None And Done
December 29, 2008 at 02:20am by Scott • 7 Comments »
I’ve been thinking for a few hours about what is really wrong with this Buccaneers team. What is it that makes a 9-3 team drop its last four games in a row and lose a playoff spot that they had really only had to have ten wins to clinch? I’ve gone back and looked at the game summaries for the season and came to the conclusion that this was never a playoff team. Instead of being a team that got screwed out of a couple games like Dallas and Denver, they actually were the beneficiaries of victories against Chicago and Kansas City that they probably should have dropped. And then as the season wore on, injuries mounted and linemen started getting sore, the team’s true colors came out and they shit themselves. This team was never good enough to get to the playoffs.
And I don’t care what any analyst says about Monte Kiffin announcing his intentions last month. That was not what caused the defense to meltdown. Any player that allows something like that to affect his play doesn’t deserve to be on the team. This is professional football. Really, were their minds so distracted by the idea of playing without Kiffin next year that they couldn’t concentrate on the last month of the season? Were they depressed and couldn’t muster the energy to tackle properly? These aren’t teenage goth girls. Give these players at least the credit that they can accept a change in coaching personnel and not forget how to play the game. I believe the timing of the announcement and the breakdown is coincidental.
Okay, onto the game. I predicted earlier today that Antonio Bryant would have a big day. I kind of assumed that Jeff Garcia would play better than he has been. I was wrong. Bryant was wide open several times during the game and Garcia either overthrew him or didn’t see him or did see him but chose to throw elsewhere. When Jon Gruden goes back to review this tape, he’s going to tell Bruce Allen to go out and find him a new veteran quarterback. A taller one; one that can see the entire fucking field.
I already noted my disappointment for Cadillac Williams and the knee injury he suffered as he was having one of the best games of his career. If anything caused the Bucs to lose focus, it was Williams’s injury. Williams was rushing for 6.5 YPC and was the game’s leading receiver, something you never would have thought last year. I don’t know if he spent part of his rehab time in front of a JUGS machine, but he caught everything thrown his way. That’s one of the most tragic aspects of this — he was actually on his way to being better than he was as a rookie.
Warrick Dunn has had a fine season and has been much more involved than he signed up for. But if Dunn comes back next season, it’s going to be as a very specific role player. His age plus the beatings he has taken throughout his career have added up and he’s simply not effective enough late in the season. After Williams went down, Gruden should have put Clifton Smith in behind center. He’s a playmaker and a rookie and can take some pounding from the defensive line. If Smith has his fumbling under control, he should be paired with Earnest Graham for that power/speed mix that is a staple of the most successful teams lately.
B.J. Askew‘s stuffing on third-and-one was all on Davin Joseph. He missed his block, plain and simple. I’m not really a fan of those up-back quick handoffs anyway because you’re basically playing 9-on-11 by taking your halfback and quarterback out of the play when the defense knows it can sell out to stop the run. But it’s even worse when it’s 8-on-11.
Hey, at least the offensive line had its best game in a long time. It started off kind of slow with the run-blocking, but picked up nicely in the second and third quarters. And Garcia’s protection was really very good for most of the day. Rich Gannon hit it right on the head when he said that Garcia scrambles around too much and he needs to trust his protection. Haven’t we been saying that for months now?
Specifically, Jeff Faine had an exemplary day. For a big dude, he gets downfield in a hurry. He knows when to take his protection to the next level and is really aggressive in making those later blocks.
So, how do you rate Michael Clayton‘s last game as a Buccaneer? A huge catch and run for a touchdown, but also a couple of catchable (but tough) balls dropped. It was pretty much more of the same thing that we’ve seen for years now. I really thought in 2005 that he would be the guy to build the new offense around. “Simms to Clayton — TOUCHDOWN! That’s their 100th connection for a score.” is what Al Michaels was going to say sometime in 2012. Oh well. It’s been nice, Michael. Whaddya think? Cincinnati?
Again, this game was not Antonio Bryant’s fault. Sign Antonio Bryant tomorrow, please. And consult him when interviewing quarterbacks. Seriously. He has to be frustrated with getting consistent separation and not getting thrown to. He needs to have chemistry off the bat with the new guy. I’m not saying to sign whoever he says, but you have to at least make sure he’s seen tape and feels good about the guy.
I also think Ike Hilliard spends another year in pewter.
Despite dropping another catchable ball, Jerramy Stevens needs to be re-signed and coached up. He had a pretty quiet day, but he’s a big, physical presence that can be a killer in the endzone. Alex Smith should be relegated to backup duty and rotate John Gilmore and Stevens depending on the situation.
The defensive line was abysmal. They started off stuffing the run pretty nicely, but that didn’t last long. Michael Bush had 177 yards rushing and everybody knew the Raiders were going to run the ball. I certainly did. Inability to stop the run plus no pass run equals a loss. Add in poor tackling in the fourth quarter and it turns into an embarrassment.
I really thought that the defensive line rotation with Jimmy Wilkerson and Ryan Sims and Greg White along with the starters would keep the line fresh and tackling well. But everyone just looked… tired. Listless. Is it possible that all these guys have small tanks and they’re all getting gassed by the fourth quarter? Or is it the scheme that’s keeping them from getting adequate pressure and penetration and they’re frustrated and sloppy by the end of the game? I’ve got to go with the latter. We’ve seen all these guys make plays at one time or another. Raheem Morris may want to consider making the defensive line his priority for the offseason — specifically, the coaching.
Would Derrick Brooks come back in 2009 as a part-time linebacker to help in the transition between defensive regimes? Because if not, this may need to be his last season. He’s had a decent year, but has been hurt and slow in the latter part and completely whiffed on a couple plays. Like, for instance, the long Michael Bush run. He didn’t come back after that play, but I’m not sure if it was because he was hurt or because he was benched.
This was Cato June‘s best game this year. That’s a sadder statement than you think.
You may think I’m going to start sucking Sabby Piscitelli‘s dick after his interception and long (and impressive) return. But the fact is that it was a very poorly thrown ball by JaMarcus Russell and Piscitelli was expected to make that pick. Still, good job, Sabby.
I never thought that Gruden was going to kick the 50-yard field goal on fourth-and-four. Matt Bryant is not reliable from that distance and he certainly shouldn’t have punted. He showed faith in his offense and was let down. The actual play call could have been better, but I don’t know if that should be pinned on Gruden or Garcia. Whatever. But the decision to go for it was the right one.
You know what else hurt the Bucs? Field position. Who knew Shane Lechler was going to be such a weapon? Oh, right, Gruden did. He’s the one who drafted him in Oakland. Between Lechler and Johnnie Lee Higgins, the Bucs were put in awful field position for most of the day.
Look, this team had a ten point lead in the fourth quarter. And in every game this month, they’ve either had a lead or been tied in the fourth. The Bucs have had offensive issues, but this entire month has been about the defense giving up big plays in the running game in the fourth quarter. It’s not a lack of effort and it’s not that Gruden has somehow just now lost the locker room. This is being physically overpowered.
Still, it is at least partially the head coach’s responsibility to get his team “up” for big games or to put the assistant coaches in place to do it. Gruden won’t be fired, but he’ll be in the hot seat yet again going into 2009.
Philadelphia bent over and gang-raped Dallas 44-6. You can argue that the Eagles might not have played that hard if they knew they were out of the playoffs, but that wouldn’t have made Dallas any better. Even if Philadelphia only gave 25% effort had the Bucs won, they still could have beaten the Cowboys. The playoffs were there for the Bucs to take. As I said, I don’t think the Bucs would have gone anywhere in the playoffs because this was not a team built for the long haul. In some ways, maybe it’s better that they lost out and avoided the embarrassment of (another) nationally televised pantsing.
We’ll have plenty of time to discuss what to do and who to get in the offseason. But the problems are evident and the solutions seem obvious. But for now, Go Titans.