Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Bucs at the Bye

By JC De La Torre

With the Bucs moving into the bye week, I wanted to take the opportunity to take a look at the team's performance throughout the first half (and 1 game) of the 2008 season and try to peer into my crystal ball for a futurecast.

First let's go over the different segments of the team -

Overall Grade: C

I gave the overall grade of the team a C because there were definitely some games they left on the table. They had opportunities to win in the closing moments of each of their three losses this season (New Orleans, Denver, Dallas) and none of the teams they lost to have turned out to be world beaters. This football team should be 8-1 or 7-2 at worst right now. They are a completely different football team on the road than they are at home, as evidence by the point differential on the road vs. home. The Bucs can move between the 20's with the best of them, but can't score when they get to the red zone. This is something they desperately need to find a solution to if they have any hope of going deep in the post-season. The Bucs are 8th in total offense (10th passing, 9th rushing, 10th in scoring) and are 6th in Total defense (6th against the pass, 13th against the run, 7th scoring).

Quarterbacks: C

The grade for the quarterbacks is primarily due to the performance of Brian Griese, who threw gobs of interceptions while he was in there. At the same time, Jeff Garcia, while a steady game manager, is hesistant to take chances and I think that's contributed to their red zone woes.

Running Backs: C

Earnest Graham and Warrick Dunn have had some solid performances this season as a tandem, but there have been games where the running game just simply disappeared. There are a lot of factors that contribute to that - play calling, subpar offensive line play and bad decisions in the hole. The Bucs need to dedicate themselves to continuing to attack with the running game, the line has to block better, and Graham, Dunn, and perhaps Cadillac Williams will need to see the holes better.

Wide Receivers\Tight Ends: B-

The Wide Receivers and Tight End performances have been pretty solid this season. Antonio Bryant has fulfilled my belief that he would be an impact free agent for the Bucs. He has been. Michael Clayton is playing better, John Gilmore has been a pleasant surprise, Ike Hillard and Alex Smith have been their dependable selves. The reason for the lower grade is because Jeramy Stevens has dropped too many balls and Joey Galloway can't get healthy enough to get on the field consistently. If Galloway can earn back the trust of Jon Gruden and make an impact in the second half of the season, it could mean big things for the Buccaneers offense.

Offensive Line: C

The line was getting a lot of love coming up to the start of this season, but they haven't lived up to the billing. Part of it is due to the injury bug, as Davin Joseph and Aaron Sears have both missed time, forcing Jeremy Zuttah, a rookie, into the line up at multiple positions. The line has protected the Quarterback pretty well this season. Going into the Kansas City game, the Bucs o-line had yielded only 10 sacks, good for 5th least in the NFL. Its really been the o-line's inability to open holes for the running game that has been a bit of a disappointment this season.

Defensive Line: C

The Bucs defensive line is doing a better job this season at applying pressure, but they still aren't getting to the quarterback with regularity. The Bucs ranked 19th in the league in sacks with 15. They are playing the run better, Kansas City was an exception, as they are giving up 99 yds per game on the ground and Kansas City's Jamaal Charles became the first running back to rush for 100 yds agains the Bucs defense this season. Kansas City's Kolby Smith also became the only running back to score a rushing touchdown on the Bucs this season.

Linebackers: A

Its been a resurgent year for future Hall of Fame linebacker Derrick Brooks. Brooks is having one of his best seasons since 02 and has successfully been able to silence some critics who believed he didn't "have it" anymore. Cato June has been solid at the SAM spot, while Barrett Ruud is playing at a Pro Bowl level at Middle Linebacker.

Defensive Backs - B-

While the DBs have definitely been opportunistic this season (tied for 3rd in the NFL with 12 interceptions), there's no question that they've missed many assignments as a group. Ronde Barber needs to find the same Fountain of Youth that Derrick Brooks went to in the offseason, as right now teams are picking on him and he has not been up to the challenge. The Bucs lost Jermaine Phillips at strong safety with a broken arm, so 1st year starter Sabby Piscitelli has had to step in and he's done a decent job. Tanard Jackson, Phillip Bucannon, and 1st round pick Aquib Talib all have quietly put together solid seasons thus far.

Special Teams: B

If I did this two weeks ago, this would have been a C- or D. The move from 2nd round pick Dexter Jackson to free agent Clifton Smith has done wonders for the Tampa Bay return game. Smith has been averaging 32.7 yds a kickoff return (compared to D-Jax's 23.4) and 15.6 yds a punt return (compared to Jackson's abysmal 4.9) and of course, he had a huge 97 yd kickoff return for a touchdown in Kansas City. Matt Bryant, working his way through a terrible personal tragedy, has been very solid this season, while Josh Bidwell may be punting at a Pro Bowl level.

Coaching: C-

Gruden has had to coach through some injuries this season, but several times this year - Denver and Dallas come to mind, Gruden has said that the opponent did something they didn't prepare for. In other words, he admitted to being outcoached. It was on display again in Kansas City, where the poorous KC defense held the Bucs in check until the fourth quarter. In addition, Gruden has abandoned the running game several times this season for a death by papercuts short yardage passing game. Defensively, the Bucs are getting a good performance out of Monte Kiffin (with the exception of the KC game), the assistants have all been doing fine jobs this season. Gruden really needs to get his game together for the second half of the season.

Futurecast Predicitions-

I see the Bucs getting victories over Minnesota, Detroit, New Orleans, San Diego, and Oakland with losses on the road to Carolina and Atlanta.

This will get the Bucs to 11-5, which should be more than enough to secure one of the two Wild card spots in the NFC. Will it be enough to defend the NFC South? Not sure on that one.

No comments: