2008 Bucs' Schedule: PNG

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Garcia, Gradkowski, Or Luke...Oh My!!

So which will play on Sunday? Our starter, Garcia? Our QB that can't hit the broad side of a barn, Bruce? Or "use the Force," Luke? If I had my druthers, Garcia would go, and there are some indications that he's getting better, as he apparently took a few reps today. But he'll need to still greatly improve to play Sunday. He's improving quickly, but will it be enough? Some don't think he should play, and should rest for a couple of weeks, but the reality is that we need to win this game. Winning this game means that any combination of another Bucs' win, or both a Saints and Panthers loss, means we win the Division.

No, if we lose this game, we really can't wrap the Division up for 3 more games after that. So, in essence, this is it. If Garcia can go, he should go. He can rest and be injured on the first play of the next game he does get into. See if he can go, and if he gets a little banged up, you can always pull him later. But if he can't go. If the back is just too bad, then who should go in his place? In my mind, I would go with Luke. During Preseason he showed a greater command of the offense, and an ability to make all the throws and make plays with his feet. He still needs to improve his game speed so as not to take too many sacks, but he's clearly a guy that provides a real passing threat. That will keep the running game open, or allow us to take advantage of a very weak secondary without proper help. If Bruce plays, the Saints will just stuff 9 men in the box and dare him to beat them. That's what everyone did to him last year, and that's what the Skins did to him after the first half.

Without the credible passing game, the running game will go nowhere and we need it to keep winning. Luke has the talent and the smarts to be a starter in this league. It's why Hackett wanted Gruden and Allen to bring him in. Luke just doesn't have enough experience to be at full game speed. He got there during Preseason, but now he's only been running the scout team since. It may take him a little while to get it going, but if he can play anywhere near as good as he did in August, it will be enough to help this offense put some points on the board and give the defense a chance. Let's go with Luke, if Garcia can't go, and hope he can do just enough to get the win.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Bucs Steal Win From Skins, 19-13

The Bucs defense forced 6 turnovers to help the team beat the Redskins in a game that has cemented the Bucs' lead in the Division, and put them in a good position should they come down to a wild card spot. With Garcia going out after the first series, the Bucs needed every turnover they got to win. Gradkowski continued to look like the guy who played last year, and couldn't take advantage of the 4 first half fumbles, only getting field goals on 3 of those excellent drive starts. Had just one been a TD, this game would likely have never been so close down the stretch.

The Bucs need to re-evaluate the back-up QB spot. McCown may not be acclimated to game speed, but at least he can actually get the ball to Graham on the 5 yard dump off pass. He'll never get up to game speed if he doesn't play for a few series, either.

The Bucs also got some stellar work from the kickers with Bryant nailing 4 field goals, and Bidwell averaging just over 50 yards a punt, keeping the Redskins pinned back. That helped late when the defense started getting tired when it was unable to get the Redskins' offense off the field after several 3rd and longs, and the Bucs' offense failed to get a first down on their first second half possession. The defense then allowed another long drive, but managed to stuff the Skins on 4th and 1 inside the 5. Unfortunately, the offense was unable to get out of the endzone area, but Bidwell nailed a 61 yard punt that flipped the field in favor of the Bucs. By then the defense was getting gassed. A pick by Barber, to make him the franchise's all-time leading pass interceptor at 32 picks, killed a promising Redskins drive. Then Garcia returned, but, instead of running for a 1st down on 3rd and short, he tried to hit Galloway deep and missed. The Bucs punted the ball away with around 3 minutes left and pinned the Redskins deep, but they came right down the field and got to the 17 yard line when Campbell threw to the endzone where Kelly was waiting to pick off the pass and end the game.

In the end the Bucs got the win and that's what counts the most, as they are now 7-4 and can all but lock-up the Division with a win against the Saints. In fact, if the Bucs win this week, they would only need another win, or a loss by the Saints and Panthers to win the Division. In other words, if they win the next two games, they clinch.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

The Talking Plank - Week 11

The Talking Plank -

Redskins At Bucs:

After pasting the Falcons, the Bucs get to come home and host a tougher team in the Washington Redskins. The Redskins hung tight with Division rival Dallas. With the Bucs having a firm grip on the NFC South, they now look to start firming that grip up even more, and add playoff positioning against a possible playoff team. So let's take a look at what we should expect.

On Offense, the Bucs bring the 17th ranked offense (324.4y/g), 20th in points (19.5/g), 15th passing (207.8y/g), and 14th rushing (116.6y/g). They will face Washington's 15th overall rated defense (322.3y/g), 18th in points allowed (22.1/g), 24th against the pass (225.2y/g), and 9th against the run (97.1y/g). The Redskins come in a little banged up, and will be without Sean Taylor, their best Safety, and London Fletcher has bruised ribs, and may not be 100% effective. While the Redskins have only allowed 97 yards rushing per game, it's pretty clear that they are doing so because teams are preferring to pass on them. The Cowboys used T.O. to burn their secondary frequently. If Penn can hold up against Carter, who has 7 of their 23 sacks, then Garcia should have time to find the holes in the Skins' secondary, which is also without Carlos Rogers, who went on IR after the Pats game. Expect to see Galloway, Smith, and others exploit the intermediate to deep middle. The Redskins like to blitz (6 sacks by the LB's and 1.5 from the secondary), so it will be imperative that the OL holds up and gives Jeff the time to burn the blitz. Graham will likely be the workhorse again with Pittman out. Bennett will also likely see some more playing time, and may get used as a receiver with Galloway opposite to really take advantage of the Skins secondary. With Taylor out, the better offenses have been able to move the ball almost at will in the passing game. If the Bucs can run the ball well also, look for this offense to put up some points. Overall, I think the Bucs have enough weapons, and a good enough offensive line, to take advantage of the Redskins and move the ball well for most of the game.

On Defense, the Bucs' 5th overall ranked defense (284.4y/g), number 2 in points allowed (15.1/g), 3rd against the pass (177.6y/g), and 18th against the run (106.8y/g) will be facing a solid, though average, offense. The Redskins come into this game ranked 16th in total yards (326.6/g), 17th in points scored (20/g), 19th passing (201.5y/g), and 8th rushing (125.1y/g). The Skins may be without Todd Wade (RT), and will continue to be without Thomas, with Fabini playing in his place. The Redskins' OL is solid, with Samuels anchoring the LT spot. And they are solid in the running game and will likely try to establish Portis against the Bucs. The problem for the Skins is that the Bucs are continuing to play better against the run every week with the DL taking a lot of heat of the LB's and getting the tackles themselves. The Skins will continue to be with Thrash at wideout, with both Moss and Randle El a little banged up. McCardell will likely see a lot of action against his former team, but he, and both Moss and Randle El will have to deal with the Bucs' hard hitting safeties. Moss and Randle El are both the smaller type of WR that can't generally take a pounding and McCardell is already past his prime, and unlikely to want to take too many really big hits. If they hear the footsteps they may drop some catchable passes. If the Bucs can hold Portis in check and force the Redskins to pass, they will have already won half the battle as the Bucs have the corners that can deal with the Redskins' receivers. If the improved pass rush of the front four can get to Campbell without too much blitzing, they could force him into some interceptions or get some hits on him and force the ball free. Campbell has already fumbled 10 times this season, losing 6 of them. If the Bucs can force two or three turnovers in this game, they could shut the Redskins offense down. The Bucs defense is just starting to really hit its stride, having allowed only two TD's in the last 8 quarters, 4 in the last 12. This is a game where our Left DE should have an advantage on whomever is manning the RT spot for the Skins (whether a banged up Wade or Sampson). We should see a lot of pressures and QB hits. The Bucs, believe it or not, are also number 1 in the league defending Tight Ends. How the heck that happens is anyone's guess, as that's always seemed to be our Achilles heel. In any case, Cooley will need to be accounted for. If they do that, shut Portis down, and force Campbell into some poor decisions, the Bucs' defense could have a big game. In any case, I expect a tough battle in this area.

On Special Teams, the Bucs will continue to try and find someone who can return kicks and punts as well as Mark Jones did. The Bucs come in with an 8.2 yard per punt return average, and a 22.7 yard kick return average. Spurlock is at least getting close to Jones' numbers. The Hilliard, the best punt returner after Jones, is still 4 yards behind Jones at 6.9 vs. 11.9 per return. The Bucs are giving up 8 yards per punt return (not great), but are only giving up 17.8 yards per kick return, which is still in the top of the league (the NFL's new stats tables SUCK! Where are the Special Teams categories?). The Redskins are averaging 9.8 yards per punt, though that is skewed by one long return by Thrash. Randle El is averaging 7.1 yards per return, and that's who the Bucs will have to deal with. The Skins are averaging 26.2 yards per kick return, so this will be an interesting match-up. The Skins are allowing only 4.4 yards per punt return and 20.9 yards on kicks. Both punters are solid. The Bucs have the better field goal kicker, so if this comes down to a long field goal, I like the Bucs odds better than the Skins'. Field position will be big in this game. The Bucs need to keep the Skins in check, and I believe they will.

Overall, I think the combination of the home field advantage, and a surging defense, will be too much for the Skins to overcome, and I see the Bucs' offense getting it going late in the game to pull a tight contest away late.

Bucs 24 Redskins 13

Friday, November 23, 2007

News And Notes

Found out that Gaines Adams tipped pass was ruled a forced fumble, negating Hovan's first career pick, and turning it into a fumble recovery. But that also means that Gaines is now credited with a sack, giving him 3.5 sacks. He's third on the team behind White (4.5) and Haye (4.0).

Also, Pittman has now been ruled out for Sunday's game. To be honest, I don't think it affects us much, other than making Graham more prominent in the rushing game. I wasn't too fond of the amount of plays that went Pittman's way in Atlanta, as he was coming off a long layoff and just wasn't fully in it. So it could be a blessing in disguise, but who knows. Spires is still out, which I am actually grateful for, as this allows our young guys to keep getting a lot more playing time. This defensive line is starting to come together and they are making plays. Something I hadn't seen much from Spires this year.

Finally, June is still expected to start. Until the details come out of what he did, it's probably the right thing to do. If he's found guilty, he will be facing testing and a possible suspension., though I think his lack of a prior record may get him off anything serious.

Talking Plank is coming tomorrow.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

June's DUI Arrest

Not a lot to really say about this, other than the fact that June has typically been a stand-up guy without any priors. He apparently celebrated both the win and his birthday and then got caught. Don't know what his level was, but he doesn't have a history of this, and I think the Bucs are right to stand by a guy that seems to have simply made a dumb mistake.

We'll see how this goes, and whether or not it affects June's ability to play down the stretch. Hopefully it wont, as the Bucs have been getting some good plays out of him lately, and will need that down the stretch.

Game Review - Week 10

The Bucs dominated the Falcons in yet another impressive display of team play against inferior opponents. The Bucs have basically blown out every losing team they've played, and nearly blown out 2 teams that are at, or above .500. The game didn't start out great, but the lever slowly turned towards the Bucs until, before you knew it, they were up 24-0 and the game was clearly out of reach.

On Offense, the Bucs started the game trying to get Pittman going early. Unfortunately, that move backfired somewhat, as Pittman had problems catching passes that would have been for first downs, and even had a fumble (too me the replay clearly showed that he never gained control of the ball, and it should have been incomplete). Those early miscues killed a couple of early drive attempts and made the offense look bogged down by a supposedly good Atlanta defense. Then the Bucs, after a defensive turnover (pick by Ruud), scored on a 44 yard bomb to Galloway to open the scoring. After that they started to get some drives going, but it would take until the second drive of the second half until the offense would just open up, mostly on the back of Earnest Graham, who rushed for over 100 yards again. Once Garcia managed to hit Smith for a 21 yard TD, which came after some nice runs by Graham, forcing the safeties to key on the run first, the game was way out of reach, and the offense finished the second half scoring 17 points to go with the 7 they scored in the first half. The Bucs managed to run for 149 yards behind an impressive offensive line that held up well against a relentless blitzing defense, and was able to get some serious push in the running game. Graham's shake and bake 26 yard run, in which he juked Milloy out of his jockstrap, put the Bucs up 31-0 and sealed it. Garcia was only 10 of 20 for 159 yards, but threw two TD's and no picks and took just the one sack. Overall, a rusty start was followed by a dominate second half as the Bucs cruised to the win late.

On Defense, the Bucs came out and made sure they would get pressure early by running some blitzes at Leftwich. Once the Bucs broke through, with Haye hitting Leftwich just as he threw the ball, causing the pick by Ruud, the defensive line suddenly started playing in Atlanta's backfield for most of the rest of the game. Dunn needed 58 yards to pass 10,000 yards, and he was stuffed all game long getting a paltry 2.1 yards per carry and getting stuffed on a sweep on 4th and a short one. The line was strong against the run, which included a nice tackle of Dunn from behind by Adams. They tackled well, then got after the passer. White had two sacks and two forced fumbles. Adams had a sack, a forced fumble and a tipped/defensed pass where he bullied the Tackle and came around and hit Leftwich's arm, despite being held from behind, just as he threw it, which made the ball flutter in front of him and allowed Hovan to get his first career pick. Hovan also got a sack. On one of White's forced fumbles, that came after Adams forced Leftwich to run forward out of the pocket where White hit him from behind, Barber picked up the loose ball on a full sprint, and took of for the TD return, the Bucs' first defensive score. The linebackers played solid, with June getting 9 tackles and forcing a fumble that Kelly picked up, but stupidly tossed back to June, who was then tripped and had the ball come out after hitting the ground. This play illustrated just how stupid the refs for that game were, as June was tripped by Roddy White, which should have been a 15 yard penalty, and the ball was forced out by the ground, which shouldn't have been a fumble. Then the refs told Gruden that they couldn't review the whole play just one segment, and Gruden made the error of having them review the first player, which was Kelly, who was never down. In any case, despite some subs giving up a last minute 82 yard drive for a TD that eliminated the shutout and gave the Falcons 275 yards, instead of under 200, the Defense was outstanding all game and looked very 2002 like.

On Special Teams, the return units failed to do anything to help the offense get good starting field position. That had to come from the 4 turnovers that the Defense provided. The bad field position made for some poor drives that never really got going. The coverage units were excellent holding the kick returns under 20 yards and the punts under 4. They were outstanding as they have been pretty much all season. The kicking game was solid, with Bryant nailing the same type of field goal he missed against the Cardinals. The punting was solid, with Bidwell nailing a 61 yarder late in the game to pin the Falcons back. Overall, Special Teams was solid where it needed to be, but they clearly miss Mark Jones on the returns.

Coaching was excellent, for the most part, in this game. I think Gruden showed a little too much lovin' for Pittman, making me consistently question Gruden's orientation. Nevertheless, he made some nice calls that got the points when the Bucs needed them the most to put Atlanta out of its misery. Monte's defense was spectacular, and he brought the heat early to help get his unit going, then backed off and let the front four dominate. Bisaccia's group was alright. There needs to be better coaching on the return teams, because the unit sucks without Jones, and that shouldn't be the case. Overall, the Bucs played a solid game, and were reasonably well coached. The result was another Division blow-out, and another on the road.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Bucs Dominate Falcons 31-7

In a nice fresh change from the last few games, the Bucs went out and basically pasted the Falcons, putting 31 points on the board (7 by the defense and 24 by the offense). The Bucs took it to them all day long and basically shut the Falcons offense down until the final Falcons' drive that netted them 82 yards, putting them over the 200 yard mark (275 total yards). Until that drive, the Falcons' offense had been shut down all game long. The Falcons averaged just 2.6 yards per carry getting 49 total rushing yards.

On the flip side, the Bucs offense showed some rust early, especially with Pittman who dropped three passes. The Bucs had chances to really put some drives together early, but had some miscues that limited some of their first half drives. During the second half, however, after a forgettable 3 and out to open the half, the Bucs began to dominate as much on offense as they were dominating on defense. Graham became the workhorse down the stretch, and Alex Smith got a TD pass that sealed the game. The next series was all Graham, though, who finished the drive by busting off a 26 yard TD run that included a jock strap dropping juke on Milloy that allowed him to get the final 10-15 yards for the TD. Graham finished with 102 yards rushing for his second straight 100 yard game.

Overall, it was a good day for the Bucs whose play-off positioning greatly improved on this Sunday with the Saints, Panthers, Lions, and Redskins all losing. The Bucs are, because of tie-breakers, currently 3 games up on the Saints and Panthers, and they play both teams again. The Bucs are now firmly in the drivers seat and need to keep winning going forward.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

The Talking Plank - Week 10

The Talking Plank -

Bucs At Falcons:

The Bucs are coming off of their BYE and travel to Atlanta to face their Division foe. The Bucs managed to beat the Cardinals to head into the BYE with a win. The BYE has also allowed the Bucs to get back to basics while getting some players back healthy, or healthier, than when they went into the BYE, though some players have now been added to the injury report. The Atlanta Falcons are coming off two straight wins, allowing them to get back into the hunt for a Division crown, however remote that may be at 3-6. The Falcons wins, however, aren't very impressive when you put them into perspective. Two weeks ago they barely beat, at home, the hapless 49ers, winning by just 4 points. Last week, the Falcons traveled up to Carolina, facing a mid-40's QB, and an otherwise sinking Panthers team, and won on a late TD pass to Alge Crumpler. The Falcons' other win this year is against the Texans at home. All three wins came against teams currently under .500. So now the Bucs have the opportunity to go up to Atlanta and win another NFC South contest and take firm control of the Division. Or, they could lose and allow everyone else to be within striking distance, or even tied. So who will win this one?

On Offense, the Bucs are coming in ranked 15th in yardage (326.6/g), 21st in points (18.2/g), 16th passing (213.6/g), and 15th rushing (113/g). They will be facing Atlanta's 16th ranked defense in yardage (323.7/g), 14th in points allowed (20.2/g), 11th against the pass (202.4/g), and 23rd against the run (121.2/g). The numbers look pretty good up front, until you dig into the numbers. Take away the last two weeks against crippled offenses (49ers and Panthers) and the Falcons are giving up nearly 350 yard a game on defense. The last two weeks make that much of a difference. Furthermore, 7 of the Falcons' 13 sacks sacks came in two games. Looking at just 6 of their games (losses) and you get 0 sacks in 3 games, and 1 sack in one. The Giants put up 491 yards of offense on the Falcons' defense. The Falcons' secondary is getting a lot of credit, though I don't think they are really deserving. Hall may still be a Pro-Bowl player, but the rest of the secondary leaves something to be desired. Outside of Hall, Jackson has just as many passes defended as the rest of the Falcons primary secondary players combined. Galloway will be guarded by Hall a lot, and will have to work to get open deep. Galloway may have more success on comebacks and intermediate routes. But where Galloway will pull Hall to him, that will leave the rest of the Bucs' receiving corps against lesser talent. If Clayton can play, we could see him stretch the deep middle a lot against this secondary. Will Milloy is back there to defend these plays, he's not quite the player he was a couple of years ago, only have one pass defensed so far. It will be interesting to see if the Bucs try to use Bennett as a receiver in this game and take advantage of the Hall/Galloway match-up. But where the Bucs should be able to do some serious damage is in the running game. The good teams have managed to consistently run on the Falcons, evidenced by the 4.2 yards per carry average allowed. The Falcons aren't very big on the D-Line, especially when Lewis is out (he's probable for the game, but his injury could be a factor). The Bucs should be able to take advantage of the Falcons' jailbreak blitzing schemes, and run right at the heart of that defense. If they do, they should set the Falcons up for going over the top. If the Falcons drop back into Cover 2, Garcia will have all day to pick them apart. I expect the Bucs' running backs, as a conglomeration, to run for over 100 yards and make it a relatively clean shirt day for Garcia. If Pittman goes, you can bet the pass blocking will be better on third downs. Penn will certainly get tested with Abraham, but Penn's held up well against some of the best, and the Bucs will give him help if he needs it. I don't anticipate Garcia getting hit, not sacked, all that often, unless the Falcons manage to constantly beat our offensive line with that sell-out style blitz they often use. Overall, I expect that the continually improving Bucs' offense will do what it's done to every lesser team in the we've played so far - which is move the ball almost at will. Hopefully they can finish their drives off and punch the ball in and end all doubt early, instead of having another game like the Cardinals.

On Defense, the Bucs are ranked 6th in yards allowed (286.2/g), 4th in points allowed (16/g), 3rd against the pass (173/g), and 18th against the run (113.2/g). They will be up against the Falcons' 27th ranked offense in total yards (293.1/g), 31st in points (15/g), 23rd passing (195.4/g), and 20th rushing (97.7/g). Needless to say, the Falcons haven't exactly been running up the score board this year. Nor have they been rushing for 300 yards in games. With Vick gone, the Falcons' offense no longer has that X-factor it once did. Without that, they are now a more plain offense, and one that's being led by either Harrington or Leftwich at QB, and Dunn and Norwood at tailback. What's really hurting the Falcons is the revolving door at LT once Gandy and Foster both bowed out with season ending injuries. They have used a couple of different players at LT since. The current depth chart shows Wienner moving over to LT and Clabo moving from Guard to RT. In any case, none of this can be good for the Falcons, who have already given up 28 sacks in 9 games. The Falcons line just can't get enough running room for the runners to get a consistent rushing attack going either, which isn't helping things. In the past, Vick used to be able to avoid a lot of sacks and make teams pay for undisciplined rushes by running past the pressure and getting big gains. This year neither QB has that ability, which means they are sitting ducks. Although the Falcons are averaging 3.8 yards per carry, it's not enough to take the heat off the passing game. The Bucs won't have Spires, who is out, but will field the same group as they did against the Cardinals, with the possibly addition of Chukwurah. The DL put a lot of pressure on Warner last week, and looked quite strong. They should improve on that performance this week, and get multiple sacks. The Bucs should be able to hold Atlanta mostly in check with the DL, and have the Linebackers come up in run support. With the Linebackers likely being freed up to move around, it will be difficult for the Falcons to maintain a running game. And while the Falcons might be able to pass the ball some, White is likely to get killed if he goes near Jackson or Phillips. Kelly also is finally healthy and will likely mix playing time with Buchannon during nickel defense. This will allow the Bucs to smother the Falcons' receivers and make any passing attempts very difficult. I can see the Bucs getting a pick or two. With Joe Horn out, the Falcons' passing game will likely consist of White and Crumpler. Alge is the one gut that scares me a little in this game due to our systems' inherent issues with covering Tight Ends. Hopefully he'll be too busy trying to keep Harrington or Leftwich alive to be able to go out into routes. If that happens, I think you can expect the Bucs' defense to shut the Falcons down almost all game long. In the end, I think the Bucs' defense will simply be too much for the Falcons' woeful offense.

On Special Teams, the Bucs will need to find someone to return kicks well, and Spurlock might be the guy. Both teams have had strong kick return games with the right guy in there. The Falcons' best kick returner is Norwood. The Bucs have so fare been roughly 3 yards better in punt returns than the Falcons, and that trend needs to continue. Both teams are roughly even in the punting and place kicking arena. Field position could be a big part of this game. If the Bucs don't get and take advantage of good field position, then they could allow the Falcons some room to make plays and get some things going. I expect, however, that the Bucs will be on the ball in this game.

Overall, I see this as another game in which the Bucs face a team that is currently weaker than themselves. So far the Bucs have managed to handle these teams, and I expect the trend will continue.

Bucs 24 Falcons 13

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Bucs Win The BYE!!!

Err...what, you say? How in the hell can the Bucs win a BYE week? Simple. Everyone that stands in the way of the Bucs getting into the playoffs lost today. The Falcons beat the Panthers, dropping the kitties to 4-5. The Rams beat the Saints, ending that 4 game win streak, and putting the Saints at 4-5. The Lions (the other kitties) lost to the Cardinals, slipping to 6-3. The Redskins lost to the Eagles to slide to 5-4. And the Giants lost to the Cowboys to fall back to 6-3.

The biggest wild card threats are the Lions, Giants, Cardinals, and Redskins (and possibly the Eagles). While the Lions will currently hold a tie-breaker on the Bucs, and the Giants don't play us (neither do the Eagles if they become a factor), the Cardinals are two games behind the Bucs due to the tie-breaker edge with our win over them, and we play the Redskins. The only other challengers are within our division. In essence, the Bucs have pretty solid control over their destiny. They firmly control their division fortunes, which is an automatic playoff berth. They have control over the Cardinals (though not the Seahawks, whom I think will win that division anyways). And a win over the Redskins gives them control on that front as well. Essentially, this means that the Bucs' odds of being able to make a wild card berth if they somehow fail to win the division, have greatly improved today.

With the Giants playing the Lions next week, one of them is going to lose and give them a fourth loss. The Redskins are playing at Dallas, and, barring an upset, I just don't see the Redskins winning that game, and that would be 5 losses on them. The Panthers play Green Bay next Sunday as well. That could put the Panthers 3 full games behind us (due to our win over them). Then the following week Philly plays the Pats (loss there for the Eagles). And then Green Bay plays Detroit, we play the Skins, and the Saints and Panthers clash. By then, we will have a very good idea of where the Bucs sit. With a Bucs win against the Falcons and Redskins, the Bucs could be both firmly in control of the NFC South, but they could also be in the thick of a wild card berth as a back-up. In either case, 4 more wins is looking like a good shot at the playoffs, and 5 more should very well do it. Now let's hope the Bucs come out this week and take care of business and beat the Falcons. Losing this game would hurt a lot.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Game Review - Week 9

The Bucs beat the Cardinals 17-10 in game that they thoroughly dominated, but had another long drive go without points due to the combination of a dropped TD pass, followed by a missed chip shot field goal. Some stupid mistakes occurred in this game, but the Bucs managed to pull out the win and get into the BYE week on a winning note. Now they can rest some and recover from a long 9 week rest free streak of games. So how did they do in this game?

On Offense, the Bucs came out mixing their running game with their passing game. Down 3 points after one big play got the Cardinals into Field Goal range, the offense took their opening possession and took it 77 yards down the field starting out with 3 runs, 3 passes, 1 run, 1 pass (turned into a scramble), 1 run, and a 37 yard pass for a TD. Graham's effectiveness coming out running the ball, allowed the Bucs to get Galloway down the field, even though there was some coverage in the area. There was just enough space that Joey could take the pass away and slip a tackle for the TD. From then on it was all Bucs, despite a stint when both teams punted the ball back and forth. The Bucs eventually began to impose their will on the Cardinals, rushing 46 times for 162 yards (3.5 per). That combined with Garcia's ability to find someone to convert 3rd downs (where Hilliard excelled), allowed the Bucs to chew up a team record 43:07 off the clock. That left the Cardinals potent offense with barely more than one quarter's worth of time to do anything. Even though the Bucs gave up 3 sacks, they typically won the battle at the line of scrimmage. The only are they really struggled was running on the perimeter where the Cardinals used speed to close off the edges. Garcia finished the game with a 96.7 rating hitting 18 of 28 passes for 196 yards and a TD (should have been 19 of 28 and 2 TD's!). Graham, however, was the story of the game, as he was called on to pull most of the load and continued to run with his typical style of finding the hole with vision, getting into the hole, and managing to run through tackles and lean forward to constantly gain that extra 2 or 3 yards on virtually every run. Right now, his ability to constantly get positive yards is keeping the offense from getting in trouble when the running lanes aren't great. In this game, the lanes were there up the middle, and they took advantage of that. There were some stupid penalties (though one false start, called after Trueblood's, appeared to involve no movement at all; i.e. the refs are blind idiots). The last few plays of the game were ridiculous, including when they tried to snap the ball in the victory formation, only to have the Cardinal Nose Tackle hit the ball back towards Galloway. Somehow the refs missed it totally and called a false start on the offense. Go figure. In any case, the offense, except for failing to hit for a couple more TD's (Smith was wide open on the last pass play of the drive that ended with a made field goal), was exceptional and did what they needed to do.

On Defense, the Bucs got something of a break with the offense's performance. The defense only had to play for just 42 plays (compared to the offense's 77). Even for those 42 plays, with the exception of one big play on the opening drive of the game, and a couple of plays during the Cardinal's late TD drive, the defense shut the Cardinals down, and forced 7 punts, and took the ball away twice. Warner finished the day hitting 10 passes on 30 attempts and getting picked off twice; a passer rating of 26.0. Quite frankly, the defense, though it failed to register a sack, harassed and hit Warner all day long, and the Bucs nearly picked off several more passes, and finishing with an incredible 11 passes defensed. Combine that with a stout rush defense by the defensive line, helping the LB's limit James, and the other backs, to a combined 23 yards on 12 attempts. It wasn't pretty for the Cardinals, as the Bucs looked dominant on defense. On several occasions, Warner managed to connect with a receiver for good yardage, only to watch the receiver get separated from the ball. This happened at least 3 times, if not 4, that I can remember off-hand. Needless to say, Jackson and Phillips were playing the head hunter role quite well. What's really amazing is that the LB's hardly had to work, as they only combined for 5 combined tackles. The Defensive Line managed to get 14 tackles combined, which meant that the Cardinals weren't even getting past the line on most plays. On the few they did they were stopped by the LB's or the Safeties. To demonstrate how dominate this group was, the Cardinals got 59 yard on their first drive (47 on one play), and then got 3 total yards on their next 4 drives. They only had 73 yards on their first 7 drives. Then they got 32 (punt), then 85 (TD) then 0 on their last 2 drives. In all, 6 drives with 2 or less yards. Needless to say, the defense had Warner's number, and they shut that offense down. Impressive is hardly a good enough word to use for this performance.

On Special Teams, somebody forgot to keep the "Special" in this team during Field Goals. Bryant missed a 58 yard attempt before the end of the half (which is not something to hold against him), but then, after the Bucs longest and most dominate drive of the season, missed a 26 yard chip shot (only a few yards longer than an extra point!). That failure to score gave the Cardinals a shot in the arm, which they used to score a TD and make it close. The punt returns weren't very good, but the kickoffs were pretty solid behind Spurlock (all 2 of them - 1 kick went for a touchback). The absence of Jones is really hurting the punt returns, as Buchannon kept running around and backwards instead of just firing forward for every yard he could get. The coverage teams were excellent for most of the game. Stovall has become the new Cox on special teams, constantly making the tackle to stop the return. On the last punt of the game, Bidwell dropped a punt around the 16 yards line where the Cardinals' Breaston waited to catch the ball without a fair catch. Just a split second after he caught the ball, before he could even get his head down, Stovall nailed him with a tremendous hit. Quite frankly, the returner was lucky to hold onto the ball. Overall, the effort was solid, but not spectacular as a whole, but there where some great plays mixed in.

The coaching was pretty damn good for almost the whole game. Gruden, unfortunately, had a bad play late in the game by calling for a pass on 1st down 2 drives after the Cardinals' TD. That pass was incomplete to Galloway, stopping the clock and allowing the Cardinals to wait another play before burning their 2nd timeout. As the Bucs failed to pick up the 1st down on two straight run plays after, the Cardinals were able to save at least 40 seconds, using their timeouts to stop the clock and force the punt. That's when the defense came back on the field and performed just as well as they had for almost the entire game. Monte's group was great all day, and finished the Cardinals off by picking off Warner on the first play of the last Cardinals' drive, and did so before it was inside of 2 minutes, and right after they had burned their last timeout, so they couldn't challenge the call (I think the catch was good because there was a divot in the field and the refs could look right at the proof to settle their difference). Monte's troops took it to the Cardinals and held them to just 10 points. Special Teams coaching was mixed as Buchannon just couldn't seem to figure out how to run straight ahead and get what you can, and Bryant missed the chip shot. The coverage units were, however, solid, as was the kick return crew. Overall, despite some stupid mistakes likely caused by a team that hadn't had its BYE yet, the team played very well and dominated. Unlike the past two games, the domination was followed by a W in the W/L column, which makes it much better. Now they can get some rest, heal up, and come back out and take care of the Falcons.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

The Talking Plank - Week 9

The Talking Plank -

Cardinals At Bucs:

With the Bucs having lost 2 straight games, and the BYE week coming up, they hope to end the slide with a win and go into the BYE just in time to get healed up and refreshed for the last 7 games. The Cardinals come in hoping to even up their record. Who will take this contest? Let's find out.

On Offense, the Bucs are currently 17th in offensive yardage (323.6/g), 23rd in points (18.4), 15th passing (216.8/g), and 17th rushing (106.9/g). They'll face a Cardinals defense that's 10th in total yards allowed (304/g), 20th in points (22.4/g), 8th against the pass (195.6/g), and 16th against the run (108.4/g). The Cardinals are also a -7 TO team, a stark difference from the teams the Bucs have played recently. The Cardinals' Defensive line is undersized, save Gabe Watson, whose 332lbs. The Bucs are getting used to facing one big DT, so it's not likely to give Arizona any real advantage. Dockett, who has 6 sacks (2.5 came against Pittsburgh in AZ), is smallish for a DT. If our guards can get there hands on him, they should be able to neutralize him. Even Wade should be able to prevent him from getting through if Watson is requiring his attention. I expect that the Bucs will try to establish the run on either side of Watson, and make the faster guys slow down their rush allowing Garcia time to pick apart the pass defense. While the Cardinals are 8th against the pass, keep in mind only one team they have faced, the Seahawks (281 yards passing against the Cardinals), are in the top half of the league in passing offense. And 3 of the teams they have faced are in the bottom 8 in pass offense. So the numbers may not be all that indicative of what Garcia and Co. will be able to do against them. Galloway will likely have to work hard against Hood, but the Bucs will be able to send out 4 and 5 receivers (includes TE's and RB's) against the Cardinals, and that should allow Garcia to progress through his reads and find someone in a favorable match-up. And much like they tried to do against the Jags, the Bucs will likely try to take advantage of Hood if he tries to squat down on Galloway by going over his head. I like the chances of the Bucs getting it going on the ground and forcing one of the safeties to come up tight and give an additional hole in the secondary. It could be a little tough at times, but the way this offense has been going, I expect them to be able to move the ball, especially if Garcia gets time to throw on a consistent basis and the running game gets good results early. The Cardinals' LB's are solid, but Dansby could be out with a knee injury, and that could be a big impact in the running game. I like the Bucs' chances at putting up some numbers, and hopefully points, against this defense.

On Defense, the Bucs' 8th ranked defense (297.6 y/g), 9th in points allowed (16.8/g), 2nd against the pass (173.1/g), and 22nd against the run (124.5/g), will be preparing to go against a good size offensive line, but not as physical in its play as the Titans and Jags lines that they've recently been up against. The Cardinals' offense comes in 11th in total yards (337/g), 12th in points (21/g), 11th passing (233.9/g), and 19th rushing (103.1/g). They have a solid offense led by Kurt Warner, with a couple of potent receivers in Bolden and Fitzgerald, both of which are more the possession type receiver. The Cardinals' line has also only given up 8 sacks, but their LT, Mike Gandy, may not play, but, if he does, could be hampered by a calf injury. If he's slowed down any, that could be enough for someone like Adams, Carter, White, or Chukwurah (if he plays) to take advantage of and hit Warner a few more times than he would like. The Bucs will have to stop James first, which they should be able to do. After that, the Bucs must prevent the Cardinals' receivers from becoming active. If Kelly can play, and be effective, it will help out tremendously, as the Cardinals like to use a lot of 3 and 4 receiver sets. If they go 5 wide, the Bucs need to blitz on the edge and let their LB's break on the receiver. That will make it hard for Warner to really get it going. The only concern I have in this game is with the Bucs getting to Warner enough to rattle him. If they can, then they'll slow this offense down. If not, it could be a shootout. It should be noted that 4 of the teams they have faced are in the bottom half of the league in sacks, and 2 of the other 3 teams go 2 sacks each. So some of the Cardinals' stats must be taken into context. They've played a weaker schedule than the Bucs, so it will be interesting to see how our defense does against this offense. I think the Bucs will come out and be pretty stout and make it difficult for Warner to really get anything going on a consistent basis. He may have a couple of good drives, but I don't think that he'll be effective all game. I also think Adams will get a sack in this game, as he will be playing a lot more than he has been (probably twice as many snaps), and I think he's finally starting to use setup moves better and putting his hands to better use at the LOS. If the Bucs make the Cardinals one dimensional, it could get ugly.

On Special Teams, the Bucs should have a considerable advantage in the FG game where the Cardinals' kicker has missed 5 attempts, including one inside the 40. The Bucs are also getting slightly better punting out of Bidwell than the Cardinals are getting out of Barr. In the punt return category, the Cardinals are giving up a horrendous 16.1 yards per punt return compared to the Bucs 9.3 yards per attempt allowed. The Cardinals are giving up 25.6 yards per kick return compared to the Bucs 17 yard per attempt allowed. On the flip side, the Cardinals are getting 11.2 yards per punt return, and 22.6 yards per kick return, while the Bucs are getting 9.9 per punt, and 23.3 per kick. The Bucs should be able to win the field position game this time around, and that could be a key component this week as well. Overall, I like our Special Teams over the Cardinals'.

In the end, with the Bucs desperate to end their 2 game losing skid and enter the Bye with a win, and with Garcia's comments that he was "pissed" after last week's game, I expect that the Bucs will come out hitting on all cylinders in this game and go into the BYE 5-4.

Bucs 23 Cardinals 17

Friday, November 02, 2007

Mid-Season Grades

Time to serve up the mid-season grades on our 4-4 Bucs.


So far this season, Jeff Garcia has been a potent weapon for this offense. His ability to scramble and keep plays alive, or just break off on a run, makes it tough to defend him. He went 7 games without an interception, and has shown that he can hit the deep ball, giving the Bucs a level of explosiveness not regularly seen here. He continues to be one of the highest rated passers in the league, and he's just starting to really get the offense. Just think about how good he'll be by the end of the season. McCown and Gradkowski have come in for very brief stints, and both have basically sucked, but I won't really hold there performances against the position.

Grade - A

Running Backs:

Carnell Williams started out a little sluggish this season, but had moments where he was getting some good runs. Against the Panthers, he was starting to find a groove and rip off some big runs. Then he tore his patella tendon and he may never be the same. Then Pittman replaced him, only to get injured in the following game against the Colts. At least he'll be back soon. So now the Bucs have Graham and newcomer Bennett. Graham has performed quite well, showing he can both run the ball and catch it. Some of his runs have been displays of valiant effort, even Alstott like at times, always seeming to run guys over for a few more yards. Bennett appears to be a major home run threat that looks to be much more active in the second half. BJ Askew has performed the fullback role nicely, showing he can be a potent receiving weapon. So far this season, the backs have managed to be a factor for most games. Solid effort all around.

Grade - B+


The wide receiver spot has been mixed. Galloway has continued to be a threat, but he also continues to occasionally drop key passes. Hilliard has looked a lot more like the player the Giants drafted, than the quite back-up that has had a hard time justifying extra playing time. Clayton started off slow, but he appeared to be coming back until he got injured. He had been getting a pretty gaudy average per catch. Stovall didn't show enough to get on the field early this season, but then took advantage last week with Clayton out. He caught 5 passes, and appears to be another solid pick-up. Overall, this group has had it's up's and down's. Yet, they have been good enough to be open on a good number of passes, and have caught most, though not all.

Grade - C+

Tight Ends:

Smith has slowly become a target that Garcia looks for this season. His catches have tended to be those critical check down passes. He's managed to do some damage, but then got injured himself when his ankle was rolled up on. Stevens filled in well last week for Smith, and looks to be a potent weapon down the road as he seems to have a knack for getting open deep. Becht hasn't been utilized in the passing game much. Blocking continues to be his forte. This group, overall, has done some good things across the spectrum, and looks to continue to improve with Smith coming back and Stevens starting to get more acclimated to the team.

Grade - B-

Offensive Line:

At Left Tackle, the Bucs started the season with Petitgout, who played quite well in pass pro, and average in the running game. He was greatly responsible for Garcia having a lot of time to throw during the time he was in there. After his was injured Penn stepped in and has done nearly has good a job in pass pro, but seems to be slowly playing at a better level in the running game. Penn seems to have that meanness, and some serious pop at the point of attack. This could be one of the best undrafted FA finds the Bucs have ever had, but time will tell. Sears has manned the LG spot pretty much exclusively and has shown pretty good technique in pass pro. He had a hard time two weeks ago against Rodgers, but he played pretty well last week. His run blocking is solid, and he does have a tendency to really get into guys. Sear will still make mistakes at times, but that's expected from a rookie, and he looks like the real deal, and a long term solution at the LG spot. At Center, the Bucs have an experienced guy, Wade, who gets the line into the right calls on most occasions. Unfortunately, Wade is getting overpowered on a regular basis, and is becoming a liability for Sears and Joseph. When your Center struggles in the middle, the guards have a tendency to try and over compensate to keep the middle closed off, and that has caused some of the problems Sears and Joseph have shown. Speaking of Joseph, who's manned the RG spot all year, his play has been spotty at times. There are plays when he holds up quite well in pass pro, and plays where he just destroys his man on run plays. Then there are times when he becomes a swinging gate in pass pro or doesn't get good push off the line on runs. Daven's play hasn't been as consistent as the Bucs need, though his bad plays are only about 10-15% of all the plays he's in. And, as I mentioned, there are a number of plays where it looks like he tries to overcompensate for Wade getting beat. Trueblood, manning the RT spot, has probably been the most consistent lineman for the Bucs. While he still gives up an occasional head scratcher in pass pro, he's been dominate far more often than not. In run plays, he's consistently putting guys on the ground and has shown the ability to quickly make that block and get to the second level. Trueblood is looking like another definite long term solution at his spot and appears to have passed Joseph in progression. Overall, despite Wade's problems, the offensive line has been pretty solid all year. They've helped the Bucs average 106.9 yards/game on the ground at 4.2 per rush, a far cry over last year's pathetic rushing attack. They've also kept Garcia clean, for the most part, allowing just 12 sacks, and just 1 sack per 19.8 pass attempts. Garcia's scrambling ability has probably saved a few sacks from happening, but the pass protection is clearly much better than the last few years.

Grad - B+

Defensive Line:

Let's start with everybody's consensus bust, Gaines Adams...no...seriously, Adams currently is statistically one of the best ends out of the first round of this draft. He may not be racking up sacks, but he's gotten some pressure, and he's made a lot of tackles for a guy who's only playing roughly 30% of the snaps in games. With Spires injured, we'll likely see a lot more of him. So far he's much better against the run than Rice was, but not as effective against the pass. We'll see if his pass rush improves in the second half. Speaking of Spires, he's been relatively quite, though he does have quite a few tackles, but only one sack (less than Adams who is playing a lot less). Spires just looks like the tank is starting to run on fumes. Carter, despite being shuffled all over the place, is doing a little better with several more tackles and 2 sacks. He's not having quite the pass rushing impact the Bucs would like him to have, but he has racked up quite a few pressures, and has helped the defensive line slow down the running game. Hovan has quite a few tackles, but no sacks, and continues to draw constant double teams. He's doing enough to give the UT spot a lot of one-on-one match-ups. Unfortunately, the UT spot is still not taking full advantage of that. Haye, who is playing a lot at UT, has done a pretty good job getting the rush going, getting 4 sacks and leading the defensive line in tackles. Right now he's on pace for an 8 sack 72 tackle season, which are pretty good numbers for the UT spot. Greg White and Greg Peterson have both come in on spot duty and have managed to each rack up around a dozen tackles and 2 sacks. Thats the equivalent of having another linemen getting over 20 tackles and 4 sacks. Overall, the unit has been pretty strong against the run on most Sundays, but the pass rush hasn't been quite the dominating rush we are used to around here. They still need to pick it up some. It will be interesting to see if Adams, who will get a lot more playing time with Spires injured, will pick up this lines pass rush and start racking up some QB takedowns. I think the possibility is there, and some people may have to call off the "bust" label.

Grade - C+


Derrick Brooks has looked a lot more like his normal self than the guy who looked washed up last year. He's still missing some plays he would have made a couple of years ago, but he's generally looking quick to the ball and solid in tackling. He hasn't really racked up the picks, however, which is disappointing. Derrick used to be good for a few interceptions in a season. Derrick's tackle numbers put him tied for 5th place in the league, showing that he has, to some degree, returned to form. When Quarles was dumped to make way for Ruud, many were a little perturbed, thinking Ruud couldn't get it done based on some limited plays last year. Well, he's leading the lead in tackles, and has forced quite a few fumbles. His numbers are superior to Tatupu, who some were talking about regretting passing over for Ruud back after the Seattle game. Do you really want Tatupu (currently ranked 29th amongst LB's) over Ruud now? I don't. And it will be a shame if Barrett fails to make the Pro-Bowl this year. Cato June has quietly put up solid numbers this season as the Sam LB. He's not making as many splash plays has he typically does from the Will spot, but that's expected since our defense is designed to try to funnel the play toward the Will. He is, however, occasionally making a big key play in the games. As he continues to grow with this unit, I expect his numbers to increase. But, in reality, he's simply being kept in play until Derrick retires. Black was doing pretty good with Special Teams, but has gotten a little banged up. He really hasn't seen any significant time on defense. Nece has had some spot duty at the Mike, but not enough to really judge his play. Overall, though the LB's continue to have some problems with TE's at times, they are doing a pretty good job against the run and pass, and are one of the reasons why teams are having a hard time consistently moving the ball on us.

Grade - B+

Defensive Backs:

Barber has continued to be a strong corner against the pass. He's so good that most teams aren't challenging him. The Titans tried that strategy and nearly gave him 2 picks. Buchannon has played quite well in Kelly's absence, making it difficult for teams to consistently attack the area of the field he covers. Although he gets burned on occasion, his ability to break on the ball has made it a very risky proposition. Kelly has been a little too limited to really gauge where he's at. Davis, however, has been picking up the time missed as the nickel corner. He's played OK, often making a play, but giving up some plays at time. Phillips has been strong at safety and has been a hitter when he's come up to tackle a running back. Phillips has turned into a head hunter and needs to continue to grow. Jackson, who is the rare rookie starter on this defense, has been playing exceptionally well most of the time. He's been able to come up and put some very vicious hits on some players (ask Dallas Clark if he can count to 10 yet). He looks very good back there, and seems to be finding ways to be in the right spot at the right time. Overall, this unit is the main reason why the pass defense is so good. Since the line can't consistently get pressure, the DB's must keep there coverages sound, and they are doing that far more often than not.

Grade - A-

Special Teams:

Matt Bryant is hitting well into the 80's in accuracy percentage, and his getting some pretty good kickoffs. He's an asset now, and seems poised to give the Bucs the key field goal when needed. Bidwell continues to have another strong season. The punt coverage teams have been so-so, while the kick coverage unit has been exceptional for most of the season. The return game was strong with Mark Jones, but he's on IR now, and someone else needs to step up. The return units were exceptional on kickoffs with Jones back there. Everyone else seems to be struggling a little. Overall, the Special Teams units have been pretty solid for most of the year, though they have had a couple of games where they were a bit off, and it showed.

Grade - B


This team is just that, a TEAM. The unity in the locker room appears to be quite excellent, and that starts up top and trickles down. Gruden has managed to call some pretty good games this year, and seems open to input from Garcia when needed. Monte, on the other hand, has had a couple of games when he's played some very conservative defenses, and simply allowed opponents to move the ball almost at will. He needs to remain aggressive, however, since the defense seems to play much better with that aggressive style than they do with the passive. He also needs to do better with the in-game adjustments, something he used to be much better at than now. Bisaccia's Special Teams units have played very well for most of the season. Now if the unit can be tweaked further to make sure that the bouts of ineffectiveness go away, we could finish the season with one of the better units in the league.

Grade - B

And there you have it. Long and a little late, but here nonetheless. Overall I think the Bucs get a B- for the season so far and have the weakest part of their schedule coming up. Can't wait to see where they are at as the season wines down.