Yardbarker Horiz

Friday, March 9, 2012

Avoiding a repeat of 2011 may depend on Coach Sullivan

Acknowledgement: This article inspired by the passion of #bucnation, particularly a conversation with @BillBeck27. Join us on Twitter!

Coming off a 10-6 season in 2010 where the team nearly made the playoffs, no Tampa Bay Buccaneers fan was ready for the disappointment of the 4-12 season in 2011. A 4-2 start to the season seemed very promising -- then nothing went right the rest of the season. How could this happen? How can a team compete with the best of the best in 2010, but look so lost the next season with a large number of the same players in place with an additional year of experience?

For football stats geeks, you go to the numbers. And I've been raking through the past two years until I actually started dreaming about them (then I took a break -- no need to go insane). Finally, I think I have a decent grip on the problem. And I feel very good about how it's being addressed.

In short, I think this is still a team with double-digit win talent. I believe in 2011 the problem was not the players, it was the game plan, and those responsible have already been replaced.

It is said that pictures are worth 1,000 words, and I agree. But for number hackers, a table is evenbetter. Here are what I believe to be the key numbers regarding the Tampa Bay 2011 season:

2011 (4-12)

Opponent Run Plays Pass Plays Total Plays Run % Pass % Result
Detroit 16 46 62 25.8% 74.2% L
Minnesota 19 31 50 38.0% 62.0% W
Atlanta 36 32 68 52.9% 47.1% W
Indianapolis 36 39 75 48.0% 52.0% W
San Francisco 23 33 56 41.1% 58.9% L
New Orleans 25 41 66 37.9% 62.1% W
Chicago 11 52 63 17.5% 82.5% L
New Orleans 20 37 57 35.1% 64.9% L
Houston 18 35 53 34.0% 66.0% L
Green Bay 20 38 58 34.5% 65.5% L
Tennessee 25 33 58 43.1% 56.9% L
Carolina 27 27 54 50.0% 50.0% L
Jacksonville 24 32 56 42.9% 57.1% L
Dallas 13 27 40 32.5% 67.5% L
Carolina 19 38 57 33.3% 66.7% L
Atlanta 14 45 59 23.7% 76.3% L
Season Avg: 21.6 36.6 58.3 37.1% 62.9%

The red marks are not losses. Those are the games where the Buccaneers passed on 55% or more of their offensive plays. Look at all that red, and remember this was a 4-12 season.

Now the same information for the 2010 season:

2010 (10-6)

Opponent Run Plays Pass Plays Total Plays Run % Pass % Result
Cleveland 30 28 58 51.7% 48.3% W
Carolina 34 25 59 57.6% 42.4% W
Pittsburgh 21 31 52 40.4% 59.6% L
Cincinnati 22 33 55 40.0% 60.0% W
New Orleans 18 43 61 29.5% 70.5% L
Saint Louis 21 40 61 34.4% 65.6% W
Arizona 30 25 55 54.5% 45.5% W
Atlanta 27 22 49 55.1% 44.9% L
Carolina 30 24 54 55.6% 44.4% W
San Francisco 42 22 64 65.6% 34.4% W
Baltimore 23 37 60 38.3% 61.7% L
Atlanta 29 39 68 42.6% 57.4% L
Washington 26 25 51 51.0% 49.0% W
Detroit 28 32 60 46.7% 53.3% L
Seattle 26 26 52 50.0% 50.0% W
New Orleans 24 26 50 48.0% 52.0% W
Season Avg: 26.9 29.9 56.8 47.4% 52.6%

And hopefully you can see where I'm going here. Over the past two seasons, when the Buccaneers pass the ball more than 55% of their offensive plays, they are a miserable 4-15. However, when the Buccaneers pass the ball less than 55% of their offensive plays, they are an amazing 10-3. Said another way: when the Buccaneers play balanced offense or emphasize the running game, they win much more often than they lose. Period.

When General Manager Mark Dominik and then Head Coach Raheem Morris were introduced as the new leadership team in 2009, they talked about the kind of team they were looking to create. They stated they would be building a physical, powerful, team emphasizing defense and the running game. In 2009, the roster was retooled in many ways. In 2010, the plan started to show itself, with the Buccaneers finishing in the top 10 in the NFL in two significant statistics: rushing yards per game and defensive points allowed.

Then the 2011 season came along and the Buccaneers went pass happy. In my opinion, then OC Greg Olson returned to his Saint Louis mindset and the offensive approach of former head coach John Gruden, which somewhat resembles a West Coast offense but with some "Gruden original" formations (the bunch formation and others). In other words, he believed he had a group which would flourish in such a system. But he was wrong: it worked for six games, then the NFL adjusted to it, and from then on it did not work. Head Coach Raheem Morris did not step in and put the team back on track with the formula which worked in 2010. And things seemed to accelerate in the wrong direction as the season went on, with quarterback Josh Freeman regressing in his development.

I have met Coach Morris in person, and I like that guy an awful lot. I have a lot of respect for a person who can take one of the youngest rosters in the NFL and go 10-6 in his second year as head coach. I believe he should get a fair share of the credit for the 2010 season. But, unfortunately, he gets the lions share of the blame for 2011 for not making the corrections I would expect a head coach to make. I believe that is the reason why, after the season was over, he and his entire staff had to be released.

The release of the coaching staff after last season is why I believe the Buccaneers will get back on track in 2012. Not only is new Offensive Coordinator Mike Sullivan coming from a team with an offense which has demonstrated good balance and effectively runs the ball, so does new Head Coach Greg Schiano. Also, the front office has provided Coach Sullivan a run-game guru in Jimmy Raye to help develop the punishing ground game the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are built for. This could be the single key factor in the Tampa Bay Buccaneers success next season.

In 2010, with a ball control offense, the Buccaneers Defense finished in the Top 10 in the NFL for least points allowed. I believe the defense can be improved this offseason. But I do not believe it is broken.

I have confidence the correct moves have been made in response to the disappointing season which was 2011. I have great hope that the 2012 NFL season will have the Tampa Bay Buccaneers back on the right track. How quickly the team can mentally shake the collapse of 2011 off their shoulders and move on will be something to watch closely as the season unfolds.

Will the Buccaneers return to the NFL playoffs next season? Many factors are in play, but if they utilize their offense in line with the vision with which it was assembled they could find themselves in another playoff hunt in 2012.


Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Buccaneers wrap up TE position before draft

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers appear to have the Tight End position wrapped up for the next few seasons.

With the signing of Chase Coffman late last month, Tampa Bay now has a squad of five tight ends already set for the 2012 training camp. Depending on how new Head Coach Greg Schiano wants the offense to run, up to four of these men could be on the roster when the regular season starts.  What Tampa Bay needs is someone to emerge behind Kellen Winslow as the next-in-line when Winslow (entering his 9th season) decides to hang it up.  Tampa Bay also needs quality depth at this position, plus the opportunities provided by two tight end sets.

Kellen Winslow (6'4", 240 lbs)
- drafted by Cleveland in Round 1 (#6 overall) in 2003 from Miami
- acquired via free agency from Cleveland

Chase Coffman (6'6", 250 lbs)
- drafted by Cincinnati in Round 3 (#98 overall) in 2007 from Missouri
- acquired via free agency from Cincinnati

Luke Stocker (6'5", 253 lbs)
- drafted by Tampa Bay in Round 4 (#104 overall) in 2011 from Tennessee

Collin Franklin (6'6", 256 lbs)
- undrafted from Iowa State in 2011
- acquired via waiver (Jets) on August 8th, 2011

Zack Pianalto (6'4", 250 lbs)
- undrafted from North Carolina) in 2011
- acquired via waiver (Buffalo) on September 5th, 2011

Coffman and Stocker, strictly by the fact they were drafted players, will be expected to lead the competition this offseason.  Stocker not only gets the benefit of being at One Buccaneer Place since getting drafted last year, he appeared in 14 games (starting 9) and gathering 12 receptions for 92 yards.  Coffman, once expected to be the long term answer for the Bengals, arrives with a grand total of 3 career catches for 30 yards since being drafted in 2007.

Franklin was released after training camp last season.  A week later, Pianalto was claimed from waivers and was on the active roster throughout 2011, appearing in 13 games and snaring 4 passes for 40 yards.

With this set of players, the Buccaneers can ignore this position during the 2012 NFL Draft and let the competition play out.  Having these men in the fold already provides additional flexibility to seek the best players available when the Buccaneers are on the clock.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Free Agent cornerbacks update

Last month, I took a look at possible cornerback free agent targets for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during the 2012 free agency period. The prospects of those players being removed from the market with the franchise tag were listed as well. All teams which have elected to use their franchise tags have assigned them, so here is the update:

CB Lardarius Webb, Age 25, Ravens
The Ravens franchised RB Ray Rice as expected, so Webb will be a free agent.

CB Brandon Carr, Age 26, Chiefs
As expected, the Chiefs franchised WR Dwayne Bowe so Carr will become a free agent.
CB Tracy Porter, Age 26, Saints
The Saints franchised QB Drew Brees, meaning Porter will be a free agent.

CB William Middleton, Age 26, Jaguars
The Jaguars, like the Buccaneers, franchised their outstanding placekicker Josh Scobee.  Middleton will enter the free agent market.

CB Richard Marshall, Age 27, Cardinals
The Cardinals, as expected, franchised DE Calais Campbell, so Marshall will become a free agent.
CB Terrell Thomas, Age 27, Giants
The Giants franchised P Steve Weatherford, only the fourth time in history a punter has been franchised.  As such, Thomas will enter the free agent market.

CB William Gay, Age 27, Steelers
The Steelers have not elected to use their franchise tag this season as they work themselves into a more cap-friendly position.  As a result, Gay will become a free agent.
CB Corey Graham, Age 27, Bears
As expected, the Bears franchised RB Matt Forte, leaving Graham available to the free agent market.

All these experienced young corners will be available for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to negotiate with when the Free Agency market opens on March 13th. Tampa Bay could be looking for up to two new corners to take the place of Aqib Talib and/or Ronde Barber this offseason. The question now becomes Value: which of these players can be signed for a price which matches their play on the field?

For comparison, the Atlanta Falcons have franchised CB Brent Grimes to the tune of $10.6 million.  Clearly these players will command some hefty payout.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers must be careful, however.  They have some pricey young players to re-sign next year (provided they confirm their worth). Giving up a young, promising, on-the-roster talent because the team signed a high-priced corner this year is trade-off which is hard to balance.  Expect the Buccaneers to be mentioned in negotiations for some of these players. 

Just don't expect them to overpay.