2008 Bucs' Schedule: PNG

Saturday, December 13, 2008

The Talking Plank - Week 14

The Talking Plank - Week 14

Bucs At Falcons:

Well, last week's game pissed me off so much that I really didn't have much of a desire to address that game (Defense gets an F, BTW). From the refs not making some proper calls, including missing a ton of obvious holds by the Panthers OL, to the missed tackles (number well into the 20's), it was a game best forgotten. The Bucs can still win the division by going 3-0 and the Panthers going 2-1 (or even 2-1 Bucs, 1-2 Panthers as long as we beat the Falcons tomorrow). The Falcons are looking to stay in the race, but the Bucs will be absolutely pissed on defense after a game like that. Plus, the Falcons are a much weaker defensive team than the Panthers. So who will win this one?

On Offense, the Bucs come in ranked 12th overall (339.2y/g), 17th in points (23.3/g), 12th passing (223.6y/g), and 13th rushing (115.5y/g). The Falcons' defense is ranked 22nd overall (344.8y/g), 11th in points allowed (20.8/g), 23rd against the pass (223y/g), and 22nd against the run (121.8y/g). In last week's game, the Saints racked up over 180 yards on the ground against the Falcons. Now the Falcons get to defend against the Bucs with Jackson's knee banged up and with Abraham suffering with a thigh injury. The Falcons aren't good at all against the run with Jackson out or banged up, so the Bucs should be able to run against the Falcons up the middle at times. Where they really had success, though, was on the outside, and I expect Dunn and Caddy to get plenty of opportunities to take it to the outside on the Falcons' defense. The Falcons' have decent linebackers, but not good enough to deal with good edge rushing teams. Houston is their best, by far, corner, and the Falcons' safeties are alright, but not spectacular. So the Bucs should be able to exploit this secondary as long as the QB stays relatively upright. If Abraham can't go, the Falcon's lose over half of their 24 total sacks. If Penn can keep Abraham in check if he goes, then the Falcons' will struggle to get a pass rush going. Of course, the QB they will be rushing is a bit of a mystery. Gruden apparently believes Garcia will go, but if he doesn't, it will be Luke. That makes gauging the passing game a little difficult. Garcia has finally started trying to hit the deep ball with a little more frequency, but you can see that his deep accuracy isn't what it used to be, and he never had a really strong arm anyway. If Luke plays, he can accurately hit passes anywhere on the field, and he's a better, and much faster, runner than Garcia is, which could prove really usefull. Either guy should be able to take advantage of Bryant and Clayton going against this defensive backfield. One of them is going to be open on most plays, so we just need to hit them. Using the tight ends will also work well against the Falcons' linebackers. I exepect to see the offensive line play well enough to allow the Bucs to have a solid running game and give the QB time, on most throws, to hit the receivers down the field and stretch this Atlanta defense. I see the running game chewing up some clock, and giving the defense plenty of rest. I fully expect to see the Bucs post more than 20 points in this game.

On Defense, the Bucs come in ranked 9th overall (293.7y/g), 5th in points allowed (18.3/g), 4th against the pass (182.6y/g), and 19th against the run (111.1y/g). The Falcons come in ranked 5th in total offense (366.7y/g), 9th in points (24.8/g), 13th passing (220y/g), and 2nd rushing (146.7y/g). As in week 1, the key to stopping the Falcons is to stop the run. After last Monday's debacle, the defense is going to be fired up and flying to the ball. Expect them to play top notch and take advantage of the fact that the Falcons' aren't as healthy on the OL as they were in week 2 when the Bucs got 4 sacks and shut down Turner. The Bucs still gave up 105 yards rushing, but they forced 2 fumbles and 2 picks and harassed Ryan all game as they made the rushing game average. If the Bucs' offense can get an early lead, the defense will really be able to tee off and make it even harder for the Falcons. Without a dominant running game, the Falcons tend to have a much harder time getting it done on offense. The secondary will be primarily focused on shutting Roddy White down. If they can double him up, single up on Jenkins, and keep the other safety up close to stop the run and defend agains the Tight Ends, the Bucs should be able to slow Atlanta's offense down. Atlanta will still score some points, but I don't think we will see anything like Monday's game.

On Special Teams, the Bucs come in averaging 9.8 yards per punt return (16.7 by Smith) and 24.6 yards per kick (29 by Smith), while allowing 8.4 on punts and 20.3 on kicks. The Falcons are averaging 9.3 per punt (15.2 by Douglas) and 22.5 per kick, while allowing 1.7 per punt and 22.5 per kick. The Falcons have gotten teams to fair catch 20 times in the punting game, which helps reflect on the punt return numbers. In either case, Smith has been a big weapon for the Bucs, and I expect him to find a way to get some big returns this week. The Bucs should be up to the task of slowing down the Falcons. With this game in a dome, Elam will have the advantage over Bryant, but both kickers are solid and can win this game with a field goal if it comes down to it. I don't know if Special Teams will be big in this game or not. I have a feeling, after really not getting any shots last week, that Smith will be itching to bust a big return in the punting game. That could be the difference.

When it comes right down to it, I think the Bucs' offense will put up some points, while I expect the defense to come in like a crazed banshee, wanting to prove that MNF was a fluke. Historically, the Bucs have followed up crappy games like that with a big game the next week. With the Bucs tending to have success in Atlanta, and against the Falcons in general, I believe the Bucs will come out and keep pace in the division and take the dirty birds down.

Bucs 27 Falcons 20

McCown or Garcia?

Well, Gruden seems to think Garcia is going to go, but somehow I have a feeling that he may not go, or may not last long if it appears the injury is hampering him. The Bucs, though they can still get into the playoffs with a loss today, are in a tough spot where they really need to win this game to take control of their playoff destiny, and stay in the hunt for the Division. If the Bucs win out (likely if they win tomorrow) then they just need the Panthers to lose one game (they host the Broncos, go to the Giants, then go to the Saints), and they win the division.

So Gruden isn't likely to give Garcia too much of a leash in this one if that injury hampers him. In fact, if he doesn't appear to be close to 100% in pre-games, I think Luke will get the nod. Luke started against the Saints last year in another "control for the division" game, and won. In fact, all three of his starts were solid, with him finishing with passer ratings of 108.7 against the Saints, 108.6 against the Panthers, and 86.1 against the Texans. Coming off the bench against the 49ers he had a 70.4 passer rating. All solid numbers. His biggest problem was taking a second or two too long to deliver a pass, and thereby taking some sacks. Of course, our line was a bit of a sieve up the middle, which is no longer the case with Faine in there.

Soe we'll see what happens. McCown is clearly a more talented QB than Garcia and Griese combined, but his lack of game experience shows in the speed with which he goes through his progressions. Whether or not he'll be faster now is hard to say, though he did appear to be noticeably quicker in his reads in the pre-season. Whoever starts, let's hope we get this win and maybe we'll see the Panthers go down to the Broncos. If so, we can root for the Panthers to beat the Giants and maybe still actually have a shot at homefield throughout. Right now, we're the top wildcard, which still means hitting the road.

Monday, December 08, 2008

The Talking Plank - Week 13

The Talking Plank - Week 13 (MNF Style)

Bucs At Panthers:

Both teams come into this match-up at 9-3. If the Bucs win, they are fully in the driver's seat and can wrap up the division with just 2 more wins or a combination of losses and one win. If the Panther's win, then the Bucs will need to win next week. Doing so get's them back in front on the tie-breakers, and they can still win the Division if the Panthers fall to either the Giants or Saints (both road games). But the winner of this game is clearly in the driver's seat for the crown.

On Offense, the Bucs come in ranked 12th overall (335.4y/g), 17th in points (23.3/g), 13th passing (217.4y/g), and 11th rushing (118y/g). The Panthers are ranked 12th in overall defense (313.3y/g), 7th in points allowed (19.2/g), 11th against the pass (200.5y/g), and 19th against the run (112.8y/g). For the Bucs, this will be a tough venue to play in, as the Panthers are undeafeted at home. For the Bucs to be succesful on offense, they will need to establish the running game and will probably need to get Williams more involved. The Bucs need to attack the Panther's on the edge and run of left guard to attack the weaker areas of Carolina's run defense. If they can accomplish this, then the Bucs shouldn't have too much trouble keeping Garcia upright, assuming he doesn't keep running into sacks. Assuming Garcia is given time to throw, he'll need to find the open receiver and hit them quick, without hesitation, to keep the Panthers' secondary from defensing the pass. Last time Garcia used his tight ends well, and was able to hit 75% of his passes. I expect a similar result tonight. The Bucs should be able to move the ball pretty well. If they keep Peppers in check again, then the passing game should be able to feed off that running game and hold onto the ball. The Panthers have had trouble with teams holding the ball longer than them through an effective running game with some good play action passing. The Bucs will have some success. How much is the key. If they keep the Panthers on the sidelines for 32+ minutes, I would say the Bucs will win.

On Defense, the Bucs come in ranked 4th overall (279.5y/g), 4th in points allowed (16.7/g), 4th against the pass (184.1y/g), and 11th against the run (95.4y/g). The Panthers are ranked 17th overall (325.8y/g), 13th in points (23.8/g), 22nd passing (192.6y/g), and 7th rushing (133.2y/g). It's no secret, the Bucs need to contain Williams and Stewart in the running game to slow the Panther's' offense. If they do this, they will indeed make it tough for the Panthers to move the ball and score, much as it was a problem for them back at Ray Jay. In fact, the Delhomme has struggled more against Tampa 2 defenses this season than any other. If the Bucs can repeat their efforts against the running game, and get pressure in Jake's face, he'll likely have another bad game, and then it's all up to the offense putting up enough points. While Smith will continue to be the focus in the passing game, getting Jake bothered will do more than anything else can for the defense. Barber has been playing exceptional the last couple of games, making a lot of big plays. He was playing rather poorly the last time these teams met, which could bode very well for our secondary. If the Bucs can hold Brees in check, they can do it to Delhomme, especially with the cold conditions expected tonight. If the Bucs can man up and shut Williams and Stewart down, it will be a long game for the Panthers' offense. I do, howver, expect the Panthers to have better success than last time.

On Special Teams, the Bucs come in averaging 10 yards per punt (17.6 by Smith - 2nd in the league) and 25.3 yards per kick return. They are allowing 8.2 per punt and 20.4 per kick. The Panthers come in getting 11.1 per punt and 23.8 per kick while allowing 7.2 per punt and 21.8 per kick. The Panthers have a solid kick and punt coverage team, but they didn't face Smith in the first contest, and he could be a factor in this game where field position could be critical. On the flip side, after the Bucs held Bush to -16 yards on punt returns, and continued their excellence in kick coverage, look for them to put the brakes on the Panthers' return teams. If the Bucs can consistently win the field position battle, it could go a very long way toward winning this game. If it comes down to field goals, the Panthers' have a leg up, but Bryant seems to have a mission, so either kicker could be key in winning this game. Both punters are excellent. The coverage and return teams will determine the winner in this area. Personally, I think the Bucs are going to win the field position battle more often than not in the return game. I can also see this game coming down to a last second field goal to win it, which could go either way.

With the cold conditions tonight (37 at kickoff, falling to 36) this game isn't likely to be easy. Quite frankly, I think the Bucs are the better team, and I think Gruden has them coming in with a chip on their shoulder about not hosting the MNF and, instead, being on the road for it. That lack of respect could drive the Bucs, but the Panthers' are likely pissed about the blow out in Ray Jay. This game can easily go either way, but I'm going to call it for the Panthers, knowing full well the Bucs could repeat their earlier performance. I hope they do.

Panthers 20 Bucs 17

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Clifton Smith NFC ST Player Of The Month...Duh!!

In what was obviously a no-brainer, Clifton Smith was named the NFC Special Teams Player of the Month for November. His outstanding returns, which include a kick and punt return during the month, are the primary reasons for his award. Clifton Smith has one of the highest punt and kick return averages in the league and continues to pile up the yardage.

In the Lions' game he had 232 return yards, 158 in the Saints game, and 259 in the Chiefs game. The Vikes game only netted him 48 yards, but that added up to a total of 697 return yards. The equivalent of nearly 7 football fields, or nearly 70 first downs. All in just 4 games. When was the last time the Bucs ever had a returner this good? I would say never. Smith continues to be explosive on nearly every return attempt, and those short fields help the offense out a lot. Too bad he wasn't playing earlier this season.

Congrats to an outstanding job, and here's to more returns for TD's, with hopefully one coming up this Monday night against the stinkin' Panthers!

Monday, December 01, 2008

SH_T! Bucs To Play In London Vs. Pats!!

In what I can only describe as a "this is total bullsh_t!!!!!!!!" moment...the Bucs have been tagged by the NFL to have a home game against the Patriots in London. This totally blows chunks. That's one less home game I can go to next year. I don't care that I won't have to pay for the game. I just want to be able to go to the stadium for a game that counts.

The game is scheduled for October 25th, and the Bucs will get a BYE week the week after that game. If only they would give the teams an extra draft pick or something for this crap.

Bucs Beat Saints 23-20!

The Bucs, in the pouring rain, managed to hold on and beat the Saints, allowing them to stay on top of the division, go 6-0 at home, and set up a battle of 9-3's on MNF. How did the units do?

Offense: The offense managed to move the ball at times, while being stuffed for stretches. Dunn had problems consistently getting traction on lateral runs, and had to pound it up the middle quite a bit. The result was an average per carry of 3.4 yards. Williams managed to get 4 carries and pounded out 20 yards, including his first TD in over a year, as he ran to the edge while getting excellent blocks from Trueblood and Clayton. Garcia was hot and cold, but more cold than hot. He made some critical plays running the ball for key yards, but his passing efforts left a whole lot to be desired. He went 9 of 23 for the game, and missed some open receivers, including a pass he threw to Clayton that would have been a TD if it was thrown correctly. He did manage to hit Bryant, however, for a 39 yard TD bomb, where he let the ball go just as he was getting creamed. Bryant had to slow up for the ball, but he was wide open after getting both safeties to squat on his moves. Clayton was also the recipient of a 26 yard pass when he was open on an intermediate crossing route. While some of those plays by Garcia were excellent, there were too many times, especially late in the game, when he couldn't convert a third down, and when he ran right into a sack. If Garcia doesn't settle down and maintain sharper play, we won't go far in the playoffs. Let's hope he gets back on track and stays there. Williams should also start getting more carries to give the Bucs another runner to spell Dunn and to give us more power. Caddy looked very good on his runs, and should have gotten more. The offense put up 23 points and did just enough to win the game.
Overall grade: B-

Defense: The defense had a tough task ahead of it: stopping Drew Brees. They managed to shut down the Saints running game, and pretty much forced the Saints to pass for most of the game (Brees threw 47 passes). The Bucs top tier pass defense was solid for much of the game, but did give up some yards. They also gave up a few big plays, but also stuffed some as well. Not only did the secondary manage a few defensed passes, they also picked the ball off 4 times, though one was taken back on a BS penalty on Barber. I should clarify that, of the three that stood, 2 were by DB's, while the third was caused by Barber tipping a pass to the endzone up into the air for June to pick off. That ended a Saints scoring driving. Buchanon's pick basically sealed the game. The linebackers were active with Brooks knocking a pass away and nearly picking another one, giving him 2 defensed passes to go with 5 tackles. Ruud continued to play well, racking up some big stops. June had a couple of key plays including the pick in the endzone. The defensive line helped to make it difficult for the Saints to run. They had problems getting consistent pressure on Brees, but managed to get it at some opportune times. Adams managed to turn the heat up late in the game getting a half sack, several pressures, and hitting Brees on one pass attempt that forced the pass to go awry. Overall, the defense slowed the Saints down enough to win the game. If not for the BS call on Barber, the Saints might have only scored one TD in the whole game.
Overall grade: B+

Special Teams: The Special Teams were awesome yesterday. Smith continued to make big returns happen, helping the Bucs get some excellent field position. He took the opening second half kick 39 yards to the Bucs 39, but got 15 more yards because his face mask was used to bring him down from behind, as he would have gotten more yards than even that. The extra 15 yards set up the offense in Saints territory and led to a TD. Smith averaged 16.4 yards per punt return which helped convert some long punts by the Saints (Gross of 49.4 yards) into a net of just 33 yards per punt. The Bucs' coverage units did an outstanding job of shutting Bush, and others, down in the return game. Bush was held to -16 yards on 2 punts (-4 and -12), for an average of -8 yards per punt return. That made for the weird statistic where Bidwell's net (39.5) was larger than his gross (36.8). The two kick returners, Roby and Meachem, were held to an average of 16 yards per kick return. Overall, the coverage teams were outstanding all game and really helped limit the Saints starting field position. Bryant hit all 3 field goal attempts, including the game winner. His ability to hit 87.5% of his kicks this year, despite the tragic loss of his son, is amazing. Overall, the Special Teams played a huge part in this win.
Overall grade: A

Coaching: Gruden had a solid game plan that worked well at times, but at other times was hampered by poor decisions on Garcia's part. Some nice plays hit the Saints for some big gains, including a nice end around by Bryant, the big wide open pass play to Bryant, Clayton's play, and Williams TD run, all examples of excellent plays that were called and well executed. Some plays could have been better executed, and I think Gruden should have used Williams more, though I think the field conditions may have led to his reluctance to use him. Monte had a pretty good defensive game plan, forcing the Saints to be patient, which is tough for Brees, and to go the whole field. There were times when I think he should have played a little more man coverage, but the defense got it done and made some key turnovers. Bisaccia had his unit playing almost as good as it can possibly play. Only thing missing was a TD return, which nearly happened twice. Overall, the Bucs were able to win a game in sloppy conditions and slow down the Saints' best units to win the game.
Overall grade: B

This was a much needed win and sets the Bucs up with their best record ever after 12 games, matching the 2002 Super Bowl year at 9-3. The Bucs have 2 road contests coming up against the Panthers and Falcons, them come home for two straight winnable games. If they can win one of these road games, and win their last two home games, they'll be in the playoffs, and likely will win the Division. If they beat the Panthers, then they only need to win their home games to win the South and probably to get the BYE.

Friday, November 28, 2008

The Talking Plank - Week 12

The Talking Plank - Week 12

Saints At Bucs:

The Bucs begin a 3 game NFC South stretch that can define their playoff position, or could end their playoff run before it starts. The Saints just got off a Monday Night game against the Packers, one in which they ran up the score. Now the Bucs need to take revenge for their game 1 loss and take control of their Division.

On Offense, the Bucs come in ranked 12th overall (342.8y/g), 16th in points (23.4/g), 11th passing (227.6y/g), and 13th rushing (115.2y/g). The Saints come in ranked 22nd in total defense (345.9y/g), 24th in points allowed (25.3/g), 24th against the pass (235.1y/g), and 18th against the run (110.8y/g). The Bucs were able to put up some yards and points against the Saints in week 1, despite really poor play from Garcia, which ended up in his benching. Since then, Garcia has started to play like the Garcia from early last season. He's starting to take more chances, and starting to attack down field more. Now the Bucs, having come back, yet again, on the road, come home where they are 5-0. Dunn will continue to be the primary runner, but Williams will likely start to get more carries, and more opportunities in the passing game. With both runners, the Bucs should be able to mix it up enough to make it tough on the Saints' defense to key on the runners, assuming Gruden does leave Williams in on enough pass plays to keep them honest. Alex Smith may be available for the game, but will be a game time decision, but Stevens can abuse the Saints, who can't match up. The Bucs will likely focus on attacking the Saints through the air to open up the running game, and to attack the endzone. Bryant, Clayton, and Hilliard should be able to take advantage of this secondary. If Garcia continues to attack more, and hit the receivers that are open down the field, the Bucs will score points, and score plenty. The Saints only have 20 sacks, and I don't expect him to be under too much pressure. If he keeps his cool and stays upright, he should have a good game, and the running game should augment the passing game enough to score well over 20 points.

On Defense, the Bucs are ranked 4th overall (274.7y/g), 3rd in points allowed (16.4/g), 2nd against the pass (174.6y/g), and 13th against the run (100.1y/g). The Saints' offense is ranked 1st overall (411.9y/g), 3rd in points (28.8/g), 1st passing (319.5y/g), and 27th rushing (92.4y/g). The Bucs played somewhat poorly against the Saints the first time these teams met. Since then the defense has become much better, and been very good against a plethora of highly rated offenses. The Bucs are currently holding opposing QB's to a 71.4 passer rating, and look to have a better game against Brees than the first time. They've recently gotten a much better pass rush, but this has been against weaker offensive lines. The Saints have only allowed 9 sacks all year, with one coming from the Bucs. Brees was able to hit some big plays in this game, and the Bucs must be weary of that happening again. Look for the Bucs to start, as always, with the running game, and then to try and put some pressure on Brees. I expect some creative blitzing, and aggressive play by the offensive line. The Saints aren't nearly as good on the road as they are in the dome, and the Bucs only lost game 1 by 4 points and were driving for the winning score when Garcia threw a pick. So the Saints can be slowed down, and I expect the environment at Ray Jay to be tough enough for the much improved defense to take the Saints down a notch. I can see a couple of picks in this game. Bush is not nearly as fast on the grass as he is on turf, and I believe the Bucs will slow him down dramatically. While I don't expect the defense to stuff the Saints, I do expect them to slow the Saints down. This may be helped out by our offense holding the ball for long periods of times and keeping the Saints' offense off the field.

On Special Teams, the Bucs are averagin 9 yards per punt return (18.1 by Smith) and 25.2 yards per kick (30.3 by Smith). The Bucs are allowing 9.5 yards per punt and 20.9 yards per kick. The Saints are averaging 19.8 yards per punt and 23.3 yards per kick, while allowing 11.7 yards per punt and 23.3 yards per kick return. The Bucs will definitely have to work hard to shut down the Saints' punt return teams, but, at the same time, the Bucs should be able to take advantage of the Saints' coverage units. Smith could be a factor in this game. Whether or not Bush, who is averaging 10 more yards per punt than Lance Moore, will return punts or not is questionable. He expects to play and perform in all facets, but we'll see. Both punters are excellent, so there's no significant advantage for either team. The Saints are on their third place kicker, so it will be interesting to see the impact here. The Bucs are probably the team most likely to benefit from the field position battle, but the Saints can get great position as well, especially if Bush returns punts and the Bucs struggle to stop him. Hopefully, the home field advantage will play out here.

In the end, the Saints have to come here, on the road, on a surface that negates some of their speed, and face a much improved Bucs' team that nearly beat them in game 1. Look for the Bucs to come out hitting and making plays. The Bucs win this game and start to take control of the South.

Bucs 24 Saints 17

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Ronde Named NFC Defensive Player Of The Week

Ronde Barber was named the NFC Defensive Player of the Week due to his two interception performance, with one being returned for a TD, and the other setting up a TD drive.

This was clearly an overdue performance, as Barber was getting picked on repeatedly, and has begun to show signs of slowing down. Whether or not this performance will launch him forward and impact his play in the future games is a big question mark. If it does, however, it will certainly help this team's defensive play down the stretch.

The Bucs could certainly use a more effective Barber to help solidify the pass defense further and make this team a dominate defense for the play offs. We'll get to see real quick if it does with the Saints coming to town. If this team can markedly improve it's defensive effort against the Saints over what it did in the first game, that will be a real good sign. We shall see.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Bucs Beat Lions 38-20

Well, I haven't been able to see the whole game, just a lot of highlights, and a scouring of the game book. As such, I won't do a full review of this game. What is obvious, though, is that this team, more than any team in Bucs' history, at least to my recollection, is capable of coming back from just about any deficit. The Bucs were down 17-0 in the first quarter, primarily off blown coverage and a fumble return for a TD.

The Bucs came back, scoring 21 points in 9 minutes. Garcia actually attacked early during this stretch hitting for a couple of deep TD passes. Dunn ripped off a long TD run. And Smith did it again by returning a punt for a TD. Before you knew it, the Bucs were up 35-17 before both teams finished their scoring with field goals.

The defense had problems stopping the run early, but then shut the running game down. Barber, who got picked on early, intercepted two passes, setting up a quick TD pass on one, and returning the other for a TD. Together, all three phases continued to be effective overall and led the effort.

Now the Bucs gear up to face the Saints who just ran the score up on the Packers last night. The Saints are 1-4 on the road, and the Bucs are certainly looking for a little revenge after the season opening loss. The Bucs follow this game up with games against the Panthers and Falcons. The next three games could make or break the Bucs' playoff aspirations. If the Bucs can pull off wins against all three, they'll be in the driver's seat for a BYE in the playoffs and will have likely won the division (Panthers would need one more loss to guarantee that). Should be interesting down the stretch, and the Bucs may actually have something to play for down the stretch.