2008 Bucs' Schedule: PNG

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Game Review - Week 8

Well, time to really get a little more in-depth on what happened and how the units grade out. The Bucs' disappointing loss ended their 2 game win streak and really put a dent in any hopes of getting back into the playoff race. So how did things go?

Offense: D

Let's be honest, if some balls were caught, and some balls held onto and not fumbled, we might be talking about a Bucs win. But, with those dropped passes and fumbled balls comes the inevitable conclusion that they didn't play well enough on offense to pull it out. Gradkowski looked shaky early, but then he started nailing some deeper passes, only to see them slip through the receivers' fingers. Then he saw a first down intermediate length grab get called back due to a stupid penalty. The biggest problem Bruce had was his penchant for throwing at the check down receivers' feet. But he didn't turn the ball over and that certainly helped the Bucs out some. His passing also got a couple of solid drives going that sputtered with dropped passes. Cadillac was kept up on blocks for most of the game, only getting 8 carries with 16 yards coming on one draw play, but nothing much else as the Giants were stacking 9 in the box to shut the run down. The offensive line held up pretty well against a relentless pass rush, allowing just 2 sacks in 48 pass attempts. The run blocking wasn't there, and that was partly due to the continued presence of Mahan at LG instead of Buenning (what is up with that!?). Overall, though, the play makers didn't make the key plays and that was the biggest difference in this ball game.

Defense: A-

The defense came out and played a very good football game. They held the number 2 offense to 251 total yards, just 108 on the ground with Tiki getting only 68, 22 on one play. They also held their own against the Giants receivers, though Plaxico made some nice plays, including a spectacular one handed, over the shoulder, over Barber's head TD catch. Otherwise, the Bucs' defense looked like their normal selves. They were tackling very well with bodies flying to the ball, making it less likely for an offensive player to break free. The end result was obvious as it took short fields for the Giants to do anything offensively. Simeon Rice got a sack/fumble, though the Giants recovered, and Rice was clearly held on the play but couldn't get the call. Wyms looked good despite his injuries. Hovan was strong. Spires and White both came to play. The linebackers were solid, though it has become more and more clear that Brooks simply isn't the impact player he was. He's just a very good WLB now. Bolden was solid again. Barber had his hands full, but did OK. Phillips was actually decent, but still not where he needs to be. Overall, the unit did quite well and deserved a win that the offense couldn't deliver.

Special Teams: B

The kicking, returns, and coverage units were all very good in this game. The punting, however, was a little wishy washy, and cost the Bucs some points by giving the Giants excellent field position on a couple of drives. The rest of the time, Bidwell was solid. The returns were pretty good, but if Ike had really good speed, he would have gotten some really big punt returns, because there was room to run on some of those returns. He just doesn't have the speed. Bryant continued to kick well, nailing an intermediate length field goal in the swirling winds. He may have finally gotten over the mental hump, and may be a great kicker the rest of the season.

Coaching: D

I'll be straight forward here, I understand why Gruden did what he did. The Giants were stacking the box and basically forcing the Bucs to pass. But once they showed the Giants they could hit the deeper balls (though Galloway dropped them), the Giants got a little looser. This would have allowed the opportunity to throw more runs in, disguised as passing plays. That would have helped this offense keep the drives going. Instead, Gruden dumped the running game like a bad habit, and went pass happy. There were 48 passes and 13 runs (10 designed runs). The ratio, in a game like this, should have been more like 35/26 pass/run. That would have been enough passes to loosen up the Giants defense, and enough runs to keep the ball and chains moving. I expect a much better game plan this week against the Saints. Monte's defense, on the other hand, came out and showed that they can still hang with any offense. The Bucs put together their best overall defensive effort as their was a clear gang tackle, fly to the ball, get 'em down philosophy in play. They hustled to the ball and made the tackles after last week's debacle. I am pretty sure that the defensive coaching staff had a lot to do with that, as I'm sure they practiced the fundamentals to death. Monte also aptly used the blitz package to get after Eli, and the pressure caused a lot of problems for him. I only wished they had blitzed a little more often, as the Giants had problems picking it up. Special Teams were well coached this week as well, which is a shock. Maybe Bisaccia has learned how to effectively coach this unit? In any case, Special Teams has been pretty strong all year, and let's hope this trend continues for some time into the future.

In the end, the Bucs just didn't have enough offense to get the job done. A once promising season is now on the precipice and ready to plunge off the draft pick cliff on a race for number one. They can still turn the season around by winning the next two games, but then they would probably have to beat Washington and Dallas as well, making it 4 straight, and I just don't see them doing that unless Bruce starts consistently making plays. So onward we go.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Bucs Lose 3-17

Well, finally have time to break away and discuss the latest loss. Defensively, the Bucs D looked like...well...the Bucs D. It stifled the number 2 offense for most of the game and limited Tiki Barber to 68 yards, with 22 coming on one run. So the defense was back to it's normal self, gang tackling, making plays, putting some pressure on, despite obvious holds. A very good effort. The Special Teams were very good as well, with the exception of a couple of punts that were a little short.

The offense, however, stunk it up, and a lot of that has to go to play-calling. I can understand Gruden's thinking going into this game (attack the Giants weak secondary), but the situation - weather, rookie QB, on the road - dictated a more conservative approach; run the ball! The Bucs did have some open receivers that dropped the ball, including 2 huge plays in which Galloway dropped big passes, one of which would have likely been a TD. Clayton also dropped one in the endzone, but his feet weren't in position to legally catch it anyways. There were also the checkdown passes that seemed destined to attack foot fungus, but should have been a little higher to get some yards on those plays. In all, the offense blew chunks, and the Bucs lost the game because of it. A strong defensive effort wasted. Ugh.

Now the Bucs are in do or die mode. They must win next week and go 3-1 and 4-0 in the next two quarters of the season (order doesn't matter), if they want to go to the playoffs. With their schedule and the way the offense has been playing, that's not very likely, so it looks like we'll be playing for pride and draft order. I'm not giving up on the season until they are mathematically eliminated, but it doesn't look good at this point.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

The Talking Plank - Week 8

The Talking Plank - Week 8: At New York Giants

Excuse the lateness of these posts, as Blogger was having some issues. Nevertheless, make sure you catch my post on the defense, just below this one. And why? Because it goes into one of the key areas for this week's game against the Giants. The Bucs, coming off a last second 62 yard field goal win, have some redemption to do, mostly on defense, but also on offense. Last week the defense started out well, shutting Philly out for 8 straight drives, but then the defense puked all over itself in route to nearly giving the game away. The offense also failed to get more yards and points during the early going. Now they face the Giants, who have the league's leading rusher, and a defense that's recorded 13 sacks in the last two games.

On Offense, the Bucs won't have to face Arrington, and may get to play without facing Umenyiora, who suffered a hip plexor in the MNF game. If that's the case, then it should be hard for the Giants to repeat the pressure they've gotten the last two weeks. The Giants are average against the run, giving up 106+ on the ground. The Bucs will need to exploit that by running the ball where Arrington would have been, and bringing the defense in tighter to exploit in play-action passing. The Giants are weak in the secondary, and the Bucs can take advantage of that fact if they keep Bruce upright. Both the starting right corner, Sam Madison, and his backup, Walker, have hamstring injuries and may not play. Even if they do, you don't want your corners out there with hamstring injuries. If the Bucs can subdue the Giants pass rush and get some semblance of a running game going, then I look for Bruce to be setup well on play-action passes, and he should do well. The Giants should have a hard time containing our receiving threats, and that could be a big factor in this game. Overall, I think the offense will be able to move the ball and score points, especially if Bruce gets a solid breakout type game going.

On Defense, the Bucs will be faced with their third straight contest against a top notch offense. The Giants are number 2, behind Philly, and Tiki Barber is leading the way. The Bucs must come into this game with two things firmly entrenched in their play: 1) tackle effectively and 2) gang tackle, getting as many guys on the ball as possible. If the Bucs can do these two things, and continue causing turnovers, they should be able to hold the Giants' offense down some, though they are unlikely to stop them completely. After last week's embarrassment that almost ended in a loss, I think Brooks is ready to step it up and come out swinging. If he gets others to think similarly and bring it, the Bucs may have a shot at slowing up the Giants to a respectable amount. I just have a feeling that the defense is tired of these types of games. I think they are ready to get their game back to where it was last year.

On Special Teams, the Bucs and Giants are getting similar results in all phases of the game, so it's tough to tell if one might be able to break the game open or not. I think the Bucs will continue to get solid starting position, but I don't think we'll see any thing overly spectacular. Of course, we do have Bryant, who kicked the 62 yard field goal. Maybe that counts for something?

The Giants are favored by 9 pints, but, I have a feeling that the Bucs are going to sneak up and bite them in the rear. Look for the Bucs to get some offense going and just barely pull this game out.

Bucs 23 Giants 21

The Defense

I thought I would go ahead and chime in a little on this defense and what I thought of what's going on. To some degree I've already done that in some game reviews, but let's look a little more at it.

First let's look at the defensive line. Let's be honest...this DL is not nearly as strong as the one that one the Super Bowl. But it is, minus McFarland, the same one that helped the Bucs be the number one defense last year. Of course, there is still a problem with that; the pass rush. Even last year the pass rush was well off the norm. At one point, a few years ago, this defense had gone several seasons in which they had one or more sacks in every game. That's no longer the case. This defense current has 10 sacks. Far below the expectations of this defense. The pass rush has been absent for a while, and that's hurting the secondary. They also need to play better contain on the QB and RB. With Wyms starting, we're starting to see a little more production from this group, but Rice has still been quiet as well as Spires. Dewayne White has also produced in limited action, and I think it's time to give him the starting LDE spot and make Spires earn his playing time again. One thing is for certain, Sapp continues to outplay McFarland, and not having kept Sapp instead of McFarland has really put the defensive line in a bind. The Bucs need a dominant UT to get this line back up to standards. As I mentioned, this unit needs some top talent to replace the average players and the Bucs will be able to do just that through the draft and Free Agency (where they are well over $20 million under the cap for 2007). Expect a lot of movement on defense this off-season and the DL will probably be priority one, because it all starts up front.

Next comes the linebackers. Quarles continues to be productive, but he doesn't seem to be has stout in is tackling and play in the middle. Ruud, when he's been in there, has looked pretty good, but occasionally has been indecisive, causing him to be out of position. He'll be a very good MLB once he fully gets the defense down, but is a solid player and is young. Nece, when he's been in there, has been average, missing tackles at times, including on several occasions when he read the play and got up into the perfect spot, but then missed the tackle. That's happened way too often, and it's clear the Bucs need to draft a linebacker that is more in the 230lb range or slightly more, and one with good skills and tackling technique. I'm all for rolling Quarles over to the SLB spot and putting Ruud in the middle until a better SLB can be drafted or brought in. Then there's Brooks. He's still the second leading tackler, and still can make plays, but he's not making the big play hardly ever anymore, and he's missed more tackles the last couple of years then I've seen in the rest of his career. It's unfortunate, but Brooks' age, like Quarles, is starting to effect his play some. That was evident in his whiff on Westbrook, whom he had a clear and solid shot on, and even got the arms around him. Yet, he busted out of the tackle and ran for what should have been the winning TD for Philly. Despite this, the linebacking corps, with more practice in tackling, is still more than capable of outperforming most units in the league, which has me hopeful for the rest of the season. That said, it's time to spend a high pick on Brooks' eventual replacement.

Now we get to the secondary. With Brian Kelly out, the only other strong tackler in the secondary is Barber, who is the leading tackler with 4 more tackles than Brooks. Bolden has been starting in Kelly's place and has been pretty solid on some really tough assignments, such as Chad Johnson, but he's still prone to giving up too much yardage underneath the coverage, and has a nasty habit of missing a tackle. That turns 3-5 yard passes into 10+ yards. Cox has been pretty solid at nickel, but you would rather have Bolden there and Kelly playing. But the group that has killed the secondary, and the defense, the most is the safeties. Especially Phillips, who has been a horrible tackler and has frequently been out of position. There is simply no doubt that he needs to be replaced. Phillips has simply failed to live up to the expectations the Bucs had when they decided to part ways with Lynch in favor of Phillips. At the time Phillips seemed to be coming on strong, and Lynch just wasn't playing up to his normal ability (mostly due to his nagging injuries). It now seems like a no-brainer that the Bucs blew it when they made that decision. The other safety spot is manned by Will Allen who's done an average job, but isn't as stout against the run, so is often left back in coverage. His tackling is OK, but not where it needs to be. The Bucs could probably live with Allen's play, especially if he grows and gets better. Phillips needs to be replaced, however. I have a feeling that the Bucs will also concentrate on this position in the off-season.

So what about this season? Well, this is still the same unit, as I mentioned before, that was number 1 last year. If they can get everyone to better tackle, this defense can still be one of the better ones. We've seen flashes of it. We saw them hold the number one offense to nothing on their first 8 drives. We've seen them hold the strong offense of the Bengals down. This unit can be good enough. If they can get the tackling under control, and play like a top 15 defense, then this team might be able to come back and have a shot at the playoffs, but the hole is pretty deep, and we shouldn't get our hope to high. Let's just hope that the embarrassment of last week's defensive collapse is enough to light a fire under their rears. If it did, who knows how far this team can go.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Awards, Injuries, Et Al

As expected, Bryant and Barber won NFC Player of the Week honors for Special Teams and Defense, respectively. Those were, of course, "duh!" type awards, and were well deserved. In the meantime, Brian Kelly was place on IR and is lost for the season. The impact of losing him will be felt, as it already has been, by lesser tackling. Bolden has been doing a pretty good job covering, especially in the last two games, but he still tends to be further off the receiver than I would like, and his tackling isn't nearly as good as Kelly's, though it has gotten better the last two weeks.

Going forward the Bucs will need to get either Zemaitis or Buchanon ready to play in case another corner goes out. I think Zemaitis can play like Kelly but he still has a lot to learn about the defense. Buchanon can play, but his tackling is probably on the same level as Bolden. Of course, what's killing this defense more is the safety play, and I don't think the Bucs have anywhere they can turn to at this point in time. They will be facing another high powered defense this weekend, so let's hope they practice tackling until it becomes natural again. Maybe having 500+ yards put on their butts will kick them into gear. Or, they might be that bad (even though they were number 1 last year). We'll see.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Game Review - Week 7

Well, another week, another boring win. Ho hum. Yeah right...who am I kidding! I'm still giddy over the kick that tore through the hearts of Eagles fans everywhere! Muhahahah!

Offense: C-

The offense was very pedestrian in this game. Gruden's game plan going in was to keep Gradkowski from getting killed by the Eagles' varied blitzes and prevent turnovers. To that end, they were successful. Unfortunately, it nearly cost them the game. The Eagles number 1 offense got 11 cracks at our defense due to the inability of our offense to put some drives together, something that has become common this season, as the Bucs have had problems maintaining drives. The running game was non-existent when Mahan was in there, and was effective with Buenning in the line-up. The pass pro was solid all game, but the Bucs didn't throw a lot. The offense managed a long drive in the 3rd quarter for a field goal, and another in the 4th for yet another field goal, but that was it. If Buenning is close to 100% next week, he should get the nod over Mahan no matter what. We simply run better with Mahan not playing on the line. Bruce made a couple of key plays late to give the Bucs a shot at a field goal, albeit a 62 yard long shot that made it, but his scramble for 9 yards, which followed his pass to Clayton for 11, were clutch plays that helped. Overall, the play was a little too conservative and it showed.

Defense: C-

Can I grade this unit by the half? For the first 8 possessions, the Eagles were shutout. Yes...the number one offense was shut out on 8 straight possessions against this defense that everyone is ripping. For the first 8 possessions, the defense gets an A-. This includes forcing 4 turnovers, and nearly having Bolden get his second pick, only to watch the ball just get by and end up in the endzone. Barber was on fire, and it's funny how, just a couple plays before the first pick, they showed his pick in the NFC Championship game. Then...boom!...there he goes again! The last three Eagles' drives, however, is where the defense gets a big fat F. After going up 17-0 late in the third quarter, the defense began to tackle like little sissy girls. It appeared that they were starting to feel exhausted as the heat was getting to them, much as the Eagles were having a similar problem. The Eagles, however, weren't facing spread formations on every play, which allowed gang tackling. The Bucs defense was getting spread out, and one missed tackle was turning into big yards every time. That includes Brooks missing the tackle on Westbrook, that then went 52 yards for the TD and nearly cost us the game. Phillips has been bad all season, and just doesn't seem to understand how to tackle. Allen and Bolden have both been so-so in the area. If the Bucs don't shore up their tackling, the season is going to get ugly statistically, and that usually doesn't bode well in the Wins column. Eight great defensive stops, followed by 3 ole` efforts.

Special Teams: A

Well, Punt returns, Kick returns, and Kick coverage were all very good efforts. Punt coverage and actually punting were so-so. The field goal kicking was...well...I mean, come on! Sixty two frickin' yards!! Not only that, but Pittman helped set that last desperate attempt up with a nice 37 yard return from one yard in the endzone. Starting at the 36 meant the Bucs only needed to go 19 yards for a miracle kick, but 29 yards for a more realistic shot. In either case, that setup got them close enough to have a shot at moving the ball within range. Then we got to watch Philly fans just stand there stunned while the rest of us acted like little babies crying and jumping up and down for joy. Na...na...na...na...na!!! It's good!! Suck it down, Eagles! :P

Coaching: C-

Let's face it, Gruden was too conservative early and also allowed Mahan to be in the o-line. Two things that should not have happened. The Bucs simply looked like they were in fear of the Philly pass rush, even though the Eagles only got one legit sack on Bruce and had troubles getting pressure on him for most of the game. Having Mahan in the game as much as he was limited the Bucs rushing offense due to the Eagles' constant run blitzing, for which Mahan is physically no match to slow or stop. Monte's defense also failed to blitz often, and when they did, it highly ineffective. The defense did, however, shut the Eagles out on their first 8 possessions, and took the ball away 4 times. The tackling, however, got worse as the game went on, and had fully reverted on the last three Philly drives. That needs to be fixed. Special teams coaching was solid this game. What more can you say when your kicker boots a winning 62 yard field goal?

In the end, despite the defense giving up 500+ yards and the offense only getting 200, the Bucs won and that's all that counts. They're 2-4 and at least still have a shot at getting this season back to .500 and maybe do something with this season. Not holding out hope, but one game at a time has to be the mantra at the new One Buc Palace.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Are You Kidding Me? Bucs Win 23-21!!

That was an unbelievable game. From Ronde schooling McNabb, to the defense's collapse, and the subsequent shot from 62 yards. WOW!! The Bucs looked to be going 1-5 with just 4 seconds left and the field goal team trotting out there. Just win you looking to God for a miracle...boom...there it goes! It was like watching it in slow motion, as the attempt was on my side of the field. I watched the trajectory and started thinking "no, it's not going to make it...is it? Nah!! Holy *BLEEP*!!!" At that point I was mush. Exhausted, thrilled, stunned, on my knee at one point. I just couldn't believe it.

This is a moment that will long live in Bucdome lore. The kick that sent Philly home a bunch of losers. It also keeps the Bucs season on life support. Who knows? Win next week and I think our perspectives will start to change. Just got to take it one game at a time. It's also time for the defense to practice, and practice, and practice it's tackling until they get it right. The Bucs, with a few exceptions, were in the right place to stop plays most of the time, and did so for much of the first half, but then they started blowing tackles left and right in the second half. That allowed the Eagles to comeback from be down 17-0 with only one and a half quarters to go.

In any case, the Bucs won in dramatic fashion, and live to fight another day. Let's see if we can't get a win in New York.

The Talking Plank - Week 7

The Talking Plank - Week 7: Vs. Philadelphia: (Late due to Blooger being non-accessible)

With the Bucs finally getting a win, they now have the opportunity to try to get their first winning streak started. The 4-2 Eagles come to town and look to spoil the party and effectively end the Bucs season by giving the Bucs their 5th loss in 6 games. If the Bucs lose this game, there really is no realistic chance for them to make something of this season. If the Bucs win, however, then they are one win away from being in a very familiar situation: 3-4. So will the Bucs have the guns to get it done this week?

On Offense, the Bucs will be facing a defense that is a little banged up, and not playing to the standard that the Eagles traditionally set. The Eagles defense is ranked 26th overall (14th against the run and 27th against the pass). They also look to be without RDE Darren Howard, leaving the much smaller Juqua Thomas (250lbs.) going against Anthony Davis. Davis might have some problems with Thomas' speed during pass pro, but he'll bury him in the running game. Quite frankly, Philly's front four is small, relying on athleticism, similar to the Bucs. I expect the Bucs will try to run to the edges and take advantage of Thomas, should Howard not play. The area the Bucs must be concerned with is pass pro, as the Eagles come in with 23 sacks. Of course, the offensive line has only given up 9 sacks, so if they hold up against the plethora of blitzes and fronts, Bruce should be able to light up a poor Eagles secondary. If the Bucs run the ball 25+ times and are around the century mark, or better, then the passing game will be there, and Bruce, assuming he's accurate and gets over the nervousness he had at home last week, will hit a lot of receivers and do some damage through the air. I think the Bucs can push the Eagles defense around some, but they need to keep the Eagles from getting a lot of good plays our of their blitz packages, or the Bucs will see it all day.

On Defense, the Bucs will face an average running attack and the leagues best passing attack. However, the Eagles will not have a 100% Donte Stallworth, assuming he even plays. That will put a lot of pressure on Donovan to hit other receivers and Brown, the other starting receiver, has a Quad injury, so that might affect his ability to catch the ball. With Westbrook banged up (knee), Philly may not have a real running game. If Westbrook goes, his injury will make it more difficult for him to cut and slip tackles. With Booger being shipped out, Wyms will start and someone else, Bradley or Jenkins, will help keep him fresh. Wyms should have a strong game, and I think the rest of the defensive line will feed off that. I also expect Rice to have a stellar game against McNabb, as he always does. The Bucs should be able to contain the Philly running game, and force Donovan to throw to his depleted receivers. Though Kelly will likely be out, without Stallworth, or with reduced speed (it's a hamstring injury), the Bucs secondary should be able to cover the Eagles' aerial threats. I look for the Bucs defense to continue what they started in the second half of the Saints game and brought to the table last week. I think this defense has turned the corner and it will be difficult for the Eagles to consistently move the ball and score. So far, they've mostly done the damage with big plays, and the Bucs defense, when running correctly, usually stops most of those. I think the match-ups will favor the Bucs.

On Special Teams, the Eagles will have a slight edge with the better place kicker and better punt return/coverage teams. Kickoffs should be about even. Of course, the one wildcard in this is Buchanon. He could be returning punts and he has the speed and instincts to burn coverage teams. I don't really expect a big advantage for the Eagles, but the game could come down to field position off of punts and the Eagles may, or may not, fare better here.

In the end, despite what a lot of people think, this team is capable of beating the Eagles, just as they should have beaten the Panthers and Saints and be coming into this game 3-2 instead of 1-4. I think the defense will rise to the occasion and I think the offense will be able to establish the run then take advantage of Philly's weak secondary. In the end, I think the Bucs take their second game in another tight game.

Bucs 20 Eagles 17

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Game Review - Week 6

It's a little late, due to my wife's computer requiring a hard drive rebuild, but here's a short (OK, it's not really short) version of a game review on the Bengals game.

Offense: B

The offense moved the ball well, though not spectacularly, racking up 300+ yards of offense again. The Bucs ran for over 120 yards with Caddy coming up a few yards shy of 100 after his last run went for -6 yards. The Bucs got into scoring position 4 times, getting 2 TD's from their two red zone trips (they've been phenomenal on getting it in the end zone once getting it in past the 20), missing a 40+ yard FG, and having a pick near the red zone. Gradkowski played well, especially his ability to turn third down into first down via his legs. But Bruce wasn't as accurate as in the Saints game, and had a problem sailing deep passes. Apparently he had a bit of an "excitement" problem when he saw guys open deep in front of the home fans. Hopefully, he'll get over that. Smith was solid again, catching another TD, and Clayton was looking more and more like his rookie self, scoring the winning TD on a play that the refs initially blew, but overturned on replay to give the Bucs the lead. Galloway was Galloway. The offensive line, though not getting a strong push on all of its run plays, played extremely well, giving up just two sacks on 44 pass attempts. Bruce had time to throw most of the game. Definitely look forward to seeing Joseph and Trueblood continue to get better and become very dominant.

Defense: A-

They gave up a little over 300 yards, but they held the Bengals to just 53 on the ground, and the Bengals got 111 of their 252 net passing yards on just 3 plays. The rest of the time the Bengals struggled to get any drives going, and held the ball just 24 minutes. The Bucs only allowed one TD, and that came off an extremely close 51 yard TD catch by Houseamenwhattheheck. He was very tightly covered by Barber, who made the catch an almost non-catch (still think he was out, but the refs said otherwise), and was a catch that required a perfect pass. So you can't totally blame the defense. The tackling was much better, though Bolden needs to practice up hard this week. The defense also managed to hold the lead, something they failed to do against the Panthers. Stronger secondary play would help reduce that passing yardage and make it even more difficult for teams.

Special Teams: C+

Special Teams were solid, but not spectacular. The Bucs generally got decent, though not great, field position most of the game. Bidwell boomed a couple of punts, though some were too long and went into the endzone. Bryant, however, missed another field goal attempt, though the snap was a little high, as it was Moore's first game back from the rib injury. Overall, they played well enough, but weren't a deciding factor in the outcome.

Coaching: B-

The team was much better prepared and played very well across the board and that reflects on the coaching staff. The offense did just enough and the defense was dominate again. My two biggest beefs are: 1) not enough runs, and 2) not enough blitzes. The Bucs should have run the ball more, especially later in the game, as it would have likely worn the Bengals down more and might have made the game a little less worrisome down the stretch. The Defense got to Palmer when they blitzed, and did so rather easily, but they failed to blitz very often except late in the game when they needed to keep Palmer from having the time to burn the Bucs deep. Other than that, a solidly coached game, and "Win" to boot.

Defense To Be Dismantled? Huh?

Well, here I am driving home, listening to sports radio, and the little dog opens up with how Gruden looks to be tearing apart the defense and is going to do nothing but sign offensive players. Then some people actually called in and agreed with this! Um...last time I checked, the Bucs had nothing on offense and did have the Number 1 defense last year. As such, they've been drafting offensive players a little more than defense, but they still used a second round pick on Ruud, and then picked Zemaitis with a 4th round pick this past off-season. Both of these picks are right in the normal area that the Bucs usually select these positions (corners in rounds 3-5 and LB's in rounds 1-2). Now I imagine what set off Duemig was the combination of his buddy Booger being shipped out with rumors of trading Kelly also floating around.

As I addressed the other day (just before my wife's computer crashed, thereby keeping me from posting further), McFarland was unproductive. How unproductive? From 97 to 99, his best three years with Sapp next to him, Brad Culpepper (an undersized, overachieving NT) had 23.5 sacks. In a little over 7 seasons (6 seasons worth of games), McFarland recorded 20 sacks. While he was a good guy and all, McFarland's production never came anywhere near his physical ability, and wasn't even on par with an average DT. In 6 years of very limited play, Wyms has 11.5 sacks, including 2 this season, versus McFarland's nada. So Booger was shipped off because his play didn't merit a roster spot on this team, much less his salary. The UT position has to disrupt, and he failed to do that. Wyms played a lot against the Bengals, and the result was impressive. I continue to contend that the Bucs pillaged Indy for some huge spoils (2nd round pick); arrrr!!

As far as Kelly is concerned, he'll be demanding a larger salary this off-season, and he has a degenerative foot condition that is making him miss games. The Bucs would love to keep Kelly and pay him solid money, but he's starting to miss too many games, and that toe never seems to heal. So you can understand the nervousness of the Bucs in regards to keep that critical DB spot filled with a solid corner. Despite the rumors, Kelly is still here.

Let's be realistic here. Gruden now has the receivers, tight ends, and running backs that he needs for his offense. He may have just found his QB, and the offensive line is starting to play some damn good ball all around. The offense really doesn't have holes to fill, at least not like the defense. I am 100% sure that Kiffin is going nowhere, and the Bucs will draft DL and Safety with two of there top three picks (all in the first two rounds, now. Thanks Tony!). The Bucs may also use that $27 million to go after one or two top defensive linemen and/or safety help. The Bucs may or may not be looking at the Will LB spot, though I think Winborn may ultimately be Brooks replacement long term. But I won't be surprised if a high pick is spent there also. I will be shocked if the Bucs don't reload the defense this off-season. Brooks and Barber will still be here. As will Quarles. Kelly will be here if he heals up. If not, the Bucs may need to move on. Everyone else is on the table, including Rice. Of the defensive linemen, Rice and Hovan are the one's most likely to return as starters next year. Safety is also a big unknown. Allen looks like he's shaping into a solid safety and will likely continue to start, but I think Phillips is gone, or will be relegated to the back-up role.

Overall, in my opinion, while I agree that Gruden wants to put a lot of points on the board, I don't think he's ready to destroy the defense in favor of it. He, Allen, and Kiffin probably all recognize that some young top talent is needed to refresh this defense and keep it humming for years to come. The old players can't play at the top of their game forever.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

WOW! Booger Gone/Buchanon In!

In what I would deem "highway robbery" the Bucs mugged the heck out of the Colts for a 2nd round draft selection in '07. Needless to say, Dungy just got ripped off for a player he thinks he can bring back to life. Ain't happening to that loafer. And we got a 2nd round pick for him!? I'm still stunned.

Just before that the Bucs signed former 2002 first round pick CB Phillip Buchanon. He got injured after being traded to the Texans, and then had problems producing for them. Doesn't make him a bad player, though. During his 4 seasons (he's in his 5th) he's recorded 11 picks and 4 TD's off those picks. This is despite not playing in 10 games in his rookie season, and missing 6 games in the last two years. All of his picks came with the Raiders in 36 games. That would put him on par with Kelly and Barber during average years (both have had 1 high pick season; 8 and 10, respectively). So we'll see if he can become a player in this system. He has outstanding speed, is a dangerous punt returner (where he'll likely get action early) and can play both man and zone equally well. I have a feeling that he'll either be a bust, or will get coached right, for a change, and turn into one of the best corners in the league.

With the coaching staff we have here, I'm thinking the latter is a 60-70% possibility. The injury that gave him problems late in '05 and early this year was an ankle injury, so we'll have to see if he can recuperate and get it going again. He came for chump change, so he's low risk/high reward.

What a day!

Monday, October 16, 2006

Holy Snit! Bucs Win 14-13!

In a rather defensive game, the Bucs pulled off the upset and beat the Bengals (Who Dey? Ain't that a ripoff of Who Dat?). The Bucs moved the ball well and could have blown the Bengals out with some better reads from Bruce Gradkowski, but, he made the plays when needed, and the Bucs come away with the "W". Needless to say, it's great to no longer be winless.

What does this mean going down the road? Who knows. One game at a time is the mentality this team has to take. Win next week and the Bucs are 2-4. Win again...3-4. That's someplace we've been before. Right now, however, the Bucs need to continue to improve in the tackling department, especially Bolden, and Bruce needs to keep improving in his reads so he doesn't leave so many wide open receivers wondering why the ball did make it to them. Bruce is doing very good for a rookie, but you can tell he's still a rookie.

Feeling good for a change! Ain't it nice? Let's kick some Eagle a__ next week so we don't have to hear from those Eagles fans!

Sunday, October 15, 2006

The Talking Plank - Week 6

The Talking Plank - Week 6: Vs. Cincinnati:

After nearly winning against the Panthers, then nearly beating the Saints, the Bucs appear ready to take the next step and actually post a win. While the Bucs' defense played poorly in the first half of the Saints game, they finally stepped it up a notch and limited the Saints in the second half. With so much heat now being placed on the key area, the defensive line, it's possible that we may finally see this team put enough effort on both sides of the ball to win a game. The Bengals are coming in off a BYE, however, and have had two weeks to prepare for the Bucs. But the Bengals aren't playing as well as last year, and the Bucs might have the right recipe for beating them. Are do they?

On Offense, the Bucs will, once again, go into battle with young Bruce Gradkowski at the helm. In the last two games, the Bucs' offense has put up 45 points and 615 yards. The Bucs also managed to get Cadillac going last week against a so-so run defense. This week they face another bottom of the pack run defense. With Daven Joseph likely to start at RG, the Bucs should now be able to run at any gap on the offensive line, and that should make it much harder for the Bengals to stop Williams. And with the running game likely to get going again, the Bucs' pass offense should follow. With Gradkowski showing his ability to hit passes at every level (though not the deepest of deep balls that Simms could hit), the passing game now has the capability of getting going at all three levels. That means the short passes will be there, somthing Simms was struggling with, mainly due to the blocked passes. With Bruce's ability to run, the Bengals will have a tough time really shutting down the Bucs offense as a whole. Gradkowski seems able to really take advantage of Smith at TE, and that really gives the Bucs the offensive package they need to consistently move the ball. If not for a BS pass interference late in the Saints game, the Bucs might have won, and posted another 7 points and another 30+ yards of offense. I'm expecting good things on this front, especially with so several important Bengals defenders banged up. As a result, expect the Bucs to move the ball quite well and score in the high 20's in this game.

On Defense, the Bucs got gashed early last week as they continued to do the things that caused them to lose in their prior 3 games. That includes missing tackles and assignments, and failing to provide the pressure and containment up front by the defensive line. In the second half of the Saints game, the defense appeared to have turned their play around and started tackling much better, allowing only 100 yards of offense, after giving up 214 in the first half. That leaves us with some hope that the defense will step up and start making a lot more plays. I believe they will, but no enough to keep the Bengals from scoring more than I'd like to see. With Rudi Johnson running the ball, the Bucs will have to gang tackle, and explode into their gaps to try and stop the big back before he gets a full head of steam. The Bucs will also have to deal with the Bengals talented receiver duo, Chad Johnson and that guy who's name is so long it may violate my bandwidth limits. In any case, Palmer, who isn't producing as great as he did last year, has been sacked 15 times in just 4 games. This is an opportunity for the Bucs to get it going up front and put the pressure on Palmer and keep him from comfortably delivering the ball to his receivers. Whether or not the defense will show up to do this is hard to say. I think they will, at least at times. In the end, I think the defense will play it's best game of this short season, but it still isn't likely to be a top 5 defensive performance.

On Special Teams, the Bucs are generally getting decent starting position so far this year. Pittman has been solid, but can't seem to get it going in high gear this year. Punt returns have been solid, and should continue in this game. The punt coverage has been a little weak, but the Bengals punt return teams have been poor as well, so I'll give the notch to the Bucs here. The Bengals have the better field goal kicker right now, so hopefully the Bucs will continue to put the ball in the end zone. Overall, it's hard to see one of these two groups having a real advantage. The Bengals don't have Reggie Bush to return punts and save the day. I think this game likely will come down primarily to the play of the offense and defense.

This is one of those games where you can easily look and say the Bucs will lose. The fact is, you could say that last week, and the Bucs should have won. This week will be similar, but I think the Bucs will come out on top. Why? They'll be able to run, pass, and the defense will look much better, even if not as good as we expected coming into the season. In the end, it will be just enough in something of a shootout.

Bucs 28 Bengals 21

Back And Ready To Post

Well, I'm back from my trip up north, so now I can start posting with regularity again. I've got a lot to say about the current situation with the Bucs, but I don't have a lot of time to get it in before this next game. This week I'll start hitting on some thing. If you're a Pewter Report subscriber, you can get a lot of what I'm feeling out of recent articles from Scott Reynolds and Jim Flynn. Pretty much sums up who I blame, and why, for the defense's problems. Until the Bucs address the Defensive line, and this includes NT and LDE, the defense will continue to struggle against the run and with forcing bad throws for picks. There's just no push from the guys up front.

I will say this, I expect more fiery play out of the DL this week with Gruden basically calling them out. If the Bucs get strong play up front, they can win games with the way the offense is coming around the last two games. I also see Phillips days numbered and Allen being looked at down the road. Right now Allen still seems like he has a shot to take his game to the next level, but Phillips looks to be heading out as the starter. Pearson is expected to get extended play this week, and the competition should help.

In any case, Gradkowski looks to be another one of those gem QB's found in the 6th round. We'll see if he can keep it going, especially once teams start getting a lot of film to look at. His grasp of the offense so far is impressive. I feel for Simms, but if if Bruce keeps showing stuff like last week, and improves at a solid rate, we may not see Simms start another game for the Bucs, and this is coming from someone who really likes his play and thinks he's going to be a damn good one in this league.

Well, time to put up the talking plank and get those standings updated.

Friday, October 06, 2006

The Talking Plank - Week 5

Unfortunately, it appears I won't be able to post much, as you can tell, during the two weeks I'm gone. The first week is, however, coming to an end, so I plan to get back to fully updating starting next weekend. As such, this Talking Plank is going to be short and sweet, and to the point. This week the Bucs travel to the Superdome to face the Saints after having this past week off. The Saints lost to the Panthers last weekend, and showed that they were vulnerable to long runs. So will the Bucs be able to beat the Saints this week?

On Offense, the Bucs will be without Chris Simms and Kenyatta Walker. So Gradkowski and Trueblood will start, and that will force the Bucs to lean heavily on the running game. If Davin Joseph plays as well, the Bucs may finally find the power up front to get the running game started. If that happens, and I think it will, that will take a lot of pressure off the rookie QB and make things much easier. In this game I expect the Bucs to run the ball well, and move the ball effectively. I also expect Bruce to be able to make some key plays and help this team score. If he can stay away from the bad turnovers, or limit it to just one, then the offense should be able to put up some points this week.

On Defense, the Bucs should be coming out with a fire under their rears, and I expect to see a much improved defense. Last time they played better position ball, and were in position all game long, but kept missing tackles. I think the two weeks of returning to fundamentals will get them back on track. Against Brees, McAllister, Bush, Horn, and Co., it will be tough, but the defense should be able to slow the Saints down some, and look better than they have. It's a tough task to come back and try to regain lost pride, but I think they will do it. Look for the Saints to have trouble consistently driving the ball. They have some drives of length and score, but it won't be common.

On Special Teams, it's pretty much a wash, but I wouldn't bet on Bryant for field goals until I see him get consistent again. The return game will be big for both teams, as I think field position will be very important in this game. I don't however, expect any huge plays out of either unit, that will turn the game.

In the end, after two weeks to prepare, despite having the rookie at the helm, I think the Bucs are going to come back out with a purpose and finally start gelling again and upset the heavily favored Saints.

Bucs 24 Saints 17