Winning in the National Football League is very difficult. Not that any of us need that fact reiterated, because our '09 Bucs only managed to win 3 out of 16 games. Sunday's triumph against the Cleveland Browns marks the first opening day win since 2005. Although it wasn't pretty, the team overcame an 11 point deficit in the second quarter and pitched a shutout in the second half. Let's take a quick look at how each unit (Offense, Defense, Special Teams) contributed to yesterday's win.
Offense: The Offense didn't play great, but Freeman was able to shake off a few mistakes to deliver a perfect game winning touchdown pass. He missed a few wide open throws, which has to be concerning (the pass to Mike Williams as well as the 4th and 1 with John Gilmore open at the end of the game in particular). Hopefully this is a result of him missing time and the injury, and something he can shake off going forward. The interception was a communication issue and should be ironed out. Cadillac looked strong whenever he had room to work with and he seems ready for a solid season. I assume Kareem Huggins will get a look next week due to the inability of Earnest Graham to get anything going. If Freeman can become a small bit more accurate and start to hit the wide-open targets, then the offense will have a better ability to sustain drives. Grade B-
Defense: The Defense certainly turned it on after struggling early in this one. They were gashed on big plays by Mohamed Massaquoi and Jerome Harrison (to be fair this was excellent run blocking by the Browns), but didn't panic. Ronde Barber's interception late in the second quarter has to be considered the game changer. The Browns were in great field position after a Josh Freeman pick, and could have put the game away before halftime. However the defense rose to the occasion when the team needed most, and made the contest 14-10 at halftime. From there the defense tightened the screws and made sure the Browns didn't put together any more long drives. 340 total yards is a lot to give up to against an offense like Cleveland, but they were able to get off the field on quite a number of third downs, and did what a Tampa-2 defense does best: Force Turnovers. Grade: B
Special Teams: This is the unit that impressed me the most. Josh Cribbs is one of the most dynamic return men in the entire league, and the unit was able to contain him the whole day. Cleveland's special teams ranked 1st in Football Outsiders' DVOA rankings by a wide margin in 2009, so the team does deserve credit for not giving up any significant plays. The Bucs played the field position game almost the entire second half, and were able to do so because of their kicking and coverage units. The Bucs had few opportunities in the return game, with Cleveland's punt coverage particularly shining against Michael Spurlock. Grade B+
Overall: The team showed some good things on Sunday, but also there were signs that growing pains will occur. This is natural with such a young team, but it appears the strides the team made at the end of 2009 have carried over. You can tell the speed and aggressiveness on the defense is back. The mistakes the team made looked more as a result of inexperience/miscommunication, which offers hope that as they play together more the units should be able to gel. Considering the quality of opponent that the Bucs were facing, the jury is still out on how this team will perform in 2010. That said, it was a good performance and a great way for the Buccaneers and their fans to start the season. Here's to being above .500!