Yardbarker Horiz

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Young Buccaneers Discover Higher Gear

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers lost to the Green Bay Packers 35-26, falling to 4-6 on the season. The Buccaneers have now suffered a four game losing streak to teams with a combined record of 31-13. The biggest challenge of the four games was going to Lambeau Field to play the undefeated Green Bay Packers.

The Buccaneers have been their own worst enemy in many ways during this downward swing, and last weekend was no different.  Tampa Bay was called for nine penalties (losing 55 yards), lost a fumble, and had two costly interceptions.

But this game featured something new: a resilience, combined with a competitive spirit which was not tangible in the past two games.

Although the Buccaneers did not score in the first quarter, the defense showed early they were ready to compete.  Green Bay's first possession stalled deep on their own end of the field, and Tampa Bay let their first opportunity slip by when pressure up the middle forced the Packer's punter to abort his kick.  Although he fumbled twice on the way to the sidelines, he did get enough yards to pick up the first down.  Instead of the Buccaneers getting a short field (maybe more), Green Bay would take the new opportunity and drive the length of the field for a touchdown to take the early lead 7-0.

The second quarter opened with Green Bay driving to a touchdown and a 14-0 lead.  On the next possession, LeGarrette Blount ripped off what could be the best running play in the NFL this season for 54 yards and a touchdown, helped by a crushing block by G Davin Josepth who removed a would-be tackler from Blount's back.  The play narrowed the Green Bay lead down to 14-7.

Tampa Bay scored on their next offensive possession as well, with a 23-yard Connor Barth field goal to reduce the deficit to 14-10.

On the ensuing kickoff, the Buccaneers attempted an onside kick which failed on an illegal touch by the Buccaneers.  The play appeared to catch the Packers off guard, but the opportunity was lost when Tampa did not allow the ball to travel 10-yards before touching the ball.  Green Bay took advantage of the short field and scored a touchdown to push the lead to 21-10.

The Buccaneers took the following kickoff from their own 24-yard line to the Green Bay 43 and were in a position to possibly get their own field goal attempt before halftime.  But another opportunity was lost when Josh Freeman was intercepted on a second and 10 play, and the game went to halftime with the Buccaneers behind 21-10.

Tampa Bay was able to get a field goal attempt on their first possession of the second half, bringing the score to 21-13.  However, the story of the third quarter was the defense who, for the first time in Green Bay's previous 10 quarters, held Green Bay scoreless.  In fact, the Buccaneer front four on defense kept pressure on the Packers all day, including sacks by DT Brian Price and DE Adrian Clayborn.

Tampa Bay opened the fourth quarter by finishing a 91-yard drive from the third quarter with a touchdown.  A failed two-point conversion left a two point deficit 21-19.  The Buccaneers and Packers then traded blows with each scoring a touchdown, and with 2:43 remaining in the game, the Packers held just a two point lead at 28-26.  Tampa Bay then attempted to steal the game away with another onside kick attempt, but did not recover the ball.  Faced with another short field, the Packers took advantage and scored another touchdown to put the game out of reach at 26-35.

Tampa Bay had their opportunities: two onside kicks, the possession before halftime, holding the opponent scoreless in the 3rd quarter.  Green Bay is undefeated and has scored more points this season than any other team in the NFL.  The Buccaneers stood toe-to-toe with them but were unable to take advantage when the opportunity presented itself.

It's rough for fans, but when a young team gets a glimpse of how good they "could be", it's an important event.  I guarantee none of the Buccaneers walked away from the game feeling Green Bay was a better team, just that the Packers were better that day.

Clearly this team has talent.  Last Sunday, they almost put it all together, but not quite.  Instead, the youngest team in the league will have to grow for another week and then test themselves against the 5-5 Tennessee Titans.

It's desperation time.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Freeman's Thumb Clearly An Issue

Josh Freeman has stated several times his thumb injury is small, not a problem, and no big deal.

I have to disagree.

According to Freeman via Rick Stroud of the Saint Petersberg Times, the thumb is has affected his throwing "a little bit". I believe it has affected his throwing a great deal.

Rewatching the Texans game from this past Sunday, Freeman mostly threw high (like above the receiver's head) and never achieved a tight spiral like his throws in 2010.  A high throw means his release point has changed as his hand comes over after windup, a sign of a lack of grip on the ball.  Bad grip (or a bad "feel" of the ball as it's released) makes for inaccuracy. Freeman put on clinics week after week last season on technique, ball speed, distance, and accuracy.  Clearly not the same thing this season.

A review of the Chicago game never showed Freeman gripping his hand or grimacing as the Buccaneers threw on their final six offensive plays to end the game.  In the post game press conference, the first 10 seconds shows Freeman's hand with no type of wrap, bandage, or support.  In fact, he unbuttons his jacket one handed using the thumb in question.  Nor does Freeman mention it during questioning.

So what is going on here?  What type of injury occurred in the Chicago game where there is no visible swelling, no sign of pain, yet requires a near-cast for a week and tape support during game time?  Is it a hairline fracture?

If the injury is significant, which apparently it is, why are the Buccaneers calling 33 pass plays versus just 16 rushing plays against the Texans?  Or 37 pass plays and only 16 running plays against New Orleans the week before?

Either Freeman and offensive coordinator Greg Olson are in denial about the injury, Freeman is having a "sophomore slump" type of season, or quarterback play is going to be down somewhat until the thumb in healed.

None of those cases bode well for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who already face an uphill climb to the playoffs this season.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Buccaneers Building Home Field Advantage

For years, NFL teams have enjoyed a home winning percentage of 55-60% on average (that's the bad included with the good).  Winning at home is a hallmark of a good team.  Winning on the road is the hallmark of a great team.

Since the beginning of the 2010 season, the Buccaneers have compiled a 14-10 record. Last season, the Buccaneers were 4-4 at home and an amazing 6-2 away from Raymond James Stadium. This season, Tampa Bay is 3-1 at home but just 1-3 away from home.

It's extremely odd for the youngest teams in the NFL to have a significantly better record away from home, and 2010 is clearly an exception to the norm in pro football. The 2011 season has swung the other way at the halfway mark.  But it's the home record that is most important.

A young team generally starts to win consistently at home before getting used to the travel and environment of away games.  The home record this season will mark the team's progress now that rebuilding is (or is nearly) over.

The remaining home games include 6-3 Houston this weekend (first game at home since October 16th), 4-4 Dallas on Saturday night, December 17th, and 2-6 Carolina on Christmas Eve.  It will be a sign of great progress if Tampa Bay can continue to win at home this season.

Another good sign:  the Buccaneers are 2-0 in the division at home this season.  Tampa Bay has not gone 3-0 at home against the division since 2008.  The formula to win a division is to win at home first, then learn to beat those same teams on the road.

It's all about experience and maturity now.  The Buccaneers can't get any younger, and winning out at home would be a great way to show progress this season.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Buccaneers Must Climb Hill To Playoffs

It's time for the Buccaneers to win at home!

A peek ahead at the upcoming schedule of the 4-4 Tampa Bay Buccaneers, currently ranked 18th in the NFL.com Expert Consensus Power Poll

LOST 27-20 to Detroit
WON 24-20 against Minnesota
WON 16-13 against Atlanta
WON 24-17 against Indianapolis
LOST 48-3 to San Francisco
WON 26-20 against New Orleans
LOST 24-18 to Chicago
LOST 26-18 to New Orleans

Up Next:

Houston (6-3) #9

@Green Bay (8-0) #1
@Tennessee (4-4) #20
Carolina (2-6) #23
@Jacksonville (2-6) #27
Dallas (3-3) #17
@Carolina (2-6) #23
@Atlanta (5-3) #14

Remaining Schedule Cumulative Record: 27-27

Based on the Power Poll, Tampa Bay should finish the 2011 season with an 8-8 record.  The swing games appear to be against Dallas, Atlanta, and this weekend's game against Houston.

The Playoff Picture
If the playoffs started this week:  

Division Winners
Green Bay Packers (8-0, NFC North)
- San Francisco 49ers (7-1, NFC West)
New York Giants (6-2, NFC East)
- New Orleans Saints (6-3, NFC South)
- Detroit Lions (6-2, NFC North)
- Chicago Bears (5-3, NFC North)
Outside Looking In
+ Atlanta Falcons (5-3, NFC South)
? Dallas Cowboys (4-4, NFC East)
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-4, NFC South)
Philadelphia Eagles (3-5, NFC East)
Washington Redskins (3-5, NFC East)

The rest of the NFC teams are more than three games out of the wildcard race at this time -- not eliminated, but getting there.  Teams with a minus(-) in front of their name own a tiebreaker over Tampa Bay by defeating the Buccaneers during the 2011 regular season.  Teams with a plus(+) in front of their name would lose a tiebreaker to the Buccaneers, and teams with a question mark(?) are still to come on the Buccaneers schedule.

Important games this weekend:
Buccaneers to WIN over Houston (of course!)
Detroit to WIN over Chicago
New Orleans to WIN over Atlanta
Buffalo to WIN over Dallas

Let's play football!


Thursday, November 10, 2011

Buccaneers Give Haynesworth One Last Chance

This is it for Albert Haynesworth.

According to the NFL Network, no other teams made a claim for Haynesworth.  Tampa Bay, who has publicly acknowledged their hopes on landing the All-Pro for two years, threw him a lifeline yesterday by claiming his rights via the waiver wire.

Buccaneers GM Mark Dominik stated flatly Albert is here because of a season ending injury to 2010 first round draft pick DT Gerald McCoy, not because the team was shopping for a position upgrade.  Obviously, none of the other NFL teams were in the market either.

Today could have been the first day of retirement for Albert.  It could have been the day he decided to hang it up.  Instead, Haynesworth is somewhere at or near One Buccaneer Place, getting ready for a day of preparations leading up to the Houston Texans coming to town Sunday.  He's meeting his third team since Raheem Morris became head coach.

And he has to realize this is it.  Not just "it", this is IT.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have spent both first and both second round draft picks in the 2010 and 2011 drafts along their defensive line (plus a 3rd and 4th in 2009).  They plumbed the waiver wire and plundered practice squads (even pulled a trade) for two years looking for players they believed would excel doing things "the Buccaneer way" up front.  It's been a massive overhaul to return to a powerful Buccaneer defense Tampa Bay fans know will take the team deep into the playoffs.  No stone has been left unturned.  This is another one of those stones.

Do they need Haynesworth?  Right now they do.  However, the Buccaneers had already filled the DT vacancy left by McCoy.  Clearly there is a young player out there they are interested in.  Only Dominik knows how short the leash will be on Haynesworth.

Do they need Haynesworth next season?  This is where it all comes down to Albert: it's all up to him. Play like a monster and get a new contract, fall in the rotation with young players like McCoy, Brian Price, or Roy Miller, teach, demonstrate, extend the career.  Or give up, play out the season, and fade away as the youngry creatures lurking on the defensive line pass on by.

If Haynesworth plays out the way GM Mark Dominik and Head Coach Raheem Morris see it playing out, the competition on the defensive front will be amazing next season.  The Buccaneers will feature one of the most talented (yet least experienced, even with Haynesworth) defensive fronts in the NFL.  Dominik will have to figure out how a new contract for Haynesworth figures into the mix with players like Josh Freeman and Roy Miller finishing up contracts while having big money invested up front on the offensive side.

Dominik and Morris have taken on "challenging" players before:  Mike Williams had questions coming out of Syracuse; LeGarrette Blount had questions coming out of Oregon.  They recently got Tanard Jackson back from a one year substance abuse suspension, and have since extended his contract.  Clearly Haynesworth has to believe, for a final run, this was the right place at the right time.  So it may work out just fine.

Plans laid two years ago may finally be coming together in Tampa Bay.  The proof will be in another playoff run this season.  Only now, more than just Tampa Bay fans will be watching.  Everyone has their opinion on Haynesworth.  The only real question is: what is Albert going to do?

Monday, November 7, 2011

Buccaneers Battle Themselves To Mediocrity

I really hate being 4-4 in the middle of the season.  It's like knowing what's in a present before you open it -- you're glad to have it, but there is no excitement in the moment.

Such is where all of the Buccaneers Nation stands today after a never-quite-out-of-reach game with the New Orleans Saints.  Having won in the Superdome the last two seasons, a 27-16 result feels pretty bad.  Worst of all, it's not so much that New Orleans was a significantly better team, it's more about how the Buccaneers can be their own worst enemy.  And two against one in the NFL is rarely a winning combination for the "one".

The Buccaneers had the ball first, but were not able to start the game with a first down.  New Orleans took the resulting punt and burned over four and a half minutes off the clock getting into field goal range. Saints kicker John Kasay then nailed the right upright to keep the game at 0-0.

Tampa Bay took over and ran at New Orleans with LeGarrette Blount. Blount carred the ball on five of the next six plays, taking the Buccaneers to 4th and 1 at the New Orleans 29 yard line.  Unfortunately, the Buccaneers did not convert on Bount's sixth run in the drive, and New Orleans took over on downs.

Five plays later New Orleans scored their first touchdown on a Drew Brees to Lance Moore touchdown pass to break out to an early 7-0 lead.

With 2:27 remaining in the first quarter, the Buccaneers offense imploded, with an Illegal Substitution penalty and two Offensive Pass Interference calls in the next 10 plays.  Tampa Bay ended up with fourth and four at the New Orleans 38 yard line -- outside of field goal range -- and punted the ball away.

Seven plays later, New Orleans scored their second touchdown on a pass from Brees to Sproles pushing their lead to 14-0.

Preston Parker returned the ensuing kickoff 45 yards from four yards deep in the endzone, and Tampa Bay set up at their own 41 yard line.  Three plays later they faced a 4th and four, but a New Orleans penalty converted the first down and the Buccaneers stayed alive, only to get a false start penalty before the next play from scrimmage.  As a result, Tampa Bay found themselves again in 4th and 4 three plays later and were forced to punt.

Pinned deep, New Orleans only converted one first down and punted from deep in their own territory.  Tampa Bay took over with 2:37 to go in the half but only managed to get to the New Orleans 22 yard line, where the ever dependable Connor Barth kicked a field goal to get the Buccaneers on the board and closing the score to 14-3.

The Saints countered, using 1:38 of the final 1:39 of the half to drive from their own 20 to the Buccaneers four yard line, kicking a field goal to push the margin back to 14 points at 17-3.

The Buccaneers opened the second half on defense, but CB Ronde Barber picked off a Brees pass giving Tampa Bay the ball at the New Orleans 33 yard line.  Yet again, the Buccaneers were not able to overcome themselves as a personal foul by RB LeGarrette Blount killed the drive.  Barth kicked another field goal and the score narrowed to 17-6.

New Orleans then consumed the next 6 minutes of the third quarter, driving for a touchdown and stretching the lead to the biggest margin of the game at 24-6.

The Buccaneers returned the favor with a possession which ran out the 3rd quarter and went down to 11:08 remaining in the game.  However, Tampa Bay again had to settle for a field goal after reaching the New Orleans 7-yard line making the score 24-9.

With 5:35 remaining in the game, the Buccaneers finally reached the end zone (with an important Defensive Pass Interference call along the way) with a five yard Josh Freeman to Kellen Winslow pass making the score 24-16.

The Saints received the ball with about five and a half minutes remaining in the game and went on another clock consuming drive, with the final dagger being a John Kasay field goal with 1:17 remaining.  The Buccaneers were unable to reach scoring territory and the game ended at 27-16.

Next up:  Tampa Bay's first home game in more than a month as the 6-3 Houston Texans come to Raymond James Stadium.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Ted Larsen Not A Rookie Anymore

When kids dream of getting into the NFL, they certainly do not dream of the path taken by Ted Larsen.

Larson was originally drafted by New England in the 6th round of the 2010 draft out of North Carolina State.  Just five picks later, Tampa Bay selected S Cody Grimm from Virginia Tech.  GM Mark Dominik found a way to get both.

When New England let Larsen go after training camp in 2010, the Buccaneers swept him up as part of the biggest non-draft haul in Buccaneer history.  By Week 7 of the same season, Larsen was starting and helped the team win 8 more games, just missing the playoffs.

Larsen was a starter when the 2011 season opened, but was replaced by veteran Jeremy Zuttah.  When center Jeff Faine went down against New Orleans, Zuttah moved over to center and Larsen returned to regular duty at Guard.

In London, with Tampa Bay trailing 22-5 in the 3rd Quarter, Zuttah went down.  With two centers down, Larsen moved to the middle -- the position he played in college.  So, with 18:45 remaining in the game, Larsen and fellow 2010 rookie Derek Hardman entered the game at center and guard respectively.

Tampa Bay scored two touchdowns on their next two possessions as well as drove from their own 28-yard line to the Bears 39-yard line in what was shaping up to be a game winning drive.  A turnover ended the comeback, but clearly the offense was clicking well with both Larsen and Hardman in the game.

We'll find out later this week who is healthy and who is not up front on offense.  Josh Freeman shouldn't be worried, however.  There are plenty of not-rookies ready to go.