Monday, November 8, 2010
Now that the season is half way over I want to give my thoughts on what has happened so far and I'm also going to make some judgements about what needs to happen going forward. I'll still do the individual breakdowns but they will be pretty brief this time.
Even though the Bucs lost yesterday I am still feeling really good about their season. Not playoff good, but I do believe that we will get to at least 8 wins which is what I predicted in the preseason. And I do believe that if we catch a couple of breaks we could possibly get to 10. But even if its just 8 wins I would think that its evident that Coach Morris and his staff have done a phenomenal job this season. I pretty much predicted that we would be around 5-3 at this point in the preseason but I made that prediction believing we would have the services of Tanard Jackson, Jeff Faine, Earnest Graham and Brian Price for all eight games. Had I known then how many starters and key backups would miss significant amounts of playing time its very likely I wouldn't have been quite as bold.
But the Bucs have won with a very simple formula, take care of the ball and take the ball away from your opponents will being great in the kicking game. I know people will point to this stat or that to try to make the case for or against the Bucs being legit, but the turnover ratio as well as Connor Barth's kicking stats are the only numbers I need to make the case for the Bucs. As long as they continue to win in those areas they are likely going to be in every game the rest of the season.
But it won't be easy. For a team that was already very young coming into the year, the Bucs have basically gotten even younger. Whether because of suspension or injury or release, the starters on the team at the moment trend heavily in favor of players with 2 years or less of experience under their belts. Clearly the future is bright with that kind of foundation, but it also makes for a lot of speed bumps along the way in the short term. And so no matter how the Bucs finish up the second half of the season, I hope fans stay on the bandwagon for the long haul because this team is definitely being built for long term success.
Now having said all of that and factoring in the youth of the team, of course I still have some complaints. Some of my complaints are just a personal preference kind of thing where "I" would have done things differently. But some of my complaints, specifically about the defensive line, are based on every bit of football knowledge I know and are as close to facts as you are going to get when it comes to how the game is supposed to be played. So as you read the rest of this hopefully it will be apparent which is which and I want you to keep that in mind because I realize that my way isn't always the only way when it comes to football strategy. But on the other hand there are some things that are right and some things that are wrong when it comes to how you play AND coach the game.
Because its my area of "expertise" for now I will just focus on the defense. Maybe later on in the week I'll offer up my thoughts on the offense and how it could improve but it will probably be a much more general post.
Last year I had a few major gripes about the defense. We didn't blitz enough, we didn't utilize line stunts, our pass rush was disjointed and we of course needed better personnel. Well I still gripes in all four areas but for very different reasons.
I believe the Bucs blitzed something like 16 or 17 times yesterday against the Falcons not counting when they lined up in a 3-3-5, but they didn't end up with any sacks or turnovers. To me that's a problem.
Its not a problem that they called that many blitzes. Its a problem that the blitzes were so weaksauce that out of almost 20 times they were called they didn't force a single game changing play. I have seen all kinds of blitzes out of all kinds of defensive formations ran in all kinds of situations. (Hell I even designed a blitz in my short time at USF) But I admit that many of the blitzes the Bucs employ puzzle (and irritate) the hell out of me. I don't get their purpose nor how they are supposed to actually work even in a best case scenario.
I have brought up several times on this blog the zone blitzes we used to run back when I played for the Bucs. The only reason why I keep referring to them is because of out effective they were. That's not to say they would still work perfectly today or that no team ever caught on to them (the Eagles really had kryptonite for our zone blitzes those years they were beating us in the playoffs). But the fact remains that they were relatively simple, they forced the action, and they were highly successful.
Right now I can almost guarantee that if I asked all eleven starters for the Bucs what their best blitz is I would get at least 5 or 6 different answers. To me that's not a good thing. Several times so far this season the Bucs have run blitzes where nobody picked up the back out of the backfield. Other times they have run blitzes where the quarterback had all day to throw and his receivers were running wide open down the field.
What I think they need to do going forward is start using overload blitzes. Whether its overloading one side, or its overloading the middle so that the tackles have to leave an outside rusher free, overload blitzes force a quarterback to be both quick and extremely accurate. The only reason I can come up with as to why we haven't run many thus far is because of concerns that our secondary might get burned. But the more I watch Aqib Talib looking like a Pro Bowler and E.J. Biggers playing like a seasoned vet, the more it is apparent to me that they are ready to have more challenges on their plate. We already have a very fast linebacker corps and everybody knows that Ronde is an expert at making big plays, so why not bring the house a few times and create some havoc? Especially when opposing teams are always doing it to them?
I really believe a few over load blitzes would have helped the Bucs get off on 3rd down yesterday.
Well the Bucs are definitely using line stunts now. The question, however, is to what effect? Right now the Pirate stunt seems to be a top call and that is where the undertackle and the defensive end to his side stunt inside to the A gap and B gap respectively. If its a run they should be trying to penetrate when the action is towards them and get into the backfield. When the action is going away they should be trying to cross the blocker's face and make the ball turn back behind them. If its a pass they should stay in their new gaps while the nose tackle loops around for contain.
That's how its SUPPOSED to go.
But there are two major problems the Bucs have had with running this line stunt. For one the defensive end and undertackle rarely get penetration into the backfield. For whatever reason they continue to line up too close to the line of scrimmage which means they have to go so laterally to stunt inside that there is no chance of getting penetration or push. In practice it also makes the whole defense soft because while going that laterally neither guy can really stop themselves from getting pushed down the field by the offensive lineman. And so you end up with defensive linemen pushed back into the lap of linebackers and instead of the line stunt being a weapon it becomes a hindrance.
The other problem is the nosetackles, primarily Roy Miller, continue to forget to loop for contain on pass at least once or twice a game. That means that along with giving the quarterback a clear line of sight down field to whichever side the Pirate is run on, he also has the ability to break containment and put pressure on the secondary to continue covering or come up to stop their scramble. Now a Pirate will never be confused with a good pass rush game, (although inexplicably the Bucs have run it in passing situations in the last two games) but there is a possibility to get pressure if the quarterback can't throw quickly to their primary target. By not looping for containment the nosetackle is potentially giving away a pressure.
Now that's freshman level stuff. When you talk advanced level play the nosetackle has the ability to get over the top of the pirate so that the defense buys an extra defender to the side of the run. But you can't even think about getting to that until you have he basics down first.
On a bit of a better note the Bucs did in fact bring back Over Stick (although, again inexplicably, they didn't run it against the Falcons). So far it has been a very productive line stunt and it has helped Stylez G. White's pass rush as it has forced offensive tackles to respect the potential for him to make an inside move.
It it were up to me two things would happen. 1) The defensive line would learn how to get penetration with the Pirate stunt and 2) The Bucs would run just as many or more Over Sticks every game as Pirates.
If those two things can happen I really believe the defensive line will be a lot more productive both against the run and the pass.
Pass Rush And Personnel
These two issues kinda go hand in hand. The Bucs went out and picked defensive tackles with their first and second round picks this spring after having spent a third round choice on a defensive tackle the previous year. Those guys are obviously young and now it turns out the second round pick, Brian Price, is out for the year with an injury. But still you would think the pass rush would be better, if inconsistent. At right defensive end Stylez White, the leading sack guy from last year, returned but at left end last year's fifth round choice, Kyle Moore, as installed as the starter in the offseason. And if you believed the hype about Moore this preseason he should have also helped to upgrade our pass rush.
But it turns out after 8 games we have a total of six sacks.
What gives you ask?
Well I'm going to give it to you straight. Our defensive linemen do not seem to be getting better under Todd Wash and so coaching appears to be an issue. And Kyle Moore should not have been, nor should be going forward the starting left end.
Now these assertions actually encompass both my opinion and facts based on my football knowledge. I won't say everybody should agree with me, but I will state my case.
And I know that making these kind of statements can get me labeled as hater.
I really don't give a shit.
How is it that 8 games into the season our starting nose tackle is still not looping on Pirates versus pass rush? How is it that none of the young defensive linemen have a signature pass rush move? How could our best pass rusher not be coached up to make an inside move the first 5 games? Why don't any of the young defensive linemen look much better than they day they first came to Tampa?
Simply put, it has to be coaching.
I don't know what goes on at One Buc every day, but I do know what I see on Sundays and what I see are guys making the same mistakes over and over again and guys who are consistently inconsistent.
Let me give you some for instances.
I said before that Kyle Moore shouldn't be starting and its true. But I'm not sure its his fault. He is big and strong and fast and quick. But he also has terrible technique and can't self generate a pass rush. But aren't those areas where he should be getting coached up?
Instead although he is strong he is consistently soft against tight ends. Although he is quick he is the slowest defensive lineman on the roster off the ball. Although he is fast he continues to run right into offensive lineman and get stuck instead of getting on an edge and trying to get to the quarterback.
But its not just Moore.
Remember a few weeks back when I drew up all the plays that gave us trouble against the Saints? Well the Rams and Cardinals have both run variations of play #7 against the Bucs since then and guess what? The defensive ends STILL aren't getting underneath those kickout blocks.
Let me go deeper though because this hit me last night when I was watching the game again. This may go over some people's head but I'll try to be as clear as possible.
Certain formations tell defensive lineman which way it is likely the center will slide in pass protection. This is a big deal because in general unless a tight end stays in there will be three blockers versus two on one side and on the other side its going to be two against two. You REALLY want to take advantage of the side where both guys get a one on one match up because of course its harder to win when the numbers aren't in your favor.
Well one major key that hasn't changed much in over a decade is that when there is one back in the backfield and they are offset to one side, the center will usually slide away from the back. So in that situation you want to either have the end and defensive tackle to that side do their best pass rush move, or for them to run a good pass rush game to take advantage of the center sliding to the other side.
But it appears that in that situation what the Bucs do instead is have the defensive tackle to that side make an inside move.
Don't get me wrong, there's nothing wrong with making an inside move if the guard is giving up the inside move. But if every single time the defensive tackle away from the slide is making an inside move when will they ever have the opportunity to make an outside move to SET UP the inside move?
Moreover the Bucs appear to be telling the defensive tackle to the slide to make an outside move. But unless that defensive tackle beats his guy clean outside, which isn't likely on the side of a slide, he is going to end up naturally coming back inside when he can't turn the corner. That means that you end up with two A gap rushers, little to no inside push, and and only one true one on one, that being the defensive end to the back.
Now I'm not saying its impossible to win that way, but I AM saying its a hell of a lot harder. And in my opinion a good defensive line coach would know that.
You want to know what else sucks about the situation? With Price out Moore is getting most of the inside reps when we go with 4 down lineman in 3rd and long. And he usually ends up to the side of the slide. So the Bucs have their best interior pass rusher, McCoy, make an inside move, and they have Moore trying to make an outside move which I haven't seen him win on so far.
What we SHOULD be doing is having McCoy line up away from the slide on passing situations and allow him to make which ever move he wants to make to beat his guy one on one and let Moore rush the A gap, try to get some push, and if the quarterback tries to take off he can go hunt him down.
Now you have unleashed McCoy so he can really get after the quarterback, you allow the end to his side to play off him (if McCoy makes an outside rush the end to his side can come under neath him at the level in what is called a "natural game") and the defensive end to the slide at least has some lee way on where he can go rather than getting pushed wide.
As for pass rush games, the Bucs look worse than most college teams trying to run them. I won't lie, it drive me nuts every time I see a defensive end take just two steps up field and then come underneath on a TEX game. That's harry high school bullshit and they might as well not even run the game rather than running it so poorly that they give up containment like they did against the Falcons.
So far I haven't seen the Bucs run a TOM game with the two inside guys which you would think we would do to try to help McCoy get free. Of course that would be a little too much like right. Better to just keep sending him out there with no plan and hope for the best.
People keep talking about Ndamukong Suh and comparing McCoy to him unfavorably. But if you ever watch the Lions play the one thing you notice is that they are constantly trying to showcase his talents. First and foremost he rarely moves from his left defensive tackle spot which means his development has been building every week. But when he DOES move its because they are trying to get HIM free so he can wreck shop. And oh by the way he has two pretty good pass rushers at end starting with him and they all haul ass every play at the snap of the ball.
The Bucs on the other hand have been too busy trying to showcase Quincy Black at the expense of McCoy's development, to try to design any defenses for him to have a favorable match up.
Look, I like Black and I think he is a really good player, but this defense will be built around Gerald McCoy for the next 10 years if the Bucs are lucky. And that should have started THIS year. Again that's something a good defensive line coach would have been fighting for.
If the Bucs want to get better at pass rush enough to make a difference the one place that they can make the most gains is pass rushing on early downs. Its a lot harder to get sacks, at least in theory, on third downs when the offensive linemen are more alert for moves and when quarterbacks are more apt to get the ball out of their hands quickly. But on early downs offenses tend to run a lot of play action which takes longer to develop and also can make for a harder block for an offensive lineman trying to sell run.
So how can we take better advantage of that?
Start Michael Bennett at left end.
Its a simple but obvious solution. Bennett is still fuzzy sometimes on the details but he is the only left defensive end on the roster who can create his own pass rush on any down. He uses his power, speed, and quickness most effectively and he also has the best get off. Its worth having him miss a few tackles or not getting under a few kickoff blocks if on the other hand he is harnessing the hell out of the quarterback on play action pass. I like Tim Crowder and he is a decent left end but he doesn't have the tools Bennett has. I am not as high on Moore honestly as either Crowder or Bennett even though he is in fact a decent player.
If you DVRd the game yesterday just do this one favor. Replay the game, let it go and only rewind when you see the left end do something that catches your eye. I can just about guarantee you that almost every time it will be Bennett flashing on screen. And that's even though Moore made more tackles.
I can't put the decision to start 100% on Wash though because Moore WAS fifth round pick so maybe the front office wants him playing to make them look good. But the more Bennett plays the more obvious its going to be to everyone on the team who gives them the best chance to be successful. I don't know what kind of practice habits Bennett has or doesn't have but if the Bucs are serious about improving their pass rush putting him in the starting lineup is the easiest and quickest way to get that done.
It of course won't solve everything, after all there may need to be some more additions come next spring from the draft. But it will be a shot in the arm for a defensive line that needs it.
Well I know that was pretty long so I won't wear your eyeballs out. In closing here are the quick individual breakdowns.
I will say that the pass rush overall was very very average
Kyle Moore: I had him with 4 tackles and an assist, and a pressure.
Gerald McCoy: I had him with 4 assists a pressure and a hit on the quarterback. He also had two penalties for offside and he also helped to give up a long run when he got out of his gap on a scoop block.
Roy Miller: 3 tackles and an assist. He was a little soft again against double teams and he didn't loop on a Pirate.
Stylez G. White: 3 tackles and two assists along with two pressures, a hit on the quarterback and another good rush. He played ok but after the previous two weeks I was expecting more.
Tim Crowder: 1 tackle and 1 assist along with a really good bull rush. He also had a good drop on a blitz.
Al Woods: I was very impressed with Woods being able to play after only a week and being productive. 2 tackles and an assist and he really showed some good hustle playing both the nosetackle and undertackle positions. Can't wait to see more of the guy.
Mike Bennett: 1 tackle and a pressure along with a hit on the quarterback. He also was really good against the tight ends, knocking them back and getting off the blocks. He did have a missed tackle that would have been for a loss but he forced the play and that's what the Bucs need more of.
That's all for tonight. I'll see you in the comments.