Normally I would go right into the categories of The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly but I wanted to start the post off this week with somewhat of a reality check. We have all heard about how young the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are compared to the rest of the NFL but sometimes that measurement can be deceiving. It could be that you have a team with veteran starters but a bunch of rookies and young guys as back ups to skew the average. Coming out of the preseason we pretty much knew for sure that the Bucs would have two rookie starters in Gerald McCoy at undertackle, and Mike Williams at receiver which in and of itself could make a coach nervous. But lets talk about the starters in the game on Sunday. In addition to McCoy, you had rookie Cody Grimm starting for the third time after Pro Bowl caliber free safety Tanard Jackson was suspended for the year. In addition you had E.J. Biggers, a second year player who didn't play a down last year, starting as the nickle back. They also had Kyle Moore another second year player starting at left end and second year player Roy Miller starting at nose tackle.
On the other side of the ball in addition to Mike Williams they had Arrelious Benn start for the first time opposite him at the other wide receiver spot. The slot receiver position was manned by second year player Sammie Stroughter. The Bucs also started rookies Ted Larsen at left guard and Erik Lorig at fullback. And of course while rookie running back LeGarrette Blount wasn't listed as the starter, he got the majority of the carries on Sunday as well. And even though he is playing far beyond his years so far we can't forget that Josh Freeman is still a second year player as well.
Even our punter is a rookie.
And that's not even talking about our backups.
Add that up and 12 out of the starting 22 players on offense and defense have less than a full two years in the NFL. And remember that two of those guys weren't even on our team until after the preseason ended.
That, ladies and gentlemen, is a BIG deal.
The fact that we are 4-2 right now says a lot not only about front office the past two years but also the coaching. Don't get me wrong, I have and will continue to be critical of some of the coaching decisions made in the first 6 games. After all there are always areas of improvement. But you HAVE to give credit where credit is due in this situation. Look around the NFL and you would be hard pressed to find another team starting that many guys with less than two years experience having success let alone only having two losses. Now the two losses were definitely ugly, there is no doubt about that. But the four wins were pretty awesome when you factor that in.
It remains to be seen how successful the Bucs will be with their remaining schedule but so far I would have to say they are out performing most people's expectations heading into the season.
Now on to my observations.
- Josh Freeman: You just can't say enough good things about the guy. He continues to be clutch in the fourth quarter of close games and he never seems to lose his confidence no matter what the conditions during the course of a game. He threw a couple of balls that were almost picked off but you didn't see him shy away from sticking the ball into tight spaces in big moments. His numbers didn't jump off the page this game but one thing did, this guy just knows how to win. No interceptions and some huge runs to pick up first downs win the protection broke down. Its pretty apparent at this point that Freeman is the franchise quarterback that the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have been looking for for a very long time.
- Ronde Barber: Ronde does so many things for the Bucs that its easy to over look him at times when he isn't getting picks. But he literally lined up as a linebacker several times in nickle on Sunday and he ended up with 7 tackles and 5 assists by my count. He also had a pressure coming in on Rams quarterback Sam Bradford on a blitz. Even as the elder statesman of the Bucs, Ronde continues to go out there and make plays all over the field every Sunday. And he was a big reason why we won the game.
- LeGarrette Blount: Blount had a very impressive debut as the featured running back for the Bucs. The fact that he gained 72 yards on just 11 carries is impressive, but even doubly so when you factor in the long runs he had that were called back due to penalties. And he even had a pretty good blitz pickup.
Now realistically the Rams were pretty basic on defense and the offensive line opened up huge holes that we hadn't seen in previous games so we can't assume that Blount will have the same kind of success the rest of the way. But if he can. If he can go out there and give us 70 or 80 or even 100+ yards the rest of the way our chances of winning will go up significantly.
- Stylez G. White: Coming off a Saints game where his improved pass rush was overlooked by the demoralizing lopsided loss, White continued to show improvement against the Rams. You can check out my critique of Stylez and all the other D Linemen in my Bull Rush column.
- Cadillac Williams: I know some fans are ready to discard Caddy in favor of Blount and it does look like Blount is going to be the man carrying the load for the foreseeable future. But its important to note Caddy's contribution to the win against the Rams. It wasn't just that he caught the game winning touchdown, but also he was the guy who made several catches right before half time that helped us move the ball down the field and get in position for a field goal which cut the lead to 17-6 at intermission. Because the game was decided on a single point his contributions on that drive are magnified. He ended up with 8 catches and I would say that's pretty damned good for a guy that most people said couldn't catch just a few years ago. He also had a key run for a first down on 3rd and 3 on the game winning touchdown drive to keep the drive alive.
I don't know what his role will be going forward but we aren't a better team with out him.
- Mike Williams: Williams continue to make the case for being the steal of the draft. With his 5 catches for 82 yards on Sunday he now has 28 catches for 365 yards and 3 touchdowns for the season so far. The Bucs aren't even half way through their schedule and he has almost as many catches and yards as our leading receiver last year. The play that he made on the catch at the end of the game moving the ball to just shy of the endzone showed off his impressive combination of speed, quickness and strength. He has seemed to have picked up a nasty fumbling habit which needs to get fixed ASAP but aside from that he has been everything the Bucs could have asked for and then some.
- Kellen Winslow: K2 had one of the biggest plays of the game with his catch for a conversion on 4th and 3 on the game winning drive. I know other tight ends get a lot more hype than Winslow but I can't think of another guy I would want on my team if we HAVE to have a first down.
- James Lee: I don't know how severe Jeremy Trueblood's injury was on Sunday but he might want to familiarize himself with the story of Wally Pipp. I have been shouting out Lee since the preseason because he is the perfect combination of athletic and mean in my opinion. He doesn't just try to block guys, he tries to dump them on their head! You saw it early on in the game when he came in to play tight end for a few plays. And you saw it after he came in for Trueblood at the end of the game. Lee did have that stupid penalty for jumping on the pile and that is simply unacceptable. But he moves people in the run game and he also shut Chris Long down on pass rush after he had given Trueblood fits for most of the game.
Now I don't really believe that the Bucs would replace Trueblood at the moment if he is ready to play. BUT if he can't go this week against Arizona and Lee ends up starting and turning in another strong performance the move could end up being a permanent one. Trueblood did have a stupid penalty of his on after all which negated a long run by Blount. And the truth of the matter is I'm not so sure that Lee isn't the better player hands down. Its a situation that is worth watching over the next few weeks. One thing is for sure, the Bucs now have to have some confidence in Lee that they may not have previously had.
- Connor Barth: After a rough day against the Saints Barth bounced back to go 4-4 on field goals including a 53 yarder as well as making all his extra points. Its easy to overlook how important he has been to the Bucs success but just look around the NFL at teams that lose because of poor kicking every week. Better yet just think back to last year before we had Barth and the Redskins game where with better kicking we had a legitimate chance to win. If he doesn't have any more blips like he had against the Saints Barth may well get a Pro Bowl nod at the end of the year or at least serious consideration.
- Aqib Talib: Its not that Talib gave up a lot of passes to the guy he was covering and he didn't give up a bomb against the Rams like he did in previous weeks. But down at the goal line he had two separate opportunities for interceptions and dropped both of them. By no means were either one of them an easy play but for a guy with his talents he has to come up with at least one of them. Especially because the Rams went on to score touchdowns on both drives. To be considered one of the best cornerbacks in the game you have to make the most of every opportunity that comes your way. That is how Talib has to be judged at this point and he didn't get the job done in that regard on Sunday.
- Sean Jones: If you would have told me before the game that our starting Strong Safety would only have 1 tackle and 1 assist against the Rams and running back Steven Jackson I would have told you that you were nuts. But that's exactly what happened. I can't say that it all falls on Jones though because one thing that I've noticed about our defense is that they rarely line up our safties in the box when we want to have an 8 man front. Instead the safties usually roll into the box on the snap. I understand the need to disguise the coverages at times but I'm not a fan of doing it as much as the Bucs do it because I think it makes it harder for the safties to get their correct run fits on the run. But even having said that I just don't understand how Jones could be that invisible against a running back that went for over 100 yards on us.
Some how, some way that has to change right away.
- Michael Bennett: I have been a Bennett fan and I still am but he had a very forgettable game on Sunday. Again you can check out my Bull Rush column for the details but to put it short and sweet he needs to pick it up if he expects to continue getting playing time.
- Penalties: 12 penalties for 92 yards is unacceptable and losing football. The Bucs were able to over come them against the Rams but just barely. That can't happen against a better team or they will get embarrassed. As I pointed out they have a lot of young starters on the team but at this point there are no excuses. It hasn't been a problem for most of the year and hopefully this was just a one off.
- Fox's game production: I continue to be frustrated with whomever at Fox it is that believes fans want to see close ups of the quarterback or any other player before the snap at the expense of seeing the whole field before the play starts. You have to shift your focus from a helmet to all of this action happening at the same time and try to find the ball all in a blink of an eye. Its friggin horrible and I don't know of anybody who likes it. You don't see the same thing on CBS or NBC so I have to believe its a Fox production issue. I really wish they would cut it out though because it makes it a helluva lot harder to evaluate what happened on any given play.
In addition, can we get some better announcers please??? I almost want to poke myself in the ears listening to the games unless its the radio broadcast because the commentary is so boring AND wrong. For instance the announcers for our game at one point kept harping that we were "in an 8 man front" and therefore the Rams shouldn't have been able to run the ball on us. Well we WEREN'T in an 8 man front any of those times. We were either in nickle and Ronde was out of the box on the slot receiver, OR we had base in but there wasn't a safety rolled down.
I mean they are showing REPLAYS and STILL calling it an 8 man front when it obviously wasn't. And the effect is some fans who don't know any better take them at their word and start grumbling about teams running the ball against our 8 man fronts and it gets echoed all over the place until it becomes conventional wisdom when from the get go it was bullshit. And really and truly this isn't just a Fox issue, I have beef with a BUNCH of football announcers. But Fox most consistently brings the stupid in my opinion.
Between the Bull Rush column and then one I don't actually have any extras this week lol. I'll look for your remarks in the comments section.
Have a great one.