The Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Curing What Ails the Bucs Through the Bye
The Buccaneers entered their bye week on a bit of a low note. They just lost RB Earnest Graham, who has been a leader both on and off the field, for the rest of the season. The Bucs also returned from England with a 4-3 record following a demoralizing loss to Matt Forte and the Chicago Bears.
Raheem Morris and his team returned to angry internet postings and a skeptical media asking, “what’s wrong?” Considering the Buccaneers still have a winning record, these questions are somewhat curious. Nevertheless, the Bucs have some problems they need to work out.
While Tampa Bay has put together some very good games against Atlanta and New Orleans, they laid some serious stinkers against San Francisco and Chicago. While a fair share of the blame belongs to youth and bad luck, the team and its head coach need diagnose and treat what has turned a potentially 6-1 team into a 4-3 team.
Here are some suggestions for the Buccaneers to get them started.
Pray Josh Freeman Can Go Back to the Future
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Raheem Morris will be the first to tell you that the Bucs go where No. 5 goes, and right now, no one knows where No. 5 is going, except maybe over a cliff. Josh Freeman has had exactly one game in 2011 where he was not either inconsistent or downright lousy.
In seven games this season, Freeman has thrown seven interceptions, which is already more than he threw all of last season. What’s worse, three of those interceptions were notched by opposing defenses in the red zone.
Freeman has thrown off his back foot, stared down his receivers and just plain made terrible decisions with the ball. Certainly, he has not received much help from his receivers, particularly Mike Williams, but that does not excuse Freeman’s bad form and knuckle-headed decisions.
Unfortunately, there is not much anyone can do about Freeman’s problems. Well, anyone but Freeman, that is. Only No. 5 can go through his progressions, use his eyes to move defenders around, throw the ball away when there’s no throw to make and, when he has to, make a run for it.
Go Josh. The team’s following you.
Hire a Pre-Game Consultant
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Big Buc problem No. 2? Well, Freeman is contributing to this problem as well, but the slow starts on offense can be attributed to half the team. Not only does Freeman struggle to complete passes in the first 30 minutes of games this season, but the Buccaneers seem unable to establish the run game as well.
Clearly, the entire offense is affected by this bout of first half lethargy. The symptoms range from the offensive line failing to run block effectively to wide receivers unable to get separation to poor decision-making by the quarterback. It’s as if the Buccaneers offense runs onto the field in the first quarter completely unprepared to play the game.
A team unprepared to play is an indictment of the coaching staff, namely Morris and offensive coordinator Greg Olson. However, Morris and his staff clearly have real coaching acumen given the team’s strong second halves. Nevertheless, a team cannot be considered a true contender if it cannot play four full quarters.
It’s easy to forget that Raheem Morris is first-time head coach, the youngest in the league in fact. He doesn’t have the experience of Sean Payton, Bill Belichick or even Jon Gruden. Neither Morris nor his staff seem to know what the team needs during the week to prepare for Sunday. The most obvious solution given the problems at hand is to hire a pregame consultant.
The Indianapolis Colts did something similar with Jim Tressel, woefully insufficient suspension notwithstanding. While the likes of Brian Billick or Eric Mangini are unlikely to walk the halls of One Buc Place any time soon (at least I hope), there are undoubtedly more than a few experienced football minds with coaching experience that Raheem and his staff could use to help prepare the team against opposing defenses.
Bench Mike Williams
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Last year’s best rookie wide receiver has a problem. Mike Williams has dropped more balls and disappeared in more games than any would-be No. 1 receiver ought. There isn’t another Buccaneer Josh Freeman has targeted more, and there isn’t another Buccaneer that has disappointed him more.
Mike Williams’ prowess as a receiver was never going to come from his speed or his size. Rather, Williams’ supposed hands and acrobatic catching skills are what made him such a threat last year. Those attributes have all but withered away this season.
At the moment, Williams is being outplayed by nearly every receiver sitting behind him, including Dez Briscoe and Preston Parker. The obvious course of action is to sit Williams in favor of either Briscoe or Parker, but the reality of the NFL provides that you don’t sit a highly-paid wide receiver regardless of how bad he’s playing...
He hasn’t been paid? He’s making fourth-rounder money? And you can sit a top receiver when he’s playing like junk?
Hey Morris, there’s the bench. Have Mike take a seat until he sorts out being a sub-par wide receiver.
Throw to LeGarrette Blount
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As the Buccaneers learned in London, life without LeGarrette Blount can be downright unpleasant, especially without an Insurance Graham policy. Blount is the transmission of the Buccaneers offense. He can kick it into high gear and carry the offense through opposing defenses, or he can get stuck in first and get nowhere fast.
There is no questioning Blount’s value in the run game, but the questions surrounding his potential effectiveness as a pass catcher and blocker continue to dog him. In fact, the questions of Blount’s role in the pass game have been answered by opposing teams who know exactly what the Bucs are going to do based on whether Blount is on the field.
Obviously, the Bucs need to get Blount on the field on third downs. He seems supremely confident in his abilities as a pass catcher and in blitz pick-up.
What are the alternatives? Kregg Lumpkin, a much poorer man’s Earnest Graham minus the exception blocking skills, or Mossis Madu, an undrafted rookie just called up from the practice squad.
Maybe Bucs fans should start practicing to hold their breath now.
Blount is a rare player in his ability to dictate game planning, on both ends. His presence in the pass game will allow Greg Olsen to call more daring plays as defenders key in on Blount and away from other receivers.
Return to Buc Ball
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In the heyday of the perennial playoff contention, the Bucs had one of best pass defenses the NFL has ever seen. That seems like a lifetime ago, doesn’t it? While Mark Dominick appears to be righting the ship by drafting defensive lineman with the team’s top two picks in consecutive years, the Bucs are still not that good defensively.
A particular weakness this year is the pass defense, where the team is surrendering far too many big plays and has not forced many turnovers. While the defensive line has improved its pass rush under Keith Millard’s tutelage, the secondary has not played as well as it had in 2010.
The problem is not necessarily the personnel, though I stand behind my opinion that the Buccaneers should have signed Johnathan Joseph in free agency. Instead, the problem very likely is the recent change in defensive scheme by head coach and defensive coordinator Raheem Morris.
The Bucs’ defensive players behind the line were drafted to play in Monte Kiffin’s Tampa 2 defensive scheme, which involves a Cover-2 base with the middle linebacker playing deep coverage and requires the front four to generate most of the pass rush.
If you haven’t already noticed, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers play very little Tampa 2 anymore. It may not be fair to even call what the Bucs now play Tampa 2.1. Raheem Morris, while a disciple in the Kiffin coaching tree, employs more blitzes and man coverage.
It takes time for a team to sync to such a drastic change in scheme. Not everyone is necessarily capable of making the change. In fact, the change may not be the most effective use of the personnel’s talents. Raheem may want to consider playing more old school Tampa 2 if he wants to see his defense generate more turnovers and actually stop opposing quarterbacks from marching up and down the field.