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?
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.
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.
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.