The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have stumbled out of the starting blocks this season. They're 0-2 but Raheem Morris says not to panic, it's time to keep believing in his young team. With that in mind, here are five major questions regarding this team as it goes through last-minute preparations for its Sunday home game against the powerful New York Giants:
Can the Defense Make a Stand?
The Bucs rank right at the bottom of the NFL in total defense. They've given up 30-plus points in each of their two opening losses. It is most important that they get off to a better start on Sunday. They cannot fall behind quickly. Per Morris: "We're not that great of a come-from-behind offense."
This defense missed 24 tackles last week. Horrible at best. Can they survive one of the better quarterbacks in the league—Eli Manning? Can they stop the Giants' strong runner, ie: Brandon "The Beast" Jacobs?
Is This Gaines Adams' Last Stand?
See if the Giants run the football at Gaines Adams. Morris may be just about fed up with this consistent underachiever. There have been hints that Adams could soon head for the bench and after that, could he be destined for deactivation at some point later in the season?
Can Byron Leftwich Survive the Punishment?
You have to give Bryon Leftwich a lot of credit. This guy is getting totally abused by opposing defensive lines. He has been bashed and battered in the pocket, still he stands and delivers. It's a bad thing to ask him to throw the ball more than 50 times a game. "That is not Tampa Bay Buccaneer football," Morris says.
The Giants have a very tough D-line. If the offensive line can't perform better than it has, how long can Leftwich go before he really gets hurt? With all the chaos around him, we have to wonder if either Josh Freeman or Josh Johnson could survive this quarterbacking environment?
Will Key Injuries Continue to Cripple the Buccaneers?
It's only game three and the Bucs have had a season worth of major injuries already. Center Jeff Faine, the key guy up front, is still out. Safety Jermaine Phillips is done for the year. Franchise tag receiver Antonio Bryant continues to limp around and who knows if and when he'll play again.
Receiver Maurice Stovall has a knee problem. Defensive end Kyle Moore, who is likely to replace Adams at some point, had arthroscopic surgery this week and is out for a least a couple of weeks.
Cadillac Williams needs to avoid unnecessary contact if he wants to last a full season. Example: why put your head down and collide with a tackler and gain no extra yardage? Caddy is running hard but he also needs to protect himself better.
Is Mike Nugent Going to Be a Reliable Kicker?
These larger margin defeats have allowed Mike Nugent to basically, well, hide! No one knows if this guy can do the job in a close game as the Bucs have not had a close game.
There is sentiment that Sunday's game could actually turn out to be closer than anticipated. If the Bucs manage to get into a nail-biter, will Nugent be able to perform if called upon? No one knows.
There you have it—some major food for thought while you eagerly wait for Sunday afternoon's answers.
Morris wants everyone to "believe" in his young team.
Problem is that are still so very many questions besides these.