated as a fifth-round prospect right now, he could be a player like Jimmy Garoppolo that rises up draft boards at the end of his senior season and in the post-season.
The Bucs don’t know where Glennon’s ceiling is in terms of his development, and if they can’t find out in 2014 – or if they do and it’s lower than the team anticipated – Tampa Bay should have plenty of early-round options at the quarterback position in the 2015 NFL Draft.
FAB 3. GHOLSTON HAS A HUGE UPSIDE FOR BUCCANEERS DEFENSE
After a 56-14 drubbing by Atlanta last Thursday night, there aren’t a lot of bright spots for Tampa Bay’s defense, which is ranked 27th in the league (387 yards per game) and 31st in the league in points allowed (31.7 points per game). But the play of defensive end Will Gholston may be a ray of hope for the future of the defensive end position.
Not only is Gholston a huge defensive end for the Buccaneers at 6-foot-6, 280 pounds. He also has huge upside for Tampa Bay’s defense and is filling in nicely for Adrian Clayborn, who tore his biceps on the last play against Carolina in Week 1 and is out for the season.
Seeing his first action of the year in a 19-17 loss to St. Louis in Week 2, Gholston got the start at right end for the injured Michael Johnson and produced five tackles, a tackle for loss and a sack. Compare that to Da’Quan Bowers, who had just one tackle against the Rams after getting the start at left defensive end and also saw time as a three-technique defensive tackle, and there really is no comparison.
Bowers, the team’s second-round pick in 2011, has been a bust during his four years in Tampa Bay, recording 51 tackles, 6.5 sacks and five pass breakups in the 32 games he has played in with 10 starts. With as much athleticism and talent that Bowers supposedly has, where is the production?
The reason why Gholston was drafted last year was because Bowers showed signs of being a bust in Greg Schiano’s first season in 2012. Gholston came in and quickly passed Bowers on the depth chart as a rookie. Bowers only recorded seven tackles and a sack, while Gholston notched 31 tackles, three tackles for loss, three pass breakups and two sacks. In his brief NFL career, Gholston has played in 14 games with four starts and has nearly caught Bowers statistically.
The Michigan State product has 42 tackles, six tackles for loss, three sacks and three pass breakups in just 16 games. With Tampa Bay needing to generate more of a pass rush to get out of its 1-3 hole, Gholston, who is tied for second on the team with one this season, plans of delivering.
“I feel like my pass rush has developed a lot,” Gholston said. “Last year I was kind of running right down the middle of people. Now I get to the edge. It’s nowhere where I need it to be or want it to be. But that’s what I’ve tried to focus on the most.”
With his tall, muscular frame and huge wingspan, Gholston reminds Bucs head coach Lovie Smith of a similarly built player he coached in Chicago, Bears defensive end Corey Wootten, who is 6-foot-6, 270 pounds and now plays for Minnesota.
“Yes, there are [similar],” Smith said prior to the Rams game. “Both have the size, body type, they’re both very similar players. I haven’t thought of that until now, but yes, they can do a lot of the same things. I would say that both players’ talents are more suited towards being an every down player, rather than just an edge rusher. They’re a combination of the two.
“Corey Wooten is a good football player, and so is Will Gholston. I didn’t know a lot about him before I got here, but he’s stout against the run and a pretty good pass rusher too. It’s a shame [Gholston] got hurt [in the preseason], because he was coming on. I’m anxious to see him [develop].”
With Bowers and Clayborn headed to free agency in 2015, the Bucs will undoubtedly spend a high draft pick on a pass-rushing defensive end. But Gholston will have the rest of this season a chance to build on a successful rookie campaign and a good debut in 2014 to stake claim on the starting left defensive end job for next season. He’s gotten the start at left defensive end over the last three games in Clayborn’s absence although he is not taking his starting role for granted.
“It’s still a competition,” Gholston said. “I wouldn’t say in my head that I’m slated to start. That’s not the case. Every week you have to earn your reps and earn your start. I’m not there yet – but I’m getting there. That’s my mentality.”
FAB 4. EVANS HOLDING HIS OWN AGAINST ROOKIE RECEIVERS
It’s a shame that Tampa Bay’s 2014 first-round draft pick, wide receiver Mike Evans, injured his groin in last week’s 27-24 win at Pittsburgh and is expected to miss a few weeks. The former Texas A&M star had his best game of the season against Pittsburgh with a career-high four catches for 65 yards and his first NFL touchdown.
In that game, Evans’ 7-yard touchdown catch on a fade route gave the Bucs a 7-0 lead and posted a career-long 40-yard reception in the second half that helped set up Tampa Bay’s second touchdown before injuring his groin on a deep pass in the third quarter that was ultimately intercepted when the rookie pulled up lame.
Due to his productive day at Pittsburgh, Evans leads the Bucs with 17 catches for 203 yards (11.9 avg.) and a touchdown this season, and his numbers compare favorably with the four other rookie receivers drafted in the first round this past May.
2014 FIRST-ROUND ROOKIE WR PRODUCTION
Buffalo WR Sammy Watkins (4th) – 17 catches, 197 yards (11.6 avg.), 2 TDs
Tampa Bay WR Mike Evans (7th) – 17 catches, 203 yards (11.9 avg.), 1 TD
NY Giants WR Odell Beckham, Jr. (12th) – has not played due to injury
New Orleans WR Brandin Cooks (20th) – 23 catches, 199 yards (16.3 avg.), 1 TD
Carolina WR Kelvin Benjamin (28th) – 21 catches, 329 yards (15.6 avg.), 3 TDs
Benjamin’s 21 catches for 329 yards with three touchdowns leads all rookies and currently makes him the NFL’s ninth-ranked receiver. Benjamin had six catches for 92 yards and his first NFL touchdown, a 26-yarder at Tampa Bay in Carolina’s 20-14 victory. And in Carolina’s 37-19 loss to Pittsburgh, Benjamin had his first 100-yard game, catching eight passes for 115 yards with one touchdown.
With Evans expected to miss at least two weeks with his groin injury, he will likely fall behind the rest of the 2014 first-round wide receivers, and it’s a shame because it would have been interesting to see if he could catch Benjamin, who is off to a torrid pace and has some Bucs fans (especially Florida State fans) wondering if Tampa Bay picked the right 6-foot-5, 235-pound receiver in the first round. Benjamin was just named the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Month, too.
And don’t look now, but rookie tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins is beginning to threaten Evans for the right to be the most productive rookie in Tampa Bay. Seferian-Jenkins, who missed the St. Louis and Atlanta games with a sprained ankle, leads the Bucs with a 17.5-yard average with four catches for 70 yards, including a 26-yarder. With Evans out, Seferian-Jenkins’ role as a pass-catcher will likely increase in the coming weeks.
FAB 5. SR’s BUC SHOTS
• Sources at One Buccaneer Place marveled at how guard Logan Mankins got a neutral zone infraction on Pittsburgh defensive tackle Arthur Moats on third-and-2 in the fourth quarter. Moats entered the neutral zone and before he could get back prior to the snap, Mankins moved, which created the penalty on the Steelers and gave the Bucs a first down. Mankins gets a lot of credit for his toughness, but he deserves credit for his intelligence and his veteran savvy on that play.
• Tampa Bay is woefully off last year’s pace when it comes to pass breakups with just seven in four games. That puts the Bucs on pace to produce just 28 passes defensed when the team had 73 last year.
But Tampa Bay’s defense is on pace to top last year’s mark of 87 tackles for loss as the Bucs already have 24 and are averaging six per game. It’s no surprise that weakside linebacker Lavonte David is in the lead with eight as he led the team last year with a career-high 20. David is on pace to produce a new career-high 32 tackles for loss if he maintains his average of two per game.
“I feel like that’s a part of this defensive scheme up front,” said Bucs defensive end Will Gholston, who has two tackles for loss this year. “We are a penetrating defense – not a read-and-react defense. If you attack and get into the backfield you are being accountable to make those tackles for loss.”
• The vaunted Carolina defense doesn’t look so formidable lately after giving up a total of 75 points in back-to-back losses to Pittsburgh and Baltimore. Part of the reason is the loss of franchise player and defensive end Greg Hardy, who is on the Exempt/Commissioner’s Permission List as he awaits trial for his domestic abuse charges. Hardy, who recorded a sack against the Bucs in the Panthers’ 20-14 season-opening win, should have been suspended for the Tampa Bay game in hindsight.
Without Hardy, the Panthers are a different team, and even bookend Charles Johnson, who had 11 sacks last year, has yet to record a single quarterback capture in 2014 as he is working through a hip flexor injury. Carolina’s defense was looking forward to the return of defensive end Frank Alexander, a fourth-round pick from a year ago to help, but that’s not going to happen.
Alexander was suspended for the first four games of the 2014 campaign due to violating the league’s substance abuse policy. Alexander returned to the Panthers on Monday, but was suspended 10 more games for a different violation of the substance abuse policy on Wednesday. Alexander won’t be eligible to return to the Panthers until after the Bucs play at Carolina in Week 15.
• I spoke with a defensive-minded coach in the NFL this week that had seen Tampa Bay’s 27-24 win at Pittsburgh and asked him what he thought of the Tampa 2 defense that Lovie Smith has deployed with the Buccaneers. That coach said that because there are so many “Cover 2 beaters” – passing plays that have been designed to exploit the Cover 2 defense – NFL teams can only have success with it running that scheme about 20 percent of the time, which is far less than Tampa Bay runs it.
“Louis Murphy’s 41-yard run-and-catch in the last minute of the game? That was a ‘Cover 2 beater’ against the Tampa 2 that Pittsburgh was running as its prevent defense,” the coach told me. “Teams know how to beat it these days and you can’t run it as often as Lovie likes to run it. Mike Tomlin tried to run it at the end and it backfired. That’s not even Pittsburgh’s base defense.”
• As exciting as Tampa Bay’s come-from-behind, 27-24 victory at Pittsburgh was last Sunday, Bucs fans must realize that the Steelers literally gave the game away. To the Bucs’ credit, they took it because a lot of bad teams are handed football games by the other team and they don’t take it and capitalize for the win.
Pittsburgh committed a season-high 13 penalties for 125 yards. The Steelers, which are the league’s top-ranked rushing team, ran the ball just 10 times for 11 yards in the second half after piling up 74 rushing yards in the first half. Punting from the Pittsburgh 17, Brad Wing’s kick went just 29 yards to the Steelers’ 46-yard line, which gave the Bucs great starting field position with just 40 seconds left in regulation.
Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown was crying after the game, saying that Pittsburgh lost to one of the worst teams in the league. With the way the Steelers played in the second half of that game, they were one of the worst teams in the league.
• Behind the scenes, the Bucs are desperately trying to get middle linebacker Mason Foster back into the starting lineup this Sunday at New Orleans for one reason – Pro Bowl tight end Jimmy Graham. Foster suffered a dislocated shoulder against St. Louis in Week 2.
“He’s making progress,” Bucs head coach Lovie Smith said. “I don’t know if he’ll be able to go this week or not, but he’s getting reps now which is a good thing. I know our Mike linebacker is a pretty important position. The Mike linebacker position had an opportunity to make a lot plays last week and it’s like that – our system is set up for the linebackers to be in on the action quite a bit. It will be good when we get him back full-time.”
Last week, Dane Fletcher was fooled too often on play-action passes that allowed Pittsburgh tight end Heath Miller to catch 10 passes for 85 yards and a touchdown. Tampa Bay is frightened at what a faster, bigger and more athletic tight end like Graham can do if it doesn’t get better play from the Mike linebacker spot.
In Tampa Bay’s 16-14 loss to New Orleans in Week 2, Foster had seven tackles, two pass breakups and an 85-yard interception return for a touchdown when he stepped in front of Graham and picked off Drew Brees. The Bucs feel like the combination of Foster and safety Mark Barron can handle Graham a lot better than Barron and Fletcher could.
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