Raheem Morris spent 2009 as the Bucs’ head coach, for better or for worse. Morris took a lot of heat over the last year, starting with the dismissal of Derrick Brooks and other popular veterans, to bringing in Kellen Winslow and re-signing Michael Clayton, as well as drafting Josh Freeman. And that was all before the season started. An 0-8 start, part of a streak of twelve consecutive losses for Tampa Bay, only added fuel to the fire. Add to that Morris’ game of musical quarterbacks and musical coordinators, and the possibility of a one and done season looked very likely for the youngest coach in the NFL.
November 24th, 2009 changed all that. As you know, Morris had aspirations of changing the defensive scheme. The one thing that had been associated with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers over the last 15 years is now being stripped in favor of a more aggressive, attacking defense. To say the least, not a popular move in Tampa. Also, a move not really understood, considering Morris is knee-deep in the Tampa Two defensive system. But, Morris wanted change, and he was able to get Jim Bates on board to oversee this change. While Bates may not have had great success as a head coach, you can’t take away his defensive knowledge.
But things started bad and never got better for Tampa. The departed Brooks and Cato June, thought too small for the system, were never properly replaced. The Bucs were runners-up in the Albert Haynesworth sweepstakes, another setback. As Tampa Bay entered training camp, its core of defensive players were the same as the ones from last year, minus one leader, but the system was new.
And boy, did the system fail these guys. After two seasons of Pro-Bowl caliber play, Barrett Ruud looked extremely out of place. Whatever opponents wanted to do, they did. Some teams passed on the Bucs, like the Cowboys, others ran on the Bucs, most notably Carolina. On November 22nd, the Saints plastered 38 points on Tampa, and it looked like if New Orleans really felt like it, they could have scored 58. It was the fifth time in ten games a team scored more than thirty points on the Bucs, not to mention the two times they gave up 28 and the mere 24 the Giants handed them.
Enough was enough, and here is where the credit begins. Raheem Morris, not content to stand idly by as the season, already lost, plunges into complete mayhem, realized his plan was failing, but also knew that his players know what they’re doing, if they’re given the right job. So, Raheem decided it was time to let the boys play the way they know how, re-implemented the Tampa Two, and demoted Bates to advisor. Since Morris has much more experience running this system, he smartly dubbed himself the defensive coordinator for the rest of the season.
Tampa Bay has now played five games since the switch. During that time, they’ve given up an average of 17.2 point per game. Compare that to the 29.4 points the defense gave up per game through the first ten games. In those ten games, the defense was allowing teams to rack up 378 yards per game. Since the switch, the number is 333, knocking off 45 yards per game. Given today’s statistics, the Bucs have improved from 29th to 16th in total team defense, and from 31st to 6th in scoring defense. They’ve also had much better results in their re-matches with the Panthers and Saints. And most importantly, the Bucs have won, then won again, taking the NFC’s best team down a notch in the process.
Credit the players for playing with more enthusiasm and urgency, but credit Raheem Morris for realizing his mistakes and putting his players in position to succeed again. Question becomes, is it enough to save his job, and what are his defensive plans for next year? I think Morris has done enough in the second half of the season to warrant keeping him around. Hopefully he’ll stick with the Tampa Two from the beginning this time around. Who’ll be the coordinator? Well, I think Chicago may be making a coaching change, leaving candidates with Tampa connections, Lovie Smith and Rod Marinelli. Either should make a nice hire.
Sascha Bartels is a member of pigskinheaven.com, join for more intelligent and passionate football conversation.