The 2011 Tampa Bay Buccaneers are mediocre and they will not make the playoffs.
That is not much of a news flash given the teams performance over the past six weeks. However, after barely missing the playoffs with a 10-6 record last season, expectations for the team saw the team playing in January this year.
So what is the problem here? Is it the coaching? The talent? Just plain bad luck? The easy answer is that it's a combination of factors, but when is that ever enough to satisfy a football fan?
Raheem Morris is an enigma of a coach. His team has consistently failed to show up in the first halves of nearly every game he has coached, but his second-half adjustments have made the Bucs a real comeback threat. He also coaches one of the most penalized teams in the league, a tremendous turnaround from last season’s model of discipline.
Morris also serves as the team’s defensive coordinator, which is probably more damning than anything else. To be fair, Morris is working with one of the youngest defenses in the league and his players could simply be experiencing growing pains, but the marked lack of improvement in certain areas, such as tackling and sacks, give the indication that Morris may be in over his head.
On the other side, offensive coordinator Greg Olson is garnering even more heat from the Bucs’ fanbase, which is probably unfounded. Sure, he makes a questionable decision here and there, and he probably abandons the run a little too quickly, but he is not one of the players on the field. He can’t execute, or not execute, the plays he calls.
There is little doubt the players carry a majority of the blame for the team’s 4-7 record. The coaches are responsible for honing technique, but the players have to actually employ that technique. Josh Freeman, his wide receivers, and the entire defense must be held accountable for their poor performances.
But, again, a caveat. Freeman threw all of six interceptions last year. Sure, luck plays a factor in such a stunning statistic, but it is solid evidence that he’s capable of prudent decisions. The skill positions around him are a larger question mark, and the defense has every kind of problem, from talent to experience to coaching.
If talent deficiencies are the true root of the problem, three men are to blame: Morris, GM Mark Dominick and former head coach Jon Gruden. While Morris and Dominick are the current architects of the league’s youngest team, Gruden was the man who made it necessary for them to blow up the team.
Proclaiming the Buccaneers are undertalented is both premature and imprecise. For the second year in a row, the Buccaneers are the youngest team in the league, so they have upside. There should also be no mincing words: the Buccaneers are rebuilding. It should be clear by now that last was just a preview of what the team could be.
Now, as the Buccaneers stare down the barrel of another losing season, Morris and his players should swallow one inescapable notion: this is just not their year.
For a young team searching for an identity, inconsistency is simply an inevitability, though having one of the league’s most difficult schedules does not help.
What is most important for this young Bucs team is to rally around Morris and continue to persevere. They cannot allow a repeat of Week 10 against Houston where effort on the field was put into question or last week in Tennessee where Josh Freeman and company could not stop shooting themselves in the feet (figuratively, of course).
Every failure must be a learning experience, for both players and coaches alike. This season may already be lost, but the team cannot let itself become a lost cause.
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