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!

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