2008 Bucs' Schedule: PNG

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Bucs Win 30-21! And I'm Late!!

Just friggin' shoot me now. I just keep finding too much stuff I want to keep tabs on, and that's keeping me from saying things like this: Nice Game! Yes, a couple of late turnovers made this a game when it was a blow out, but the Bucs still turned around and put Green Bay in its place. The Bucs pretty much dominated the Packers. The final score wasn't indicative of how badly the Bucs took it to them, so let's talk about it:

Offense: Griese didn't have the best of days. He was having problems locking in on Bryant a bit, and failed to find some wide open guys (Clayton, Dunn, and Graham were frequently open and not always noticed by Brian). He threw three picks again, with one getting into the hands of Dunn, but behind him, allowing Woodson to take the pick back for 6. He also threw one at Clayton's knees, where Clayton tried to get it with a stretched out hand, only to see his knee bump it into the air to get picked. Another pick was piss poor. All three passes were poorly placed. Dunn and Clayton both managed to make some hand contact with the ball, but neither really had a good shot at catching the passes. But, Brian did lead the team from a point down to winning by 9 points. The running game racked up 178 yards on Green Bay, with Earnest sealing the deal on a big 47 yard run that nearly got into the endzone. He finished that drive with a fullback dive from the Rocket backfield (Dunn faked a run to the outside). Dunn ran for 63 yards as well. Bryant caught 4 passes, missing a couple, and Clayton caught 3 passes, dropping one at his thighs, running before he caught it. Hilliard also hauled in 2 passes. Stovall didn't do anything to earn more playing time though. So, right now, Bryant, Clayton, and Hilliard are pulling all the weight at receiver, and the three look decent doing it, but a little more consistency is needed, especially with Bryant's separation, though Woodson was on him a lot. The tight ends weren't as effective in this game, but Smith did manage 2 catches with one a TD pass to tie the game at 7 early on. The offensive line, once again, allowed no sacks, this time on 30 pass attempts, which is only 2 sacks in the last 128 attempts (the ones with Griese at the helm). That's remarkable. Combined with the 4.8ypc by the backs this past game, one can see that we finally have a REAL offensive line here. The offense, though it wasn't as effective as it has been, put up enough points to win on its own (23).
Overall grade: B+

Defense: The Bucs' defense was, except for two pass plays, pretty dominate. They shutdown a pretty good Green Bay offense, allowing only 181 total yards, with just 28 on the ground. The Bucs harrassed Rogers most of the game, and racked up 3 sacks against a decent line. More importantly, the Bucs got 4 turnovers by picking Rogers off 3 times (his first picks of the year) and by forcing a fumble by Grant that Phillips returned for a TD. Brooks caused that fumble and also got a pick. He also nearly had two more picks, which shows how much confusion they caused for Rogers. Ruud picked off a pass, as did Adams, who basically sealed the game. White hit Rogers as he threw, allowing Adams to pick off that pass. Ronde got burned again early, but then they failed to burn him again. The whole defense was making plays all over, including Brooks nailing Grant well behind the line and from behind, and Hovan chasing Grant down the line of scrimmage for an open field tackle. Ruud, Wilkerson, and Carter all got sacks. Overall, it was a team effort, holding the Packers 31% on third downs, and only allowing 14 offensive points, both TD's on blown coverages.
Overall grade: A

Special Teams: With the loss of Matt Bryant's infant son, one couldn't have expected much from Matt. Indeed, his kickoffs were a little short, with one going out of bounds with a little over 2 minutes in the game (Adams' pick ended that drive). But we got to see a gutty performance from a guy that was introduced after the offensive starters. He nailed all 3 field goals and all 3 extra points. And he looked up to the sky after every one of them. His performance justly earned him a game ball from the team, and undoubtably a huge amount of respect. Bidwell punted well (49.5 yards per), but the punt coverage teams allowed 10.5 yards a return. The kick coverage teams did better, only allowing 16.7 yards per kick. Meanwhile, Dexter Jackson grew a pair and started returning like he's capable of, returning one punt for 19 yards, and 3 kicks for 100 yards, 33.3 yards per return, with a 45 yarder that he nearly busted for a TD. If he keeps doing this, we'll regularly be seeing much better field position. Special teams was mostly an asset in this game.
Overall grade: A-

Coaching: Gruden had a solid game plan that worked well. He needs to really hammer Griese on the picks, though, and get that out of Brian's system. The Bucs can't keep winning games like this. Monte's defense was awesome in this game. They still have to work on stopping those big plays, but that was only 2 plays, and the rest of the game saw the Bucs' defense shutting down a potent Packers' offense. Bisaccia's unit was also pretty solid, save the punt coverage teams. The team was well prepared for this game, but still needs to clean up some penalties and turnovers.
Overall grade: B+

Now the Bucs have to go to Denver. Not looking forward to this one, though our offense should be able to make swiss cheese of that defense. Going to be really tough to win this game, but the Bucs have the talent to do it. They just can't go up there and turn the ball over three times and expect to win.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

The Talking Plank - Week 4

The Talking Plank - Week 4

Packers At Bucs:

The Bucs get to host our favorite smelly cheeses from the north: the Packers. Oh the fun of it. With the Bucs having played an OT game to pull out a win when they were 10 points down with 6 minutes to go, we should see a real strong team effort the rest of this season. Games like that can really bring a team together if they were already doing so. The Packers, however, are coming off a Monday night drubbing at the hands of the Cowgirls and come in as the walking wounded. The Packers have a number of key injuries that can impact this game, but the Bucs must take advantage of them.

On Offense, the Bucs come in ranked 7th overall (372.3y/g), 14th in points (23.7/g), 6th passing (253.3y/g), and 14th rushing (119y/g). The Packers' defense comes in ranked 27th overall (373y/g), 22nd in points allowed (23.7/g), 22nd against the pass (222y/g), and 26th against the run (151y/g). The Packers have a solid defensive line and 2 real good linebackers (Hawk and Barnett), and will try to slow the Bucs running game down. The big problem they will have is that they haven't been very successful at that, despite having 650lbs of Grade A beef in the middle of their defensive line. The Bucs have been a strong rushing unit so far, though the Bears made it extremely difficult by consistently placing 8 and 9 men in the box and bringing constant run blitzes. They forced the Bucs to beat them through the air, and the Bucs did. The Packers can't really afford to use this strategy do to their banged up secondary. Their starting strong safety looks to be unable to go (Bigby). Al Harris, one of their starting corners, is out of the game Simms style. The back up strong safety is nicked up (Rouse - knee). And Woodson has been playing on a very painful broken toe. If the Packers play the run, the Bucs should be able to make mince meat of the secondary. If they protect the secondary by dropping more guys back, then the Bucs will run all over them. I think the Packers will probably play a balanaced defense, and use blitzes on obvious pass situations. The Bucs will probably use the TE's a lot to help chip Kamper on the LDE spot and help Trueblood, who will have his hands full. I think Penn can handle Cullen Jenkins, but we'll see. If Graham and Dunn can get into the second level, there's going to be all kinds of room to make some big plays. I look for the Bucs' offense to come out trying to force the Packers to play it safe in the passing game, and then run on them. The Bucs should be able to move the ball quite well. If they can avoid turnovers, or at least greatly minimize them, this offense should put up a bunch of yards and points.

On Defense, the Bucs come in ranked an unusual 26th overall (359y/g), only 9th in points allowed (19/g), 27th against the pass (237.7y/g), and 20th against the run (121.3y/g). The Packers' offense comes in ranked 8th overall (366y/g), 5th in points (29.3/g), 7th passing (250.7y/g), and 15th rushing (115.3y/g). The Packers have a couple of dangerous receivers in Driver and Jennings, and the Bucs can't afford to give up the big plays like last week. The Bucs should be able to stop the run in this game, but stopping the pass will be the big key. I look for Ronde to rebound big time and have a pick or two. I also look for the Safeties to stay back more to provide deep ball coverage, and that could lead to a pick or some big hits. Green Bays' backs are up and down, and the Bucs should be able to contain them with their front 7 allowing the Safeties to support the corners. With the Packers giving up 6 sacks in 3 games, the Bucs should also be able to get after Rogers a little bit. If they can get to him and shake him up some, then cover the receivers with deep help, then the defense could have a pretty strong day. In the end, I think they will allow some points, but they will make some plays and get the Packers off the field in key moments.

On Special Teams, the Bucs punt return and kick return teams haven't been stellar. The Bucs are getting just 3.7 yards per punt return and 21.3 yards per kick return. They are allowing 9.8 on punts, but just 19.9 on kicks. The Packers are gettin 13.4 per punt return, and 20.6 per kick, while allowing just 5.4 on punts, and 20.6 on kicks. The punt return numbers for the Packers are misleading, though, as Blackmon had a 76 yard return for a TD. The other 6 returns only averad 2.9 per. If the Bucs can keep the big returns from happening this week, then they should be a OK in the field position department. The kickers and punters are about even, but Bryant's mental state could be a factor on his kicking game. Could be positive. Could be negative. He does appear to be playing, however, as PFT has noted. In any case, the Bucs should be getting a much better effort out of special teams after last week's letdown. That should make them sharp for this game.

This is a game, right now, that the Bucs should win, and I think they will. I think the Packers are just too beat up coming in off that tough home loss on MNF, and that's not a good thing going into a road game. The Bucs will exploit GB's holes and the offense will rack up some points and make it easier on the defense.

Bucs 28 Packers 17

Monday, September 22, 2008

Bucs Beat Bears in OT 27-24

What an exciting game that was! The Bucs pulled out their first game, under Gruden, when they were down by more than 10 points. Getting that monkey off their back may be a big emotional spring board for this team. To be able to come back from 10 points down in just 6 minutes, and get into overtime, then win it, is one heck of a way to get this team pumped for future games.

So how did the team do? Here's my take:

Offense: The Bucs were not able to run at all in this game. That was mostly because the Bears, who probably have the best defense we will face all season, were determined to shut the run down, constantly putting 9 men in the box and bringing a lot of run blitzes. They forced the Bucs to beat them through the air, and they did. Griese had his ups and downs in this game, throwing three picks, but also throwing 67 times, for 407 yards and 2 TD's. If not for the picks, the Bucs might have won the game going away. What was remarkable is that this vaunted Bears defense, which had already recorded 5 sacks coming into this game, did not record a sack. That goes to stellar pass pro by the offensive line, and the RB's an TE's chipping in. The offensive line showed some nastiness in this game, retaliating against some nasty play by the Bears. The over time third down play that Fox showed Trueblood swinging at a Bear on the ground apparently was the result of the Bear player grabbing or hitting Trueblood where it counts. This line takes no schnitt from anyone. The TE's showed why the Bucs have the best TE group in the league, with Stevens pulling in the tying TD pass on a big mismatch. The wideouts were also big with Bryant coming up with 10 catches for 138 yards, including the 38 yarder that put the Bucs in position to kick the winning field goal in over time. Hilliard came up big with 6 catches for 57 yards and a TD. And Clayton came up huge on some big third downs, hauling in 5 passes for 54 yards, dropping nothing catchable. The big comeback and win, despite all the turnovers, and doing it on the road against that defense, is something to behold. I don't think people quite know just how strong a performance the offense had down the stretch of that game. It should also serve to force teams to play the pass more regularly and open the running game back up.
Overall grade: B+

Defense: The defense started the game out quite well holding the Bears to just 6 points on three early drives that all started in Bucs' territory due. Ruud killed one drive with an amazing pass defense that he turned into a pick while in the endzone. The defensive line got constant pressure on Orton during the first half and made him look really bad. Then, on one pressure, Adams read a screen play and got in front of Clark to pick the ball off, then he raced down field for the score, though it had to be challenged when initially ruled out of bounds at the one. White and Wilkerson provided a lot of heat, as did Carter, and the Bucs ended up sacking Oroton 3 times, once by Barber on a corner blitz. The defense also stuffed the run for most of the game, with a fake punt accounting for 38 of the 158 yards allowed (the runners only got 3.3 yards per carry during this game). But what hurt the defense down the stretch, and allowed the Bears to come back, was the amount of time the defense was on the field going into the second half, where Griese had 2 of his picks. The defense started giving up a few big plays, and allowed the Bears to get out by 10 points before the Bucs' offense turned the game around. The Bucs defense did step up with less than 3 minutes left to stuff the Bears and get the ball back to the offense for the game tying TD drive. They also minimized the damage the Bears did in their lone overtime drive. In the end they gave up some points and a lot of yards, but they played well until they got a little tired.
Overall grade: C+

Special Teams: Ok, Bryant made his kicks, and Bidwell punted well. Bryant also had some good kickoffs. That's the good stuff. The bad stuff? The Bears tore up our coverage units with Hester in there. Then Dexter Jackson continued is woeful ways looking like some scared little kitty cat. He fell down repeatedly in front of would be tacklers. The Bucs replaced him with Clayton, who consistently attacked the coverage teams and made some yardage, as much as was available. What really made this a game was field position that was constantly won by the Bears. The Bucs were constantly in the hole, and the Bears made a living out of starting near midfield. This wasn't a very good day for special teams.
Overall grade: D+

Coaching: Gruden had Griese take what the defense gave him, and that was the passing game. He had the offense go into the hurry up offense late in the game, and that sparked a comeback as the Bears seemed not to be as well conditioned as the Bucs down the stretch. One could argue for more runs, but the reality is that you just don't run into constant 9 man boxes. Monte Kiffin called a pretty good game early and his defense got some serious heat on the QB. The defense was off to a great start, but it started fading late, and the Bucs ran too many defensive plays without deep safety help on the side of Lloyd who was able to get behind Barber a couple of times. Monte needed to make an adjustment, but it was slow coming. Special Teams looked horrible, and you have to wonder why Bisaccia couldn't have his crew better prepared for what the Bears had. This are needs to be improved next week. Overall the offense and defense had a solid plan of attack, but some key issues kept giving the Bears a chance to take hold of this game, and they briefly did. But, in the end, the Bucs won.
Overall grade: B-

Now that the Bucs are back to being tied at the top of the division, they will host the Green Bay Packers, who will likely be without CB Al Harris, who appears to have ruptured his spleen and will likely be gone for the season. Woodson also appears to still have some issues with his toe. So the Bucs will have an opportunity to exploit the passing lanes. Should be fun. Just make sure we pack the house this week as last week's attendance was piss poor.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

The Talking Plank - Week 3

The Talking Plank - Week 3

Bucs At Bears:

The Bucs got rid of the goose egg last week by beating up on the hapless Falcons. The game was tighter than it should of been because Griese missed some wide open bombs that would have probably scored additional points. The Bears, meanwhile, lost to a Steve Smith-less Panthers ball club. I picked the Bucs to lose this game because of their history at Chicago. After 2 weeeks of football, I'm not so sure that the Bears are all that good, especially considering how beat up Indy was in week one, and how "off" Manning was. So let's look at how this match-up looks right now.

On Offense, the Bucs are ranked 11th in total offense (331.5y/g), 15th in points (22/g), 16th passing (176.5y/g), and 7th rushing (155y/g). The Bears' defense is ranked 6th overall (254.5y/g), 10th in points allowed (16.5/g), 11th against the pass (171y/g), and 8th against the run (83.5y/g). The Bears shutdown the Colts' running game, but weren't as effective against the Panthers. The Bucs have the strongest running game the Bears have yet faced, and the Bucs will certainly be ready to use it against an undersized DL and against a solid corps of LB's. Don't be surprised if the Bucs try to run more to the right against the Sam LB, Hillenmeyer, and stay away from Briggs and Urlacher. The Bucs have had some success in the past attacking Urlacher, though, so I won't be surprised if they try that on ocassion. The Bucs OL should be able to man up against the Bears pass pro, and limit the pressure, but the Bears will get some pressure with Brown and Ogunleye on the edges. The real key will be the Bucs' TE's and WR's. The Bucs should be able to outclass the LB's with our TE's, and beat the secondary with our WR's even with Galloway out. Tillman is solid, but Vasher and the nickel and dime corners aren't so hot. The Bears are also without starting Strong Safety McGowan who apparently didn't start last week and is out this week, and the Bears' Free Safties aren't really all that good. This will aid the running game and the passing game. If Griese can hit the wide open receivers that he missed last week and take advantage of the mismatches, the Bucs should have moderate success in the air and should be able to run the ball pretty well. I look for the Bucs' offense to put some more points on this Bears' defense than what I thought a couple of weeks back, due to performance and injuries. This despite the fact that Galloway is out, as the receivers were still getting open even without him on the field late last week. Graham and Dunn should be a tough combo for the Bears to handle, but the Bucs must lean on Graham first and only use Dunn as a change-up.

On Defense, the Bucs come in ranked 23rd in total yards allowed (336.0y/g), 10th in points (16.5/g), 23rd against the pass (233y/g), and 16th against the run (103y/g). The Bears' offense comes in ranked 24th overall (287.5y/g), 12th in points (23/g), 27th passing (138.5y/g), and 9th rushing (149y/g). This is where it gets interesting as the Bears' offense looks like the Falcons' offense; i.e. run-run-run, and run. And why not? They have Orton throwing the ball around. The Bucs defense will be facing a smaller offensive line, one that is not as good as the two they have already faced, and will be intent on shutting the run down and forcing the Bears to pass. They should be able to achieve this, as the Bears' running backs are alright, but not stellar. The Bears have Booker, Davis, and Lloyd to throw to. The Bucs' secondary should be able to handle this group assuming Talib can go. If they have to rely on Hamilton, that could be a soft spot on three wides, but they could also rotate Jackson down to corner and leave Phillips and Sabby at Safety. Brooks should be in better shape to go for this game as well, which will help. This is where the Bucs should be able to win this game, our defense vs. their offense. If the Bucs shut them down, as they should, then the Bears are going to have to rely on their defense to score. The Bears have just one pick and one fumble. If the Bucs don't turn the ball over, I have a hard time seeing the Bears score more than 10 points in this game as their offense just doesn't look that imposing. The defense should be able to keep them from scoring much, and that will be the difference in this game.

On Special Teams, the Bucs come in averaging 5 yards per punt return, and 20.7 per kick return, while allowing 10.6 per punt and 16.8 per kick. The punt return yardage is misleading as the Bucs have only allowed yardage on one punt return, which went for 37 yards. The Bears are averaging 9.2 on punt returns and 21.2 on kick returns, while allowing 10.5 on punts and 19.6 on kicks. With Hester not likely to play, those return numbers should drop for the Bears. It looks like these units will be matched up pretty evenly, except for the Bucs' punt returns, where Jackson needs to get going, but needs some better blocking up front to help facilitate that. The kickers appear to be on par, but the Bucs have the better punter. I don't think we are going to see too many highlights out of either team in this department, but, unless Hester plays, the Bucs have the better potential due to what Jackson can do when he gets some space. Getting that space is the big problem.

In the end, having seen how the Bears have actually played so far this year, I'm starting to question whether they really are all that good down the stretch. I'm starting to think not, and I'm going to go out on a limb and predict that the Bucs will win this game by getting just enough offense to go with a very good defensive effort to shut the Bears down.

Bucs 17 Bears 10

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Bucs Make Moves - Clayton To Start

The Bucs, who are getting Jeramy Stevens back from suspension, made a move to release TE Ben Troupe. They clearly expect Stevens to provide more play making ability, though Smith and Gillmore seem to be doing a good job.

The real news, however, is that Galloway appears to be out, and Clayton will start with Bryant moving to Galloway's spot. The two receivers are both excellent run blockers and should be able to get open and make some plays if Griese doesn't overthrow guys again. Clayton was the best receiver in the off-season and Training Camp, with Bryant looking a little better in Pre-season, but not much. This could be the future, or it might not. We will certainly see. The one thing this does give the Bucs, however, is the ability to keep the same receivers on the field whether it's a pass or run. With Clayton and Bryant both likely to be out there on every run play, the perimeter runs may open up even more, and we've already seen Graham bust a couple of long ones on the edge.

The big question will be if Clayton can stay away from his perceived issue with dropped passes (in reality he's been about average in this area with the majority of NFL receivers, but those big play drops really shine the spotlight on him). It might be a good thing if he can catch an easy, wide open, big play pass early on, as it would get that off his mind and he can do with the easy passes what he usually does with the tough to catch passes...catch 'em. I'm hopeful that Clayton and Bryant will run with this opportunity and perhaps provide us with a highly potent one-two big receiver punch.

Here's to hoping!

Monday, September 15, 2008

Bucs Beat Falcons 24-9

After opening the season with a loss against the Saints (that sounds familiar somehow), the Bucs took it to the Falcons early, jumping on them 14-0. The Bucs appeared to be on cruise control to a blowout when the offense started stalling. Then the Falcons managed to get a little help from the refs and got back in the game with a couple of field goals to make it 17-9. Then Graham put the dagger in to seal it at 24-9.

So let's look at how the core units performed in this game:

Offense: Last week Garcia looked panicked and often times threw behind receivers, or ran into sacks or pressures. This week, with Griese at the helm, we saw a much more calm QB who faced down blitzes, burning a couple with some nice passes while a defender was in his face. Where Griese faltered was on some of the wide open intermediate and deep passes that he mostly overthrew (under threw one for Smith) which could have been TD's or at least very big plays. Had Griese been a little more accurate on those passes, the Bucs would have rolled early, and the running game would have been more effective that it was early on as the Falcons were regularly stacking the box. Dunn looked like his old self, dancing around and occasionally busting a nice run, including a weavin 3rd and 17 yard run for a TD. Graham was having a pedestrian day (due to the 8 and 9 man fronts) until he broke a LG gap run to the right and outside the tackle, running down the sideline while busting through a tackle attempt and getting some nice blocks to take it 68 yards to the house. That was his longest career run, and lays some rest to the "he can't hit the home run" comments. Gilmore and Smith both had excellent games, with Gilmore getting the first TD, and Smith getting open regulary and having some nice catches. The receivers were open a lot, but Griese missed them on some nice down field possibilities. Hilliard was the goto guy. Bryant dropped one. Clayton caught one. And Galloway caught 2, but was wide open for a possible TD and was overthrown. The offensive line was solid, only allowing pressure a few times, though one sack had a fumble that killed a drive in scoring position. Zuttah was called for a couple of infractions, and didn't have great push at the point. They did enough to get the job done when it counted, and gave Griese the time he needed to make the throws. Overall, the effort was solid, if not overtly spectacular.
Overall grade: B+

Defense: Unlike last week, when the defense broke down 5 times for some big plays, the Bucs pretty much stifled the Falcons' offense all game long. The Falcons came out throwing, and the Bucs got a pick by Aqib Talib on the third throw, which was deflected somewhat. The Bucs offense scored right after and the defense kept it up. The pressure was solid, and got in Ryan's face for most of the game, forcing him to start out with 9 incompletions. The Bucs also made sure that their wouldn't be a second straight week of Turner highlight runs, as they put the clamp on him all day long, allowing him just 42 yards on 14 carries. The Bucs held the Falcons to just 234 total yards, with much of that coming late on one drive. But, what was even more impressive, was that the Bucs held the Falcons 0-3 in the red zone, and 0-2 in goal to go situations, harking back to the Bucs' defense around the Super Bowl time frame (99-02). They kept the dirty chickens out of the endzone, and that kep the game in the Bucs' control. The Bucs also recorded 4 sacks with Gaines getting a solo and two half sacks. Greg White picked up a sack and a half as well. Piscatelli had a good game with a bad play. While he picked off one pass, made some nice tackles, and caused a fumble late in the game on a return (though recovered by Atlanta), he also got a fumble recovery and lateralled the ball away. It was a stupid play as it was an illegal forward pass, and it was lost back to the Falcons, who would go on to score a FG. Hopefully, he learned from that. Brooks also played off and on and recored a couple of big tackles. It was a very good effort overall.
Overall grade: A-

Special Teams: This unit was alright, covering kicks and punts well, until it allowed one big punt return, 37 yards, to setup a field goal for the Falcons. They held the Falcons to 21 yards per kick return. But they also only got 20.3 yards per kick return, and failed to get any yards on punts. So the return game was...eh. Bryant nailed his field goal attempt and all three extra points, and had some good depth on his kick offs, with one going through the endzone. Bidwell averaged 46.6 yards per punt with a 38 net. In summary, Special Teams wasn't really a major factor either way, but didn't do anything to lose the game.
Overall grade: C

Coaching: Gruden had some excellent plays designed up for the offense to exploit the Falcons, and they nearly did on a few plays, but the execution wasn't great. Some really poor penalties, especially by the line, that killed scoring opportunities, even taking a TD back. The game plan was solid, but the execution wasn't always there, and some of this reflects on the coach. Monte had his defense ready to shutdown Turner, and put the heat on Ryan. His defense did an excellent job, and kept Ryan rattled for most of the game, while stopping that running attack. They also force a couple of turnovers, though coughing a fumble back up through a dumb play by Sabby. Special Teams played well on converges and in the kicking departments, but the return game left a lot to be desired. Jackson really didn't have any where to go except on one kick return where he got some nice blocks and went 33 yards, nearly busting free. Better schemes, or blocking, or something, is desparately needed for the return teams. Overall, though, the team had a good plan, and executed most of it well.
Overall grade: B-

Now it's off to Chicago where Griese and Gilmore have a chance to really use what they know against the Bears' defense. Should be fun.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

The Talking Plank - Week 2

The Talking Plank - Week 2

Falcons At Bucs:

With the loss at New Orleans, the Bucs come back home needing a win to get back on track. The Bucs have already changed QB's, and look to be able to take advantage of the plays that were there against the Saints that Garcia missed (such as Galloway being wide open in the endzone on the 4th down play that Garcia threw the pick on). The Falcons come in here after running all over the Lions (something that keeps happening to them). So are the Falcons for real? Or did they simply exploit a big weakness of the Lions?

On Offense, the Bucs come in ranked 15th in points (20/g), 10th in yards (352/g), 12th passing (206/g), and 9th rushing (146/g). The Falcons' defense comes in ranked 20th in points allowed (21/g), 16th in total yards (308/g), 28th in passing (246/g), and 5th against the run (62/g). Since we only have one week's worth of numbers, it's hard to fully gauge team strenghts and weaknesses, but it was clear, by the comeback allowed, that the Falcons' defense is suspect against the pass. This makes sense when you realize that their secondary sucks. Their defensive line isn't all that great, save Abraham. So if he's not getting a lot of pressure, there isn't a lot of help to get the QB down. The one strength of the Falcons is their LB's with Brooking and Boley, though Lofton is a rook at the Mike spot. The Falcons are fast enough at the LB spot to make it somewhat hard to run, especially at the edges, but they aren't impossible, by any means. The Bucs will undoubtably try to impose their will up front and get Graham and Dunn going. Once that is accomplished, Griese should be able to use our wideouts and tight ends to expose that weak secondary. If the Bucs do get that run game going, they'll probably be able to sustain drives with some big plays through the air, something that was available last week, but for which Garcia struggled to take advantage of. Make no mistake, Atlanta will be focused on stopping the run. But, in the end, I don't think they have the horses to stop this offense unless Griese has some pick 6 moments, which I think he'll avoid. Look for this offense to put some points up and chew up a lot of clock.

On Defense, the Bucs come in uncharacteristically ranked low, 24th in points allowed (24/g), 28th in total yards (438/g), 31st against the pass (337/g), and 11th against the run (101/g). The Falcons' offense comes in ranked 5th in points (34/g), 3rd in total yards (474/g), 24th passing (156/g), and 1st rushing (318/g). The whole Lions' game boils down to Atlanta's running game. Turner was able to run ragged over a weak Lions' run defense and make them look stupid. He averaged 10 yards per carry on 22 carries (do the math - 220 yards). If you think the Bucs are going to let that happen...think again. The Bucs actually played great defense against the Saints on 55 of the Saints' 60 plays. Those 5 plays accounted for over half of the Saints' offense and three of their TD's (21 of 24 points). Those 5 breakdowns (2 of which had blatant holds - the Gaines tackle on one, and Haye being held on another the first TD pass) cost the Bucs that game. The Bucs have games like that every once and a while, but it was clear in the preseason that this defense will, far more often than not, clamp down on opposing offenses, and I can guarantee you that a lot was said after that game. They also get the advantage of seeing what happened to the Lions, who employ the same defense (though they suck at it). While Brooks may or may not play, the defense will likely hold up much better this week. Atlanta does have some beef on the line, but the Bucs can counter with Sims at UT on running downs to really clog it up. If Brooks is out, June will likely slide over, and Black will probably start at Sam, as that gives the Bucs their second best set of LB's. Where the Bucs should really be at an advantage is if Matt Ryan is forced to pass, which is what the Bucs want. The Bucs' secondary had some slipping issues that appeared to hinder defenders on two of the TD bombs (Aqib's feet didn't seem to have good footing when he jumped for that pass, and Barber lost his feet and slipped). They'll be on the excellent Ray Jay surface, and they should be able to hang with Atlanta's limited number of viable pass targets. If they slow the running game down and force Matt to throw, with a hostile crowd (he only threw 13 passes last week), then the Bucs should be able to get some heat on him and force some errant throws. The Bucs got in Brees face on a few occasions and even caused a pick 6. Ryan isn't Brees and isn't likely to be able deal with this defense nearly as well. I believe we'll see the defense return to form and clamp down on the Atlanta offense. They love challenges like this, and will rise to the occasion.

On Special Teams, the Bucs have the better punter in Bidwell, but the Falcons have the better kicker in Elam. In the punt return game, Dexter Jackson returned 5 punts for 5.8 yards, but got better after he took a big hit, as his next return went for 14 yards. Where he shined was in kick returns where he averaged 28 yards per return on 3 returns with a long of 33. The Falcons returned punts with Jennings who averaged a whopping 3 yards per return (means he'll probably return it for a TD against us), and they got 32.5 yards per return on kicks using Norwood. Definite edge to the Bucs, especially if Jackson continues to improve. In the coverage arena, the Bucs allowed just 5 yards per punt, and 13.4 yards per kick, which is outstanding. The Bucs hope to continue that this week, looking much like they did last year. The Falcons didn't have any punts returned (2 fair catches), but allowed 20.5 yards per kick return. Solid coverage teams, but probably not as good as the Bucs. If it comes down to field position, the Bucs should have the edge, but if it comes down to a FG, it really depends. Matt Bryant hit both field goals last week, and appears to be over his misses during preseason. So distance may be the factor where Elam would be considered the favorite. I expect the Bucs to have favorable field position most of the game, and to keep the Falcons pinned back a lot, similar to what they did to the Saints, with the defense holding this time.

When all is said and done, I think the Bucs will be on a mission to get the win on the board and to restore order to their defense, as the tackling and assignments usually start to get good around week 2, historically speaking. The offense will move the ball much more consistently with Griese, and they will score some points. In the end, the Bucs will win this game.

Bucs 24 Falcons 17

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

SOB In...Garcia Out!

Looks like Gruden had enough with the clearly diminished play of Garcia. Griese starting is only the beginning. Garcia isn't likely to come back as the starter unless he somehow earns that right back. Based on the last game he played last year, the preseason game, and the Saints game, I don't see it happening.

We know Greise can run this offense, and do a pretty good job. We also know he's prone to checking down too often and throwing pick 6's. If he can keep the intermediate routes in his mind, and stay away from the picks, we can go far. Ideally, I would rather see Luke get his shot, but I think Gruden is really trying to get a consecutive winning season, something that has avoided him since he came here.

The move is made and the team moves on. I think this move was made at the right time. He saw the weakness early and, unlike 2004, isn't waiting until the 4th game to pull the trigger. I just hope he's not afraid to go to Luke if Griese has issues.

Monday, September 08, 2008

Bucs Lose 20-24

The Saints got us. Why? Primarily two things: 1) long plays allowed (5 plays accounted for half of the Saints' offense) 2) rusty QB play. Really, when you think about it, despite giving up all that yardage (217 yards on those 5 plays), and despite Garcia throwing behind receivers all game long, the Bucs still were driving in Saints' territory for the win when Garcia threw the untimely pick.

This team is better than some are giving it credit for right now. I had figured that the practice time would have allowed Garcia to get back in sync with his receivers, but it didn't. He's injured (ankle) now, so it will be interesting to see if McCown or Griese get a shot to start. Quite honestly, I think it's likely the Bucs would have won that game with either of the two other QB's at the helm because they've had so much more time in practice. We'll see what happens. As for reviewing the core groups...

Offense: As mentioned, the offense sputtered a lot due to failed pass attempts. The one thing that really hurt was the fact that a few missed passes, combined with some penalties, often put the Bucs in pass only situations, taking away their best weapon - the running game. The RB's rolled over the Saints for 145 yards on 19 carries (7.6 ypc). Graham and Dunn gashed the Saints repeatedly, but saw the ball to few times. The offensive line opened some big holes in the running game, and it's a sign of things to come. This team will likely rush for well over 2000 yards this season. Unfortunately, the pass pro was a little suspect early on. That got Garcia into happy feet mode, and that made things worse as he kept rolling into defenders making a mess of our offense. He settled down a bit later in the game as did the offensive line. I wouldn't expect to see that too often this season. I think this line will still be the best this franchise has ever fielded.
Overall grade: B-

Defense: This is the story of two defenses here. One got beat on three big plays for TD's (thought Bush was clearly out of bounds on his TD play). The rest of the game, save two other big plays (one aided by the obvious hold on Adams), the defense was stellar, holding the Saints to 221 yards on the other 55 plays (4.0 y/play, 1.6 yards than the Bucs' 5.6 yards). And that's the story. The turf appeared to give a couple of defenders some problems, and I wonder if they had the right cleats or not. Barber slipped on the turf on that big pass play to Henderson. Talib just mistimed his jump (rookie mistake) and might have been much better off just running the route out with the receiver to knock the ball down. When Brooks went out, the Bucs decided to put McCoy in at Sam and slide June over to the weak side. The Saints attacked McCoy twice with Bush on that side of the field, and he failed to get in there and make the plays. The Bucs are already talking about starting Black at Sam if Brooks can't go. I think the Bucs caught the Saints at a bad time, and I think you will see this defense start to mold into a real monster in the next two weeks. The pass rush wasn't great, though it's been tough to put one on against Brees, especially when the Saints get away with several blatant holds, but they did hit him a few times and caused a flutter ball that got picked by Buchannon. They also appeared to have caused a fumble that was returned for a TD, but the play was called an incomplete pass and the Bucs didn't challenge it. In three weeks, teams will fear this defense.
Overall grade: B-

Special Teams: The return game was sluggish until Jackson, who was tentative all game, got jacked up on one return. After that, he apparently realized he could take a hit in this league and started getting some nice returns late in the game, including a 33 yard kick return and a 14 yard punt return. Hopefully that's a good sign. The coverage teams smothered the Saints, allowing 5 yards per punt, and a lowly 13.4 yards per kick return. Undoubtably, the coverage units are near or at the top of the league this week. Bryant was perfect on two field goal attempts and two extra points. Bidwell was booming punts, and put a nice one down near the goal line where Black kept it in play allowing another player to down it at the one.
Overall grade: A-

Coaching: Gruden had some solid plays called, only to watch Garcia miss the receiver or panic a little in the pocket. He could have maybe tried some more runs, but the down and distance was often forcing him to try and use the passing game more. It wasn't a bad game play calling wise, and some nice plays were called at times to get some big plays, including a very nicely called TD pass play. I do lay the decision, however, to start an obviously rusty Garcia on him. He probably should have made Garcia play a half of football in the final preseason game. Defensively, Monte had some nice calls, including some well timed blitzes, but he also called some man-to-man coverages that got burned with no deep safety help. I also question putting McCoy in the game instead of Black. Black is probably the fastest, most athletic linebacker on this team, and is now very well versed in this defense. This decision, which helped Bush get yards to the outside attacking the Sam, may have been a key contributor in the loss, but we'll never know because it's impossible to know for sure if Black would have done better. Special Teams coaching was pretty stellar for the most part. The return teams need better blocking up front, but they improved as the game went along. The coverage teams were awesome, and the kicking/punting was excellent. Not too much to be displeased with here, so long as the return teams continue to improve.
Overall grade B

We'll see if the Bucs can turn things around this Sunday when they host the Falcons. I have a feeling they will.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

The Talking Plank - Week 1

The Talking Plank –

Bucs At Saints:

With the opening game of the season occurring in a recently battered New Orleans, it’s really hard to gauge how the Saints will come out and play. They practiced in Indy and that might have really messed with their rhythm, or it might not have. The Bucs, meanwhile, are getting some guys back healthy who were limited in practice earlier in the week. Assuming the core offensive players play, the following will should hold true.

On offense, the Bucs will be facing a defense that is still not great. While the Saints are looking for an improved defensive line, they don’t seem likely to get it. The linebacking corps is stronger now with Vilma in the middle, but it’s still not great. And the defensive backs are still a weakness, with McKenzie being banged up a bit in the last game. The Bucs will likely pound the ball right at the Saints’ defensive line, and should have success. If the Bucs can establish the run early they’ll be able to pass the ball with a lot of success, assuming Garcia’s arm is working right again, and not what we saw in the preseason game. So far, the Bucs have had little trouble moving the ball well and converting third downs during the preseason, and I think it will translate. With Graham and Dunn the likely ball carriers, the running game will have the threat of becoming a passing game to the runners which should make it very difficult for the Saints to defend the Bucs offense consistently. The Bucs may not score a ton of points in this game, but they will score a good bit.

On defense, the Bucs will be facing one of the better offenses they’ll play all year. With Brees throwing the ball to some talented skill players, the pass defense and pass rush will be the keys to this game. With McAllister’s knee banged up, and Stecker’s hamstring pulled, the Bucs should be able to stop Bush and McAllister (I doubt McAllister will have full strength and cut back ability from that knee). The Bucs have been stronger in the pass rush department this preseason, and I expect to see that continue with Adams, Wilkerson, White, Haye, and Sims providing the best chances to get to Brees. Without Faine playing Center for New Orleans, the Bucs should have an easier time getting to Brees. Ironically, despite a sub-par pass rush last year and a low sack allowance by the Saints, the Bucs got 5 sacks on Brees in two games. So far, the Bucs look to have finally gotten back to being a defense that gets teams off the field after third down, having held all 4 preseason teams under 40% on third down conversions with an average of just 27% allowed. I expect the Bucs will make it very difficult for the Saints to get into a flow, and will keep the Saints from scoring a lot of points. We may even see a dominant defensive effort if the Bucs’ offense holds onto the ball enough.

On special teams, the Bucs will look to have Matt Bryant continue to recover from the bad misses. He seemed to get himself straightened out during the Texans game, but now that the games count, he needs to make sure he nails them. Ironically, he will be squaring off against former Bucs kicker Martin Gramatica. This may or may not be a good thing for the Bucs. The punters are both good ones, but Bidwell is a little better at downing punts inside the 20 than Weatherford. The return game will be interesting to see. The Saints appear to not be using Bush, and will apparently go with Moore and Thomas on punts and kicks. The Bucs will be putting their hopes all on Dexter Jackson. I think Jackson may have a very good game, but we’ll see. The Bucs have had pretty strong coverage teams this preseason, so we’ll see if that translates into the game.

Once all is said and done, I believe the Bucs will come out, maybe start out a little slow on offense, but will keep the ball a long time with that running game. In the end they’ll start putting up some points while the defense gets after Brees and company. Down the stretch the Bucs will win this game and start out 1-0.

Bucs 24 Saints 17

Season Predictions (It's Long!)

Here is my season prediction, game by game.

Bucs At Saints:

The Bucs will come out with just enough firepower on offense to score points and hold onto the ball. The defense will hound Brees and stuff the running game. In the end, the Bucs will be a just good enough to get a tough win on the road.

Bucs 24 Saints 17
Falcons At Bucs:

With the Bucs opening up the season with a win, they get to have a little dessert when the Falcons roll into town. The Falcons will be outgunned, out manned, and out classed. The Bucs will roll to victory in this game.

Bucs 28 Falcons 10
Bucs At Bears:

With two straight wins the Bucs will go into pretty hostile territory where a let down is waiting them. While the Bucs will be the better team, some poorly timed turnovers will cost them points, and the Bucs’ offense will sputter at times putting more pressure on the defense. The Bucs will lose a defensive battle on the road.

Bears 10 Bucs 7
Packers At Bucs:

Welcome to the NFL’s best defense Mr. Rodgers. You’ll soon see that we really don’t want to be your neighbor. The Bucs’ offense will regain some of it’s form, but the defense will rock the Green Bay offense and show Rodgers what they can do.

Bucs 20 Packers 6
Bucs At Broncos:

The Bucs have to turn around and go to Denver after defeating the Packers. The altitude and the time zone team will have an affect on the Bucs, and they will struggle a little on offense, and the defense will wear down a little late in the game costing them the win.

Broncos 17 Bucs 10
Panthers At Bucs:

The stinkin’ Panthers come to town. While they will be improved from last year, it’s clear that Delhomme is not as good as he was a couple of years ago, and the Bucs’ defense will punish the Panthers quite a bit. The Bucs’ offense will be able to exploit a defense that still isn’t living up to what it was a few short years ago. In the end, the Bucs get the win over the hated kittens.

Bucs 16 Panthers 14
Seahawks At Bucs:

The Seahawks have had the Bucs’ number the last few years, but the Bucs nearly blew Seattle out at Seattle last year, just failing to punch the ball into the endzone a couple of times and letting them get back into the game. This time, the Bucs will have an even more potent offense and better defense, and the result will be a Bucs win, their first over Seattle since the 1999 season.

Bucs 21 Seattle 13
Bucs At Dallas:

Unlike the last time these two teams met, the Bucs will be a much better and deeper team rolling into Dallas. This could also be a preview of the NFC Championship game. The Bucs’ offense will move the ball and score a lot of points, but the Bucs’ defense will have an uncharacteristically sloppy game and allow Romo to get just enough points to win the game late.

Cowboys 28 Bucs 27
Bucs At Chiefs:

The Bucs will meet another former Bucs’ assistant coach and, unlike the Bears game, come out a winner. The Bucs will simply have too much offense and defense for the Chiefs to contend with and will win this game going away.

Bucs 30 Chiefs 10
Vikings At Bucs:

In another potential NFC Championship match-up, the Bucs will play host to the dynamic Vikings. They will also be inundated with the familiar sounds of “how can they stop player x”, which will be AP in this case. Well, that will get this defense fired up and the Vikings’ offense will find themselves uncharacteristically unable to score a lot of points. The Bucs’ offense will grind it out on the ground and do what’s necessary to pull out a tough win.

Bucs 13 Vikings 7
Bucs at Lions:

A third match-up against former coaches will lead to a head scratching loss. Similar to last year, the Bucs will outplay the Lions in every phase of the game, but some poor turnovers will lead to points for the Lions, and the Bucs will fail to score enough points to win the game.

Lions 17 Bucs 14
Saints At Bucs:

The Saints will come to Tampa with revenge on their minds, but the atmosphere, and a dominate defense will lead to a Bucs’ blow out. The offense will hit several big plays and rack up the points.

Bucs 35 Saints 10
Bucs At Panthers:

The Bucs will go up to Carolina for a hard fought contest. The Panthers will give the Bucs all they can handle in a tight game that will go down to the wire. In the end, the Bucs will pull out a tight contest and be one game away from completing a sweep of the NFC South.

Bucs 23 Panthers 20
Bucs At Falcons:

Tampa north will be a welcome atmosphere for the Bucs as they look to all but sew up the NFC South crown and be the first repeat division champ. The Falcons, whose season will already be in the toilet by now, will offer up very little resistance as the Bucs get a tune up game for the playoffs, and win their 10th game of the year.

Bucs 24 Falcons 9
Chargers At Bucs:

In a match-up that could possibly represent the Super Bowl, the Bucs will fight a back and forth contest, losing the game late. The game will be low scoring as both offenses struggle to get it done, but the Chargers will make a few plays down the stretch to secure the victory.

Chargers 16 Bucs 12
Raiders At Bucs:

At this point the Bucs will be looking for a BYE in the playoffs and will get to feed on the Raiders. This will be Gruden’s chance to really rub it in again versus his former team. The Bucs’ offense will be tuning up for the post season, as will the defense. The net result is another blow out game giving the Bucs 11 wins and a BYE.

Bucs 31 Raiders 9

And that’s my season prediction: The Bucs will go 11-5 and get a first round BYE in the play offs. They will also make it to the NFC Championship game. From there? Who knows? But this is clearly one of the deepest, most talented teams the Bucs have ever fielded, but they still have receiver questions, and the pass rush still needs to assert itself. If they do, this team could easily be Super Bowl bound.

Friday, September 05, 2008

Position Review (Live from Tyler, TX!)

With my recent travels, I’m finding it hard to find time to write everything I want, but it starts with a review of the current state of the team, followed by my season predictions, and, finally, The Talking Plank for the opening game at the Saints.

So let’s start by briefly reviewing the talent and capabilities of each position, starting on offense.

Offense –

Quarterbacks: At the QB position, the Bucs will field perhaps the league’s deepest unit at this critical position. Jeff Garcia will start the season as the starter with questions about his arm strength and the decision making in his only preseason game. If he’s up to par, though, he’ll have the time to get the ball out and the talent to take advantage of those passes. If not, then either Griese or McCown can come in and play well enough to win. If Garcia gets injured, both back-ups can do the job. Griese is a solid QB with the ability to win games, but also a penchant to occasionally cough up the ball at the worst time. McCown is starting to overcome his lack of speed in decision making, and is clearly the most gifted QB on the roster, save maybe Josh Johnson who will be redshirting this season. Overall grade: A-

Offensive Line: No doubt about it, even with Davin Joseph starting the season on the injury list, and likely out for the first 3 or 4 games, the Bucs have probably the best Offensive Line they have ever fielded, and one of the deeper units, though they just traded Buenning and brought back Mahan, a decision I’m not that thrilled with. Nonetheless, Faine will be a rock in the Center position with Sears and Penn playing very well to the left and Zuttah/Joseph and Trueblood playing very well to the right. This line will move most defensive lines and be able to keep the QB relatively clean. The running backs will continue to have big holes to run through and that unit has the talent to take advantage of it. This unit will make or break this offense, and so far this preseason, this line has gotten it done. Overall grade: A

Running Backs: In my mind there is little doubt that the Bucs have the most talented group of running backs in the league. There may be teams with a single back that is better than any of these backs, but all of them are 1000 yard rushers (with the assumption Graham would have if he had started a couple more games). Dunn and Bennnet are both electric backs capable of shifting and hitting the hole quick, hitting the home run, and being excellent pass receivers. Graham is the power back that consistently gets positive yardage. Williams, who will likely be available after his 6 week stint on the PUP, is one of the better backs in the league when healthy. The Bucs also have an outstanding Fullback in BJ Askew, and a solid up and coming guy in Byron Storer. Overall grade: A-

Wide Receivers: This unit is the most maligned unit on this team and may or may not be improved over last season. How well Galloway can play is up in the air, seeing as he was unable to play during the preseason. Clayton looked good this preseason, but had a mild chest injury, which makes one wonder if he can get through a season without a major injury. Bryant has shown the talent, but his knee needed some rest. Hilliard was ineffective down the stretch when age appeared to catch up to him. Stovall keeps showing promise, but needs to carry it over to the regular season. If Galloway, Clayton, Bryant, and Stovall can stay healthy and play up to their ability, this unit could actually be one of the stronger units in the league. That’s a big “if”, though. I’m cautiously optimistic, but need to see it happen. Overall grade: C+

Tight Ends: The Bucs will also be featuring one of the better, deeper TE units in the league. Alex Smith continues to be very solid in all phases of the game, though he still has the occasional big dropped pass. John Gilmore has turned out to be a big upgrade over Anthony Becht by being able to run block a little better, while being a significantly better pass receiver. Ben Troupe brings a highly athletic package to the TE group, capable of being an excellent receiver (see the Houston game). He’s still working on the run blocking part, but has the physical tools to do the job. Jerramy Stevens, despite his past, is a mismatch against most defenders in the receiving game and is working to become a solid run blocker, much as Troupe is, but will start the season suspended for the first two games. This unit is deep and talented, though a better pass receiving group. Overall grade: B+

Offensive Summary: So far this preseason we have seen an offense that has basically moved the ball at will most of the time, though more so though small chunks. This group consistently converted over 50% of third downs (a far cry over last year’s group), and has been able to run the ball with authority, often times taking advantage of huge holes created by the OL, and time given for the QB to pass the ball in pass pro. This offense will move the ball a lot and score some points, while taking some pressure off the defense by scoring points and eating up the clock with that potent running game. By the end of the season, this unit should rank in the top 15 on offense, maybe even the top 10, but it needs some other receivers to step up and help make the big plays to take this offense over the top.

Defense –

Defensive Line: This unit is starting to shape into a strong run stuffing unit capable of a solid pass rush. While not the dominate pass rushing unit the Bucs have been used to, this group has been getting more and more pressure on opposing QB’s and looks poised to be able to improve on last year’s sack totals by 5-8 sacks. It will be interesting to see the impact to the pass rush with Haye back, but Sims has been doing well, and Hovan seems to be getting more and more pressure these days. Jimmy Wilkerson has been a big surprise and should help Gaines Adams, Greg White, and Kevin Carter rack up some sacks from the ends. This unit will make it very difficult for opposing teams to run the ball and force teams to throw into the teeth of one of the league’s best secondaries. Overall grade: A-

Linebackers: Without a doubt, the Bucs have a deep and talented corps of linebackers, all of whom have speed and athleticism, as well as brains to direct that talent. Brooks comes back for another year and looks to improve on last year’s performance as his Hall of Fame career gets close to the end. Cato June and Barrett Ruud compliment Brooks and help the Bucs field one of the best starting groups. Black, Hayward, and McCoy could easily all start and the Bucs wouldn’t lose a whole lot out of that group. This unit has been rock solid in the preseason and will likely continue that trend in the regular season. Overall grade: A-

Defensive Backs: The fielded one of the best secondaries in the league last year and look to field an even better group this year. Ronde Barber continues to excel and Phillip Buchannon continues to play better and better. Aquib Talib appears to be a shutdown corner capable of being better than Brian Kelly ever was, but needs to prove he can do that consistently. Elbert Mack played extremely well and pushed Eugene Wilson off the roster. Jermaine Phillips and Tanard Jackson lead the safeties with Sabby Piscatelli pushing Phillips for playing time, and Will Allen providing a very solid back up. This group is strong from top to bottom and can hang with any receiving corps in the league. Overall grade A

Defensive Summary: This defense was able to hold all of its preseason opponents to around 200 yards of total offense or less, and kept every team well below 40% on third down conversions with an average of around 27%. This defense has kept teams from running the ball effectively and kept teams from feeling comfortable passing. The reality is that this may be one of the deepest defenses this team has ever fielded. I have little doubt that this defense will finish in the top 3, and likely the number 1 defense by the end of the season.