Yardbarker Horiz

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Buccaneers Build Top 10 Rushing Attack

When Head Coach Raheem Morris and General Manager Mark Dominik took the reigns of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers before the 2009 season, they painted a picture for the Buccaneer Faithful of a team with a powerful rushing attack and a solid defense.

They have made big progress towards both this season with a winning record to prove it.

With one game remaining, the Buccaneers have reached the top quarter of the NFL as far as production in the running game.  The chart below shows how the offense has made steady improvement running the ball since Week 5:



Currently, the offense has set a new high mark in the per game average at almost 128 yards/game, which ranks 7th in the NFL, ahead of teams like Minnesota, Pittsburgh, Atlanta, and New England.  Tampa Bay also has a 7-game 100+ yard rushing effort streak still going (which includes teams like Baltimore and Atlanta).

The most impressive part of this evolving running attack is the number of different offensive linemen who have contributed to the effort:

Week 5 (New Orleans):  Center Jeff Faine suffers his first severe injury of the season, and in steps rookie Ted Larsen as Jeremy Zuttah moves to center.  Since then, the Buccaneers have not rushed for less than 90 yards in a single game.

Week 7 (Arizona):  Tackle Jeremy Trueblood and Guard Keydrick Vincent suffer injuries.  The Buccaneers promote G/T Derek Hardman off the practice squad and ask T James Lee to step in for Trueblood.  Lee has started ever since, and Hardman has worked his way into the starting lineup when Davin Joseph was injured during Week 11.

The changes have not all been up front, either.  After Kareem Huggins suffered a season ending knee injury during the New Orleans game, LeGarrette Blount emerged to start playing a larger and larger role in the running game.  Blount had a two-pronged effect:  not only was he effective, his production on first and second down started reducing the need for Josh Freeman to run for positive yards to keep drives alive.

This is all a very good sign for the near future of the franchise:  multiple contributors up front and in the backfield, plus the experience of Earnest Graham and Cadillac Williams.

The running game is becoming a reliable part of the Buccaneers offense, opening up the playbook and providing even more options to offensive coordinator Greg Olson.  A reliable running game has been a strong part of the past success of the Buccaneers.

Looks like those times have returned!

Monday, December 27, 2010

Buccaneers: Comeback Team Of The Year

Is it the coaching which has turned a 3-13 team into a 9-6 Playoff Contender?  Is it the front office which found a huge group of young, talented players to remake the team?

It's hard to credit one without the other, so credit them both:  the Tampa Bay Buccaneers should be the Comeback Team Of The Year for 2010.  And there are many reasons why.

How Far They Have Come

The 2009 season was as dismal as Tampa has suffered in many years, and the Buccaneers were joined at the bottom by several struggling teams.

Here are the 10 worst records from 2009:

Miami Dolphins 7-9
Buffalo Bills 6-10
Cleveland Browns 5-11    
Oakland Raiders 5-11    
Seattle Seahawks 5-11    
Kansas City Chiefs 4-12    
Washington Redskins 4-12    
Tampa Bay Buccaneers 3-13
Detroit Lions 2-14    
St. Louis Rams 1-15

Here is the same list of teams for the 2010 season (with +/- wins in parenthesis):

Tampa Bay Buccaneers 9-6 (+6)
Kansas City Chiefs 10-5 (+6)
St. Louis Rams 7-8  (+6)
Detroit Lions 5-10  (+3)
Oakland Raiders 7-8  (+2)
Washington Redskins 6-9  (+2)
Seattle Seahawks 6-9  (+1)
Cleveland Browns 5-10  (0)
Miami Dolphins 7-8  (0)
Buffalo Bills 4-11  (-2)

The Chiefs and Rams have improved greatly as well.  The Chiefs already have a playoff spot reserved for them.  And the Rams, like the Buccaneers, can get to the playoffs this weekend.  However, the Rams cannot finish with a winning regular season record.  

Consider the opposition each of those three teams have faced:  the Chiefs are in the AFC West which has a combined record of 29-31 (.483) and the Rams are in the NFC West which has a combined record of 23-37 (.383).  The Buccaneers, however, are in the rugged NFC South, which has a combined record of 34-26 (.566) for the top win total in the NFC and is tied with the AFC East for the best divisional record in the NFL.

What They Went Through

The Chiefs have dealt with 7 injured players this season.  Of those players, one was active on opening day (Cameron Sheffield) and only one other has touched the field this season (Jackie Bates).

The Rams have suffered 11 injured players this season, eight of which have field time this season.  One (Na'il Diggs) was an opening day starter.

Buccaneers have dealt with 12 injuries as well as a suspension this season. Of those 13 players, six were opening day starters (which does not include Aqib Talib, suspended for the first game of 2010 but now on IR).  Three others played significant minutes this season.

So while all three teams have either reached the playoffs or are still in the hunt with one game remaining in 2010, the Buccaneers have overcome the most adversity, demonstrating prowess not only on the practice field through coaching but in the front office by finding the necessary talent to keep the team on a winning course.

Plus The Upside

This is very straightforward.  The Buccaneers started the season as the second youngest team in the NFL and will finish going away as The Youngest team in the NFL.  

For perspective on how young, the Buccaneer's current roster has just three players with eight or more years of NFL experience while Kansas City has seven and Saint Louis has nine.  From the other side of the experience ladder, Saint Louis has 14 players on their roster with less than two years of NFL experience while Kansas City has 16.  Tampa Bay has 24 players on their current roster with two or less years of NFL experience.

One thing the three teams do have in common is youth at quarterback, with Bradford in Saint Louis having a stellar rookie season, Freeman in Tampa Bay leading a strong sophomore NFL season, and Cassel in Kansas City having what it essentially this third NFL season as the lead signal caller. 

So not only are the Buccaneers much improved, in the playoff hunt, and very young, they also have a team built on youth which (hopefully) should maintain their competitive level for years to come.

Isn't that the definition of "comeback"?

Benn to IR

The injury bug has struck the offense this week, with Rookie WR Arrelious Benn sent to IR.

Benn was the third pick in the most recent Tampa Bay Draft.  After leaving the game yesterday, Benn was replaced by Maurice Stovall (who caught a touchdown) and rookie Dezmon Briscoe who was recently promoted from the practice squad.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

"Race to 10" Now "Must Win"


A look at the remaining schedule of the 8-6 Tampa Bay Buccaneers:

Past:
WIN 17-14 Cleveland; Buccaneers Ranked #27
WIN 20-7 Carolina; Buccaneers Ranked #20
LOSS 38-13 Pittsburgh; Buccaneers Ranked #22
WIN 24-21 Cincinnati; Buccaneers Ranked #17
LOSS 31-6 New Orleans; Buccaneers Ranked #19
WIN 18-17 Saint Louis; Buccaneers Ranked #17
WIN 38-35 Arizona; Buccaneers Ranked #13
LOSS 21-28 Atlanta; Buccaneers Ranked #13
WIN 31-20 Carolina, Buccaneers Ranked #13
WIN 21-0 San Francisco; Buccaneers Ranked #12
LOSS 17-10 Baltimore; Buccaneers Ranked #13
LOSS 28-24 Atlanta; Buccaneers Ranked #13 
WIN 17-16 Washington; Buccaneers Ranked #12 
LOSS 23-20 Detroit; Buccaneers Ranked #15 (Current NFL expert ranking)

Up Next:
Seattle (6-8)  #22

Upcoming:
@New Orleans (10-4)  #6

Nothing to predict now:  to reach 10 wins the Buccaneers must win their remaining two games.  Due to the top-heavy strength of the NFC this season, even if Tampa Bay wins their next two they still need the correct combination of other teams to lose to make the playoffs.

One year after 3-13 and a 10-win season may not be enough to make the playoffs.  That's harsh!!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Running Game In High Gear

During the brutal 3-13 season of 2009, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers still managed to rush for 100+ yards per game (101.7 ypg to be exact).  That resuted in a 1,627 yards on the ground.  Twenty-Two teams in the NFL generated more production by running the ball than the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

The story is very different this season.  So different, the Buccaneers eclipsed last year's rushing total last weekend, with two more games still remaining.  

As of today, Tampa Bay has run for 1,709 yards this season.  Well over 90% of those yards have been created by the four players with more than 10 carries this season:

PlayerCarriesYardsYards/Carry
LeGarrette Blount1647774.7
Cadillac Williams1204093.4
Josh Freeman603305.5
Earnest Graham20995.0

As a squad, the Buccaneers offense is showing some comparative muscle around the NFL as well:  Tampa Bay has moved into the Top 10 in the NFL in total rushing yards.  They are in a tight group of five teams who are averaging between 121 and 123 rushing yards per game, which includes (besides Tampa Bay):  Pittsburgh Steelers, Atlanta Falcons, Houston Texans, and Minnesota Vikings.  Very good company considering the Buccaneers are the youngest team in the group by far!

Early in the season the Buccaneers running game was questioned.  Through all the injuries on the offensive line and with young, unproven receivers the Tampa Bay offense has developed a solid ground game.  This is a component of the vision expressed by General Manager Mark Dominik and Head Coach Raheem Morris when they took over at One Buccaneers Place -- a physical running attack.

It's hard to believe a 3-13 team last season can end up with a Top 10 rushing attack the next season, but the Buccaneers are on pace to make it happen in 2010.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Playoffs Situation: Wildcard Is The Only Option

The Buccaneers have moved to the cusp of the NFC Playoffs, and the stars and planets have aligned to possibly push the Buccaneers into an even tighter race by this time next week.

The chart below is a snapshot of "if the season ended today".  The (+) means the Buccaneers would win the tiebreaker if Tampa Bay finishes with the same record (because of a head-to-head win).  A (-) means the Buccaneers would lose the same tiebreaker scenario.  An asterisk (*) means a future opponent.

Remember that division winners, regardless of record, make the playoffs. Here is how the NFC breaks down as of today:

Division Winners With First Round Bye
11-2 (South) Atlanta Falcons (-)
9-4 (North) Chicago Bears

Division Winners With First Round Home Game
9-4 (East) Philadelphia Eagles
6-7 (West) St. Louis Rams (+)

Wildcards
10-3 (South) New Orleans Saints (-)
9-4 (East) New York Giants

Outside Looking In
8-5 (South) Tampa Bay Buccaneers
8-5 (North) Green Bay Packers
6-7 (West) Seattle Seahawks *

Eliminated as Wildcard Possibility
5-8 (North) Minnesota Vikings
5-8 (East) Washington Redskins (+)
5-9 (West) San Francisco 49ers (+)
4-9 (West) Arizona Cardinals (+)
4-9 (East) Dallas Cowboys
3-10 (North) Detroit Lions *
1-12 (South) Carolina Panthers (+)

With two losses to the Falcons and only three games remaining, the Buccaneers are eliminated from winning the NFC South this season.  They can only make the playoffs as a Wildcard team.

With three games remaining and the Giants having 9 wins, nobody with less than six wins can overtake the Giants and qualify for the playoffs as a Wildcard.  Some of the wildcard-eliminated teams can still win their division (49ers, Cardinals) and make the playoffs, but they will not take a spot from the Buccaneers.

Key Games
First and foremost, the Buccaneers must win at home against the Detroit Lions.  A loss would leave the Buccaneers' playoffs chances hanging by the thinnest of threads.

Secondly, The Buccaneers are only competing with four teams for a spot in the playoffs anymore:  the Saints, Giants, Packers, and Seahawks.  We need these teams to lose this weekend.  Their match-ups this weekend:
  • New Orleans Saints AT the Baltimore Ravens
  • New York Giants HOME against the Philadelphia Eagles
  • Green Bay Packers AT the New England Patriots
  • Seattle Seahawks HOME against the Atlanta Falcons.

Each team has a competitive game this weekend against another playoff teams -- all four have a respectable chance of falling the right way for the Buccaneers to gain on their competition.

Eliminators
Other playoff implications:
  • If the Saint Louis Rams win this weekend, the San Francisco 49ers and the Arizona Cardinals are completely eliminated from the playoffs this season.
  • If the Seattle Seahawks win this weekend, the San Francisco 49ers and the Arizona Cardinals are completely eliminated from the playoffs this season.
  • If the Seattle Seahawks lose this weekend, they cannot qualify for the playoffs as a wildcard:  they must win their division (and cannot take a Wildcard position from the Buccaneers).
  • If the Saint Louis Rams lose this weekend, they cannot qualify for the playoffs as a wildcard:  they must win their division.

This could end up being a watershed weekend for the Pewter Pirates.  The Buccaneers, Saints, and Giants play early games, the Seattle Seahawks player later in the afternoon, and the Green Bay Packers are the Sunday Night Football match-up.  So get everything done Saturday -- there is a full and important day of football coming on Sunday!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

"Race to 10" Update: Week 14

A peek ahead at the upcoming schedule of the 8-5 Tampa Bay Buccaneers:

Past:
WIN 17-14 Cleveland; Buccaneers Ranked #27
WIN 20-7 Carolina; Buccaneers Ranked #20
LOSS 38-13 Pittsburgh; Buccaneers Ranked #22
WIN 24-21 Cincinnati; Buccaneers Ranked #17
LOSS 31-6 New Orleans; Buccaneers Ranked #19
WIN 18-17 Saint Louis; Buccaneers Ranked #17
WIN 38-35 Arizona; Buccaneers Ranked #13
LOSS 21-28 Atlanta; Buccaneers Ranked #13
WIN 31-20 Carolina, Buccaneers Ranked #13
WIN 21-0 San Francisco; Buccaneers Ranked #12
LOSS 17-10 Baltimore; Buccaneers Ranked #13
LOSS 28-24 Atlanta; Buccaneers Ranked #13 
WIN 17-16 Washington; Buccaneers Ranked #12 (Current NFL expert ranking)

Up Next:
Detroit (3-10)  #28

Upcoming:
Seattle (6-7)  #20
@New Orleans (10-3)  #3

Remaining Schedule Cumulative Record: 19-20

This is it.  Crunch time.  Meaningful games in December.  The Stretch Run.  The Playoff Push.  The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are in a tight race and cannot afford to do what the Green Bay Packers did last weekend -- lose to the Detroit Lions.  Can you believe that 3-13 last year could finish as high as 11-5 this season??

Using the NFL.com expert consensus rankings (which change weekly), the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are still on course for a 10-6 finish!  I wish I knew for sure it would be enough for a playoff spot but the NFC is top heavy this season -- it should be good enough!!

Friday, December 10, 2010

Buccaneers Can Finish Off Redskins This Weekend

Ahhh, Revenge -- A Dish Best Served Cold!

This weekend, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers visit the 5-7 Washington Redskins and the architect of the Great Collapse of 2007, Redskins General Manager Bruce Allen.  Allen, who prefers 30+ year old quarterbacks (Brad Johnson, Brian Griese, Jeff Garcia, now Donovan McNabb), has constructed one of the oldest rosters in the NFL with 18 players (33% of the 53-man roster) having 8+ years of NFL experience.  The list of long-tooths include the suspended Albert Haynesworth and three on injured reserve:  Clinton Portis, Mike Furrey, and Josh Bidwell (a punter on the Buccaneers roster in . . . 2007).  Allen was the General Manager of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers from 2004 through 2007 and is best known for the 4 game losing streak which ended his tenure with the team (taking head coach Jon Gruden with him).

For comparison, the 7-5 Tampa Bay Buccaneers have just three players on their roster with 8+ years of NFL experience.

There are several current Washington Redskins with familiar faces.  Buccaneer fans may remember Phillip Buchanon, who last played for the Buccaneers in . . . 2007 . . . and left as one of the poorest tacklers in team history.  They may also remember Anthony Bryant, a defensive tackle drafted in the 6th round by Allen in 2005 who appeared in four games over two years for the Buccaneers before being released.  Sadly, Tampa Bay fans will not get to see former Buccaneer Joey Galloway who was cut by Allen this past Thanksgiving weekend after last playing in Tampa in . . . yep, 2007.

Allen, who was unable to orchestrate a playoff win in his five years at the top of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers personnel department, finds himself in familiar territory 13 weeks into the season:  a somewhere-around-.500 record, injuries piling up, and the experienced players on his roster not forming a cohesive whole.

Allen made a splash by getting Donovan McNabb away from the Eagles last offseason, then resigning the 12 year veteran to a lucrative extension, generating preseason expectations of challeging the mighty Dallas Cowboys for supremacy in the NFC East.  Turns out Washington is challenging the Cowboys for the bottom of the NFC East instead, struggling to a 5-7 record (loss to Minnesota; one of only two teams to lose to Detroit) while the Eagles currently sit atop the division at 8-4, including a 59-28 drubbing of the Redskins back in Week 10.  Now, who got the better end of the deal?

The Buccaneers can stop the suffering of the Redskins fans this weekend.  A Tampa Bay win guarantees Washington a non-winning season.  Considering the NFC already has six teams with 8 or more wins this season (the Buccaneers will be the seventh should they beat Washington this Sunday), it is clear Tampa Bay can basically end the playoff run in Washington this Sunday, forcing Bruce Allen to again comb the free agent market for next year's solutions.  Too bad the Redskins are not in the NFC West, eh?

Still not convinced this can be the knockout blow for Washington on Sunday?  The Redskins already have tiebreaker losses to the Green Bay Packers (8-4), the New York Giants (8-4), and the Philadelphia Eagles (8-4).  Add the Buccaneers to the list once they finish their business this weekend.  Clearly, there will not be a scenario where an 8-8 Redskin team (and it is unlikely they reach eight wins this season in any case) can be a wildcard team in 2010.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are in a position which seems light years away from the 1-11 record at this time last season.  A position they can put to good use this weekend by eliminating the Washington Redskins from playoff contention and keeping pace in the NFC Wildcard Race.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Playoffs Watch: Week 14

The Buccaneers are down but not out after two tough losses.

The chart below is a snapshot of "if the season ended today".  The (+) means the Buccaneers would win the tiebreaker if Tampa Bay finishes with the same record (because of a head-to-head win).  A (-) means the Buccaneers would lose the same tiebreaker scenario.  An asterisk (*) means a future opponent.

Remember that division winners, regardless of record, make the playoffs. Here is how the NFC breaks down as of today:

Division Winners With First Round Bye
10-2 (South) Atlanta Falcons (-)
9-3 (North) Chicago Bears

Division Winners With First Round Home Game
8-4 (East) Philadelphia Eagles
6-6 (West) St. Louis Rams (+)

Wildcards
9-3 (South) New Orleans Saints (-)
8-4 (East) New York Giants

Outside Looking In
8-4 (North) Green Bay Packers
7-5 (South) Tampa Bay Buccaneers
6-6 (West) Seattle Seahawks *
5-7 (North) Minnesota Vikings
5-7 (East) Washington Redskins *
4-8 (East) Dallas Cowboys
4-8 (West) San Francisco 49ers (+)
3-9 (West) Arizona Cardinals (+)
2-10 (North) Detroit Lions *
1-11 (South) Carolina Panthers (+)

The Buccaneers obviously have their work cut out for them.  They are no longer in control of their own destiny and need other teams to help them by losing.  To get to the playoffs, the Buccaneers need the Green Bay Packers and either the New York Giants or Philadelphia Eagles to take a slide.  

The first Good Thing to help the Buccaneers will be when the Giants host the Eagles in Week 15.  The second Good Thing which can help the Buccaneers will be when the Giants visit the Packers in Week 16.

After a game at Detroit this weekend, Green Bay will travel to New England before the Giants game.  Their last game of the season is home against NFC North leader Chicago.  There is a good chance the Buccaneers can make up some games against Green Bay over these last four weeks of the season.

The New York Giants go to Minnesota this weekend, then play NFC East leader Philadelphia before their encounter at Green Bay.  Finally, the Giants finish on the road against the Washington Redskins.  It is within reason for the Giants to go 2-2 over these last four games of the season.

Finally, Philadelphia plays Dallas twice and hosts Minnesota along with their game at home against the Giants. Of the three, Philadelphia appears to have the least bumpy road ahead.

It's a lot to consider, but above all the Buccaneers need to get back on a winning streak!

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

"Race to 10" Update: Week 13

A peek ahead at the upcoming schedule of the 7-5 Tampa Bay Buccaneers:

Past:
WIN 17-14 Cleveland; Buccaneers Ranked #27
WIN 20-7 Carolina; Buccaneers Ranked #20
LOSS 38-13 Pittsburgh; Buccaneers Ranked #22
WIN 24-21 Cincinnati; Buccaneers Ranked #17
LOSS 31-6 New Orleans; Buccaneers Ranked #19
WIN 18-17 Saint Louis; Buccaneers Ranked #17
WIN 38-35 Arizona; Buccaneers Ranked #13
LOSS 21-28 Atlanta; Buccaneers Ranked #13
WIN 31-20 Carolina, Buccaneers Ranked #13
WIN 21-0 San Francisco; Buccaneers Ranked #12
LOSS 17-10 Baltimore; Buccaneers Ranked #13
LOSS 28-24 Atlanta; Buccaneers Ranked #13 (Current NFL expert ranking)

Up Next:
@Washington (5-7)  #24

Upcoming:
Detroit (2-10)  #28
Seattle (6-6)  #20
@New Orleans (9-3)  #3

Remaining Schedule Cumulative Record: 23-26

After two competitive losses, the Buccaneers are preparing for a road trip against the sub-.500 Washington Redskins.  The best path to 10 wins this season is to crush the next three teams, setting up a showdown in New Orleans against the Saints.

Using the NFL.com expert consensus rankings (which change weekly), the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are still on course for a 10-6 finish and an NFC Playoff birth!

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Sea Change In Buccaneers Front Office

The first time something happens, it's an exception.  After that, it's a trend.

A new trend has started in the front office of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.  And it involves three players who are no longer with the team:  Chris Pressley, Ryan Sims, and Sabby Piscitelli.

What ties these men together besides being former teammates?  They were all healthy when they were released.

FB Chris Pressley was cut back on October 24th.  He became expendable when the jack-of-all-trades Erik Lorig started taking snaps at fullback.  Lorig, who at various times has been associated with tight end and defensive end as well as fullback, provides high value due to his versatile nature.

DT Ryan Sims was cut November 24th.  He was replaced by Frank Okam, who had spent all of seven days on the Tampa Bay practice squad.  Sims is the senior of Okam by six years, but obviously there was something to Okam's game to merit such a change.  Watch for Okam to start contributing in the defensive rotation soon.

Yesterday, S Sabby Piscitelli was released (Nov. 30th).  Piscitelli was drafted in 2007 and played significant minutes in 2009.  It was thought he would be starting this weekend in place of injured SS Cody Grim who went down with a broken ankle and is lost for 2010.

P Chris Bryan could be considered a similar cut of a healthy player, but if you include all of 2009 and 2010 draftee P Brent Bowden who, after a full offseason, was placed on the practice squad and subsequently cut earlier this year, the position of Punter has been a two year project.  So in the context of this discussion it's not the same situation.

When a front office starts replacing healthy players it is a sea change for the franchise.  It means there is talent being released from other teams (or walking the streets) which are considered upgrades to experienced talent on your own team.  The sea change is your team is no longer depending on experience alone -- a certain level of talent has been achieved which makes keeping experienced players just for the sake of their experience no longer necessary.  Your team is now built on talent and player development, an exciting and very positive circumstance!  Let's look at each case:  

The Sims-for-Okam move could be a continuation of the getting younger theme General Manager Mark Dominik has been preaching since his ascension to the head role in the front office.  The change was quite sudden -- did Okam show some type of impressive fit for the interior of the Buccaneers defensive scheme?  Having recently brought in DT Al Woods after drafting three interior linemen in the past two drafts, the Buccaneers are really loading up on young defensive linemen.  Do the Buccaneers now believe they have more than enough talent on the defensive line to consider experience less necessary?  It appears so.

The Pressley-for-Lorig move could have an economic nature.  A more versatile player can provide help at multiple positions, eliminating the need for a specialist (and their salary) at a position which is not put to full time use on game day.  The other possibility is Tampa Bay will continue to move farther and farther from the more traditional fullback role used by the previous coaching staff and into more of a split back backfield.  But again, it appears talent is trumping experience.

The jury is out on the Piscitelli move; it's going to be very interesting to see who will start at the safety position this weekend at Raymond James Stadium against the Atlanta Falcons.

The overall message is that nobody is safe in their position on the roster anymore.  On top tier NFL teams this is a normal situation -- get better or go home.  In the case of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, more and more it seems this point has been reached.

To put it succinctly:  The Rebuild Is Over!

The signal is from now on the Buccaneers can pick up a talented player at any position, at any time, without position specific needs or areas of concentration.  It is a significant message for players like WR Maurice Stovall, LS Andrew Economos, LB Niko Koutouvides, and TE John Gilmore.  All have five or more years of experience and all have starting roles on special teams only.  Is that good enough anymore?

Certainly there will be more changes before the season is over.  But, clearly, a new phase in the thought process of the front office has started:  not just offseason veteran purges anymore -- in-season swaps are considered worthwhile.  The question is how much longer will the Buccaneers continue to drain the experience from the team to build up the talent level?  What is the tradeoff tipping point in Tampa Bay for experience versus talent?

Things are shaping up to be the most interesting offseason in Tampa Bay in over half a decade.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Cody Grimm and Davin Joseph Heading to IR

All teams deal with injury and the Buccaneers are no different.

Starting safety Cody Grimm left the field Sunday with a broken ankle which will not heal before the season is over.  He will be declared for injured reserve this week.

Davin Joseph also left the game on Sunday with an injury -- it may be the same nagging knee injury which has limited his time in recent weeks both on game day and during practice -- and he, too, will be heading to IR.

Certainly this will create a lot of activity in the Buccaneers front office this week and we'll be watching every step of the way.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

"Race to 10" Update: Week 11

A peek ahead at the upcoming schedule of the 7-3 Tampa Bay Buccaneers:

Past:
WIN 17-14 Cleveland; Buccaneers Ranked #27
WIN 20-7 Carolina; Buccaneers Ranked #20
LOSS 38-13 Pittsburgh; Buccaneers Ranked #22
WIN 24-21 Cincinnati; Buccaneers Ranked #17
LOSS 31-6 New Orleans; Buccaneers Ranked #19
WIN 18-17 Saint Louis; Buccaneers Ranked #17
WIN 38-35 Arizona; Buccaneers Ranked #13
LOSS 21-28 Atlanta; Buccaneers Ranked #13
WIN 31-20 Carolina, Buccaneers Ranked #13
WIN 21-0; San Francisco; Buccaneers Ranked #12 (Current NFL expert ranking)

Up Next:
@Baltimore (7-3)  #4

Upcoming:
Atlanta (8-2)  #3
@Washington (5-5)  #17
Detroit (2-8)  #29
Seattle (5-5)  #20
@New Orleans (7-3)  #7

Remaining Schedule Cumulative Record: 34-26

The remaining schedule continues to win.  Only one of the last six teams the Buccaneers will face this year currently has a losing record.  The road ahead will not be easy.

The Buccaneers face one of the top teams in the AFC this weekend needing a win to keep pace in the tight NFC South.  This is perfect time for the Buccaneers to rise up and get a signature win to improve their potential playoff standing and serve notice to the NFC they will challenge for the postseason.

Using the NFL.com expert consensus rankings (which change weekly), the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are still on course for a 10-6 finish and an NFC Playoff birth!

GO BUCS!!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Sims Move Means Change Is Coming

Can the Buccaneers do it again?

Will General Manager Mark Dominik and Head Coach Raheem Morris pull yet another young star onto their already twinkling roster?

The release of Ryan Sims creates another roster void.  Dominik can either fill it from his own practice squad (i.e. Ted Larsen), can swipe a player from another team's practice squad (i.e. Al Woods), or can pull in a practice squad player or waived player from another team (i.e. LeGarrette Blount).  What will it be?

Considering the aggressive nature Dominik has shown by plundering the late round picks of other teams this season it could be the Buccaneers have identified a new target on another practice squad.  In the past, a dropped player has been replaced with another player at the same position.  This week, Dominik shuffled the practice squad, dropping G John Malecki (signed on October 26th) and adding even more size to the defensive line prospects with DT Frank Okam, a 6'5" 350 lb 5th round pick by the Houston Texans in 2008.  If Okam is the by-position replacement for the release of Sims, plus the offensive line getting healthy again, is the field wide open for a player at any position to join the roster?

It would appear the scenario is wide open.  Now that DE Alex Magee has reached the field and DT Al Woods has proven to be more than capable in the interior, the Buccaneers shave their numbers on the defensive line back to "practical" limits, making room for some new talent to get a chance.

Who could it be?  One possiblity is Brandon Carter, a 6'7" 344lbs offensive guard, who has been on the practice squad since camp closed in early September.  Defensive back Vince Anderson and wide receiver Dezmon Briscoe are also candidates for the same reasons.

There is no obvious choice.  With the offensive line getting healthier again the Buccaneers are currently not short numbers-wise at any position in particular.

Looks like Dominik can choose as he pleases.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Josh Freeman vs. Steve Young

About 25 years ago, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers picked up a quarterback in the USFL supplemental draft.  He played 19 games over two years, then was traded away for a second and a fourth round pick to the San Francisco 49ers.  His name was Steve Young.

This weekend, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers fly out to San Francisco with a young quarterback who just completed his own 19 games of Buccaneer football.  

Steve Young is one of the best NFL quarterbacks to play the game.  He has three SuperBowl rings to prove it  (one as MVP) and won six passing titles during his career.  A stellar fourteen year career by any measure.  League MVP twice. 

Of course, Josh Freeman does not compare at this point having been in the NFL for less than two seasons.

But what about the start of their respective careers?

Certainly the game has changed.  This is not completely apples to apples. But it's fun nonetheless.  Both players started their NFL careers with Tampa Bay so, to start with, they have their NFL roots in common.

Steve Young threw 501 passes in his first 19 games as a Buccaneer, completing 267 for about a 53% completion percentage amassing 3,217 yards.  Josh Freeman has thrown 560 times in his first 19 games, completing 322 of them (about 57%) for 3,818 yards.

Josh Freeman has thrown 23 interceptions, two more than Steve Young with the same number of games.  On the other hand, Freeman has thrown 22 touchdowns while Young threw only 11 while he was a Buccaneer.

All those numbers are pretty comparable, and the minor differences are easlily attributed to how the play of an NFL game has changed (more passing, faster players, etc).  Young had James Wilder behind him in the backfield and threw to Jimmy Giles, Gerald Carter, Kevin House, and Calvin Magee while posting a 3-16 record over those nineteen games.

After just two years, the success-starved Tampa Bay fans considered Young a bust.  After Young's second season (1986) his coach, Leaman Bennett, was released.  In came Ray Perkins holding the #1 pick in the draft.  Out went Young (out west, to be exact) for two additional picks in the Buccaneer's 1987 NFL Draft which resulted in the selections of LB Winston Moss and WR Bruce Hill.  The rest is history.  A lot of history.  Much of it documented in the Hall of Fame.  None of it happened in Tampa.

This weekend, Josh Freeman takes a 10-9 record through his own 19 game NFL initiation out west to meet the team which landed Young all those years ago.  Freeman has a rotation of running backs and an extremely young group of receivers.  The fans in the (Tampa) Bay Area have slowly started to warm up to his presence in the backfield because of the solid improvement in his game this season.  Clearly Freeman is the future, which could not be said about Young during his stay.

Most impressively, the young Freeman holds up pretty well in comparison to the start of the career of Steve Young.  Not many teams with young quarterbacks (Jets, Lions, Rams, etc) can say the same.

The San Francisco 49ers have had their own share of trials and tribulations at quarterback recently -- how long has it been since the quarterback position in Tampa has been this settled?  I have no doubt those fans are restless with past succeses making them even hungrier for a return to winning.

So to the 49ers fans (and to unconvinced Tampa Bay fans, too) I say, hang in there -- as you work your way through a difficult season you may forget the lesson we here in Tampa learned over the course of about 12 years:  One Teams trash is Another Team's Treasure.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

"Race to 10" Update: Week 10

A peek ahead at the upcoming schedule of the 6-3 Tampa Bay Buccaneers: 

Past:
WIN 17-14 Cleveland; Buccaneers Ranked #27
WIN 20-7 Carolina; Buccaneers Ranked #20
LOSS 38-13 Pittsburgh; Buccaneers Ranked #22
WIN 24-21 Cincinnati; Buccaneers Ranked #17
LOSS 31-6 New Orleans; Buccaneers Ranked #19
WIN 18-17 Saint Louis; Buccaneers Ranked #17
WIN 38-35 Arizona; Buccaneers Ranked #13
LOSS 21-28 Atlanta; Buccaneers Ranked #13 
WIN 31-20 Carolina, Buccaneers Ranked #13 (Current NFL expert ranking)

Up Next:
@San Francisco (3-6)  #25

Upcoming:
@Baltimore (6-3)  #5
Atlanta (7-2)  #2
@Washington (4-5)  #20
Detroit (2-7)  #29
Seattle (5-4)  #21
@New Orleans (6-3)  #6

Remaining Schedule Cumulative Record: 30-24

For the first time this season, the remaining schedule has skewed to one side, in this case to the win column.  Tampa Bay will have to finish strong for a chance at a postseason run.

The Buccaneers have continued to beat the teams they rank above, keeping the playoff drive in high gear.  This weekend they face another foe they need to beat.  Coming up after the run to the West Coast this weekend for a 4:15 PM Eastern game, the Buccaneers will face Baltimore at the newly adjusted 4:15 PM Eastern time slot before returning home for The Game Of The Year against Atlanta at Raymond James Stadium.  This is when the Buccaneers need to rise up for a signature win and improve their potential playoff standing.

Using the NFL.com expert consensus rankings (which change weekly), the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are still on course for a 10-6 finish and an NFC Playoff birth!

GO BUCS!!

Friday, November 12, 2010

Dominik Reloads Practice Squad

With the recent promotions of TE Ryan Purvis and T Will Barker from the practice squad to supplement changes to the 53-man roster, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers were left with two open positions on the practice squad.

Not any more.

General Manager Mark Dominik and Pro Scout Shelton Quarles have been pressed into several hectic weeks shuffling players to the active roster to keep the young Tampa Bay Buccaneers at full strength through a rugged series of injuries, suspensions, and cuts.  Most recently, they have placed two new players on the practice squad.

Pittsburgh Plunder

On the day after the Buccaneers placed rookie defensive tackle Brian Price on injured reserve, the Buccaneers signed DT Al Woods away from the Pittsburgh Steelers practice squad to their regular roster (about one week ago).  While Woods joined the team and recorded his first NFL tackle in the same week last week, another move by Dominik went mostly unnoticed.  Dominik signed defensive tackle Doug Worthington (6'5", 292 lbs) to the practice squad.  Worthington was a 7th round pick out of Ohio State by the Pittsburgh Steelers in the 2010 NFL Draft -- yet another player chosen in the 2010 draft by another team who is now on the Tampa Bay roster. Worthington was not with the Steelers, but in essence, the Buccaneers have possibly stolen the future of the Steelers defensive line.  Worthington is a possibility at defensive end as well as inside.

This Week

This week, the Buccaneers signed Tyrone McKenzie (6'2", 245 lbs), an outside linebacker (he also played in the middle for part of his college career) who was drafted in the 3rd round in 2009 by the New England Patriots.  This season, McKenzie asked for the Patriots to release him to pursue opportunities with other teams.  McKenzie played high school football in Sarasota, Florida before leaving for Iowa State University.  While there, he was the second leading tackler in the Big XII (#8 nationally) as a sophomore.  McKenzie then transferred to South Florida and played outside linebacker for the Bulls.  Obviously McKenzie likes being in central Florida -- perhaps it's his motivation for asking out of New England?  You like players who want to be with you, so perhaps this is a perfect match.

Last weekend, the Buccaneers emerged from a showdown for the NFC South lead in better health than recent weeks, so there do not appear to be any impending practice squad moves this week.  These men are, however, in a great position to compete for a roster spot during the coming offseason.

If these picks turn out like other young players the Buccaneers have found recently, they could be playing meaningful NFL minutes sooner than later.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Playoffs Watch: Week 9

With a tough 21-27 loss to the Atlanta Falcons last Sunday, the Buccaneers slide down the playoff ladder just slightly.

The chart below is a snapshot of "if the season ended today".  The (+) means the Buccaneers would win the tiebreaker if Tampa Bay finishes with the same record (because of a head-to-head win).  A (-) means the Buccaneers would lose the same tiebreaker scenario.  Tampa Bay has played five NFC games so far this season (conference games are important!).

Remember that division winners, regardless of record, make the playoffs. Here is how the NFC breaks down as of today:

Division Winners With First Round Bye
6-2 (East) New York Giants
6-2 (South) Atlanta Falcons (-)

Division Winners With First Round Home Game
6-3 (North) Green Bay Packers
4-4 (West) St. Louis Rams (+)

Wildcards
6-3 (South) New Orleans Saints (-)
5-3 (East) Philadelphia Eagles

Outside Looking In
5-3 (South) Tampa Bay Buccaneers
5-3 (North) Chicago Bears
4-4 (East) Washington Redskins
4-4 (West) Seattle Seahawks
3-5 (North) Minnesota Vikings
3-5 (West) Arizona Cardinals (+)
2-6 (North) Detroit Lions
2-6 (West) San Francisco 49ers
1-7 (South) Carolina Panthers (+)
1-7 (East) Dallas Cowboys

Tampa Bay is now the top team on the outside looking in at the midpoint of the 2010 season.  While much improved over last year, the Buccaneers find themselves needing help to get back into a playoff slot.  Being tied with Chicago and Philadelphia, with Washington and Seattle right behind, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers cannot afford a loss to a team they should beat.

The Buccaneers remaining schedule contains one game each against Atlanta, Seattle, New Orleans, Washington, Detroit, San Francisco.  From the chart you can see that both wildcard teams could easily come from the NFC South this season.

So much to consider, but first and foremost the Buccaneers need to get back on a winning streak!

Buccaneers Roll Out The First Year Players

Do not call them "Rookies" anymore.  

The youngest team in the NFL may have rolled out the NFL's youngest starting lineup last weekend, standing toe-to-toe with the Atlanta Falcons with the NFC South on the line.  It was the first half of this rivalry this year -- the rematch happens in just three weeks.  A lot may change by then, but one thing will not:  the Buccaneers have young talent and they are not afraid to use it.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers started six first year players this past weekend and all contributed while playing a substantial number of minutes:

WR Mike Williams -- 4 Catches, 89 Yards, Touchdown
WR Arrelious Benn -- 1 Catch, 14 Yards, 1st Touchdown of his career
DT Gerald McCoy -- Tackle, Assist
FS Cody Grimm -- 5 Tackles
P Robert Malone -- 3 punts, 39 Yard Average (Two within the Atlanta 20-yard line)
G Ted Larsen -- 3rd Straight Start

And there were others noobs who also contributed:  RB LeGarrette Blount, WR Preston Parker, and DT Al Woods.  In fact, Woods recorded his first NFL tackle after being signed just four days earlier while Blount, Malone, and Larsen were added after training camp.  This solidifies the fact the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have the coaches and support staff in place to develop young talent into a team capable of competing for an NFC playoff spot.  How much more youth can be packed on the roster?


Too bad he didn't look near One Buccaneer Place.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

"Race to 10" Update: Week 9

A peek ahead at the upcoming schedule of the 5-3 Tampa Bay Buccaneers: 

Past:
WIN 17-14 Cleveland; Buccaneers Ranked #27
WIN 20-7 Carolina; Buccaneers Ranked #20
LOSS 38-13 Pittsburgh; Buccaneers Ranked #22
WIN 24-21 Cincinnati; Buccaneers Ranked #17
LOSS 31-6 New Orleans; Buccaneers Ranked #19
WIN 18-17 Saint Louis; Buccaneers Ranked #17
WIN 38-35 Arizona; Buccaneers Ranked #13
LOSS 21-28 Atlanta; Buccaneers Ranked #13 (Current NFL expert ranking)

Up Next:
Carolina (1-7)  #31

Upcoming:
@San Francisco (2-6)  #28
@Baltimore (6-2)  #1
Atlanta (6-2)  #4
@Washington (4-4)  #21
Detroit (2-6)  #25
Seattle (4-4)  #24
@New Orleans (6-3)  #7

Remaining Schedule Cumulative Record: 31-34

The Buccaneers maintained their best ranking of the season after a hard fought game in Atlanta.  The Buccaneers have two very winnable games up next, then a chance to test their progress against the currently rated #1 team in the NFL.  However, they must win the next two to stay on track for the playoffs

Using the NFL.com expert consensus rankings (which change weekly), the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are still on course for a 10-6 finish and an NFC Playoff birth!

GO BUCS!!

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Faine Watch, Week Four

All eyes will be on One Buccaneer Place today to see if the news on the injury front will improve this week.

Tampa Bay center Jeff Faine was injured early against Cincinnati about a month ago.  The Buccaneers still won the game, and have been 2-2 since.  Faine is an important interior component of the offensive line, a piece not easily replaced.  Jeremy Zuttah has filled in well during Faine's absence and rookie Ted Larsen has proven to be up to the task filling Zuttah's old position at left guard.  Nonetheless, having a working three man rotation in the middle (Faine, Zuttah, Larsen) for the last quarter of the season could go a long way towards getting the Buccaneers into the playoffs.

Last week, Jeff Faine had limited participation in practice for one day, then was held out for the remainder of the week, most likely to evaluate his condition and continue specialized therapy to rehab his injury. Without much practice time last week, Faine is most likely out this week as well. If Faine is to return next week then at least limited participation for a majority of the practices this week would be a big step in the right direction.

The Buccaneers are entering the stretch run of the season.  Hopefully this week starts the return to All Hands On Deck!

Gerald McCoy Only Needs One Thing: Time

It's a well known fact in the NFL it takes much longer for defensive linemen to adapt to the game than most other positions.  Not only is the game faster and the opponents bigger, the guy across the line has experience.  And not just experience, but NFL experience, lining up against the best defensive linemen in the world week after week.  Offensive linemen get the benefit of knowing the snap count.  Add in the complex schemes offenses use in the NFL and there is just a lot to learn when you play defensive line in the NFL.

And, pretty much, the only way to really learn it is to play.

And statistics bear this out in general. Taking the Buccaneers first seven opponents as examples, I took the starting defensive linemen and figured their average age. I then organized them by how many rushing yards per game the team allows. Not surprisingly, the average years of experience tracked the number of yards given up in the running game. There are exceptions:  In the 8 listed here, the Bengals and the Cardinals buck the trend -- but the other 75% of my example demonstrates the relationship.

Average
Years of DL
Experience
NFL RankTeamRushing Yards/
Game
Starting Defensive Linemen
10.0#1Pittsburgh
Steelers
58.9(A. Smith (12), C. Hampton (10), N. Eason (8))
6.75#8Saint Louis
Rams
97.8(C. Long (3), F. Robbins (11), G. Gibson (2), J. Hall (11))
5.30#16New Orleans
Saints
108.6(A. Brown (9), S. Ellis (3), R. Ayodele (4))
4.30#19Cleveland
Browns
111.3(K. Coleman (9), A. Rubin (3), B. Schaefering (1))
3.00#21Carolina
Panthers
119.0(C. Johnson (4), E. Johnson (2), D. Landri (4), E. Brown (2))
6.25#23Cincinnati
Bengals
120.7(R. Gaethers (7), D. Peko (5), T. Johnson (7), J. Fanene (6))
8.00#29Arizona
Cardinals
143.1(C. Campbell (3), B. Robinson (14), D. Dockett (7))
2.25#30Tampa Bay
Buccaneers
149.4(K. Moore (2), G. McCoy (1), R. Miller (2), S. White (4))

If you accept this trend generally, then the top half of the league averages just over 5 seasons of NFL play across the defensive line.

Fear not, Buccaneer Fan, this does not mean it will take Gerald McCoy five seasons to be a top-flight defensive tackle.  On the contrary: if you believe the same group of defensive linemen will still be in Tampa one year from now, then the average experience of the group will be 3.25 years.  Based on the information in the table above, next year the Buccaneers rushing defense should improve from around 150 yards/game to about 115 yards/game -- a massive improvement of about 35 yards/game which in itself may not sound like much, but in game situations it can be a significant improvement not only in field position but also in putting the opposing team into more 3rd and long situations.  Believe me when I say it is very common knowledge in the front offices of the NFL how the second and third years for defensive lineman are giant steps forward.

Unfortunately, with Brian Price going to IR this week, the Buccaneers will not get a first year of experience under the belts of their top two picks from the 2010 draft.  Again, I tell you, fear not.  For proof of what a first year player can do, look no further than Defensive Tackle Roy Miller and his excellent rookie season.

I know it's hard to watch an opposing running back break the occasional big gain on a defense we have watched dominate for over a decade.  Just remember the team is 5-2 now and playing for the lead in the NFC South today, so obviously the rest of the team is making it work while the young defensive line works through their growing pains.

Keep the faith, because when the experience gets there, the return to dominance will be fun to watch!

Saturday, November 6, 2010

GM Mark Dominik Gets First Shot At Old Boss

We, the fans, know how invested we are in our beloved Buccaneers.  We know the players battle hard and take the results personally.  It's no different for the front office.

And the General Manager in particular.

Imagine the scenario (maybe it's even happened to you):  A boss you respect heads off to build a new company elsewhere -- what do you do?  

Only two people know what the situation was when Rich McKay left the Buccaneers in 2003, leaving then-pro personnel director Mark Dominik in Tampa. Was he left behind?  If so, why? Did he choose to stay?  If so, why?

Seven years laster, does "why" even matter anymore?

This Sunday, Tampa Bay Buccaneers General Manager Mark Dominik gets his first shot at now team President Rich McKay and the Atlanta Falcons.  And I think it means a lot to Dominik.

Rich McKay was General Manager of the Buccaneers for a decade, from 1993 to 2003, leading the team from pretender to contender and then on to SuperBowl Champions in Superbowl XXXVII played January 26, 2003.  However, in December of that same year, McKay was introduced as the new President and General Manager of the NFC South foe Atlanta Falcons.  McKay may have bolted because of the battle over the hiring of Jon Gruden versus Marvin Lewis in 2001 (McKay wanted Lewis).  Maybe McKay and Gruden did not see eye to eye.  Maybe the draft picks given up for Gruden (so soon after the Keyshawn Johnson trade) made McKay question if he could sustain the team.

Whatever the case, McKay left and Bruce Allen came to town.  And Mark Dominik watched it all unfold from his office at One Buccaneer Place.  Dominik had already been with the team since 1995, having been involved in college and pro scouting for 7 seasons when the GM change took place.

So this weekend Dominik faces his old boss.  Dominik is only in his second year as GM, but the roster is covered with his fingerprints.  And I'm sure he feels the competitive spirit which permeates everything related to the NFL.  So a win this weekend would be pretty sweet.

But it's just one game.

General Managers care about every game, so for Dominik, I think the old saying applies: "Success is the sweetest Revenge".

Dominik's Buccaneers are currently on track to make a playoff appearance this season, which is only Dominik's 2nd as General Manager. In contrast, Rich McKay did not reach the playoffs until 1997, his 5th season at the helm.   Those are the kind of numbers that General Managers compete over. 

Another thing GMs compete about is currently a big fat tie:  Both men have a SuperBowl XXXVII ring.

But here's the final measure:  It took McKay eight years as General Manager to reach the SuperBowl, winning it in his first try.  Believe me, that is the ruler by which Dominik measures his own success.  

And Dominik getting a second SuperBowl ring with himself as General Manager?  

It would be the ultimate revenge.


Thursday, November 4, 2010

Who Buccaneer Fans Should Cheer For, Week 9

We want that win in Atlanta!!  That's priority #1 -- take the lead in the NFC South!

The next best things which can happen is for the other division leaders to lose.  Good News!!  The NFC East leading New York Giants play the NFC West leading Seattle Seahawks, so one of them has to lose.  To get the #1 overall seed in the playoffs, a win by Seattle is preferred.  The NFC North is lead by the Green Bay Packers, who play the Dallas Cowboys.  Ugh, yucky game -- but it would be better for the Buccaneers if Dallas won (since the Jets couldn't figure out how last weekend).

One game which could be very important is Arizona Cardinals against the Minnesota Vikings.  If the Vikings can win, it continues the splitting of the NFC which will slowly start eliminating teams from playoff contention.  Go Vikings!

The last four teams to be concerned with this week are the Eagles, Bears, Rams, and Redskins who are all within a game of the Buccaneers in record, but on the outside looking in for playoff positions at this time.  The Rams and Redskins (both 4-4 and therefore two games behind the Buccaneers) are on bye weeks so nothing happening there.  The Eagles host Indianapolis so cheer on the Colts!!  And finally, the Bears go to Buffalo and become the latest team to worry about being the Bills first win of the season.  You can do it, Bills!!

So, to recap:  Buccaneers, Seahawks, Cowboys, Vikings, Colts, and Bills are the teams we want to win this week.

GO BUCS!!  

Playoffs Watch: Week 8

After a 3-13 2009, who would have believed a Playoff Watch would officially begin in Week 8 of 2010?  Welcome as we track the playoff scenarios for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers!

Think it's too early?  No way -- a distinct split is growing in the NFC, and the Buccaneers need to stay on the right side of it.  There are five teams with 5 wins, 5 teams with 4 wins, 1 team with 3 wins, and 5 teams with two wins or less.  If the 5-win and 4-win teams can continue to drive the 3-or-fewer-win teams down they can start forcing eliminations and improve their own playoff chances.

The Buccaneers are a case in point -- if Tampa Bay did not defeat the Arizona Cardinals last weekend, the then 4-3 Buccaneers would be on the outside looking in at 4-3 Arizona and 4-3 New Orleans due to head-to-head losses.  But Arizona is currently on the outside looking in instead.  Every game has dire consequences this time of year!

The chart below is a snapshot of "if the season ended today".  The (+) means the Buccaneers would win the tiebreaker if Tampa Bay finishes with the same record (because of a head-to-head win).  A (-) means the Buccaneers would lose the same tiebreaker scenario.  Tampa Bay has played four NFC games so far this season and owns the tiebreaker against three of them (which shows why conference games are so important).

Remember that division winners, regardless of record, make the playoffs.  Here is how the NFC breaks down as of today:

Division Winners With First Round Bye
5-2 (East) New York Giants
5-2 (South) Atlanta Falcons

Division Winners With First Round Home Game
5-2 (North) Green Bay Packers
4-3 (West) Seattle Seahawks

Wildcards
5-2 (South) Tampa Bay Buccaneers
5-3 (South) New Orleans Saints (-)

Outside Looking In
4-3 (East) Philadelphia Eagles
4-3 (North) Chicago Bears
4-4 (West) St. Louis Rams (+)
4-4 (East) Washington Redskins
3-4 (West) Arizona Cardinals (+)
2-5 (North) Minnesota Vikings
2-5 (North) Detroit Lions
2-6 (West) San Francisco 49ers
1-6 (South) Carolina Panthers (+)
1-6 (East) Dallas Cowboys

The Buccaneers remaining schedule contains two games against Atlanta, an one game each against Seattle, New Orleans, Washington, Detroit, San Francisco.  From the chart you can see that both wildcard teams could easily come from the NFC South this season.

Finally, it is pretty clear that the NFC West is not as strong this season as the other divisions, which means getting the #1 Wildcard Spot (where the Buccaneers are now) could provide the best matchup for the first round of the playoffs, since the top Wildcard plays at the worst Division Winner.

So much to consider, but first and foremost the Buccaneers need to keep winning!

TAMPA!!!
BAY!!
TAMPA!!
BAY!!

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

NFC South 6-2 vs. NFC West

Looks like the NFC South is still one of the two dominant Divisions in the NFC.

This season, the NFC South teams play all the NFC West teams.  So far, the NFC South is running away  in the head-to-head matchups with a 6-2 record halfway through the season:

TeamsArizona St. Louis San Francisco Seattle
Tampa BayW (38-35)W (18-17)
AtlantaW (41-7)W (16-14)
CarolinaL (20-10)W (23-20)
New OrleansL (30-20)W (25-22)

In a tight divisional race these matchups can make all the difference.  So far, the Buccaneers and Falcons are both 2-0 against NFC West opponents -- and they are leading the division at 5-2 each heading into their showdown this weekend.

Hopefully the Buccaneers can sweep the NFC West this season on their way to a playoff birth!

"Race to 10" Update: Week 8

A peek ahead at the upcoming schedule of the 5-2 Tampa Bay Buccaneers: 

Past:
WIN 17-14 Cleveland; Buccaneers Ranked #27
WIN 20-7 Carolina; Buccaneers Ranked #20
LOSS 38-13 Pittsburgh; Buccaneers Ranked #22
WIN 24-21 Cincinnati; Buccaneers Ranked #17
LOSS 31-6 New Orleans; Buccaneers Ranked #19
WIN 18-17 Saint Louis; Buccaneers Ranked #17
WIN 38-35 Arizona; Buccaneers Ranked #13 (Current NFL expert ranking)

Up Next:
@Atlanta (5-2)  #7 (NFL Expert Rank)

Upcoming:
Carolina (1-6)  #31
@San Francisco (2-6)  #28
@Baltimore (5-2)  #2
Atlanta (5-2)  #7
@Washington (4-4)  #22
Detroit (2-5)  #24
Seattle (4-3)  #20
@New Orleans (5-3)   #8

Remaining Schedule Cumulative Record: 33-33

The Buccaneers have reached their highest ranking of the season this week and their first mark within the top half of the NFL since late in the 2008 season.  Tampa Bay still needs a "signature win" this season to start building a reputation as a legitimate post-season threat -- could it be this week against the Falcons?  The "4th quarter" of the season looks pivotal (Redskins, Lions, Seahawks, Saints) in determining the end-of-season fate of the 2010 Buccaneers.

Using the NFL.com expert consensus rankings (which change weekly), the Tampa Bay Buccaneers should still finish 10-6 and in the NFC Playoffs!

GO BUCS!!

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Loss of Brian Price Puts More Pressure On Young Roster

As expected (but not who I suspected), another Tampa Bay Buccaneer is done for the season.

With 2010 2nd Round draft pick Brian Price heading to Injured Reserve (and therefore out for the year), the Buccaneers now have a hole on the regular roster and a hole on the practice squad.  The Buccaneers are no doubt burning some midnight oil these days trying to keep fresh bodies available for Head Coach Raheem Morris and his staff as they prepare to invade Atlanta with a possible NFC South Divisional Championship on the line.

General Manager Mark Dominik has now faced a practice squad promotion three straight weekends in a row.

It started back on Week 6, when RB Kareem Huggins went to IR with a knee injury.  The following week, TE Jerramy Stevens was cut from the team after an altercation with the law.  Last week, G Keydrick Vincent was cut and T Jeremy Trueblood was inactive due to a knee injury.  These moves resulted in the promotion of T Derek Hardman, TE Ryan Purvis, and T Will Barker being promoted from the practice squad.

What General Manager Mark Dominik will do next is . . . pass out from lack of sleep.  Seriously, who knows?  With just four regular defensive tackles on the roster before Price went down, is it time to find a free agent defensive lineman?  Experienced or another young talent to go with all the rest of the youth at that position?  The Buccaneers have won two games since Price went down -- perhaps there is already plenty of talent on the roster and a replacement at defensive tackle is not needed.  Or, maybe, it's time to promote DE George Johnson from the practice squad to the active roster and see what the young man brings to the table.

Another option available to Dominik with the deactivation of Brian Price is to snap up a practice squad player from another team.  Dominik has found some gems in this manner before.  Can he do it again?

And the Buccaneers just keep getting younger and younger . . .

Tampa Bay Has No Interest In Randy Moss

I can flatly confirm the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have zero interest in Randy Moss.

The Buccaneers are quite happy with the young receiving corp and the chemistry they are developing with quarterback Josh Freeman.

As is evident from watching him play, Moss is a notoriously lazy route runner (as well as a mouth runner) so I applaud the Buccaneers for going with what they have and staying on the upward path with the talented youth already on the roster -- including the leading rookie wide receiver in the NFL Mike Williams.

Just more proof of how drafting your own talent and developing it gives you more options when it comes to the waiver wire and free agent markets.  The Buccaneers can avoid the circus, potential locker room distraction, and the huge contract simply due to their diligence in drafting Sammie Stroughter (2009), Mike Williams (2010), and Arrelious Benn (2010), three young players with far more upside.

Sorry, Randy, hope someone else has work for you!

Monday, November 1, 2010

Rumor: A Buccaneer Is Headed To IR This Week

I've been burning up the network this evening but do not have a name.  But from what I understand, there will be yet another Buccaneer going to IR this week.

I have not been able to determine who it is, so let's see if we can figure it out by analysis.

Last week's injury report had the following players not participating in practice:
Keydrick Vincent (G) Back
Brian Price (DT) Pelvis
Jeremy Trueblood (T) Knee
Jeff Faine (C) Quadricep
Preston Parker (WR) Knee

Add in those who did not play last Sunday:
QB 11 J.Johnson

And those who were inactive last Sunday:
QB Rudy Carpenter
RB Kregg Lumpkin
CB Elbert Mack
C Jeff Faine
T  Jeremy Trueblood
WR Preston Parker
DT Brian Price
DE Alex Magee

And we have our list of suspects.
  • It is not Keydrick Vincent, he was cut from the roster late last week.
  • I doubt it's one of the Quarterbacks, Rudy Carpenter or Josh Johnson, since neither has seen much action and neither has been on an injury report this season.
  • Brian Price and Jeff Faine have been week-to-week for a couple weeks now.  If it was one of them, you would think they would already be on IR.  You can't really eliminate them from the possiblity, however, until they get back on the practice field.
  • Jeremy Trueblood is recently injured, a possibility on an already thin line.
  • Elbert Mack has been hurt but participated last week, which does not sound like a candidate for IR.
  • Preston Parker's injury is recent and I do not know the extent.  Parker is a possiblity.
  • Kregg Lumpkin and Alex Magee have never been mentioned in an injury report.
So the possiblities are Parker, Trueblood, Price, and Faine, in my estimation.  It would seem that Trueblood and Parker are most likely as they are more recently injured.

Coach Morris did not provide an injury report in his Monday press conference so there are no hints there.

Again, I would classify this a rumor at this point.  We should know if I'm completely mistaken by Wednesday.  In any case, it's still going to be a busy week in the Buccaneer's front office -- not what you want going into a showdown for the top spot in the NFC South.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

What A Difference A Year Makes

This time, last year, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers were reeling from an 0-7 start and had just returned from London.  This was the bye week in 2009.  The entire Buccaneer Nation was dismayed, disturbed, and disheartened by the record and the way the hard changes brought on by first year General Manager Mark Dominik and first year Head Coach Raheem Morris had impacted the team.

Fast forward one year later and Tampa Bay has reached 5-2, with the NFC South divisional lead on the line next weekend as the Buccaneers head to Atlanta. 

In 2009, the Buccaneers were handing the reigns of the team over to rookie quarterback Josh Freeman.  Freeman has been the quarterback ever since, compiling an 8-8 record and making big progress this year.  2009 also saw the emergence of rookie wide receiver Sammie Stroughter, who also has found his rhythm this season and is now a steady contributor.  And the foundation for a young defensive line had been set as rookie defensive tackle Roy Miller was showing flashes of becoming a dominant performer.

In 2010, there has been more talent added with names like Mike Williams, Arrelious Benn, Gerald McCoy, and Cody Grimm.  This team is certainly performing far ahead of expectations, although some thought a playoff run was within reach.

Yes, there will be more nail biters this season, more games where the results are in doubt late into the fourth quarter.  And the youthful Buccaneers may get big chunks of points as quickly as they may give up a big chunk of points.  And it will drive the fans crazy.

You do get the feeling, however, you are not just cheering for 2010.  It's starting to feel like you are cheering for the bright future ahead for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers!

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Buccaneers Bring The Big

6 feet even, 247 pounds.  6 feet 4 inches, 275 pounds.  6 feet 6 inches, 248 pounds.

Thats 770 pounds of football player.  It's not a set of linebackers, nor is it a set of defensive linemen.  It's the Josh Freeman, Erik Lorig, LeGarrette Blount backfield first utilized by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers against the Saint Louis Rams.

With Lorig in the backfield, the Buccaneers boast as much size and power as anyone in the NFL.  Lorig has yet to record a carry or a reception but that is not his function.  He is a steamroller for the tailbacks (so far?).  Blount has made his presence known as he continues to work his way into the playing rotation, with 4.9 yards/carry and over 100 total yards on the season thus far.

While these youngsters have shown great promise this season, as well as giant upside, there is another thing they bring to the Buccaneers which may be even more valuable:  they can extend the careers of Earnest Graham and Cadillac Williams.  Every carry the youngsters take extends the career of Graham and Williams by another play.  The versatility and experience of the Tampa Bay running game is keeping the focus on the offensive backfield, allowing the young receiving corp a chance to make themselves a threat to respect.  Once the passing game reaches maturity, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers may have the most balanced attack seen on the Gulf Coast since 2002, which had Micheal Pittman and Mike Alstott in the backfield with Keyshawn Johnson, Keenan McCardell, and Joe Jurivcious running routes.

Will the Freeman/Lorig/Blount combination be utilized against the Arizona Cardinals this weekend?  With the injury problems up front on offense and the release of Keydrick Vincent it may not be a question.

It may be the answer.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Freeman Taking A Big Step Forward

Josh Freeman, the first pick by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2009, has taken a big step forward this season.  This weekend, he will be completing his first "season", with a chance of reaching an even 8-8 to start his career.  But that is a small part of the story of Josh Freeman's NFL career thus far.

In his first year, Freeman did not get much time under center in training camp, nor did he start any of the first 7 games of the 2009 season.  But when the Buccaneers realized 2009 was not going to be a playoff year, they handed the reigns to the young signal caller.  Freeman took those initial lumps, some of them pretty solid, but nonetheless was the starting quarterback for all three of the Buccaneer wins in 2009.  Like any rookie, he had his ups and downs:  his most productive game was a 321 yard effort on 44 attempts against Carolina, but he was also intercepted five times that day.  His most efficient game was against Atlanta with a 118.5 quarterback rating, which was followed two weeks later by his least efficient day, a 12.1 passer rating against the Jets.  Of the nine games he played in 2009, only one did not involve an interception.  Learning on the job in the NFL is hard.

Josh Freeman - 2009
OpponentAttCompYardsSack/LostTDLongIntRatingWon/Lost
GreenBay31142051/7338186.1W
Miami28161964/16137175.9L
New Orleans33171263/26121333.1L
Atlanta29202501/52420118.5L
Carolina44233212/6040536.5L
New York Jets3314933/12015312.1L
Seattle26162050/0222195.8W
New Orleans31212713/8035268.1W
Atlanta31151721/6127249.4L

Fast forward through a full set of OTAs, a full offseason, and a full preseason as the primary signal caller, and those lumps seem to have molded a efficient young quarterback.  While Freeman's passer rating last year was erratic (high: 118.5, low: 12.1, average 59.8), this year it has been in a much tighter range (high:  102.4, low  67.1, average 82.8 through Week 7).  Josh Freeman has become more consistent at being consistent, a very important quality in the offensive leader.  He does have three picks in six games but also has seven touchdowns in the same time period making his touchdown to interception ratio better than 2:1 -- the mark of a winning quarterback.

Josh Freeman - 2010
OpponentAttCompYardsSack/LostTDLongIntRatingWon/Lost
Cleveland28171823/13233188.7W
Carolina24121780/02400102.4W
Pittsburgh31201843/16046167.1L
Cincinnati33202803/18137185.4W
New Orleans43252190/0127079.5L
Saint Louis40232123/23121080.4W
If you take Freeman's statistics through the first six games of 2010 and project them to the same number of games he played last year (nine), the improvement is completely obvious (see table below). The projections show nearly the same number of attempts, completions, yards, and exactly the same number of touchdowns.  However, through 9 games last season, the rookie Freeman threw 18 interceptions.  The nine game projection suggests only four interceptions over the same number of games this season.  Truly a remarkable turnaround for a young player.

Taking it one step farther, if you project Freeman's current 2010 numbers out to a 16 game season, Freeman rates out squarely in the middle of the pack among all NFL quarterbacks.  Considering the number of rookies he is working with this season as well as the learning curve he is still climbing, to finish anywhere among the top half of the league is impressive.  The numbers also show a full command of the game, with a touchdown-to-interception ratio projected to be 2.3.  In fact, among quarterbacks with more than 100 attempts so far this season, Freeman is tied for 5th lowest number of interceptions (Matt Cassel, Kansas City has 3, four others have only 2, nobody has less than two).

Seasons
Year/GamesAttCompPctAtt/GYdsAvgYds/GTDTD%IntInt%Lng20+40+SckSckYRate
2009/9*29015854.529.01,8556.4185.5103.4186.242T2522010259.8
2010/619911758.833.21,2556.3209.273.531.546172127082.8
2010/9**298 176

1,883

10
4
2010/16**530312

3,346

19
8

* Does not include the 2 of 4, 16 yard mop-up duty against New England in Week 7, 2009 
** Estimated

Although Freeman struggled, it appears the way the Buccaneers handled Josh Freeman in his rookie year is producing big returns.  Coach Raheem Morris and General Manager Mark Dominik have stated since making Freeman their ever draft pick he was the franchise quarterback they could build a team around.  Considering Freeman's improvement after just a partial year you can only wonder where his upside levels off, and that's exactly what you want in a franchise quarterback.
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