Don’t let the score from yesterday’s Home Opening win fool you. The Bucs did not look crisp on offense and the game was a dog fight for much of the contest. The defense really shined and carried the team for much of the game though. You could tell they really wanted to atone for last weekend’s loss to the Saints. Here’s a look at how each facet of our game performed:
Quarterbacks: Brian Griese got the start and he really looked good on that opening drive (granted he only had to go 19 yards thanks to Aqib Talib). He made a nice 12 yard pass on 3rd and 10 to Joey Galloway to keep the drive alive. He then capped that off by hitting TE John Gilmore in the end zone to put the Bucs ahead early. From there, Griese’s performance was really a mixed bag. He had passes that were on the money, some were dropped, he fumbled once, and then he completely over threw targets as well (anything down field basically). Brian Griese did exactly what Jeff Garcia couldn’t do last weekend, he put the Bucs in the best position to win the game. He didn’t have any interceptions and he STEPPED up in the pocket and stood tall. Gruden has already anointed Griese the starter against the Bears and he should have as Griese played very well for his first start of the season. He’s not going to excite you with his play, but he brings a much needed poise and calm to the offense. Well done Brian.
The other Quarterback: There’s a rumor circulating that the Buccaneers offered Jeff Garcia to the San Francisco 49ers last week, but got no interest in return. Barring a serious injury to Griese, I think Jeff Garcia may have played his last game as a Buccaneer. At one point on the sidelines yesterday, Gruden was talking to Griese and McCown was right there in the mix. Garcia? He was on the outskirts looking in. He’s clearly rubbed Gruden wrong. Jeff Garcia is the best option at Quarterback for this team, but (as he’s done his entire career) he’s worn out his welcome whether it be in large part to his piss poor play, a lack of enthusiasm, his constant bitching about his contract, or his ability to avoid injuries (my pinky hurts). What’s occurred is a shame, though I never thought Garcia could take us back to the Super bowl, I thought if anyone could put the team in position to attempt that it would be him; so much for that.
Runningbacks: Early on the running game really wasn’t working. I thought Gruden was on the verge of abandoning it, but he stuck with it and it paid off. The only knock on Graham, by the media and fan base was that he couldn’t break the big one. That’s why a lot of fans are disturbed to see Michael Bennett not dress for games. I think Earnest put that stigma to rest with his 60+ yard touchdown run to put the game out of reach Sunday. Graham has really turned into a solid back, you couldn’t write a better story for him thus far. Warrick Dunn looked really good yesterday as well. He had a classic Dunn touchdown run in the 2nd Quarter for the Bucs. You have to wonder if the accumulation of his spin moves are churning up the waters in the Gulf and in turn feeding all of these hurricanes we’ve had of late. Dunn clearly has plenty left in the tank... Welcome back Warrick!! Yesterday was the first time EVER that I had seen FB B.J. Askew get
lit up BLOWN UP! The Falcons Michael Boley blasted Askew to the ground. In poor taste, Askew got up and starting jawing at Boley, for what reason I’m not sure as Boley had one of the most modest reactions I have ever seen in the NFL after absolutely laying a guy out. B.J., you got, got my friend!! You’ll live to see another day however.
Wide Receivers: Ike Hilliard, well done sir! He is rock solid for this team. I know two years ago I was riding him for being slow, old, and boring to watch, but he just puts his hard hat on and comes to work day in and day out. The outcome would certainly have been different yesterday had he not made the catches he made yesterday. The ‘White Tiger’ actually made his presence known on a couple plays, but he really faded into the back ground for the most part. It appears an ankle injury may have had something to do with that. What’s happened to Joey Galloway? Ever since that Wild Card Playoff game he’s been non-existent. Antonio Bryant, man, he’s dropped a ton of balls. He really has. He ought to get some of the glue the kid in ‘The Little Giants’ used to help himself catch footballs, sheesh. He’s been a solid route runner and Griese missed him on a wide open opportunity along the sidelines yesterday, but his play has left a lot to be desired. To his credit, he did get down field and block to help spring Graham on his touchdown run to end the game. Michael Clayton popped out of nowhere and caught a ball, to only then crawl back into the hole he came out of. Outside of Ike Hilliard, the Receivers have really been a disappointment. Who didn’t see that coming though? That’s been the case for years now outside a select few.
Tight Ends:Welcome to the Buccaneers John Gilmore! We knew you could block, but we didn’t know you could run routes so well and become a plus in the passing game. He and Alex Smith really ought to get more looks than they do. Both of them have been playing well. Smith ran the wrong route once yesterday and Gruden let him have it by pulling him from the game, but outside of that miscue he looked really good. I heard we have another tight end by the name of Ben Troupe, but you wouldn’t know it. I don’t think Gilmore and Smith have completely eliminated the need for Jerramy Stevens and his pass catching abilities, but they’re making their cases for sure.
Offensive Line: The offensive line (in my eyes) looked good for the second straight week. Had Griese played last week and stepped up into the pocket like he did yesterday, the Bucs would be undefeated right now (instead we had happy feet back there). The run game has gone for over 100 yards two weeks in a row and I think Griese only got sacked maybe once or twice at the minimum. The play that Griese fumbled, he had held onto the ball way too long. Rookie Guard Jeremy Zuttah actually made his first mistake by getting a holding penalty. I felt like I was watching the Dallas Cowboys offensive line though, as Griese had all the time in the world in the pocket to find receivers. Granted Grady Jackson was out for the Falcons and Jamaal Anderson has ZERO pass rushing ability, but the O-Line did a real good job I thought.
I felt sorry for Rookie QB Matt Ryan at the onset of yesterday’s game. You just knew the defense was going to come out running on all cylinders while trying to erase that bad taste out of their mouths from giving up huge touchdowns a week before to the Saints. And the defense did just that by picking off Ryan twice in the first half. Talib got busy early by picking off the Falcons third play from scrimmage. Granted the ball caught Talib more than he caught it, but he came down with it none-the-less. Sabby Piscitelli would get the second pick on an errant throw by QB Matt Ryan. I think Ryan was (0 for 8) with two ints at start the game. The defense was swarming. You could tell the Rookie signal caller was panicking early.
The Defensive line looked FANTASTIC! Gaines Adams recorded his first two sacks of the season and was in the backfield much of the day. He even lined up on the right side of the line to pass rush which was nice to see. It can’t hurt to have Gaines, Jovan, and Greg White all on the field at once. Add Hovan to that mix and you’ve got a very nice front four. Speaking of Greg he had a sack and a half, as did Kevin Carter. The D-Line got great push all game and really held its own against the rush by holding Michael Turner to 40 or so yards on the ground. That’s fantastic considering Turner put two bills up against the Lions a week ago. It was nice to see LB Derrick Brooks back out on the field to start the game, he provides such a sense of security out there, kind of like a ‘yeah, we’re going to be alright’ type of mentality.
A cause of concern continues to be Pass coverage. Falcons WR Laurent Robinson kept the game closer than it should have been. I know you see 9 points and think to yourself, ‘What is JScott talking about’ but a more consistent Pass Attack (Saints, Panthers, Cowboys) will exploit that weakness. You didn’t see the hard hitting in the secondary yesterday that we’ve become accustomed to seeing and I think that had something to do with it. If Phillips, Jackson, and Barber lay the lumber those receivers arms become shorter and shorter and they start to second guess going across the middle. Again the rush defense was superb though. You couldn’t ask for better.
Special Teams: I understand Gruden putting Ike Hilliard out there to return punts when the game is close, and the returner is relegated to his own 20 or so yard line, but I just hope at some point in the season that Gruden trusts DJax enough to allow him to take the kid gloves off. With that said I’m accustomed to seeing Returners barrel into the oncoming gunners and its odd to see DJax hit the deck when a hit is forthcoming, not that another yard would truly make a difference and I’m not sure the impact (possible injury) is worth the risk either, it’s just odd to see on a football field.
Injuries:As always a Jon Gruden team does not finish a game unscathed. CB Aqib Talib tweaked his hamstring. It didn’t look serious as he was standing on the sidelines, but he also didn’t come back into the game either. WR Joey Galloway strained his ankle and his availability is unknown at this point. The good news is Derrick Brooks did not re-injure himself and so you would think he’s in the clear as far as his hamstring is concerned...
The game was fairly sloppy overall; from illegal formations, to holding penalties, to challenge flags hitting the turf left and right. Although we got the win, you’ve got to be a bit concerned as the Falcons hung in the game for the most part, despite giving up two turnovers. I’ll take a win any way I can get it though and yesterday was no different. Next up for the Bucs is the Windy City of Chicago. Should be another battle…